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Following in the footsteps of her sister, my younger daughter Zoe got a job working in one of Norway's mountain huts starting in the third week of July. So to start out our summer vacation, she, my wife, our dog Ralph, and I headed to Jotunheimen, "Home of the Giants" -- most of Norway's highest mountains are here -- for a week of fun before we sent her off.
We started off with a blustery day hike on Knutshø, a peak on the other side of lake Gjende (usually just called Gjende in Norwegian) from the legendary Besseggen -- more on that in a minute. Just as we hit the base of the ridge we saw a figure appear on the top of the ledge above us, shouting and waving its arms. We thought he was waving to friends behind us on the trail, but it turns it it was a college-age Czech guy who had hiked the ridge in the opposite direction and didn't feel up to doing the scramble down the ledges between us and him, especially with his full pack (he had camped out on the other side of the mountain). I took his pack down for him, but he still didn't want to descend on his own. So with the help of another older Norwegian fellow we rigged up a crude safety line using dog's leash and working above and below him managed to get him down. It was actually pretty easy, barely class 3, but I think he had tried it on his own, backed off, and in the process got scared enough that it was hard to get unscared.
We had thought we might take the afternoon boat halfway up Gjende to camp out at Memurubu, but based on the forecast we stayed another night at a roadside campground and on the next day Zoe, Ralph, and I hiked over Besseggen while my wife decided to give her knees a break and chaperoned our camping gear and food on the boat to Memurubu (it's also quite common to send gear ahead on the boat, day hike over Besseggen, and pick it up when you get to Memurubu).
Due to a unique combination of Great Beauty and relative accessibility, Besseggen is the most heavily travelled trail in Norway, with an estimated 30,000 people doing the hike each summer. We did it as a family back in 2004, but this time Zoe, Ralph, and I went the other way. It was a beautiful day, and we encountered a few hundred other people on the trail, not too bad compared to some places I've been. That included a big Japanese group, some wearing face masks, with a taciturn-looking Norwegian guide, that we passed early on and never saw again. Here's some of the mob on the approach up the broad eastern end of the ridge, not exactly bumper-to-bumper:
We had a leisurely lunch break near the giant pile of stones that passers-by have built over the years on the high point of the trail. Go 50 or 100 meters perpendicular to the trail and you can have a nice quiet spot with a big view over Gjende and the surrounding mountains.
Then comes the "crux": the relatively steep and narrow portion of the ridge that actually requires putting hands on rock here and there whether you are going up (probably the most common way) or down (as we did). No biggie really, but I guess exciting enough for kids and others who haven't done this kind of thing. At the top you have to take the obligatory Classic View photo of the ridge, with the green waters of Gjende on one side and the blue (and much higher) waters of Bessvatnet on the other. Ain't it purty?
Memurubu is a fjellstue, a privately owned tourist hut that operates much like the club-owned huts, with 2-4 bunk rooms, meals, showers, etc. But you can also just pay a tenter's fee and still take advantage of the amenities. We camped there for the next three nights, on a nice grassy site with a picnic table to get us up off the ground for making an eating meals. I guess we could just as well have camped on rock and heather up the valley a ways but we decided not to skimp on food and comfort weight, and didn't say no to a shower at the end of the day either. The hut is just above the sand and gravel delta of the glacier-fed Muru river where it empties into Gjende, shooting a big silt plume out into the lake. Some people camp on the sandy part if the delta.
The main goal of the trip was to get a good day on Surtningssue, at 2368m the seventh highest in Norway but I think the fourth highest massif (some of the higher peaks are satellites of the bigger peaks). It turned out to be a long day, 22.4 km plus 1579 m -- we took a ridge route partly over a smaller peak on the way up, and a long slog down the Muru on the way back. Here's a little more hands-on on the side of Raudhamren, the satellite peak:
The next couple of days I went on a couple solo flyers, first to Gjendebu, a hut at the far end of the lake, and then out along Bessvatnet -- I wanted to score another 2000er, Besshø, but the weather didn't cooperate. Here's a favorite flower, Pulsatilla vernalis (mogop in Norwegian), from the Gjendebu day.
We stayed a couple of nights in the mountain of Lom, snacking frequently at its legendary bakery, before putting Zoe on the train back to Trondheim while the rest of us drove south -- way south -- to visit daughter #1. More on that later.