Jotunheimen - up in the air

One is spoiled for choice in the Hardanger region. Trolltunga is dubbed ‘the epic hike’, and from the pics it’s easy to see why. And the Hardangervidda plateau proper seemed beautiful in its own right. But as rain was forecasted for the next few days in the region I decided to pack up and head further north to Jotunheimen, another mountain region I’d been keen to explore for a while. 

The drive north is again stunning. A pod of dolphins bid me farewell as I crossed the Hardangerbrua bridge again toward Road 13 north and Granvin. The road turns eventually into E16, which meanders beautifully through the dramatic Laerdalen valley before reaching the southern end of Nærøyfjord. Epic is probably an understated description for this nature’s wonder.  Towering mountains separate narrow passages. I stopped in Gudvangen for a break and had to resist the temptation to take down the board for a paddle-about! One to save for another time.

The road then steadily climbs on the E16, passing the world’s longest tunnel (the Laerdal tunnel, 24.5 km long!), and toward Ryfoss I cut across the hills to Rd 51. Ok roads, though steep and occasionally very uneven - think I left the soul of my suspensions on one of the road bumps. Once on Rd 51 it’s yet another beautiful drive north, the mountainous profile of Jotunheimen gradually emerging after Beitostølen.

Endless green vistas interdispersed by mountain lakes and jagged peaks characterize the eastern parts of the Jotunheimen National park. Plenty of  possibilities for freecamping with the campervan - lots of small car parks on the mountain plateau to spend the night with epic scenery surrounding. And if you’ve got a tent, the possibilities are truly endless given Norway’s right-to-roam-approach that’s similar to the one in Sweden.

I didn’t get a chance to pick up any topomaps, but Ann-Katrin and Per-Arne, my two neighbors for the first night on Valdresflye warmly recommended the Bessegen ridge and Bitihorn as good starting points. And they recommended the Outtt-app which is a great database of hikes in Norway. While I’ll still like to use maps proper, it’s a nifty little aid to get a good handle of what the hikes are like, I really liked and recommend it.

I looked up the Besseggen ridge walk and it definitely looked like a splendid one so decided to walk it the next day. Most people seem to opt to hike it west-to-east, taking the boat in the morning to Memurubu and hike back across the mountains. Perhaps it’s to have the peace-of-mind that you won’t miss the last boat back across the Gjendes Lake. My own preference is east-to-west, you’ve got the sun in your back lighting up the lake beautifully, and you can see it most of the way toward Memurubu. While not easy, it’s a hike that could be suitable for most people in good shape (and again, with some basic hiking gear, incl good mountain boots), though parts of the ridge are quite narrow, steep and exposed, so not much fun in wet weather (or if you’re afraid of heights).

Was relatively lucky with the weather as the hike up to the top of the ridge was mostly in partly cloudy conditions. Rain made the third quarter of the hike somewhat cold (and wet), but the rain stopped upon descending to Memurubu. A leasurily 6-hour hike with breaks, before enjoying waffle and coffee at the Memurubu hut while waiting for the boat back to Gjende.

The next day I hiked the Bitihorn, a relatively short, steep walk up to the 1609 masl top for great 360 degree panoramic views across Jotunheimen and the Valdres region. 

Beautiful region, one to return to.

Hardanger - Heavy rains and royal walks

If it’s good enough for the royals, it’s good enough for me. I’d read about Queen Sonia’s trail and the epic views that were promised so was keen to explore. But as heavy rains were forecasted I decided to stay put in Ulvik for a couple of more nights to await better weather. 

I liked the place, seemed off the main tourist trail, considerably less traffic and fewer people, and gorgeous views across the fjord and mountains from the camp site. Incidentally I also realized the people running the place were Romanian when looking closer at the shower token to see it said “50 bani”. Next morning I greeted the manager with a “Buna dimineata” upon which the whole crew descended from the kitchen to have a banter and meet-and-greet. Hailing from the Constanta and Tulcea-regions, these folks sure had a change of scenery!

Though I was still itching to get some hiking, and seeing that there was a 5-hour window with ‘only’ rain showers before the heavy rains and possible thunderstorms were forecasted, I decided to head up to Kvasshovden, just above Ulvik. The mountain is home to the Kvasshovden Opp trail run, which had just been held in July. It’s a 7.5 km (one-way) hike with a bit more than 1000m vertical ascent. The trail starts right across the road from the camp site, behind the Hardanger Guesthouse, the owner of which also run the camp site.

It’s a beautiful little hike, more manageable than Mt Oksen, meandering its way through lush forests, with sign posts with poems by Olav H. Hauge, a native of Ulvik, serving as a guide to the treeline. Once above the treeline, one has beautiful panoramic views across Hardanger, at least on a clear day. This day, the heavy rain clouds followed me through the hike, with the occasional torrential rains soaking me. But it was a hot and sticky summer day, a premonition of the thunderstorms to come, so it didn’t matter much, at least until I got above the tree line where the wind picked up. Nobody else out there apart from me and the occasional amphibian. As thunderstorms were forecasted later on, I decided to turn back not long after the 7k mark to have enough margin. Heavy rain and thunderstorms followed, but no matter when you’re cooped up in a campervan, reading and watching the rain clouds pass the fjord.

The sun emerged next morning, clearing up the skies and drying up the trails. I set off from Kinsarvik to hike up to the Queen Sonia trail. In hindsight I should’ve looked up the bus timetables for the return buses from Løfthus. As it were I hiked up onto the Hardangervidda plateau and returned the same way. No matter, beautiful hike with stunning views down Sørfjorden and beyond. It’s a walk that’s manageable by most, and highly recommended, obviously!

Tired, but in a good way, after a 25k walk I decided to stay the night at Ringøy campsite. Beautifully perched onto the shores of Hardangerfjord, it’s a quiet and cozy little spot to swim, soak up the sun setting over the fjord and rest ones tired legs.

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