Worried about the melting glaciers in the Alps? And where exactly are the glaciers in the Pyrenees located? If you can't remember the feeling of ice and snow, here is the place to go: Jotunheimen, "home of the giants".
Jotunheimen, Norway | Rate 9
PositiveWhen I was in Jotunheimen, there was still a lot of snow. This made hiking tiresome, but the scenery was wild. There were almost no other hikers.
NegativeBesseggen was too busy.
- When June 2001 till July 2001
- Distance walked 150 km (~93.2 miles)
- Days walked 8 days
- Part walked Spiterstulen - Glitterheim - Memurubu - Olavsbu - Skogadalsboen - Fondsbu - Gjendebu - Gjendesheim
Jotunheimen is the highest mountain area of Norway. The name "Jotunheimen" means "home of the giants". Summits over 2.400 metres can be found here, together with many glaciers and large lakes. Geologically, the area consists mainly of hard gabbro rocks, and the shape of the valleys betray the impact of the ice in times passed. The area is unspoiled and, compared to the Alps, still quiet and wild imho. Nevertheless, it is the most popular hiking area in Norway, both for the Norwegians themselves as for foreigners. Second in popularity is Rondane, an area more to the East. And third is Hardangervidda, a large, empty plateau South of Jotunheimen.
DNT - the Norwegian Hiking Association
The Norwegians, who like hiking, skiing and fishing, have a unique system of huts, run by many local organisations. The umbrella organisation for all of them is the DNT, Den Norske Turistforening. You don't need to carry a tent or food for a week. It is possible to walk from hut to hut. (The reason I took a tent with me, was that I prefer camping in the open mountains. Camping is allowed in the national parks. Well, this country is vast! A few tents are completely lost in the landscape.) But now the huts: they come in three varieties: full-service huts, where food is served; self-service huts where no personnel is running about, where you can buy food and have to cook it yourself in the kitchen; and no-service huts, having a stove and beds with blankets like the self-service huts but where you cannot buy food. The food in the self-service huts consists of tins, rice, knäckebrød, many types of dried stuff, coffee, chocolate etc. etc. You have to pay for it - beware! it's expensive - by putting the money in a little paper bag and depositing it in a safe. You also need a DNT-key to enter the self- and no-service huts. However, in the tourist season most huts will be open, I guess.
Now the prices: you must count on at least 30 euro's for a night in a self-service hut and 50 euro's in a full-service hut (2001). This is including food. Of course, if you drink wine or beer, the price rockets up. These prices are for members. If you are not a DNT member, you pay more. Membership costs 45 euro's a year. You can pay with your visa card in the huts, also in the self-service huts.
If you have spare time in a hut, read some of the DNT yearbooks, they will give you a good insight into the hut and trailsystem and the enthusiasm of the Norwegians to keep it working. Some statistics: in 1998 the DNT had 173.000 members and 47 regional organisations. They run 363 huts (43 full-service, 138 self-service, 168 no-service and several other types) accounting for 7.648 beds. Also, some 90 private hotels give you discount when you are a DNT-member. The DNT-huts registrated 300.000 stays. The most popular area is Jotunheimen (39.000 stays), then comes Rondane (22.000 stays, a smaller area), followed by Hardangervidda (18.000 stays, a very large area) and Trollheimen (9.000 stays). Some 19.000 kilometres are T-marked in summer (a red "T" painted on a standing stone of flagstone) and some 4.500 kilomtres are marked in winter! Fantastic, right?! Now the most popular huts: Finsehytta is on top of the list with 14.529 stays. I think this hut is on the north side of Hardangervidda. Gjendesheim, where I stayed the last night of my trip, counts 11.212 stays. Third is Rondvassbu in Rondane, 9.220 stays. Then follow three other huts from the Jotunheimen area: Glitterheim, Fondsbu and Gjendebu. Of the self-service huts, Olavsbu, in the centre of Jotunheimen, is the most frequented one: 2.450 stays.
Camping and Food
As said above: camping is legal. I think it's best to camp on a higher level, say 1.200 metres. Lower, there are more annoying mosquito's and midges and more bush. Water is everywhere. The water from the higher lakes is clean and tasty. You can buy food in the huts on your way. When carrying a tent, you are free to chose your own distances.
I used two types: Jotunheimen 1:100.000, Statens Kartverk, a DNT publication; and Jotunheimen Vest and Aust, two maps of Statens Kartverk, 1:50.000. There are other maps then those I mention here as well. You can buy maps in the DNT huts on location.
Paths and Markings
Most valley paths and some of the summit tours are T-marked. This means that a red "T" has been painted on an upright stone. Most often, these stones are piled up into a cairn. Every so many metres, you will see a cairn and a T-mark. The cairns could be object of a study in themselves. When a path forks, there will be signposts. If you keep to the markings, you probably won't have to look on your map for a whole day.
Clothing and Gear
I wore leather boots (Lundhags). This was very practical for crossing rivers. Most of the time I could wade through streams or step from stone to stone, even if the stones were below the surface. Only once, I had to cross a river barefoot. A second rather tricky crossing was when I had to jump of a snow wall of 1,5 metres into the water. My boots were just high enough … Walking sticks will come in handy if you have to cross a really wild river.
A pair of snow gaiters is useful in this time of year. I did not wear them, though. I did not get wet feet when wading through rivers, but I did get very wet feet by walking through the wet, soft snow all day. A second thing about the snow is that you will absolutely need snow glasses or good sun glasses and sun lotion. Of course, take good rain clothes with you and enough warm clothes as well.
Don't forget the mosquito repellent! I met a girl who got entangled in a cloud of mosquito's somewhere near a park, and this ended with a skin infection.
In the train to Otta, I met a guy who lived on the northern side of Jotunheimen and who gave me a lift with his car from Otta to Lom. He told me someone recently fell off Glittertinden, the second highest mountain in Norway that can easily be reached from the huts Spiterstulen or Glitterheim. The man fell 200 metres, but was alive. When back in Holland, I red the whole story in a Dutch magazine. The man who had fallen from the top described himself how this could have happened and how he was rescued. The summit of Glittertinden is rounded and always covered by snow. One of the sides gently slopes down, the other however ends abruptly. Hikers keep to this edge, and so did this unfortunate man. Part of the edge broke off when he crossed it. Most likely, it hang over a little. So climbing Glittertinden, considered an easy climb, is not without risks. If you want to climb some mountains, an ice axe is handy. If you intend to cross glaciers, use full equipment and be prepared, they are not "flat and smooth" and in July many snowbridges will be unreliable.
Above 1.400 metres, snow was still abundant. I checked it in the hut books: this is the normal situation in Jotunheimen in most of July. In August it will be better, but also much busier. In September, the tourist season is at an end, and you can expect new snow. The summer is very short indeed. All this snow is melting in June and July. Rivers are therefore swollen. Also, many rivers are fed by glaciers and will be wild during August as well.
A good thing about the weather is its changeability. Generally, it doesn't rain as much here as at the West coast. The day might start with very bad weather, but changes are it clears up quickly in the afternoon (or vice versa …). Then there is the abundant sunlight: in mid-summer the sun sets at midnight and rises at three! This means it will never get dark at night.
1 - June 30 - Spiterstulen (6,5 hours)
I will now describe the walk and show you some pictures. I consider this week as one of my finest hikes. Norway is beautiful, and Jotunheimen is wild and romantic.
From Otta, passing Lom, a bus left for the private mountain lodge "Spiterstulen". It was raining when I arrived at this large mountain hotel, which lies in between the largest Norwegian mountains like Glittertinden (2466) and Galdhøpigen (2469). There were only a few guests. I could not stand waiting, so I left Eastwards.
The rain soon stopped and the sky broke open. When I arrived at a saddle, I had the first full views of Jotunheimen, and it was astonishing! I walked into a wide, snow-filled valley surrounded by black-and-white mountain slopes.
I tried to climb Glittertinden, but had to return some 400 meters below the summit because of the snow condition: it felt like porridge, wet and warm, and moreover the summit was hidden in clouds. I used an ice axe which was quite comfortable on the rather steep start. The rest of the day I walked through the valley around Glittertinden. This wide, flat valley, rather typical for the area, lies at 1400-1500 meters and was covered in snow.
After a pass with a few frozen lakes, the path descents quickly into the valley of Veo. Looking downwards, the river Veo meandered like a sand-eating snake. I camped on soft moss. At night a reindeer almost fell over my tent and when looking out, I saw some 20 stolid ruminating animals in the twilight. These animals are not wild. You will probably see quite a few of them. Next day I watched a shepherd with his dog chasing after a cow and her young.
2 - July 1 - Glitterheim and Russvatnet (5,5 hours)
I was wearing leather boots, Swedish made, that I also use for cross country skiing. They are fine - I can wade through streams - but the amount of snow I met yesterday was a little bit too much: I could wring out my socks… and put them wet on this morning.
The sky was overcast. The valley of Veo, leading to the hut of Glitterheim, was mostly green. The slopes on the other side of the valley were covered in snow. I arrived at the DNT hut Glitterheim, on the foot of the mountain Glittertinden, still hidden in clouds. After a rest I left southward. A bridge crossed the river Veo, not a river to wade through in this time of the year. I almost stepped on a pair of Willow Grouse. The path winded up to a pass at about 1700 m.
The snow was quite alright this time. The descent was actually more enjoyable because of the snow, and deep below was one of those large, dark, pure lakes: Russvatnet, stretching in the form of a banana between steep slopes the ice once cut out of the hard rock. It's about twelve kilometres long. One more bridge - a hanging one this time above a river that rumbled like a washing machine - and I touched the shore of the lake. Further in the south I pitched my tent on a pleasant flat piece of land. Only the waterfall on the background roared like a jet engine; it's never quiet in these mountains…
By the way: the weather had greatly improved. The sun had accompanied me all the way down from the pass.
3 - July 2 - Memurubu, Gjendebu and on (8,5 hours)
Yes, the sky was clear now. My path climbed over another saddle and now the Gjende lake came into view. Gjende is one of the three big natural lakes of Jotunheimen. I think it's about 17 km long, and one km wide. The other two lakes are Bygdin and Tyin. These lakes lie on a heigth of around 1000 metres. The path joined the path from the DNT-hut Gjendesheim to the private hut Memurubu. This is the popular Bessegen walk, which I will describe later. Under me, some 400 metres, was Memurubu, a large complex of buildings. A lot of people were on the path, all coming from or going to Gjendesheim.
I descended to Memurubu, took a cup of coffee and left for the hike to Gjendebu. Both Gjendebu and Gjendesheim are DNT-huts. They are on the opposite sides of the lake. In between is Memurubu. A boat is ferrying between those huts several times a day. It's a popular place, and right so.
The path from Memurubu to Gjendebu is a "ridge"-walk. After a rather exposed climb with views into the lake and the Memuru valley, the path continuous on a kind of plateau, with lots of lakes on different levels and other landscape elements left by the ice. It's nice to roam about in this cluttered collection of stones, hills, lakes, streams.
Then you have a choice: descent to the lake Gjende or continue to Storådalen and walk back to the lake Gjende. Most people take the steep descent. The most exposed places are secured with chains. After 500 metres steep descent, I walked through the open forest enjoying the many flowers and green scents. It was raining a bit.
In Gjendebu, I had dinner. At eight, I continued in Storådalen for another one-and-a-half hour. This was a marvellous walk, because the sun and the mist played a pleasant game, the sun only a fist high above the horizon, the mist trying to enter the valley from the mountain slopes. I camped near a little cabin called Storådalsbue on the map. Someone forgot his socks - a white pair with "L" and "R" on it, so pick it up please, they are on the hedge next to the cabin.
4 - July 3 - Olavsbu (5,5 hours)
Clouds and virtually no wind. I rejoined my path and run into a pretty wild river with apparently a broken bridge. Boots off, stockings out, and wading to the other side using two remnants of the bridge as sticks. I chose a rather deep but stable place to cross over where I could see the stones. Quite tricky, this crossing, since I was almost loosing my balance in the strong current. The nice thing is that when you are dry and well on the other side, and put on your socks and shoes again, one feels reborn.
I passed a very calm lake, then a very large frozen lake (Langvatnet) with muddy shores. Now I had to turn South sharply, into another short valley that took me up to a pass. It happened four people passed me from the other side so I could follow their steps in the snow and did not have to think much or look at the map a lot. It rained by now. On the other side of the pass descending was an easy job in the snow and soon I saw the roofs of Olavsbu, a DNT self-service hut. Only the uppermost building was open. There was no one. I lit the fire, put on some dry clothes and made lots of coffee and tea while comfortably watching mist and rain drifting along the windows. Two people came in later that afternoon. An hour later again a couple arrived. The first couple left to find a camping place lower in the valley. For more than an hour, we saw them looking for a place to pass the river, which was rather silly because there was a bridge just under the hut. And we pitied them, because the girl apparently didn't want to camp at all in this weather.
That night the rain stopped and deep into the valley the sky coloured red and then turned purple and blue.
5 - July 4 - Skogadalsbøen and on (9 hours)
Clear sky, sun everywhere. So I left the hut in an optimistic mood. The snow was harder now than it was yesterday. I walked down the Raudalen valley. Gradually the Storutladalen came into view and some very high mountains and glaciers. The Storutla river carried a lot of water. After some time the path stayed high and the river plunged into the Utladalen valley where it joined some other noisy and white streams; as I said: Jotunheimen is not a quiet place in this time of the year, even if there are still very few hikers.
On the other side of the Utladalen was the massif of Hurrangane, a collection of sharp peaks amidst ice, only accessible for climbers. Dark clouds gathered above these mountains and not long after, I heard the first strike of lightning. It stayed dry however and I reached Skogadalsbøen, a beautiful hut in an open place in the forest, somewhat above the valley and with good views in all directions.
There were few people. Later, a Danish group arrived, but by that time I left for an evening walk, hoping it would not rain. Clouds still flocked together but broke up as well.
I walked through the damp, sweet smelling birch forest. The forest floor was covered with many different flowers. It was steamy hot. The path took me in the direction of Vetti, due South. It climbed some 400-500 meter along the slopes of Friken. It picked up the mountain range from where the descent started. I had impressive views into the Hurrangane massif, and deep into Utladalen with some spectacular water falls.
I did not go to Vetti, I turned left into Fleskedalen and half an hour later I found a flat place for the tent, without shrubs and midges.
6 - July 5 - Fondsbu and on (6 hours)
The sky was still clouded when I woke up, but cracks of blue shined through. I continued up into the valley. At the valley bottom, I scrambled up a rocky outcrop and reached a kind of narrow pass with a frozen lake, mainly stones. This time there was no running water, and therefore it was a silent place, nice to sit and warm myself in the sun.
I had to go over a second pass and entered a complex area of lakes, hills, rivers, moraines. The clouds dissolved. The mountain tops stood out sharply against the blue sky and mirrored in the blue waters of the lakes. Because of the snow, I progressed slowly, but still I regard this walk as one of the finest, because the landscape was changing all the time.
In the end, I caught sight of lake Bygdin (a natural lake, but now used as a reservoir for a hydro-electricity) and a lot of little cabins. The large, red fjäll hotel contrasted against the dark water of the lake.
A little before the fjäll hotel was the DNT hut Fondsbu. I was tired, took a long rest and finally joined dinner. But I didn't stay. I went on for an hour and a half, along lake Bygdin and up into the Høystakka valley. The air was clear as glass, the sun shined from a low angle, mosquito's danced. I found a nice spot for camping on the entrance of the valley, near the wire bridge, with an open view over lake Bygdin.
7 - July 6 - Gjendebu (3 hours)
A short day. The valley I camped in led me in three hours to the Gjendebu hut I visited four days earlier. No snow in this valley.
I especially liked the walk through the birch forest, the breeding and alarmed Redshanks and many Bluethroats.
8 - July 7 - Memurubu to Gjendesheim: Besseggen (6 hours)
The last day. I took the 8.35 boat to Memurubu, the private lodge halfway lake Gjende. I could leave my backpack on the boat and the boatsmen would bring it to Gjendesheim, my final destination of today and this week. I only had a light daypack to carry. That felt like having wings.
I took the famous path over the Bessegen ridge. I was not the only one doing this: some 50 people disembarked from the boat coming from Gjendesheim, and they all walked back to the hut they came from. This path is said to be the most popular walk in Norway. The path climbed a few hundred metres. Here the path forked, the left branch going to lake Russvatnet - here I was the third day of my trip, and the right branch going to Besseggen. For an hour or so, I had pretty views on the lake below.
The funny part was the place where lake Bessvatnet and lake Gjende almost meet. The first lake is about 400 metres higher than the last one. The ridge in between is rather small, some 80 metres, and then there is a straight drop down to lake Gjende. Nice place to picnic, and so all the other 50 walkers thought.
The path continued up the Besseggen ridge, a rather steep ridge, with stunning views over Jutunheimen and straight down into Gjende. It's not dangerous, you cannot fall off. The ridge is associated with Per Gynt: "the dramatist Henrik Ibsen immortalised Besseggen when he described Per Gynt's wild ride on the reindeer across the ridge. Not even the fall - or should we call it flight - into Gjende did any harm to Ibsen's mendacious hero, and none of the thousands hikers who have made the Besseggen tour has ever repeated Per Gynt's fall" (from: Mountain Touring Holidays in Norway. Nortrabooks, Oslo 1974).
The ridge ended, and a very gentle slope led to the summit of Veslefjellet, a stone plateau 1743 m high. Here was the place and the moment to say goodbye to Jotunheimen - the mountains, glaciers and snow disappeared in the West. In the East was Gausdal Vestfjell, an area with rounded mounds and (at this time of the year) not much snow. The descent to Gjendesheim was rather steep and slippery. Down at the lake was a parking place next to the ferry pier. Lot's of people here.
I stayed in Gjendesheim this night. It was a rare evening, warm and quiet. The hut had all its doors and windows opened and guests were engaged in soft talks, sitting on the veranda, in the grass next to the hut, in the sitting room. Fishermen walked halfway the lake, at this point gradually turning into a river. They nervously chased the mosquito's as if they were waving to the guests in the hut. From the east, a thunderstorm unavoidably approached. A mountain top was lit by the sun. Then a large rainbow developed above the top, like a fire. Suddenly, wind pushed over the lake and everybody took shelter. The shower was short. The lightning continued for some time. The trip was over.
- Some advice
- 1 - June 30 - Spiterstulen (6,5 hours)
- 2 - July 1 - Glitterheim and Russvatnet (5,5 hours)
- 3 - July 2 - Memurubu, Gjendebu and on (8,5 hours)
- 4 - July 3 - Olavsbu (5,5 hours)
- 5 - July 4 - Skogadalsbøen and on (9 hours)
- 6 - July 5 - Fondsbu and on (6 hours)
- 7 - July 6 - Gjendebu (3 hours)
- 8 - July 7 - Memurubu to Gjendesheim: Besseggen (6 hours)