Hiking to Haslumseter & Stumbling upon Snakes

April 9, 2017.  Shortly before Easter break, a small snowstorm hit Oslo.  Nothing like the knee-deep dumping of white stuff that we sometimes get back home in Chicago.  But enough to slow traffic and give Norwegians an excuse to ditch work and go skiing.  The fickle weather we’ve had this year hasn’t afforded much opportunity for enjoying the trails, so any small dusting is much appreciated.

Here’s a snapshot of our route highlighted atop the DNT map.  (Click for a bigger view.)  It looks really long, but the whole hike, including multiple photo stops, a long lunch break, and our snake encounter took only about five hours start to finish.

By the time that Matthew and I had a chance to get outside, most everything had melted, so we elected to go for a hike instead.  We combed the DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association) map for a new yet nearby footpath and finally decided upon one in the Baerumsmarka (the forest that surrounds the neighborhood of Baerum).  Notable sights advertised along the route included the Haslumseter ski chapel, a shooting range (passing it was a bit unnerving, as we kept waiting to be struck by a stray bullet), a viewpoint known as the Skuta, and Brunkollen, a snack shack for hikers.  As most of you know, our hikes always include refueling at one of Norway’s adorable, log cabin-ish sportstuas — which literally translates as “sports living room.”

Okay, I know I say below that Norwegian trails are boardwalk free, but in wet spots, they do have some handy wooden piers so you don’t have to slog through glacially cold streams.

For those of you who are interested in the trek but are without a car, it’s a short jaunt on  the #6 T-bane metro line to Kolsås.  Hop off at the Bekkestua stop, and from there, it’s a half-hour roadside meander to reach the forest path.  The good news is that along the way you’ll see lovely homes, rolling green golf courses, and stables ringed by pastures full of gorgeous horses.  Don’t worry, the trailhead is clearly marked; after you pass the furniture refinishing shop, you’ll see the path winding alongside a creek.

Some might call these tripping hazards. I call them stairs.

I’d say the hike is fairly easy, with the caveat that, like all Norwegian trails, you’ll have to watch your step.  Gnarled tree roots and sizeable boulders lace the path, reminding you that this is wild terrain, not the heavily groomed, sanitized-for-your-protection boardwalks commonly found in U.S. state parks.  The hilliness will also give you a bit of a workout, but the stunning viewpoints along the way are totally worth it.

The naked, pock-marked trunks of pine trees make me wonder how they survive, with only a small thatch of green branches at the top.

Beyond big vistas, however, we enjoyed the small, quiet moments.  Burbling brooks created by snowmelt.  Early spring flowers poking through the moss.  Dense groves of stick-straight pine trees stretching into the sky.  Towering ant condos made of pine-needles, visibly vibrating as their industrious inhabitants work to repair the ravages of winter.  Thickets of ferns unfurling their fiddleheads, transforming the forest floor into what looks like the string section of a symphony tuning up before a performance.

Not a bad view out over the Oslo fjord, right?  Along part of the Skuta, you can supposedly see bits of stone walls from the Iron Age, when the rock ridge formed part of a fortress.

Eventually we made it to the Skuta — meaning something like “the captain” or “ship head” or “shining brow” (passersby disagreed on the translation into English.)  It’s so named because it’s a geological ridge that looms like the prow of a boat over the Oslo fjord.  A somewhat breathless hike up a steep incline takes you to the Skuta’s  summit, where you can collapse on a bench and enjoy the spectacular view.   And not far away awaits Brunkollen, the hiker’s hut that offers Norwegian waffles to re-stoke your energy level after your exertions.

Norwegian waffles are typically buckwheat based. Just add a dollop of sour cream and your choice of strawberry (“jordbær”) or raspberry (“bringebær”) jam.

Brunkollen is a bit more boxy and rigid-looking than the typical folksy Norwegian log cabins — probably because it was built by the Nazi’s during World War II.  But the owners have added lots of charm with an emphasis on troll décor, wildlife, and carved wooden furniture.  And if you come on a Tuesday or Wednesday, you’ll get to partake in “soup day,” which offers homemade stew in addition to the traditional waffles and sweet buns known as skolebrød (“school bread” — basically a sort of coconut-sprinkled Danish with a yellow custard center.)

Skolebrød or Skoleboller (“school buns”) got their name because they were packed in school lunches and sold at bake sales. Nothing like trying to teach kids who’re riding on a sugar high.

Once you’ve grabbed your grub, you can stroll outside to dine on one of Brunkollen’s picnic tables overlooking the fjord.  Or, you can sit on the steps of the adorable, more traditional log cabins situated in the back yard.  It seems that these can be rented for small groups, although I wasn’t entirely clear on the rental process.  Check out photos of the gingerbready huts below.

Haslumseter Kapell was designed by Magnus Poulsson, whose chapels are often called “forest cathedrals.”

After lunch, we headed over to Haslumseter Kappel (“Haslum Pasture Chapel”), which, although it looks a bit like an old Viking stave church, was actually built in 1969.  Apparently towards the end of World War II, the Lutheran community decided that the hordes of hikers and skiers trekking through the area deserved their own Sportskapellet (“sports chapel”).  I’m sure you can all sympathize with how annoying it can be when you’re zipping through the woods, enjoying nature, then suddenly realize that you won’t make it home in time for church (wink, wink.)

Legend has it that a Medieval stave church once stood on this spot centuries ago.

Anyway, the plan was to build a sanctuary that seated 150, plus toilets, a kitchen, a dining room for 100, and two bedrooms large enough to hold up to 18 people.  It took more than two decades to raise the funds, secure the land, and construct the church.  But today, the place holds regular (although some say blessedly brief) Sunday services, staffed by volunteer preachers, organists, and choirs.  Boy scouts and youth groups regularly camp out on the site, and folks also use it for wedding ceremonies and other community events.  

You can see the front steps of the chapel, which harbor a literal den of vipers. Wonder if the congregation knows that they have a plague of biblical proportions living under their stoop?

Matthew and I tried to get inside to take photos, but we’d arrived too late for the festivities and the place was locked.  We prowled around the outside and clambered up the front steps for a peek into the windows.  As we stepped away, Matthew suddenly shoved me off the porch, yelling, “Get back, get back!!!!”  The stress in his voice was so sharp that I took off with nary a glance over my shoulder to see how my husband was faring against whatever had frightened him.  Yeah, I’m such a loving wife.

The first viper we spied was a melanistic one, meaning it lacks the genes for the lighter coloring that is typical of the species. It’s commonly called a “black adder.” And no, it’s not a reference to the early role played by Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame.

Standing in the grass, I caught my breath and looked for Matthew, who was now examining the steps from a safe distance.  Immediately I knew what was up.  We have a little agreement in our marriage.  He handles the spiders, I handle the snakes.  When either one of us is confronted by our worst nightmare, you can expect a total freakout.   Matthew typically ends up in the next county when he crosses paths with anything that slithers, and I routinely dance a mad fandango — and on one notable occasion, even attempted to jump out of a moving car — when a spider descends upon me.

Here you can see the more traditional coloring and zigzag pattern of a European viper. The lower, more yellow snake is probably a female, and the higher, more gray snake is likely a male. Scandinavia produces the largest European vipers, typically measuring more than 35 inches (90 cm) in length.

“Snake or spider?” I questioned.  Matthew said, “Viper,” and pointed towards the steps.  Sure enough, a long European adder (Vipera berus) sat curled in the sunshine.  We crept up on it for a closer look, and it immediately squirmed into its hidey hole, a chink in the concrete.  We stood motionless for awhile as the snake popped its head out, testing the air with its tongue to see if we were still there.  So we stepped a little farther away … and stumbled onto two more vipers slinking along the foundation of the church.  I caught the whole thing on camera and filmed the little group as they wormed their way into crevices beneath the porch.  Check out the video here.

Check out the black adder wriggling forth from his den. I bet he could be a real ankle biter if startled by churchgoers.  However, European vipers theoretically aren’t aggressive, bite only when startled, and are usually deadly only to pets, small children, and the elderly or ill. All comforting information for you, I’m sure.

We eventually took a seat on a nearby picnic bench to browse through our photos.  Just then, a Norwegian couple came ambling down the path.  Matthew excitedly told them about the snake and invited them to check it out.  The couple looked at us oddly and said, “There are vipers everywhere here.  Ja, they’re poisonous.  Just leave them alone.  They won’t bite you if you don’t touch them.”  Typical unflappable, practical Norwegians.  Nothing phases ’em.  But unfortunately the couple had no advice as to how to get into the church without blundering into a snake sunning itself on the stoop.

It only took about another half hour to pry Matthew away from his sick fascination for his nemesis, then we made our way home with yet another close-encounters-with-wildlife story to share with you.  Hope you enjoyed it.

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