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Norway's Jotenheimen - Home of the Giants

I didn't know what to expect when I visited the Jotenheimen of Norway. For me, Norway had always conjured up images of a coastline riddled with fj... Read more
Norway's Jotenheimen - Home of the Giants

I didn't know what to expect when I visited the Jotenheimen of Norway. For me, Norway had always conjured up images of a coastline riddled with fjords, of precipitous rock walls and the arctic wilderness of the North. Yet I knew little of the Jotenheimen mountain region, other than its reputation as the 'home of the giants', hosting most of Norway's highest peaks and boasting the most vertically dominant of them all, Galdhopiggen, at 2469m high. I was soon to find out that this trekkers paradise has a lot to offer, from the wide open 'u' shaped valleys and rounded peaks of the eastern ranges, carved out by glaciers ten thousand years ago, to the steeper angled and snow-covered peaks of the western Hurrangane range, with sharp peaks of dark rock thrusting out sharply above the snow line.

Our 8 day trek started out on the Bessegen ridge, a prominent and iconic ridge scramble separating the turquoise waters of Gjende on its southern side from the blue waters of Bessvatnet on its northern flanks. A 400 meter differential in the height of the two lakes makes for an interesting topography and we are rewarded with fantastic views of this phenomenon as we descend down the ridge towards Memurubu. We are blessed with clear blue skies and an intensely hot sun, so a beautiful panorama of mountains and lakes surrounds us on all sides. The scramble itself isn't overly difficult. Though steep in parts, you are rarely too near to the edge so it is achievable for most confident walkers. After a long day, we arrived at Memurubu hut and are soon to find out that Scandinavians know how to do things in style, hosting their trekkers in beautiful wooden mountain huts that offer comfort, good food and all of the facilities that a weary walker could wish for, including hot showers and drying rooms.

5cm of rain the following day meant that we had to miss our valley walk, which would have taken us along the Urdadalen Valley from Gjendebu to Spiterstulen. Instead we opted to visit the historic town of Lom and had a look around one of Norway’s few remaining stave churches, built in the Middle Ages. We explored the Mountain Museum, displaying fascinating artifacts from archeological surveys conducted each year as the ice melts in the summer, exposing evidence of life as far back as the bronze age! Items of clothing and the bows & arrows used for hunting reindeer are all carefully displayed in glass cabinets. With a head full of facts about the area that we are trekking in, we take the bus on to Spiterstulen, our hut for the next three days.

We wake to misty skies but warm temperatures and start our trek upwards towards the summit of Galdhopiggen, joined briefly by a herd of Reindeer. Starting up gradually on well-defined paths, the terrain soon steepens and remains largely so all the way to the summit. This boulder strewn mountain demands that we rock-hop our way to the top, as well as kicking steps up large patches of snow. Following a very cold winter and late start to the summer, there is an unusual amount of snow for July and this is more like a winter walk, though we can feel the intense rays of sunshine working to burn off the thick cloud that enshrouds the whole mountain. The lack of visibility adds to the sense of adventure and as we summit, we are rewarded with a brief glimpse of the surrounding peaks as the clouds clear, soon thickening and enveloping us again. A stone cafe sits at the summit, offering shelter, hot drinks and snacks. Most of us choose to remain outside to enjoy atmosphere and look through the telescope that sits at the true summit. We take the same route back down to Spiterstulen, just in time of another delicious Scandinavian spread.

Our next day's adventure takes on to Svellnosbrean Glacier. We start the morning trying on all of the necessary equipment: harness, helmet, crampons and a walking axe. Satisfied that everything fits, we strap the kit to our rucksacks and trek for approx 3 hours up the to base of the glacier, walking up the valley and crossing streams on make-shift wooden bridges, finally taking a well defined path up an angular moraine ridge of rock rubble, pushed forcibly to one side by a huge glacier that no longer remains. Jakob, our guide, takes time to point out the many physical features of the landscape that demonstrate the existence and mighty power of the glaciers that once were, in an ice age 10 thousand years ago. When we reach the base of the glacier, we rope up as two separate parties and gather for a safety briefing. Sufficiently well informed, we meander our way gradually upwards, following natural path-ways and depressions. The occasional gaping chasm required us to step and sometimes jumping over the ice. This is far more adventurous than I imaged and physically exploring the glacier in this way gives us a greater appreciation of the beauty that lies within.

I had anticipated that the Bessengen Ridge, ascent of Galdhopiggen and glacier day would be the highlight for me. They were certainly enjoyable days and our exploration of the glacier had been far more thrilling than I had expected but the remaining few days of walking are what now linger in my memory, because our trek west from Spiterstulen felt increasing wild and remote. We barely saw another soul as strode through a thick covering of snow, traversed around a string of frozen lakes, repeatedly crossed streams and rivers and finally dropping down into fertile green valleys and birch forest as we got closer to the coast. Large boulders lay dotted throughout the valley floor, shifted by slow moving glaciers and deposited as the ice melted away. Nordic folklore tales depict these boulders as trolls, turned to stone in the sunlight. Both of our guides were insistent that this was true and I enjoyed these stories of pagan times, before the Christianization of Norway. Most of the huts proudly displayed a troll of their own at the entrance, usually rather stout and pot bellied with a slightly menacing demeanor.

After a strenuous start to the holiday, these days were a little easier on the legs but those that were keen could opt to ascend a peak known locally as 'the church' and marked on our map Kyrkja. The summit of Kyrkja is intimidating at first glance, due to its looming and sheer aspect and certainly it's not for the faint hearted but, despite having to crane your neck to look for the top, the foot and hand holds are huge and some of our group even chose to race to the top. A vertiginous drop on all sides makes for breath-taking summit views and, in true patriotic style, I reward myself with a piece of Kendal mint-cake on the top! Our descent down is somewhat more rapid than the way up, as we enjoy the sheer elation of a truly awesome bum-slide all the way to the base of the mountain. A skill that we had gained a fair bit of experience in on our descent of Galdhopiggen. Thick snow with a frozen top layer on top is a delight to run through and we bound down the mountain, showing that as adults you can a still appreciate the innate joys of playing in the snow. The huts in this more remote region are smaller and more characterful but every bit as luxurious. Some have the quintessential grass roofs, protected with several layers of birch bark, which I am told is both water-tight and breathable. I am amazed to find myself swimming in an ice-cold pool in a river, then sitting on a sheep skin covered bench, surrounded by candles. Our hospitable Norwegian host cook us up fantastic meals at the end of each day and this really is such a treat at the end of our long days of trekking. This was all that I had wished for and far more and I feel a strong pull to return to Norway.

Lucy travelled on our Traverse of the Jotunheimen trip

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