This guy’s gonna be a long one because I want my oldie self to be able to remember as much of this as possible, so let me give you the bottom line first (hey. I am an accountant after all, okay) – aka
The Top Line: You should go to Norway. And climb a glacier. Asap. (PS Don’t forget to drink glacier water and eat whale and/or reindeer while you’re there.)
As previously documented, although I don’t purport to love outdoor activities, I do participate because James loves them, and I end up liking them in the end anyway. I guess I just like to whine 🙂
James had been talking about wanting to camp wild in Norway last summer when we struggled to find places you’re allowed to do it in England, so I decided that it would be a pretty cool birthday present. One of the hardest parts of planning this trip was probably keeping it a secret until March 13! I gave him a map to figure it out because we’re fun like that 🙂
Anyway, a few Fridays ago, it was finally time to set off. It was nice to be able to fly out at 8:45pm because it meant I could still work a full day, which was good since it’s been a bit crazy over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, when I booked the trip, James hadn’t even applied for the Cambridge job yet, so Gatwick wasn’t the most convenient airport for him to leave from, so he had to take the day off so that he could make it down to London and then Gatwick in time (in a relaxed manner). At work, we ended up getting an email from HR saying we could leave at 3:30 if our work permitted, and miraculously, mine did, so I headed off to meet James at a sports shop so I could pick up some appropriate shoes (unlike other hiking or climbing expeditions) for our weekend adventures. I ended up choosing some pretty quickly because they would serve the purpose, they fit and they were only £20. Thanks, Sports Direct. Had to get the hiking socks to go with, of course, though I didn’t know it was an ‘of course’ until I tried to wear the shoes ‘a short distance’ from my apartment to the train station (a 10 minute walk) with just short socks and ended up with a rubbed raw part on my ankle from a shoelace hole. Lesson learned.
We got to the airport and James shrink-wrapped his brand spanking new Osprey backpack to protect it from the trauma of international travel in the bulkhead. We had time to sit for a bit before boarding, so I gave Mummy (who was conducting google image search research on Jostedal(pronounced: Yosstehdahl)) a call to brief her again on our planned locations and activities. Then we had on-board wifi. Sweet.
With the one hour time change, we landed at midnight and just went straight to bed at the Clarion hotel airport so that we could get our rental car bright and early.
In the morning, we headed to Hertz to pick up our rental car. I don’t rent cars often (actually, I’m not sure if I ever have. I think I somehow always weasel my way out of the actual booking part because I get worried about which extras cover what.), so I was a bit shocked to find out that we had to pay 300 NOK because we had booked the car for 8am, i.e. ‘out of hours’ instead of 9am. So that was annoying. But after that, the car was good (upgraded from a VW to some Volvo) and the GPS worked, so no complaints. We headed to Bergen, but since it was a bit early, not many places were open for breakfast/brunch and we needed to grab a bite and head off so we could make it to Flåm in time. We headed to the Fisketorget on the harbour and surveyed both sides of the row to see what the vendors had on offer—smoked salmon on a bagel; salmon tartare marinated in herbs and spices on a bagel; whale on a bagel…plus fresh fish and eel and giant shrimp everywhere. (Our choices, for brunch and the rest, get their very own post elsewhere.) Not to mention the landscape. So beautiful! Mountains! Water! Blue skies and fluffy clouds!
We took a quick spin around the monthly market that happened to be up that day as well — most notably, I got a giant pancake as big as my giant face and we picked up some reindeer meat for our camping sandwiches — and then we were on our way!
We learned that not only is driving through Norway amazing and beautiful because of the fjords and the snow-capped mountains and the snow-capped mountains being beautifully reflected in those fjords, but because of those mountains, there are a looooooot of tunnels to go through. As in, 55 of them, between Bergen and Jostedal. According to my
research calculations, those 55 tunnels totalled about 90 kilometers of the 293 we drove from Jostedal to Bergen. That’s almost a third!!!! (Though it felt like more, actually). Yes, I counted. And yes, I loved Dorothy Ann on The Magic School Bus (1:14 below).
Check train times before you get there!! I had checked the times at some point and maybe decided that they went frequently enough, because I know it’s an amateur mistake, but I didn’t double-check them that day and I really should have. But we got really lucky because I ended up being able to buy our tickets for the 2:50 train at 2:46 and my loud scream for James to run was enough for him to hear and run across the parking lot.
Flåm Railway is ‘one of the world’s steepest railway lines on normal gauge tracks’. Meaning it’s on a 55% gradient. Still not with me? Me either. I was expecting this to be a tiny bit scary and like a roller-coaster, but twasn’t.
On our 20km/hour-long journey, one stop along the way was at Kjossfossen waterfall, a huge waterfall that sprayed you with it’s fresh mist and was definitely the closest I’ve ever been to a rainbow. I even climbed it. It was amazing!
Andy from Ice Troll had put me in touch with Astrid Gjerde at Jostedal Camping, so that’s where we were headed. The plan was to camp, but we ended up getting a cabin for the first night, since it was forecast to rain and then when the cabin became available the second night because the big group that was going to take over the place could no longer make it because the road under their bus collapsed somewhere along the way (:/ but they’re all okay!), we decided to just stay. So much for wild camping!
- Astrid was so nice and helpful and gave us plenty of information about the surrounding area. She also kindly provided us with towels, which we had forgotten, and shower tokens. We also found out that the area (Gjerde) has been owned by her family, so that’s why she shared her last name with it!
- In addition to nice, clean bathrooms, there is also a lounge area to hang out it.
- Hotell Jostedal was less than a five minute walk away and was useful for two important amenities: wifi and hot food, in that order 🙂
- I know it’s going to sound weird but I seriously fell in love with the water here. I couldn’t get enough. If I could have this water everyday, i would be sooooo much more well-hydrated than I am. I bottled and drank my own water from the stream near our cabin and on the glacier!! And loved. every. drop.
- As you can see from the picture above, even in May, it stays light out really late – we ended up going to bed around 12:30 that night and it was still light out!
Nigardsbreen (Nine farms glacier)
We took the tour with Ice troll and this was the shortest hike!! Nigardsbreen – a 30 min kayak (x2) and 6-7 hour hike.
We thought that with an 11am start, we’d have ages to get ready. So when we accidentally turned up a bit late and our guide had already left, YOU CAN IMAGINE MY STATE OF PANIC. But thankfully, we made it to the kayak location just in time to get life jackets, put our gear into the gear holder in the boat and hop in.
Our guide, Sam, was a Kiwi who had apparently only been in Norway for 5 days so far! He told us not to worry though, as he was previously a guide for glacier hikes in NZ. Our group of 10 set off in the kayaks towards the glacier. Supposedly the kayaks haven’t flipped, though some may know this has been traumatic experience for me in the past…but I still took my phone but panicked about it. Good solution, right? The glacial lake was cool, calm and clear. The surroundings just made it even more beautiful. And later, we noticed that pieces of ice, aka glacier, floated around in it closer to shore before melting.
Once we shored our kayaks, we walked through dust and rocks and over a few bridges/planks of wood (some of which we had to do without stops and in a single file because of risk of avalanches and/or falling rocks!) to get to the base of the glacier. At that point, Sam broke out the gear for all of us. Very spiky crampons for our shoes, harnesses for our bodies, ice picks to serve as walking sticks. (Some “hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go” was definitely sung.) That took a while for us to all get settled in. The harness had to be tight enough that you couldn’t fit a fist in. The crampons had to be spikes down (:)) on so that your shoes were flat and then tied in a certain way, with the excess made sure to be tied on the outside, so that you didn’t trip (I still tripped, but that’s my own fault. Did you know I walk with my feet turned kind of in? Probably.). Them Sam used his rope to link us all together. The adventure is probably better shown in the pictures below:
We ended up with the non-English speakers in the front so that Sam could speak to them with actions. James was the caboose. I was a little bummed that we were in the back because I thought we’d miss commentary, but in the end, I was glad that we were. Not only did we get to hear most of what Sam said, but we also got to be the last man and woman at the top at the end!
With a quick tutorial on how to walk (like a duck, feet turned out and shoulder-width apart; deliberately, digging the spikes into the ice) and hold the ice pick walking stick (‘blade’ as a handle with the curved part facing backwards), we were off! You can see our journey, distance, speed, elevation and all, if you’re interested. As is normal with most things, the trip up was lengthier than the trip back down. At one point, Sam told us we were standing on top of 100m of ice. Over the course of about 3-4 hours, we climbed about a half a kilometer, according to Strava, to the summit of Nigardsbreen. Along the way, we learned that the name of the glacier meant ‘Nine Farms Glacier’ because it had crept out so much over the years that it destroyed nine farms. I guess the name could change then!? Scary! He also mentioned that ‘Jostedal’ was a young girl who was the only survivor after the plague, so the area was named after her. He also taught us about moulins, crevasses (amazing and a little bit terrifying–and also obviously made me think of 30 Rock repeatedly) and why glaciers are so brilliantly and glowingly blue. The ground we walked on looked like ice, like diamonds, like, as Brits I guess appropriately call it, a ‘glass’-ier.
Once we got to the top…
During the hike, we had our reindeer and cheese sandwich packed lunches for sustenance and fresh glacier water. I think I could eat this meal fairly often.
The whole thing was amazing. I just couldn’t believe that we were actually climbing a glacier!!!!! (Although there were little kids, probably about 4-5 years old doing it too, so I shouldn’t feel too proud of myself.) And now it’s over and it feels like a dream. An amazing, amazing, amazing dream.
But of course, before I let you go, the Let It Go series:
This was actually our first and last stop (not counting Bergen). On the drive to Flåm, we stopped here to get coffee so I could be a not-terrible travel partner that slept the whole way. And we saw a troll, which is pretty much the wildlife James wanted to see while we were in Norway! (He loves that movie Troll Hunter)
The weekend went so quickly but beautifully. I would absolutely love to do it again and would definitely recommend the trip to any adventurous person out there. And maybe even non-adventurous! You might end up loving it! In short:
- Beautiful drives
- Snow-capped mountains
- Watch out for the reflections
- Most everyone speaks English
Summary of things to know, money & other deets – Bergen/Jostedal, as of 26 May 2014 – hopefully helpful information for you, in case you decide this is a trip you want to take:
Gear I bought especially for this trip:
- shoes (£20) – when I had emailed to ask about this, Andy insisted that I shouldn’t buy new shoes, that what I had would surely be fine – but seeing as my asics are 5 years old and one has a big honkin’ hole and my superga shoes are more for fashion than function (plus i could use hiking shoes again for our continuations on the NDW!), I decided to get some new ones. I would recommend it. I think most importantly, you probably just need shoes that will cover your ankles so that you don’t sprain anything.
- socks-2 pairs (£6) -I got ‘light’ but with the shoes I got, I might recommend ‘medium’ – probably not necessary to get ‘heavy’
- I also saw a mug at the shop, which i pretty much bought because it was so cheap (£1.50). But it came in handy for the cowboygrytte 🙂
Gear provided by Ice Troll:
- ice pick
- a real, live, knows-what-he’s-doing human guide!
While we were there, the NOK to GBP exchange rate was about 10 to 1.
In 3 words: beautiful, expensive, an adventure (okay, smartypants, I know that’s 4 words, but I’m just trying to be grammatically correct)
Flights: £64.70 for 1 round trip ticket from LGW to BGO, booked 4.5 months in advance
Clarion Hotel: 1290 NOK, booked 4.5 months in advance
Rental Car: ??? booked 1 week in advance
Flam Railway: NOK 400 per person
Ice Troll tour: NOK 750 per person. This felt steep at first, but when you break it down, is less than £10/hour! Definitely so definitely worth it. It also includes the 40 NOK entry into the park/area.
Jostedal Camping: NOK 350 per night for a cabin in off-peak season. To park your car and set up a tent, it is NOK 120 and NOK 30 per person
Food and drink? Expensive. But water from a glacier/glacial stream? Priceless (aka free and amazingly delicious).