Go Out: Hiking And Camping In Wild Scandinavia

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Go Out: Hiking And Camping In Wild Scandinavia

Words by Mr Jamie Millar | Photography by Mr Marius Nilsen

11 October 2021

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Rondane (pronounced “ron-danner”) in eastern Norway is the country’s oldest national park. Within its 963sq km, where you can easily go for days without seeing another person, there are 10 mountains that stand 2,000m above sea level and no roads. Less jagged peaks, more vast rolling hills, the ancient highland landscape is home to one of Europe’s last remaining populations of wild reindeer. And it’s a 10-minute drive from photographer and videographer Mr Marius Nilsen’s house.

After more than 10 years living in Oslo, Nilsen was offered a job as a content creator for six of Norway’s biggest national parks, including Rondane. It was chance for a change of perspective and pace. His girlfriend, who was “also sick and tired of being in the city”, immediately said yes when he asked her to move to the mountains with him and their husky Kanga. A few days after he accepted the job, a global pandemic brought even more change, but they were well placed for lockdowns and social distancing. He’s outside “90 per cent of the week” and his nearest neighbour is more than half a kilometre away.

Unsurprisingly, Rondane is Nilsen’s “go-to place” for peace and quiet. He decided with his friend, Mr Christian Ekdahl, that it would be fantastic for an overnighter, an experience the pair documented for MR PORTER as part of our Go Out series, which celebrates the great outdoors with Health In Mind. Since they met in 2015, the pair have cycled more than 30,000km together. Then Nilsen moved, and they haven’t ridden as much as they used to, but he wanted to show Ekdahl some of his new favourite spots.

Ekdahl lives in Oslo, where he runs a bike shop and, for the record, he enjoys the Norwegian capital “still a lot”. One of the things he likes about the “small big city” is that it’s easy to get out. He can get to Nilsen’s place in four hours by train. Or he can ride for half an hour and he’s cycling through beautiful forests. “Oslo is quite amazing like that,” he says.

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The pair first crossed paths in Oslo’s cycling scene, which then was more about fixed gear. They seemed to be the only two guys who were into bikepacking. Well, the only two younger guys. There were older bikers who toured, but they did it more just to get out. Nilsen and Ekdahl wanted to ride at a decent clip in order to challenge themselves physically and see as much as possible in the time they had. They share what Nilsen calls “a childish need for exploration”, like when you get a bike and realise you can go three times as far and still be back in time for dinner.

After six or so years of predominantly pedal-powered expeditions (they’ve also been hiking and skiing together), they’ve learnt to understand each other pretty well. Nilsen, 39, quickly accepted that Ekdahl, 33, was younger, lighter and inevitably first to finish the climbs. Which meant Ekdahl would be sitting in a café in the Italian mountains drinking coffee and enjoying a breather while Nilsen came up 15 minutes later. “But we were perfectly happy with that situation,” says Nilsen.

They discovered they had a similar level of stamina – physically and mentally – as well as a positive outlook. There’s 150km to go? OK. Sweet. No problem. They got to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths. They could express feelings of being tired, not 100 per cent or down.

Sometimes, they didn’t even have to voice those feelings. One could simply look at the other and realise they needed to ease off the gas. And every now and then, they’d “scream at each other”, which is to say complain vociferously, for 15 minutes and then be done with it, which was “a very good way of venting any frustrations”, Nilsen says. “Like an old couple, basically,” adds Ekdahl.

One of the first longer trips the pair did involved taking the train up to where Nilsen lives now. Gradually, they took the train farther and farther out, then rode back to Oslo, racking up 300km, 400km, 500km over a weekend. Then they started traversing Europe: Kiel to Venice, Munich to Barcelona, zig-zagging the Alps.

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For their latest Go Out-inspired expedition, they decided to stay closer to home – Nilsen’s, anyway – and leave the bikes. They wanted to go somewhere where there were interesting things to see, hills to scramble up and down, river beds to follow into valleys and caves. “You know, being boys, exploring your backyard just as if you were 15 years old,” says Nilsen.

Rondane isn’t necessarily the most popular destination because it doesn’t boast spectacular several-hundred-metre vertical drops. But as an almost Siberian tundra with diversity of vegetation, it’s special in Norway. “I feel that it has a bit of mystique,” Nilsen says. Rondane is where his and Ekdahl’s ancestors roamed; you might stumble upon a Stone Age settlement or into a pitfall dug to trap reindeer.

When they’re on a trip, Nilsen and Ekdahl talk about where they’re going to go next – later that day or tomorrow, but also on the next trip. This time, however, they talked about where they’ve been and their experiences of the past 18 disrupted months. For Ekdahl, time outside in nature, whether hiking or biking, alone or with a good friend, is as much about peace of mind as visual stimulation. “Because the life is so basic,” he says. “You have to eat, you have to find a place to sleep and you have to walk more or ride more.”

Both men have tried to manoeuvre their lives in order to be able to do what they love – even Nilsen, who feels like he’s on “the longest weekend getaway ever”. Part of his role is to show that you can have a “normal job” and still do this if you set aside the time. “You can have all these amazing experiences just outside your doorstep,” he says.