So, having scaled the highest peak in Europe north of the Alps, what could be next, and what could top that? I had a couple of ideas which I hoped my friends would appreciate, and which I thought might keep excitement levels on a high. After a leisurely breakfast spent watching people head off on the same trip as we’d done the previous day, we jumped in the car and headed off down the single track road towards “civilisation”. We stopped for a while in Lom to look at the ancient stave church there: unfortunately we couldn’t get in to look around as there was a wedding on at the time, but we enjoyed walking around the outside of it. The town itself is a pretty typical Norwegian place, with a spectacular waterfall under the main road bridge. I spent a while staring at the rushing cold green water, transfixed as ever by the movement.
Eventually we moved on, and took the road that headed deep into the Jotunheimen, RV51. The long climb out of the valley was interrupted briefly when we took a side road down to Ridderspranget, the Knight’s Leap. Oddly enough, the walk from the car down to the river – about 5 minutes – felt more painful than anything the previous day as my legs had started to seize up. Ridderspranget is a tale from Norway’s past, where a prince from one valley jumped over a gorge with his girl in his arms, having rescued her from another prince. The story goes that he pushed his manservant into the chasm to show his pursuers that he’d do the same to them. The gorge itself isn’t that deep – maybe 25 feet, but the green waters of the Sjoa river run white as they cascade through the gap. The leap is eight or ten feet, and I certainly wouldn’t want to try it! I spent a bit of time clambering over the rocks beside the torrent, and moved further down the river to a spot where you can see up into the gorge: the marks on the rock walls showed how much higher the river had been recently, and that would have been a fearsome sight.
Leaving the quiet valley behind, the road continued to climb up onto a plateau, where we were driving along the valley floor alongside countless lakes and surrounded by snow capped peaks. The rain was back and accompanied us all the way to our next destination. Again I’d managed to book accommodation at a DNT place, this one at Gjendesheim. It’s just off the RV51 and at one end of lake Gjende. Even if you’ve never been to Norway there’s a good chance you’ve seen pictures of it, taken from on high with the bright green waters of Gjende on the left and the darker blue of Bessvatn on the left, either side of a steep but relatively wide ridge, called Besseggen. That was to be our hike for the next day, so we had a fair bit of time to explore locally.
After checking in (I had a bed in a mixed dormitory – my friends asked how much extra I’d paid for it!) we drove on over the rest of the plateau, which by now was called Valdresflya and headed for the small town of Beitostølen, which sits at the head of the Øystre Slidre valley, (the valley happens to be my maternal grandfather’s home). The town is constantly growing and is particularly popular in winter. We had lunch and did a bit of tourist shopping, gifts for those back home etc, before heading back to near Gjendesheim where we met up with both of my pairs of uncles and aunts who live in Norway, and who had made the trip up to see us. We spent the evening with them and had a pretty early night as we had an early start again the next day.
The day was bright and the skies clear as we had a big breakfast then walked down to the ferry to take us halfway along Gjende to Memurubu. One of my uncles had joined us for the trip and the ferry ride was spent looking at the bulk of Besseggen which dominated the skyline to our right. The top was swathed in cloud, and we should have realised what that meant in terms of weather!
Most of the people on the boat got off at Memurubu, and we all started along the same path, at different speeds. Pretty soon the path turned right and up, up, up. I’d walked there (with the same uncle) in my teens, and there were now steps where there hadn’t been in the past. I know that steps etc help combat erosion, but I have to say that I find them less than helpful and quite tough to walk up and down when I’m in the hills and mountains, Anyhow, as we got up out of the valley onto the top of the mountain that would lead towards Besseggen, we also walked into cloud and rain started. It was to be our constant companion for the next four or five hours, until we walked back down off the mountain to Gjendesheim. Much of the initial walk, once up out of the valley, was along a well marked path and quite wide open. The lake was far below on our right, and bigger moountains marched off to our left, but for the most part our path wound its way along a rocky, boulder strewn stretch with occasional ups and downs.
We stopped for sandwiches and coffee at the foot of Besseggen itself, finding shelter from the incessant rain where we could. It should be said at this point that, though it was raining it wasn’t “Bergening“, though we did end up pretty much soaked, even through our waterproofs. Suitably fortified, we started the climb up from the shores of Bessvatn, into more cloud. One of the benefits of the cloud was that the full scale of our climb couldn’t be seen, and every time we moved up we though “this must be the top”. This is one of the most popular walks in Norway, with over 30000 people doing it every year. There are multiple paths up the ridge, and if you don’t like exposure you can find a route that doesn’t leave you hanging over the 400 metre drop to Gjende below: I like the exposure so I sought routes that did!
When we finally reached the top of Vesslefjell (at 1743 metres, way higher than anything in the UK) we were treated to yet more walking along a wide, boulder strewn area with well marked paths and cairns along the way. Finally we started our descent, including one piece where a chain had been fixed to help give grip down a short steep patch – maybe no more than 8 or 10 feet – and more steps. As we got lower the skies cleared and we got our best views of the day of the lake and Gjendesheim. My aunt was waiting and she and my uncle headed for home, while my friends and I went back to our accomodation to get cleaned up and dried out.
We drove down to Beitostølen that night for dinner (the almost obligatory pizza) and had the pleasure of seeing a herd of reindeer roaming not far from the road on Valdresflya. We also stopped at a Sami (Lapp) camp at the foot of Bitihorn as they were selling some touristy things, mostly made from reindeer, before having our date with pizza. Back at Gjendesheim we sat in the bar and had a couple of beers, our holiday nearly at an end, and talked about the two days of amazing walks we’d just had.
The last day involved a leisurely drive down to Olso Gardemoen airport before handing the car back and flying home. On the plane back we discovered that the two walks we’d done were two of the most difficult in the guidebook I had (oops – hadn’t spotted that when planning the trip) and also worked out that I’d driven 800 kilometers (500 miles). What a trip!
So, 500 miles of driving, fjords, mountains, glaciers, wild reindeer, the highest peak, the deepest fjord and the most popular ridge walk, all in 5 days. Norway in a Nutshell indeed!