DOING IT THE NOR-WAY
The first mission on our arrival to Oslo was to find a Den Norske Turistforening (DNT, The Norwegian Trekking Association) office, so we could sign up to become members and gain the much-needed DNT key. The DNT maintains many tourist huts and tracks in No
“IF YOU LIKE tramping in New Zealand's South Island, you'd like tramping in Norway, too.” This comment from one of my clients on a guided hike had stuck in my head for many years. Karen and I were about to tick off another item from the bucket list – a tramping trip across the highest national park in Norway, Jotunheimen Nasjonalpark – The Home of the Giant. After spending a night at Gjendesheim hut, located at the eastern entrance to the park, we set off early for our fiveday tramp. This day was the biggest day, climbing over Besseggen Ridge. Most hikers staying in the hut took the early boat toward Memurubu, our destination for the day. During the last ice age glaciers carved these valleys out of the huge mountains, and the colour of Lake Gjende is evidence of its tributaries. The track was marked by red T's painted on rock cairns, leading us up to the ridge. After three hours of climbing, we reached a large cairn, with a panoramic view overlooking both clear, blue Lake Bessvatnet, and the silky Lake Gjende. The Besseggen Ridge separates the two lakes at different heights – Bessvatnet is 400 metres higher than Gjende. The blue Scandinavian sky was clear, and the weaker August sunshine accentuated the stunning scenery.
The descent along the narrow rocky ridge required a bit of care; balance was not easy with the heavy load in our backpacks (four days of food!). It was about this time we started to encounter many day walkers coming the other way. We soon realised why so many hikers took the morning boat to Memurubu. They choose to walk in the other direction – climbing the ridge instead of down. Much easier! After eight hours of ascent and descent, we finally arrived at the Memurubu Hut. We knew there were no self-catering areas in the staffed huts in Norway, and Memurubu was no exception. We had some concern about cooking inside the bunkroom, so while the sun was still high and the wind was low, we headed down to the campground to cook up our spaghetti. Surrounded by big mountains and crisp blue sky it was a great spot to reflect on the
day's walk. Back in the bunk room, we found the group of older Belgian men that we would be rooming with didn't share our concern and were cooking their dinner.
Each of the staffed huts has a weather forecast, so we knew a front was approaching on the day we were to walk from Memurubu to Gjendebu. We could have taken the afternoon boat to skip that section, but the forecast for nor' westerlies at 15m/s (54km/h) didn't sound too bad, and we decided to give it a go.
The first two hours climbing was okay, however, once we reached the top of the ridge, the gale force winds picked up, following the valleys on one side of the mountains, then bursting up with force, hitting the ridge we were walking along. A couple of older Norwegian men with plastic ponchos and day packs passed us, heading in the other direction. We held on to each other as we walked, clinging on to rocks when the gusts became too strong. Sheltering behind a rock, Karen said, “If we die here, Norwegians reading the newspaper will be quick to judge us as foreign trampers, under prepared for the Scandinavian mountains,” just as we are guilty of doing when reading the papers at home.
While chatting with the Belgians the previous night, they mentioned that the track to the hut is very rocky with chains to climb down. Given the weather, we decided to take the longer but more gentle track. It was the right decision. Once we had escaped from the ridge, the wind and rain eased, but the next couple of hours descent felt much longer than it was. We were frustrated that the forecast was only for lake-level, and it is so different where we walked. Or maybe we missed that information because of our limited understanding of Norwegian?
After staying at DNT Gendebu hut, the weather had improved the next morning. Our gear was almost dry, and we were happy enough to start the day. As we approached the small saddle above Vesladalen the trees got shorter, and we came out to a vast, open area, like standing on the moon. There were rocky tors around us; high desert stretched as far as we could see, broken only by someone's tent standing alone. We walked through this landscape for the next few hours, navigating the rock scree around Rauddalsegge Peak before we spotted the DNT Olavsbu hut in the distance, which soon became our favourite hut of the tramp.
DNT Olavsbu was the only selfserviced hut on our tramp. We took out the key to open the hut, but found it was already unlocked. We lost our only chance to open a hut the Norwegian way. It turned out only three Norwegian couples were staying in the hut, making it feel off the beaten track. Since Karen was a child, her dad taught her to explore the hut facilities upon arrival, and she adhered to the habit. Prizes this time were an ‘honesty box' provisions cupboard, a tiny drying room heated by a potbelly stove, and Norwegian Scrabble (complete with Å and Ø). We enjoyed a tin of reindeer meatballs and instant mashed potato from the provisions, which we justified as a cultural experience. We soaked up real Norwegian backcountry – reading a book with a candle, chatting quietly and spending a calm and peaceful night. Next stretch to Skogadalsboen was tough and cold although an improvement on our ‘Extreme Norway' day. The afternoon sunshine had just started to come out when we arrived at
‘ We held on to each other as we walked, clinging on to rocks when the gusts became too strong.’
the hut with other trampers chatting outside enjoying some beers at the picnic tables. To celebrate our last night on the track, we carefully chose a tap beer, the cheapest option available at 35 Norwegian kronor ($7). After pouring the beer, the lodge manager asked us to pay 90NOK ($18). I exchanged a worried look with Karen and told him, “Sorry. That wasn't what we ordered.” It became his turn to be confused. After some broken English and sign language, we found out that the cheaper beer was alcohol-free, so we stuck with the most expensive beer we have ever had, in a plastic cup – one between two of us.
On our last morning, the sky had cleared up. The track followed the Ulta River, which was still swollen from the last few days of rain and resulted in spectacular waterfalls. This valley was much greener, with old shepherds' huts dotted along the track and sheep grazing around them.
Climbing to the head of the valley the view changed again, and it took our breath away. An infinite number of tarns and lakes were dotted on the Tundra Plateau, with the mountains covered by large sheet glaciers. An hour walk led us to the western end of the National Park at Sognefjellshytta (Sogn Forest Hut) – and our final destination.