In the gloaming, silhouetted on Norway’s famous Besseggen Ridge, with no trail signs or anyone else in sight, a lone hiker is not sure he is on the trail. He is sure that his knee is acting up, and that he is bone weary. And he has miles to go.
Over the years several of us have taken wilderness backpacking trips together in places like Alaska, the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Canada and Montana. This year, Vance Barron Jr. found Norway inviting, and the group agreed. Going hut-to-hut above the tree line in the Jotunheimen National Park looked like an interesting and different challenge. Jay DeVaney also signed on but had to cancel.
Plans were laid, and stylish “Carolina Trekker” hiking caps ordered. Soon we were in Oslo, then driving north. Following a memorable dinner of local beef and seafood stew, we spent the first night’s deep sleep in the primitive bunkhouse at the Gjendesheim Hut. (Norwegian huts make room for all, and food is fresh, often locally sourced, high quality and bountiful.)
In the morning, we all started up the steep rocky path toward the 9.5-mile Besseggen Ridge trail to Memurubu, one of Norway’s most popular hikes, in the company of families and other groups. Rock-hopping and scrambling took their toll. The trail climbed through fresh snow, in the face of sometimes sandy 30-40 mph headwinds.
The iconic knife-edge descent high above Lakes Gjende and Bessvatnet made things interesting.
Norway expedition members, from left, were Jonathan Maxwell, Vance Barron Jr., Locke Clifford, Barden Cooke, Robert Douglas, and Robert McClellan.
Locke inadvertently became separated from other hikers. His knee began troubling him, but he pressed on … ever more slowly. When the pilot of a helicopter evacuating an injured hiker asked him if he needed a lift, Locke declined the offer.
Later Locke realized he was alone and unable to locate any cairn trail markers, relying solely on his compass. Then through the haze he was startled by an apparition; was it a legendary Norwegian mountain troll? Thankfully not, but instead another hiker.
Locke shouted, “Are you headed to Memurubu?” When the hiker answered “Yes,” Locke said he would like to follow him.
They continued on for a few minutes, until the hiker walked
away out of sight! Before long the hiker, a young Swede named Hugo, returned with his sister—and fellow hiker—Klara. They offered to take Locke’s pack and guide him through the rough
last several miles. He readily accepted, quietly thanking his good fortune for these young angels.
Locke asked if the fog was getting thicker, saying he could hardly see. Bemused, Klara and Hugo looked at each other and replied that there was no fog at all. That is when Locke realized
that his eyesight had been temporarily compromised during the day and gotten him off trail.
Well after dark, we were greatly relieved when the threesome arrived. Knowing Locke, we chided him for doing about anything to create a good story.
Seventy percent rivers, lakes, and rugged mountains, and 30 percent forests, Norway is dramatically beautiful. A scenic drive took us to Spiterstulen, site of a popular upscale hut, with a bath just down the hall (!) and a convenient drying room for wet clothes. The rustic lobby afforded world class views and a comfortable lounge to sample Norwegian beverages. Bob McClellan discovered a guitar and played us a few tunes.
Also sharing the complex were energetic Norwegian school children, on a course to learn outdoor and related skills. We remarked to the headmaster at mealtime upon their apparent courtesy, diligence and cooperative spirit. She explained that they were motivated in part by being told an invisible troll was
keeping watch to assure that any bad behavior resulted in consequences, such as no dessert or early bedtime.
Galdhopiggen, the highest mountain in Norway at about 8,100 feet, was nearby. The next morning, Vance and Bob Douglas set out to tackle it, but were turned back by heavy fog near the top. The rest of us did an out-and-back walk in a nearby valley.
The walk to the next hut, at Leirvassbu, took us through craggy valleys, alongside lakes, up rocky hills, and across boulders. At the hut we were shown pictures of large trout from nearby lakes; Locke relentlessly tried to catch one.
Ole, the hospitable operator of the hut, lives a few miles away on a farmstead that has been in his family for 1,200 years. Staying in huts allowed us to mingle and share ideas with locals and other visitors. On one of our nearby jaunts we encountered three minimally equipped Swedes (one barefoot) who tent camp in this valley for a week each year.
Following a boat ride on majestic Geiranger Fjord, Glitterheim Hut was our next stop. At the end of a long dirt road, along which we saw reindeer, we came to a parking lot and gate. A sign gave us the choice of walking or riding bicycles the final 4.5 miles to the hut. We chose the bikes.
At dinner, the “traditional mutton stew” received mixed reviews, but the reindeer paté was a hit. That night, at least two of us were unaware that the electric generator for this facility is turned off at night. This resulted in certain trekkers stumbling around blindly from time to time in the pitch black, groping
down the hall for the elusive small and equally dark bathroom.
Vance awoke early to hike up nearby Glittertind, the second highest mountain in Norway. The rest decided to sleep in (until after sunup) and walk a different trail. However, some Norwegian
guests convinced us that Glittertind was not that far away, so we too decided to go up Glittertind.
We met Vance on his way down, and he tipped us off about high winds at the top. Barden and Jonathan rambled on through rocks and snow to the windy top.
Back in Oslo, we had an afternoon to browse pristine streets among healthy looking, friendly and smiling Norwegians. Several visited the Norwegian Resistance Museum, admiring the courage and persistence of these proud people during World War II, and others the impressive Nobel Peace Prize Museum.
Afterward, a traditional Norwegian pub afforded a pleasant and leisurely venue for us to reminisce and share impressions of our unforgettable journey.