Wow, it has been a long time since we last posted anything on this blog! Our daily lives have made us a little bit too lazy to regularly draft blog articles and edit pictures and videos of our travels in between.
But this summer, we went hiking in the Jotunheimen National Park in Norway and this trek was just too good to not share it! Why? Because Jotunheimen combines landscapes (almost) as stunning as the granite towers of Patagonia with Norway’s infamous “Allemannsretten”, a right to wild camp anywhere in open country. So it was the perfect destination for us and our 2-person tent!
Planning for the Hike
Before we arrived in Oslo, we had literally zero plans on how and where we wanted to hike through Jotunheimen. The few blog articles we found online were not particularly helpful. In the end, we started our hike in Gjendesheimen and continued on a loop through the national park in counter-clockwise direction.
However, there are different ways of hiking the trail and if you are planning to do the trek, here are a few things to consider:
- If you do not have your own car, then Gjendesheim and Gjendebu are the easiest points to start the trek. There is a public bus connection from Oslo to Gjendesheim and from there, it takes one hour by boat to get to Gjendebu. There are multiple busses and boats everyday.
- Whether you start in Gjendesheim or Gjendebu is really a matter of personal taste. If you start in Gjendebu and hike clockwise, the hike across Glittertind, the second highest peak in Norway, is slightly easier (even though you have more elevation gain).
- If you are very short on time, it is possible to do the entire loop in 4 (very long) days. For instance, you can hike directly from Gjendebu to Spiterstulen (skipping Leirvasbu) or from Gjendesheim to Glitterheim (skipping Memurubu).
Also, it never really crossed our mind to not camp in the national park. However, bringing your own tent is not an absolute necessity. There are multiple huts along the trail and scattered throughout the national park that offer accommodation and food (and most importantly, shower). It is well possible and probably even more popular to do the same trek that we did and hike from hut to hut or to just stay in one place and do day hikes from there. Most of the huts also offer camp spots for around 10 Euros per person/night and we also camped there once.
For us however, camping in the wild (as long as the weather held up), was one of the most beautiful experiences in itself. At any time, you could decide that this was a gorgeous place to spend the rest of the day (and night). You were really alone, surrounded only by sheep, nature and stars. Finding suitable camp spots in Jotunheimen was generally no problem although the ground was often rocky or wet. However, because lots of other people have already camped in the park, you can often recognize camp spots by the stone circles or fire places that have been built. And in any case, this blogpost has some detailed info on campground, ha!
Some Thoughts if you want to do the Trek on your own!
Orientation along the trek
Orientation along the trek was generally easy (not at all comparable to e.g. our Jyrgalan trek in Kyrgyzstan!) The entire trek except for a small part at the top of Glittertind is marked with red Ts, which are drawn onto rocks. There are also written signs whenever there is a crossing.
For most of the trek, the trail is also well visible unless you are walking through fields of stone (which happens A LOT though) or it is foggy.
What to bring
Apart from the obvious (tent, sleeping bag, mattress, clothes, food etc.) here are a couple of items we found particularly useful:
Hiking Poles: Almost a must for Jotunheimen as otherwise, you will have a pretty hard times at the river crossings as well as across the gigantic fields of rocks everywhere.
Gaiters: Your boots may be enough for the rain that is going to come at you. But if you don’t have gaiters, you can’t stop water coming into your shoes from above. So they may be quite useful.
The detailed guide to hiking Jotunheimen
Day 1: Gjendesheim to Lake Bessvatnet
We arrived in Gjendesheim via bus from Oslo at around 13:30. We got off and rearranged our enormously heavy backpacks (it turned out in the end that we carried around way too much food, including 1 extra kilogram of pasta, some oatmeal and tortillas – we just included too many eventualities after being ‘traumatized’ of not having enough during our trek in Patagonia) before heading off to the trailhead.
There were already more people coming down or going up the trail at that time. In fact, this first day of the Jotunheimen trek is also one of Norway’s most popular day hikes. The trail curves along the Besseggen Ridge to Memuburu between the gorgeous lake Gjende and lake Bessvatnet. This trail is also part of the historic trail in Jotunheimen, another famous multi-day trek in the area. So as expected, the trail was somewhat crowded.
We gradually ascended the trail with a brilliant turquoise lake Gjende to the left of us. The ascent was much harder than we thought, particularly with our backpacks. After a short break, the trail turned towards the actual ridge and we got to look down at lake Gjende over a scary 400-meter cliff! After the obligatory photo stop, we continued across a flatter (but still ascending) section of the trail until we reached the top of the ridge, lake Gjende to the left and lake Bessvatnet to the right. This was probably one of the most dramatic views on the entire trek and we took our time to soak in all of Norway’s beauty. The good thing about starting that late in the day was that by the time we were at the peak of the ridge, almost all dayhikers already passed us and we could enjoy the breathtaking view without crowds. From here, it was a steep (!) climb down along the narrow, rocky ridge. We had to constantly use our hands to stabilize our bodies, equipped with way too heavy backpacks.
Luckily for us, the first wild camping sites were just right after the steep climb down. It is possible to continue walking and there are also some campsites right after turning right at the crossing to Memurubu. But it was already getting late and we were quite tired from the climb down. Besides, one of the camping spots was literally right on the edge of the cliff between the two lakes. It was probably the most magnificent place we would ever sleep in. So we called it a day and set up our tent even though we were somewhat afraid that the wind would pick up even more during the night and blow our tent down the cliffs! But fortunately, that didn’t happen and we had a safe and sound night of sleep.
Day 2: Lake Bessvatnet to Lake Russvatnet
If you are hiking without a tent from hut to hut, you are supposed to walk from Memurubu to Glitterheim on day 2 of the trail. However, since we were still 7 km away from Memurubu, we had no intention of making it all the way to Glitterheim and were rather looking for camping opportunities somewhere on the way.
After leaving our gorgeous camp spot, we continued on the Bessegen ridge. We soon started running into day hikers who were walking the trail starting in Memurubu. We took a break at the small, but no less stunning lake Bjonboltjonne and after two hours, we arrived at a crossing. Taking the right here moved us away from the popular Bessegen Ridge Trail and immediately, we were pretty much on our own for the rest of the day (apart from some sheep in the meadows).
We headed straight north. After passing one more camping opportunity, the trail descended into a green mellow and, in our case, sunny valley between high peaks to the right and left. Quite the contrast to the rocky Bessegen Ridge! After yesterday’s ascent and descent, we were happy to be mostly in the flats today. Even though it was dry for the last few days, the trail was still a bit muddy and full of small streams, which we had to cross.
After a while, the trail curved around the large and long lake Russvatnet. We passed a very impressive waterfall to our left on a more than shaky looking “bridge”. After that, we were hiking next to some beautiful sand beaches. Since the weather was still warm and dry, we wanted to camp somewhere nearby to take a bath in the lake and enjoy the sun. The obvious accumulations of stones and remains of fires told us that we were not the first ones to come up with this idea.
Already from afar, we saw the small peninsula Sundodden and decided to set up camp there in a small, wind protected cove. Before cooking dinner, we went for a swim. Even though the temperatures were moderate, the water of lake Russvatnet was still freezing (!) and we only stayed in the water long enough for a short bath.
Day 3: Lake Russvatnet to Glitterheim
While our camp spot was extremely scenic, it turned our that we were really no good at meteorological projections. When we got out of the tent, the sun was still firmly blocked by the mountains surrounding the valley. Also, we were starting to get problems with our camping gas (we bought some no name camping gas in Oslo and it was not properly working anymore). Feeling cold, we couldn’t wait to get going.
We continued along lake Russvatnet for a while through mellow landscapes. We had to cross a couple of streams, which was starting to get a little bit annoying because there were no bridges and we had to walk around quite a bit to find spots where it was actually able to jump over.
After maybe two hours, we reached a large, gushing white river. There were also a couple of camp spots here. The sun was now high up in the sky and we had a rare moment in which we were regretting not having brought shorts (the moment wouldn’t last). After crossing the river on a massive wooden bridge, the trail took a turn to the left and up and we climbed along the river for a while.
The trail finally took us out of the valley and we were once again surrounded by impressive mountains with glaciers. We are now walking on a mostly rocky plateau. We passed a crossing (the other trail went straight back to Gjendesheim) and finally started towards a mountain pass. Right before the climb up, we walked past two streams (there is also a camp spot in between) and spotted a reindeer! And once we started climbing upwards, we saw even more! We believe that they belonged to one of the huts, but still. Kevin was already complaining about the lack of wildlife in the park (apart from the sheep, of course) so he was super excited and happy to watch the reindeers.
From the top of the mountain pass, one could already catch a glimpse of Glitterheim far away. It was still five kilometers to go and although it was mostly downwards, it took us around two hours because the trail was quite rocky. The trail was also quite frustrating because you can see Glitterheim all the time, but you have to walk around some lakes and make a gigantic circle. Why didn’t they just build a bridge over the lake?
Glitterheim was a cute hut with gorgeous camp spots all around it. The owner was extremely nice and even gave us a spare can of camping gas, which basically saved our day. In the end, we decided to just camp at Glitterheim because we were still undecided about which way to go tomorrow.
Day 4: Glitterheim to Spiterstulen
So in the end, we decided to take the hard way. There are two ways to get from Glitterheim to Spiterstulen, either over Glittertind, the second highest peak in Norway or through the valley. The decision making process was complicated by the fact that the weather was supposed to turn at noon and if we took the trail over Glittertind, we had to cross over before noon. We had already decided for the valley the evening before, out of fear getting stuck in a thunderstorm while crossing the Glittertind summit. Yet, the ambition and passion for the peak let us drop that decision the next morning and we spontaneously re-decided to to Glittertind.
We started off early. The trail left Glitterheim and led straight into a relentless 1100 meters’ climb, past the lake Nedre Steinbuvann. While we began the day with some harmless clouds in the sky, we were quickly getting into serious fog and darker conditions. The trail soon became only rocks and through the fog, it was sometimes even hard to spot the red Ts marking the trail. However, we did sometimes get a glimpse of snow-capped Glittertind to our left (the general direction of the trail is onto a mountain ridge to the right of the peak).
In total, it took us around four hours to get to the top of Glittertind. The end was extremely strenuous because we were simply jumping from boulder to boulder. There was no trail at all and also the red Ts have stopped. There was a strong wind blowing. This turned out to be a blessing because it blew away the clouds and allowed us some glimpse of the insane glacial fields on the other side of Glittertind. Very frustratingly, Glittertind did not have an actual mark or sign or even stone cairn at the top, so we did not exactly know where to celebrate our achievement (they should have taken a lesson from Tibetan monks in this regard).
In any case, it was too windy to stay for long and after obligatory pictures, we started descending again. The descent is ok at first, but right before you reach the valley, there is an extremely steep, slippely (!) and somewhat confusing part that consists of rocks and rubble. After getting down, we were basically done for the day and took a short break.
However, it was still around seven kilometers to Spiterstulen! The weather had indeed changed and we were now hiking through moderate rain. The trail kept on going forever, through fields of rock. We finally passed the crossing, where the trail merged with the other trail through the valley. But from here, it was another steep 400m (and by no means easy) descent to a paved road. We were already walking for like nine hours now and this descent really took the rest of strength out of us.
Along the paved road, it was another twenty minutes to Spiterstulen. It was now raining cats and dogs. There are some patches of grass on the right site of the road where it was possible to pitch multiple tents. Completely soaked, we were happy that we somehow survived the hike across Glittertind. Despite the dampness all around us, we went for a small cat shower in a stream next to our camp spot to clean the sweat from the long day before hitting our sleeping bags.
Day 5: Spiterstulen to Leirvasbu
It was still dark and gloomy when we woke up. The weather was just as bad (or worse) than at the end of yesterday. But it wasn’t going to clear up for the next few days either so staying at Spiterstulen was not really an option.
While the weather was moody, the trail itself was straightforward enough. It was mostly flat with some small elevation. However, after the massive 1400 meters’ descent yesterday, our knees were quite happy with the situation.
The most challenging parts of the day were the river crossings. Possibly because of the massive rainfall, the rivers were full of water and for some reason, there were no bridges even across some 10-meter-wide rivers! Because we haven’t brought water shoes, there was no other way then to dive right in with our hiking boots. So inevitably, we had wet feet after that (our shoes never really dried for the rest of our whole stay in Norway). And it was already wet all around us. In the end, we were just puddles of water.
We reached Leirvasbu after around six hours. On the last part, the trail curves along some quite beautiful lakes and there would have been some possibilities to camp. Even the weather gave us a small break from the rain and our pants were almost starting to dry up. Maybe it would have been smart to camp right there, but in any case, we kept on walking. By the time we arrived at Leirvasbu, we were drenched again.
We took a long break in Leirvasbu and paid 50 Kroner each to have a really amazing warm shower. After getting dressed again, we set out for a final walk along the dirt road. One kilometer after Leirvasbu, a small shelter hut appeared to the right hand side of the trail. While the hut was not cozy enough to sleep in there (we set up our tent on the other side of the dirt road), it offered a great opportunity to cook and try to “dry” our stuff.
Day 6: Leirvasbu to Gjendebu
The final day! Not much has changed since yesterday. It was still wet, even worse, in fact.
The last day was another, more or less flat, 18 km until Gjendebu. There was a small mountain pass right at the beginning of the day and then it was pretty much all the way down. The day really wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t raining non-stop for five hours straight. So we can’t really say too much about the trail, because we were just trying to get on as quickly as possible. We walked passed and around a lot of lakes though. And as the days before, the trail was rocky.
Towards the end, the trail noticeably changed from mountain scenery and meandered through bushes and other plants. We met cows on the trail for the first time. Welcome signs that the trail was coming to an end. We eventually arrived at Gjendebu after around seven hours of straight walking. We didn’t take any real break throughout that day, though we were super hungry and longed for a lunch break. But if we stopped, it would have meant to feel cold and wet, so Nicole decided against having lunch and kept on walking (leaving Kevin somewhat hungry and grumpy).
Because it was still raining so heavily and because we wanted to catch the first boat the next morning, we decided to actually pay for camping at Gjendebu itself. The additional advantage was that Gjendebu had a drying room where we could put all our, extremely wet stuff. We don’t know what we would have done if we did not have that option. We were obviously not the only ones with that idea and the drying room probably contained more outdoor clothes and equipment than most outdoor stores.
Day 7: Gjendebu to Bergen
So this was it! On the next morning, we packed our stuff (making sure we didn’t lose anything in the drying room) and took the first boat back to Gjendesheim. The boat took us past the Bessegen ridge, which we had crossed the first day and brought back some fond memories when the weather was still nice.
Still, Jotunheimen was one great adventure and certainly the most ambitious and spectacular hiking we’ve done since Torres del Paine. We take home with us tons of loving and adventurous memories and the special knowledge that, whatever outdoor equipment you buy, it will literally not be enough to survive Norwegian rain.