After nearly one month on the trail and now joined by my girlfriend Elien, I finally reach the gates of some of Scandinavia wildest country: Jotunheimen. This mountain area, east of Sognefjorden, which is the world’s second deepest and third longest fjord, hosts the 29 highest mountains of Northern Europe. It consists of several highly alpine mountain ranges with large glaciers, separated by fjord-like lakes and spectacular valleys, which especially in the west deeply incise into the landscape. Because the bedrock of Jotunheimen is composed of gabbro and gneiss, which typically weather into large boulders sometimes spread across the valley floors, the going is often hard – and slow. There is a network of marked trails and mountain cabins, however, and Jotunheimen offers enough possibilities for weeks of splendid hiking and mountaineering.
I’ve made a 14-day trekking in Jotunheimen in 2008, during which I walked most valleys in the National Park and climbed several mountains over 2000m, including the two highest peaks in Scandinavia: Galdhoppigen (2469m) and Glittertind (2465m). As we are on a long thru-hike this time, we will only visit Jotunheimen for a few days before continuing north.
Jotunheimen is also the area where my route deflects from that of most other people walking the Norge pa Langs. After the stretch through Skarvheimen, the ‘classical’ route veers northeast, passing through southeastern Jotunheimen and then walking through valleys and forests for a few days to get to Rondane and plunge into Central Norway. I will, however, cut through the western part of Jotunheimen, cross over towards the often overlooked, highly alpine mountains of Breheimen, continue north across the vast plateaus of Reinheimen and then veer east in Dovrefjell before reaching Central Norway. That makes over a week extra in the mountains!
After Elien’s long travel, we sleep long and leave around noon. We spend most of the day skirting along the northwestern shore of Lake Tyin. The average altitude of the walk is a bit lower than the previous days and we (temporarily) swap the snow for wet terrain and, for the first time of the trip, mosquitos. The artificial lake is a few meters below its maximum level and on some places the terrain is so wet that we rather like to walk the rocky beaches.
When we climb up the Fonnkloppeggi, Elien gets her first views onto the peaks of Jotunheimen. The snow cover clearly increases again as we progress further north, and by the time we get to the northern tip of the Tyin lake most of our walk is on the solid from of water again. The Koldedøla river thunders down its valley with impressive force. We follow the gravel road into the valley (which is too a large extent still covered by snow) for a few kilometers, and then descend to the river again to camp. And what a first camp it is for Elien. The swollen river, loaded with icebergs, silently slides by just below us, while the jagged peaks of Koldedalstinden (1927m) and Falketinden (2068m), their summits enveloped by clouds, guard the valley.
It rains a lot during the morning, but eventually the weather clears and around noon we leave. We continue through the valley and along the Koldedalsvatnet lake until we reach the trailhead. Do I need to say once more that the next few hours, all the way to the Fleskedalen valley, we walked on snow again nearly every single meter? We climb up towards the frozen Uradalsvatnet with ever-improving views onto the Uranos and Stølnos ranges.
After a steep climb we cross the pass towards the Fleskedalen. Before starting the descent, we skirt along two frozen lakes in an elevated valley squeezed between very steep rock faces. The first part of the descent into Fleskedalen is very steep, but luckily most of the snow has melted away on the SW-facing slopes. We carefully search for a way down on a battleground of slippery boulders and rock slabs. The cloudbase has come down again and unfortunately we only see the base of the wild Hurrungane range at the other side of the deeply incised Utladalen.
The valley floor of the Fleskedalen does not bring the relief we had hoped for. Meltwater-loaded rivers thunder down the slopes every few hundred meters and as they are often too powerful to cross with shoes, we have to wade many of them. Our progress is very slow, and it is already well past six o’clock when we reach the plateau near the treeline low in the valley where we can pick up the trail up the south ridge of Friken. It starts to rain and we call it a day.
By the next morning the rain has eased, but the cloudbase remains low at around 1300m. That is a pity for today, as we will traverse high above the Utladalen, a section with extraordinary views on Hurrungane, which is generally considered to be the most alpine mountain cluster in entire Scandinavia. I’ve already walked this section in 2008, but in similar conditions. Still the climb up the south ridge of Friken is phenomenal. Meltwater cascades down into Ultadalen from every side valley. As we traverse the W-face of Friken, low clouds float by and obscure the views. This is a particularly though section with steep snowfield traverses, boulderfields and very muddy sections in the birch forest, but eventually we reach the torrent thundering down from the massive boulderfieds in the lower Uradalen. It starts to rain when we cover the last hectometers towards the large, staffed Skogadalsboen cabin.
So far, we have not crossed a single other hiker in Jotunheimen yet, but here a few people are seeking shelter or already installing themselves for the night. There even is electricity and I charge the batteries of my camera while we have some chocolate milk and take a shower in one of the side buildings (first shower in 10 days!). By the time we finish the rain has stopped and the sky even starts to clear. I ruin the zipper of my left gaiter while packing, and have to continue without until we find a shop to buy a new one.
On an excellent trail we quickly reach the bridge across the turquoise-colored, proglacial Vetle Utla river. Some excellent bivouac spots can be found just upstream of the bridge. The next hour of the walk is pure joy. While we climb higher into the valley and the weather continues to clear, fantastic retrospective views on the thundering river and the green valley floor lined by snow-capped mountains open up. Sheep chase us when we pass a few old barns and eventually reach the alluvial plains a bit higher up, where we soon find a place to camp. The wind eases during the night and it gets pretty cold. We know all too well what that means: dawn will bring a crisp clear day.
Not a single cloud smudges the brilliantly blue sky the following morning. Today, we will cross from Jotunheimen into Breheimen, a very high stage with a long section above 1400m. While we climb out of the Vetle Utladalen and snow cover increases again, massive views back onto Jotunheimen open up. We walk the vast plateaus and skirt along frozen lakes with the peaks of the Uranos, Stølnos and Hurrungane ranges as a backdrop. While we approach the Sognefjellhytta and start to meet daytrippers (most of whom quickly turn back because of the snow), the huge glaciers on the flanks of Fannaraken and the Smørstabbtinden ranges show themselves in all their splendor.
We pick up the last food drop I have sent forward from Geilo and take a long break in the sunshine at the backside of the hut. A dozen of people are skiing on the summer loipes. I find it incredible that even the middle of the very short summer Norwegians still want to go skiing.
The going gets more difficult as we progress north into Breheimen National Park. Nobody has walked this route in the previous days, and finding to trail is hard at times because of the lack of cairns (covered by snow) and the terrain with many steep slopes. We zig-zag through the maze towards the Bøttjonne lake, where we turn left at two junctions and eventually reach the dam of the Storevatnet lake. In the meantime it is slowly getting overcast from the southwest.
After crossing the dam the marked trail soon starts to diverge from the one indicated on the map – instead of climbing across point 1436m we traverse its south face towards the west, even losing some altitude while doing so. It is a good detour but we keep following the trail, which eventually veers northeast once we have rounded the mountain. But the long stage and the difficult terrain are taking their toll. Elien is knackered and we search for a place to camp. Our bivouac spot has a view down the valley towards the Skalavatnet. But neither of us likes the place. There is not the least bit of wind and slight rain starts to fall. The patchwork of snow and brown tundra on the mountains and the absolute, nearly scary silence give us a dreary and deserted feeling. We quickly get into the tent after dinner.
The slight rain persists all night in complete absence of wind. But the timing is perfect – while we pack in the morning it gets dry and once we are walking the skies starts to clear. On complex terrain with longitudinal rock ridges separating frozen lakes we continue northeast until we reach the southwestern tip of the Storevatnet lake. It now becomes clear why the trail has been diverted: the previous descent on the north face of point 1436m was very steep, and looks dangerous with all the snow still lingering around.
While we climb up to the east ridge of Liabrekulen (1620m), the views back towards Fannaraken (2068m) and the Smørstabbstinden range are phenomenal. Towards the north, the Hestbreapiggan ridge, hosting nearly half of Breheimen’s summits over 2000m, shows up. It has clearly a different character than the mountains in western Jotunheimen, with plateau-like summits and glaciers carving out deep corries. We take a long break before starting the descend towards the Liabrevatnet (1460m). The lake is still firmly frozen and we walk across instead of making altitude meters on the ridges along its northern shore. The Liabreen glacier has formed a high ice wall calving into the lake.
The rest of the day is off-trail walking in a northward direction in order to directly cross towards the Medalsbu cabin. After climbing up to a nameless pass (1440m) we walk along the Namnlausvatnet (1353m). Later in summer, this section is probably not too enjoyable. Endless boulderfields peep above the snow, but we can still easily progress along the lake. After descending into the Middalen we find connection to a DNT-trail again and climb up towards the small Medalsbu cabin. We are happy to get there as the weather is deteriorating again and energy was running low. Because of the often wet weather combined with the lack of wind, we have not been able to wash clothes the last few days – the stove does a good job drying a laundry. There is a huge stock of food underneath the benches at the table. Many freeze-dried meals have exceeded their expiration date the last few months so we take a few with us.
It is still overcast with a cloudbase below the summits the following morning. That is a pity as we would have loved to climb either the Holatinden (2043m) or the Vesldalstinden (1805m) from the pass east of the hut. The landscape near the Lundadalsbandet and lake 1431m is a desert of boulders and moraines – absolutely impossible to find a place to camp there. After a short but very steep descent we reach the Vesldalen. Snow bridges help us across most of the streams rushing down from the hanging Holabreen glacier. We soon reach the unstaffed Trulsbu cabin and have a fruit salad.
It is another 30km down the endless Lundadalen valley before we will reach civilization again. After our bad experiences in the Fleskedalen in Jotunheimen, we had feared this valley would be very hard again with dozens of powerful meltwater rivers thundering down from the northern slopes of the Hestbreapiggan range to cross/wade. But we have now reached the rainshadow northeast of the Jostedalsbreen, Breheimen and Jotunheimen barrier. The municipality of Skjak we are walking towards now is the driest place in entire Norway with an annual precipitation of less than 300mm (compared to 2000-3000mm only 100km further southwest!). When we look through the Lundadalen, we clearly see that the snow cover decreases by the kilometer. While we are still walking in a winter landscape at just 1200m, only a few small snowfields are visible on the upper slopes of Hesthøi (2021m), about 15km further east!
So instead of a dreadful walk, we have a relaxed stroll along the wonderful Lundadalsvatnet lake. The weather starts to clear once again (pity it did not a few hours earlier). A dozen reindeer have their afternoon nap at the river delta at the southwestern tip of the lake. The hanging glaciers at the northern side of the valley glister in the sun. It is magnificent weather, it is a magnificent walk. We can jump or boulder-hop across every single torrent as the major ones draining the glaciers of the Hestbreapiggan range get braided in wide debris fans as their gradient eases near the valley floor. About one or two kilometers downstream of the lake, we find a bivouac spot on a levee right above the river and enjoy the evening sunshine before going to bed. We are in love with the Lundadalen.
Our stroll continues the following morning, although we have to bushwhack some sections while we approach the treeline. After a summer bridge across the powerful river the path improves. We have our last wonderful views back up the valley and then plunge down towards the hamlet of Heimste Lundadalssaetri, where we find connection to a gravel road. It is the warmest day of the trip so far with temperatures well in the 20’s. It is still a long way down through the forest and eventually on asphalt roads, but we have had our highlights the past week and the kilometers fly by without any cursing. It’s a warm evening in Bismo and we sit outside in t-shirt until a bit before midnight. Summer has finally come.
30/06/2012: Tyinosen – Koldedalen (14km, +400/-400, 5h)
01/07/2012: Koldedalen – Fleskedalen (14km, +350/-460, 5h25)
02/07/2012: Fleskedalen – Vetle Utladalen (13km, +590/-570, 4h40)
03/07/2012: Vetle Utledalen – Moldskredhaugen (17km, +710/-530, 6h20)
04/07/2012: Moldskredhaugen – Medalsbu (16km, +790/-630, 5h30)
05/07/2012: Medalsbu – Lundadalen (15km, +120/-320, 5h15)
06/07/2012: Lundadalen – Bismo (24km, +60/-800, 6h30)