We’re back from a great vacation in the old country – we got to spend time with all our family and a lot of our friends, laze about the summer house eating Norwegian chocolate, and I got to see Leonard Cohen, my big hero, in concert. Absolutely amazing. Best concert ever!
Another highlight for us geeks was to finally hike Besseggen; the (in)famous ridge Peer Gynt claimed to have ridden on a reindeer. The hike across the Besseggen ridge is the most popular trail in Norway, so be prepared to share it with hordes (40,000 every year!) of not just Norwegians, but tourists from continental Europe in various states of preparedness – a couple years ago my friend had to help a tourist who was scrambling up the ridge in flip flops…
Anyway, the reason why I haven’t hiked this before (even though my family used to have a cabin in the area) is because I am ridiculously afraid of heights. I’ve been pushing my limits this last year though, so I thought I would do fine. Ahem.
We drove up and stayed in an overpriced hotel ($200 for a pretty shabby room) at Beitostølen so JK and I could get up early and catch the first ferry at 7:45 the next morning – we owe my dad many thanks for getting up and driving us… :) A much better plan would have been to stay for next to nothing at Gjendesheim, where you take the ferry ($20). All you need is a sleeping bag. You could also camp in the area.
Once you get off the ferry, the trail immediately starts climbing up. It was only 40 degrees (Fahrenheit..) when we started, but the combination of the sun and the hill had me stripping off in less than 15 minutes, a new record! Fortunately this part of the trail also serves to thin out the crowd as the stragglers fall back; a blessing since everyone from the ferry starts hiking at the same time.
As you get higher, the views into Jotunheimen really open up. Definitely one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been – the glacier-fed Lake Gjende and those beautiful peaks…our photos really don’t do it justice! Seeing a flock of reindeer was an unexpected bonus.
Finally we reached the part I was dreading – the Besseggen ridge. Supposedly (I think these figures sound too high), when you near the top of the ridge there is a 700 meter drop down to Lake Gjende on one side and 300 meters to Bessvatn on the other. As we started scrambling up the ridge, I had an embarrassing moment of panic and got really dizzy. It got better once I sat down to breathe, and then all I could think of was getting to the top..
Looking back, I can see that it really isn’t that dangerous; it was all in my vertically-challenged head. It is comforting to know that even with all the people that hike this every year, no one has ever fallen off and died. I felt a little silly panicking up there while little children just ran past me…
I don’t have any good stats on this hike since Norwegian trail guides measure trails in hours, not distance. This hike is supposed to take 6 hours without rest stops – we used 8 with all our food/photo/looking-at-reindeer breaks.
I found out on the intertubes that the hike is around 10 miles long, and if I had to guess, I would say the elevation gain is around 3,500 feet.
For those of you who are NOT scared of heights, I would recommend doing this hike the other way around; starting at Gjendesheim, walking down Besseggen, and then taking the ferry back – this way you get the best views without having to turn around all the time.