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Toloff the Helpful Troll hanging out in the camera bagI think we need to introduce the world to Toloff. Most people see a simple stuffed animal or a goofy looking troll with unbelievably wild hair, but really he’s a magical troll from the mystical land of Norway with powers that allow him to control the weather. Also, he’s quite the little scamp.

We first introduced to Toloff when we were at the orphanage for trolls that were looking for “forever homes” in the corner of a gift shop in Flam, Norway. As it turns out, Norway is really overrun with trolls of all kinds. They have mountain trolls and forest trolls; big trolls and little trolls; mean trolls and helpful trolls. Basically Norway is ground zero for anything troll, as illustrated by the dozens of troll statues scattered about every single Norwegian city, town, and village.

Now, back to Toloff, the troll in the gift shop orphanage that caught our eye with his goofy nose but million dollar (that’s what the dental bill was going to be in order to fix it) smile. We fell in love right away, filled out the paperwork (signed the credit card receipt) and he was ours! Prior to adopting him, the weather on our trip had been quite poor for photography and filled with overcast gray skies, rain and mist. Once Toloff started traveling with us, we noticed that the sun would peek out just at the right time to get “the shot”, as highlighted by the Besseggen Ridge hike.

After this happened a couple times, we sat Toloff down and asked him if he was responsible for any of this. Being bashful, he didn’t confess right away, but soon enough he came to us and confessed that he was the one helping to improve the weather. He did apologize for Besseggen, and we found out that to open the clouds so we could get the photo we were looking for, he backed up the storm which made it much more intense than it would have otherwise been. This was the reason he didn’t want to let us know right away as he was afraid that we would send him back to the orphanage.

It took a while to convince him that he did the right thing and we even made a deal with him that if he would continue to help us out with the weather like he did on Besseggen Ridge, he would get to come with us on all our trips and ride in the front seat of the car.

Once Toloff felt safe with us, we got to see just what a little scamp he really was. We would wake up to him streaking naked across the hotel room, stowing away in the camera bag for hikes, and even taking the steering wheel of our car and driving it around! That’s when we found out he had a second magical property, and that was his antics, he would keep us from killing each other as we struggled to keep our sanity traveling across this foreign country on minimal sleep and subsisting on peanut butter and Doritos.

Never again will a trip happen without our little buddy coming with, so keep an eye out for more stories from our little scamp Toloff.

One of the most beautiful hikes in all of Norway (and even the world) is The Besseggen Ridge hike in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park. We started off the morning on a ferry ride across a long highland lake then hiked up a steep ascent to the ridgeline we would be trekking across for the rest of the day. We took our time taking in the breathtaking scenery and I stopped a number of times to break out my camera and take some pictures. By noon the clouds became think and the fog rolled in, obscuring visibility to around 10 feet, but we persisted, crossing snowpack and trying not to fall into the hidden streams running under the snow.

Finally, after spending about 5 hours on the hike, we reached the spot I was after and it looked as if the clouds were starting break apart. I quickly got setup just as the sun came out and immediately began taking photos. I captured as much as I could before Mike pointed out the dark clouds were encroaching, and as I looked up the path, I got my first sense of dread.

Evil Mountain 112 BlogThe ridgeline was incredibly steep, rocky, and much too narrow for comfort. Mike stowed away our trekking poles as they were useless on the steep rocks; we literally had to climb. Complicating matters was the 1,000ft drop on one side and a 2,250ft drop on the other with just a narrow 10ft wide ridge of boulders that was the trail. Note: I am really afraid if heights.

If the height wasn’t enough for me, the clouds had gotten much darker and the storm was imminent as we approached the steepest and narrowest part of the ridge. As I was trying to summon my courage, the rain quickly turned to sleet. I was so scared that my legs and feet were trembling, and we took shelter on a small ledge. I began to wonder just how on Earth we were going to get word out to somebody where we were and that we needed to be rescued. Not only that, but where would the helicopter even land?

Seeing that the storm wasn’t about to let up, I gathered up as much strength as I could to make my way up. With a few pep talks, Mike and I continued up, carefully climbing over the wet rocks. My legs and feet were still shaking, coupled with exhaustion I struggled with the climb. On a couple of occasions, the step up was so high that I didn’t have the strength left in my legs and nearly fell backwards.

As we approached the end of the steepest section, I placed my hand high up on a rock and pulled myself up, only to see a giant spider next to my hand.

To put this in perspective, I need Mike to kill all the spiders around our house. I even need him to “kill” the dead ones. And he can’t just throw them away, oh no, because that would mean I would be afraid of the garbage. I need him to flush the spider corpse away in the toilet, and even then I’m not quite comfortable.

So back to the giant spider just a few centimeters from my hand, on a steep mountain ridge where I am afraid of heights, in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere, and with a storm dumping water and ice onto us. At this point I may have said a couple choice words I won’t repeat here, but not out of fear but rather a strange concoction of anger and rage. This evil mountain was challenging me as much as it could, and I wasn’t having any more of it.

We stormed up the rest of the ridge, and reaching the top was a huge relief. Granted we had yet to reach the highest point, still had over 5 miles to go over a barely marked trail in the fog and rain with descents down slick snowpack, treks across the edges of waterfalls, and “the chain” which was the only man-made aid on the whole trail that we needed to hold on to as we sort of repelled down a 6ft rock step onto a tiny ledge that would have rewarded a tiny slip with a good 20-30 foot fall off a cliff.

And this is what the Norwegian hiking guides list as a “Moderate” hike.

This was the most difficult location I have ever traveled to date in order to take a photo, but I believe that it was well worth it (I’m glad it turned out because I have no plans on going back).



Kelly Taking PhotosWhen we arrived in Belfast, we were mainly using it as a populated stopover point on our way to the scenic and more rural northern coast. But being as we came of age during the time the movie Titanic rocked the box-office, we just had to see the giant museum built to honor this ship on the very grounds that it was built.

Sitting in an area that looked like it had seen its share of redevelopment, the area still felt like a great shipyard with the great Harland & Wolff cranes towering overhead. But still you could sense change was happening. Nearby a former shipyard had been converted into a sound stage that we later learned was filming Game of Thrones. I suppose they still produce goliaths there in Belfast, it's just that they've changed form. The museum was probably one of the most interactive ones we have ever been to but we still had yet to see the main attraction, the dry-dock that was built for the Olympic class liners.

So while, as we learned, far greater ships have since been built many many times over (a modest sized cruise ship dwarfs the Titanic), this dry-dock is really too small to be of use, it was preserved for its historical value, and most importantly the caisson gate which was created from the same steel, rivets, and workers that built the Titanic. It was quite literally as close as you can get to the Titanic without traveling down to the bottom of the sea. But did we bring the camera? Alas no.

We almost never take a trip that doesn't wholly revolve around landscape photography, so we figured we would see the museum and just enjoy it as normal people. Then when we decided to walk to the dry dock (about half a mile away) we didn't bother getting the camera both because it was raining and we figured this wasn't what we were in Ireland to shoot. So it was just our point and shoot for our "tourist" photographs. Once we got there and stood in front of the great wall, Kelly decided our time as tourists was over. Michael ran back in the pouring rain (literally as he offered to do) to the car and retrieved the camera.

With macro lens in hand, Kelly took off and spent nearly an hour with the caisson gate, capturing as many variations on the old and battered steel as she could before we were kicked out as the facility closed. In short we learned (yet again) that old lesson of not straying too far from your camera. It's just so hard some times when you want to just relax and enjoy life and not worry about getting "the shot" but there is a reason that has become a cliché'.