The first thing we did when we got off the train at Finse was put our hats and jackets on. Five seconds into the trip and already we had used an item firmly marked as ‘just in case’ when we packed our bags the day before. Although Norway’s highest train station, the area was still only just above 1,000 meters altitude and it was the middle of July. Already 18.30, we figured it was just a fresh evening wind and started to follow the trail up the hillside to find our first campsite.
Jochen and I each carried a 22-kg backpack containing everything we would need for the 12-day hike: including a tent, sleeping gear, one change of clothing, a camera, solar charger, cooking gear, 2 roles of toilet paper, all purpose soap, 2 water bottles, 12 days worth of food (or so we hoped) and a bottle of vodka we had bought at the airport at the last minute. We would follow the marked trails of the Norwegian Tracking Association (DNT), hiking over 200 km from Finse, in the Skvarheimen region, to Gjendesheim, in Jotunheimen. We brought a nifty little stove that is fueled with twigs and wood chips, and thanks to Norway’s liberal Right of Way policy, we could pretty much camp wherever we liked. Mountain cabins were available along the trail, but those were only for backup. Just like the hat.
We went to sleep early as Jochen had astutely observed that Hollywood tradition dictated that one should always “move at dawn” when starting on a new campaign.
I have to admit, the view on the first day was not as green as we had previously imagined:
As fog, cold wind and a continues drizzle motivated us to pace on without breaks, we reached the day’s destination as early as 11 am. We did not want to walk too far on first day in order to get used to the walking and spare our feet and knees in the long run. With nowhere to hide from the rain, we decided to put up our tent and take a nap. After that we noticed it was still raining, cooked a meal and went to sleep. I guess sleeping 20 hours in row in a tent on a Sunday in July might have felt a little less adventurous than we had expected from this trip.
A nice climb, green fields and a long descent into a lush green valley. The second day started with everything we had hoped for except good weather. The cabin at the bottom of the valley was a bit of a surprise, as was the fact that the route ran up the same mountain twice, but with a signpost clearly pointing to our desired destination we were surely walking the right way.
We had expected to complete our day’s march by around noon. Instead we walked into an endless moon-like landscape of rocks and snow and were greeted by a ridiculous wind cutting into our face. When we finally saw the cabin that marked the day’s designated end point we had not seen a patch of green or flat earth suitable for a tent for at least three hours.
When we sat down in the unlocked cabin to eat our daily lunch ration and took out our map, we learned three things. One: if we continued walking we were unlikely to find a suitable camping ground for at least another 4 hours. Two: we had taken a wrong turn earlier in the day and had walked an alternative route of 21 km instead of the planned 16. Three: it’s really not a bad idea to take a look at the map before you start the hike.
We revised our plan to try and end each hike at valleys or lakes at lower altitudes where we could pitch the tent. As we were marking our map, a 65-year old grandmother arrived at the cabin after an eight-hour solo hike, abruptly undermining any illusions of manly pride that may have been left after we had chosen to forego the tent for a cabin.
To prevent another day of rocks, rain and wind from becoming boring, the hike on day three started with a river which was just deep enough to get our socks and shoes soaked as we waded through.
After enjoying more rocks, snow and water for several hours we reached a green valley and ran into three people who where heading in the opposite direction. Not only did they turn out to be pretty good looking girls, but one of them told us that the ‘storm’ of the previous day was so strong that reportedly at least one Norwegian mountaineer had been ‘blown of the tracks’ even though he was a pretty ‘big guy’. Clearly, our decision to stay in a cabin the previous night was not that bad after all.
With rejuvenated self-esteem we hiked well beyond the day’s designated end-point. We set up camp on a little peninsula in a mountain lake where we cooked Japanese curry with Turkey-jerky and instant noodles for dinner.
After a long hike over another rocky peak we made up camp at one of the few green parts on the area. We figured we were doing pretty well, when were greeted by the only person we would see that day. Björn, as we named him, was casually hiking past our tent in the evening carrying a large and ancient backpack with an external frame. He explained he had been on the road for 125 days , and was making a trip from the North Cape to the most southern tip of Norway. He had started on skis and then switched to summer-gear halfway, which he had sent to a post-office on his route in advance. We exchanged tips on good campsites in the area, after which Björn had to leave for a few more hours of hiking as he was walking a double stretch of about 38 km that day. We figured he would probably catch up with the Valley Girls within the next 24 hours at that pace, but decided he deserved it. Clearly, we were no match for the likes of Björn.
On the fifth day, we were educated in the difference between a drizzle and pouring rain. Soaking wet, we set a new time record for putting up our tent on an awkward slope. We spend the evening inside eating a dinner of cold sausage with crackers, dried mango and vodka, while we monitored the water levels around and under our tent. I had borrowed the tent from my sister, and I have to say, I’m still amazed how much it could handle.
The next morning, we woke up to see the first patch of blue sky since we had started our hike at Finse, and decided to hang our clothes to dry before breaking up camp.
After walking for a few minutes we ran into the second surprise of the day: a herd of reindeer.
Under sunny blue skies, we eased through the day’s hike to arrive in a green valley. We made up camp among the trees for the first time, and gathered some some new twigs and firewood for our cooking stove for the coming days.
After a pleasant hike we arrived at a valley that we had identified on the map as suitable camping ground, but which turned out to be one big swamp. The only solid parts were occupied by Norwegian holiday homes but after some scouting we identified a suitable place nearby an abandoned cottage. At about 21.00 ‘o clock, a panic-struck Norwegian women came to our tent to point out that the cottage was not abandoned at that we should leave at once – at a distance of about 100 yards we were clearly in her personal space. We packed our stuff to find another spot about 500 meters out. If you ever want to experience the taste of mosquito’s, or the feeling of being stung in ten different places in ten seconds despite wearing covering clothing and insect-repellent, then I highly recommend a walk in a Norwegian swamp in the evening.
We made use of the sunny weather and washed our clothes at a mountain lake in the afternoon during our 22-km hike to Eidsbugarden.
We arrived at our destination just as the local music festival, Vinjerock, had ended. More than 100 people still lingered in the area, and we were clearly overwhelmed by so much social activity after 7 days on the trail. We drank two beers at the local cabin. This was enough to get us slightly drunk after the long hike, which was probably a good thing considering the Norwegian price of 10 euros per glas.
With a lighter pack, no more rain and a more gentle landscape, we eased through the 19-km hike to Gjendebu and put up our tent among the trees next to a small stream. We got a small fire going and finished the last bits of vodka when we were greeted by the local inhabitants: a group of about 20 cows. We were clearly in some kind of holy-site for cattle, as they surrounded our tent, attempted to eat it, and returned three more times that evening to express their amazement at our sudden appearance on their site.
After our experience on the second day at Kongshelleren, we had been walking more or less from valley to valley to ensure we would hit suitable camping ground at the end of the day. This meant that most days we hiked a bit further than originally planned and with only two days to go, we were bound to finish our trip early. This would have been a great opportunity to take a rest for a day with a book near the lake Gjende, but unfortunately, we had run out of reading material. Jochen used an e-reader and I had brought a solar charger to keep it going, along with our smartphones. Unfortunately, I had left the charging cable at our campsite two days earlier and all our devices were now without power. With enough food & energy left to hike a few more days we decided we would finish the remainder of our route in just 1 day, return to Bergen to get new maps and a charger, and head out for a bonus hike.
The plan was to walk a double stretch along the lake Gjende. The next two hikes were only 12 and 13 kilometers respectively, and we figured a total of 25 km should not be a problem by now. In our enthusiasm, we forgot to check the height differences along the route. About two hours into the trip we found ourselves climbing a slope so steep we had to climb it using chains secured to the rocks. As soon as we got to the peak the route immediately descended almost just as steeply. Although our pack weight was now down to about 16 kilo’s after we ate most of our food, our knees certainly did not thank us for the sudden ups and downs.
After the first stretch we took a break at the cabin Memurubu to rinse our feet in the cold water, change socks and enjoy a cup of tea. We then started the hike up the Besseggen to our final destination: Gjendesheim. The Besseggen is something of a big deal in Norway, and there were hundreds of people hiking the trail that day. Usually we ran into about 4 people per day on the trail but now we were hiking with families, kids, grandmothers and several people who seemed to just be walking their dogs up there. This was especially surprising as the Besseggen was one of the harder and steeper climbs we encountered during our trip, with a total rise of over 1,000 metres.
We reached Gjendesheim at around 19.00 o clock and put up the tent close to the cabin and enjoyed the first shower since we started the hike. After the kitchen was officially already closed, DNT staffmember Tom set us up with a gigantic hamburger of local reindeer and elk, accompanied by some surprisingly good local beer (Thanks!).
We took a 9-hour bus ride back to Bergen, bought a new USB cable on the way and charged our devices in the bus. We had been eating trail mix for breakfast and lunch for the last 10 days and ran around like kids in a theme park when we entered a local supermarket during a stop, stuffing ourselves with bread and fruit for the rest of the trip. At around 19:30 we got off at a bus stop just out of Bergen and camped at the most dirty, crowded and depressing camp site I have ever seen.
After obtaining new hiking intel and maps from the local DNT-office, we took a short bus ride and started a new hike about 50 km north-east of Bergen, in the lower, greener region of Bergsdalen. Just as we had hoped, our walk started in a beautiful forest of green pine trees – a welcome sight after 10 days of mostly rock and water. However, as soon as came to a height of about 800 metres, the trees made room for grass, which quickly turned into moss-covered rock. Nevertheless, it felt great being in country again after our rather horrible camping experience in Bergen.
We were surprised by a rather fierce thunderstorm just as we walked across a mountain ridge, and got to do that thing you see in comic books where you sit out the storm under an overhanging rock, which we covered with our tent sheet. After passing the cabin at Hogabu the landscape became less hospitable for campers. However, at around 20:00 in the evening, we encountered a perfect green patch of flat grass on top of a small mountain peak, which made for a magnificent camp site.
That evening, I noticed that the sole of my hiking shoe was coming of. This was less than ideal, as we had to walk over 25 km the next day to catch the bus back to the airport on Saturday morning. I used a piece of spare guy-rope to tie my shoe together, which held surprisingly long. On Friday we made up camp next to the lake at Fitjadalen, where we took a short swim. The next morning I tied my shoe back together and we got on the Bus to Bergen for our flight back to Amsterdam, after almost 250 km of hiking. Now if only I could find my house keys somewhere…