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Published: September 9th 2014
Trout for breakfast?
Besseggen: Norway’s best hike and “the most famous hike in Scandinavia” according to visitnorway.com, who may be slightly biased. Surprising then that I’d never heard of it. Because as well as getting around the world to wander among some very pretty places, I’m perhaps even better at reading about hikes that I would like to do. Especially while at work if I need a five-minute internet distraction – cat videos don’t do much for me.
After a month working in the furnace that is the Kuwaiti desert, I needed a little holiday, and I could think of nowhere that was a greater contrast to Kuwait than Norway (August is the wrong month for Antarctica). I would be swapping plus 50C temperatures and monotonous sun for a mild 20C with a chance of glorious drizzle; flat featureless barren desert for mountains and lakes; spending all day in the middle of nowhere with a hundred Indian and Egyptian bulldozer drivers and labourers to spending all day in the hills with some quite beautiful Norwegians.
Scandinavia was a part of the world that I hadn’t really delved into. I had a weekend in Stockholm about 10-years ago that
The steepest scrambliest part of the hike, made all the trickier by a rather distracting view.
I really enjoyed – but didn’t leave the city. The mountains which make up almost all of the Norway are probably the closest decent sized foreign peaks to Yorkshire so I’m not sure why I hadn’t visited before (sorry Scotland but it’s another couple of weeks till your lovely mountains can be classed as “abroad”). And I have a really good friend there. Being a serial travel planner, it was nice to not have to think about the trip or look into transport and accommodation options. I knew I had five days, I knew we were going hiking, Hilde looked after the rest. Tusen takk Hilde.
There is an additional Yorkshire connection to Norway regarding the language. A lot of my Yorkshire slang Hilde can understand whereas someone from London might not. In the couple of hundred years that the Vikings held sway in northern and eastern England from about 800AD it seems that some of the dialect got left behind, at least it did in Yorkshire. Street names such as Kirkgate and Micklegate are as common in Leeds and York as they are in Oslo and Bergen (meaning Church Street and Great Street if you’re interested).
The Jotunheimen National Park sits right in the centre of the head if you think of Norway’s shape as being a southwards swimming tadpole. A couple of buses and a five-hour journey through very pretty scenery took us right to the mountain hut where the famous hike starts or ends. The road followed the edges of lakes, navigated forests, and wound up through green valleys in scenery that reminded me a bit of New Zealand. Higher up where the road crossed treeless soggy plateaus filled with little tarns and jagged rocky outcrops it was more reminiscent of highland Scotland.
The mountain “hut” was nicer than many hotels I’ve stayed in, though it was very busy. All rooms were full, all beds were taken, but all the mountain huts have a policy of not turning anyone away. Therefore, I and 16 others had to enjoy the view over the lake and mountains until 11pm when they cleared the sofas and tables to the edge of a sitting room and fitted 17 mattresses on the floor like a game of Tetris.
The morning was reminiscent of being in an albergue on the Camino
de Santiago as from around 6am plastic bags were rustled, alarms beeped, and zippers were zipped. The view of Gjende Lake from Gjendesheim was a lovely one, especially as the morning sun slowly lifted and burnt through the low cloud. And the view got even better as we began the climb above the hut.
The Besseggen route is essentially along a high ridge which parallels a lake. Most people get a boat halfway along the lake and walk back but we were doing the walk in reverse because, according to Hilde, there would be fewer people in this direction, the mountain hut at Memurubu halfway along the lake is even nicer than Gjendesheim, and the best and most famous view is in the direction you are walking – you don’t have to keep turning around.
It seems many other people were in agreement as the hike was pretty busy. In fact it was as busy as some of the more popular hikes in the UK’s lake District, such as up Helvellyn. The more the hike went on, the more the amount of people surprised me. The hike was tough. To see so many people
doing it was great. Especially the families and big groups of mates all walking together. It was more of a challenge than I expected, I was impressed with everybody. Comparing it again to Helvellyn, one of Britain’s most popular hikes, there are warnings on the signs in the car park at the bottom that the walk takes 9 hours, you must be fit, and have supplies with you. However, you can happily get up and down Helvellyn in under 5‑hours and that’s without rushing, still stopping for some scran on the top. The signs at the bottom of Besseggen say 5 to 7 hours. It took us 7.5 hours. We stopped often for photos and nibbles but we weren’t exactly ambling. Most people were overtaking us. They are a fit bunch the Norwegians. (Incidentally, the record is 1 hour 16 minutes run in 1963 in an annual race that has recently been resurrected.)
Two things struck me about my fellow hikers;
1. They have all the gear. This is something that often strikes me in the UK when you see people fully kitted out in North Face attire, with mountain boots, hiking poles, the sort of
kit that could see you attempt a Himalayan peak, and they are actually tackling a 500 m grassy hill in West Yorkshire. Well in Norway it is the same – the major difference being in Norway they tend to choose the fluorescent pink or yellow jackets to go with their red or purple tights. Though it was nice to see a large proportion of people climbing in fell-running trainers, as I always do for the weight and agility, something for which I’ve been mocked for when on mighty 600 m peaks in Britain (I’ve been over 5000 m in these thanks pal).
2. There were people who, from appearance alone, you might not expect to see doing a hike like this. Some pretty large people as well as families with young children, and they all go bounding along, generally overtaking us. How fit people look and how fit people are is not entirely related. We came across two sixteen year old emo-looking lads doing the hike together and several groups of trendy‑looking girls in their twenties. Hikers tend to be of a type where I come from; not here.
Once up the fairly steep climb onto
the ridge, the path climbs gradually to “Norway’s Biggest Cairn” on the highpoint of the route at 1743 m (you start at 983 m). The view opens out to take in snowy peaks in all directions, a few glaciers pouring from the higher ones. The mountains are very rocky with only occasional patches of green here and there. What there is a lot of is water; lakes, tarns, streams, waterfalls, it made me realise I was lucky to get away with a sunny day up here – they aren’t that common. The path then continues to the steepest, narrowest part of the ridge. It’s probably better to take it in ascent which is why more people do the hike the other way around, but it isn’t too tricky to get down. And it’s from this ridge that you get the postcard view. The fjord-like 18km long pale-green Lake Gjende lays way down on your left while below you on the right is the deep blue Lake Bessvatnet. A narrow neck of rock separates the two with the latter being 400 m higher. One massive rainstorm or a carefully placed stash of explosives would provide a very impressive waterfall. The pale-green
Memurubu Mountain Hut
Note the tiny antlered chapel.
colour of Lake Gjende comes from rock flour as glaciers higher up grind away at the ancient rocks, which are then transported to the lake via milky white streams. The deep blue Lake Bessvatnet is actually crystal clear with the vivid blue sky being reflected from its chilly depths.
If you thought, like me, that after reaching this point the route would be gradually downhill all the way to the end, well it isn’t. The path continues to wind up and down around little tarns, rocky spurs, and even a chunk of glacier trying to see out the summer in a shady cove. Luminous jacketed Norwegians continued to bound past us as we gradually made our way down the final descent – long and steep enough to give you seemingly two extra sets of very wobbly knees.
Upon arrival at the very nice mountain hut of Memurubu I got a taste of the other thing Norway is famous for (in addition to its scenery): two beds in a 6-bed dorm/turf roofed hut and dinner came to £62. Not bad I thought, only a little bit more than mountain huts in Slovenia and Spain. Then
Pale green Lake Gjende on the left, on the right; deep blue Lake Bessvatnet which is 400 m higher separated by a narrow ridge.
he told me that was each. Admittedly, this hut can only be supplied by boat explaining the high prices but when we had a beer each and the bill was £22 I thought that was a little extreme. It wasn't even draught; 11 quid for a can of Carlsberg!
In fact, dinner was great. Communal tables with interesting people, all with impeccable English of course, and as much seconds as you could handle (in my case rather a lot). And just in case you had forgotten what country you were in, the main course; roast elk. Delicious.
Tot: 0.824s; Tpl: 0.066s; cc: 14; qc: 31; dbt: 0.0179s; 1; m:saturn w:www (22.214.171.124); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb