December is dark – relish in it! There’s nothing more magical than having your dinner in the halo of a headlamp, or in the glowing light of a camp fire. White breath mixing with smoke or steam... I somehow come closer to nature when it’s dark – the element of darkness being so foreign to our modern-day evening homes. It gives a sense of mastery, even if what I’m doing is pretty basic: cooking a pot of porridge in the middle of the forest. And maybe the feeling of mastery comes just because it’s basic. I’ve left the assistance of lightbulbs, central heating, modern kitchen ware and cutlery. It’s me and my human will to make porridge (plus a minimum of outdoor equipment). 

Gaupesteinmarka – and the stone of the Lynx 

Last December, in Norway, I had my father visiting from Svalbard, where he lives for a while. For him our hike in Gaupesteinsmarka, a forest area south of Oslo, brought a welcoming glimpse of daylight, as he lives in constant darkness during wintertime. Still, as the day went on, the familiar darkness came creeping. In Oslo when the day is at its shortest, the sun is up for less than six hours, rising at 9.18 AM, and setting at 3.12 PM. It’s dark when you go to work and dark when you go home – which makes it extra important to get your ass out of the house to feel those precious rays of sunlight in the weekends.

Our target was the Gaupestein, which literally translates to “stone of the Lynx”. The stone is enormous, and you can crawl in under parts of it. Underneath it, you can find a wooden box with a book where you can leave a little trace of your existence. It’s an awe-inspiring natural phenomenon telling about humbling forces. The stone was left there under the last Ice Age in Norway, ending about 10 000 years ago.

That’s the scientific explanation – in addition there are several folklore legends about how the stone was placed there. I bet the first Norwegians who encountered this stone after the ice receded had their own cultural ways of looking at this stone. We’ll have to make do with one of the stories from historical times – it’s nice too. Try telling the legend of the stone in the midst of the black forest, with the glow from the camp fire lighting up the rough stone wall behind you, sparks flying and shadows dancing. 

The legend of Gaupestein – warning: story containing trolls 

Once upon a time there were two trolls, named Krake and Ignar. Krake lived at a place that today is called Kråkstad, and Ignar was from Enebakk. They were both terribly enormous and dangerously strong. However – they were both bachelors wanting to get married – and in Siggerud lived Sigga, a dazzlingly beautiful female troll. I have no idea of what beauty looks like for a troll though – I honestly bet she was grim. 

After a long day at work (probably uprooting trees and smashing mountains) the two trolls Krake and Ignar got on their way to meet Sigga. They soon discovered that they where both out on the same mission, and to stop the other, they both started throwing stones (as one might expect from ill-mannered trolls). In the end Krake was the first to reach Sigga. He asked for her hand in marriage and she accepted. Sigga obviously went for the stronger one, which might have been a good choice in the age of the trolls – Sigga and Krake lived happily for many hundred years after all. And the stone still lies where it fell to this day. 

The ancient fairy tale forests south of Oslo 

The Norwegian Society for the Concervation of Nature tells me that the protected region of the Gaupestein has the largest coherent areas of ancient woodland around Oslo. There are fairy tale forests waiting to be explored – with natural qualities that are endangered globally. Left without human intervention the forest turns into something completely different, so much richer in biodiversity, and visually much more varied and interesting. An old forest is often more open, with light coming in. Some trees are big, some small, there might be streams and swamps. The bark differs, there are mushrooms and fallen trees in varying states of decay.

This Lynx I found at Langedrag Nature Park in Norway

The Lynx is the only wild cat animal living in the Nordic countries. Although Lynx exist (gaupe, in Norwegian) in the forests south of Oslo, you are unlikely to encounter one. Apart from being strongly threatened by extinction in the Norwegian fauna, it’s also a terribly shy creature. I guess it’s coincidental, but the Lynx probably came wandering into Norway as the last Ice Age ended and the Geupestein was left behind by the ice. The word “gaupe” was used in the old Norse language of the Vikings. It might be derived from the old Anglo-Saxon word gèopan, which means to devour – and it’s been linked to the Norwegian word for yawning or gaping – all about opening your mouth really. This animal bites!  

Make-up snow 

There are many paths that leads to Gaupestein. For example, you can go to Gaupesteinmarka by taking the train to Ski in Akershus and take a bus from there (check with the operators). 

When we lived in Norway, this area was not too far from home, and we started our hike at the parking at Granerud. We followed the dirt road to Vientjern, a small idyllic lake where you can swim in summertime (with lots of funny tadpoles nibbling at your feet). At some point, we even spent a snowy winter night in a tent there, but that calls for a totally different post.

At Vientjern we stopped to marvel at (and taste) the giant icicles that in winter time hangs several meters down a stone wall next to the path, before following the road leading to the left and away from the lake. 

Even though there wasn’t enough snow to go skiing, we followed the red winter marks on the trees to get there on foot. At the time of our walk, the world was covered in just a thin layer of snow – what we Norwegians call “pyntesnø”. It translates approximately to dress-up snow or make-up snow. There’s no use for it, other than to look at it. It’s pretty. And sometimes that’s exactly what you need. 

Wooden spoons – fresh from the tree 

When we packed out our gear and got ready to cook some porridge, it was starting to darken, and we realised that all the spoons were left at home. I know where I’ve got my MacGyver gene from though. It didn’t take long until my father was happily whittling away on finely selected wooden sticks that we could find around us. I think we’re both almost happiest when things don’t go exactly as planned – when you must fix the problem with whatever you have at hand. Moral is: Bring a good knife and much can be saved. Bring disposable cutlery in plastic and something might die. 

How to sum it up? 

We had porridge, hot chocolate and nuts. The spoons looked very much like chubby spatulas, but they worked fine. We went home the way we came. It was dark and wet. Bring extra wool, technical clothing, good hiking boots, head lamps for everyone and extra batteries. Scroll down and you'll find a map. 

Have a nice trip! 

Questions? Wanting to share? Duke of Edinburgh or plain Jane? Feel free to contact me.


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