Norway's best hike? (summer '15)

1:03 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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It’s a rainy Christmas day and daughter #1 is away at her fiance's family’s place so it just three of us, a quiet time to reflect on the year’s events. I have already reported on this summer’s two big trips in the Wind Rivers and Quetico, and a couple recent weekenders, but realized I never got around to reporting on our summer ’15 two-part hike in the Sunndal and Romsdal mountains. I did a variant of this hike in the easterly direction with my younger daughter Zoe in ‘09 and filed a report but used only an external photo gallery which is now gone. It’s one of my favorite hikes in Norway, very rugged and a bit off the beaten path, and my wife had never done the whole thing, so we decided to give it a go, this timegoing west. This will be a longish TR but hopefully will give a pretty good impression of the mix of wild mountain scenery and some of the mountain hut and summer farm traditions you run into on this particular hike. Here’s an overview map of part 1 from in case anyone wants to follow the route. 

Screen-Shot-2016-12-25-at-4-54-04-PM.png(Connect the dots! Our route starts at Kongsvold lower right)

On June 29, we (me my wife and Ralph) took the train to Kongsvold, a one-hotel whistle stop in the Dovre mountains, not far from where I have some research sites, and immediately hit the trail. 
IMG_1818.jpg(Kongsvoll station)

About five minutes out we encountered a group of muskox maybe a hundred meters off the trail, too far off to get good photos with my little camera. They were introduced into the area in the 30s, pretty much eradicated during WWII and then reintroduced after the war. Now there is population of a few hundred animals, with ups and downs due to winter starvation, virus outbreaks, and the risks of living near a railroad line.
IMG_3332.jpg(On the way into Reinheim)

We hiked about 15 km and stayed our first night at Reinheim, a large-ish self-service hut that used to be the main base camp for doing Snøhetta, at 2286 m the highest mountain in Dovre, before the reopening of full-service Snøheim in 2012. The latter hut was closed shortly after it was built, back in the 50s when the military took over a big chunk of Dovrefjell as a firing range. Now you can take a bus in there to do Snøhetta as a day hike and stay the night if you like.

On day two we got an early start and stopped in for lunch at Åmotdalshytta, in a broad valley south of Snøhetta. It was after lunch that we found out what we were really up against – it had been a cold June so the snow melt was late. Hiking in snow wasn’t too much of a problem, but the streams were still swollen with snowmelt.
IMG_3341.jpg(Between a rock and a wet place)

After one knee-deep crossing my wife expressed some doubts about continuing, but we made it the rest of the way to Lonnechenbua, a tiny two-two bed stone hut high up by a still-frozen lake. In '09 my daughter and I had taken a different route, so this was a first for a me, and bit of a disappointment, rather dark and musty, and the last people to stay hadn’t cleaned up properly, among either things leaving some dirty pots. Grrr. As regular users we are always careful to clean up thoroughly, that’s how the lightly supervised system of self-service works, so it’s distressing when others fail to do their part. 


In the middle of the night a Polish couple showed up after an epic hike up the valley that included some treacherous stream crossings. The hut has only two beds and we were in them, but they had sleeping and sleeping bags and it wasn’t raining, so they “slept” out – it doesn’t really get dark in Norway this time of year. We cleaned up and left the hut to them in the morning, and I imagine they seized the opportunity to catch up on sleep in the semi-darkness of the hut.

Based on beta from the new guests, we went off-trail and over the shoulder of a mountain to avoid the rough trail along the lakes, but still had to cross a raging torrent on a small foot bridge with no handrail and not-quite knee deep water flowing over it. Getting Ralph over some of these crossings can be interesting, but he was pretty fearless about it.
IMG_1880.jpg(see the bridge?)

There are various route options on this end of the hike. We decided to continue on to Gammelsetra, an old favorite where we spent few nights during the Christmas holiday in our first years in Norway. It’s an old summer farm (seter) converted to a tourist hut, including the old farm house, the old barn converted to a low-ceilinged winter hut, and a one-bed dog hut, where we stayed, all surrounded by a fence to keep the sheep out. The surrounding valley is verdant, and connects through via Dindalshytta almost to Oppdal, where Zoe and I finished our ‘09 hike.
IMG_1891.jpg(The dog hut at Gemmelsetra; the sign on the right says "For the dog and its owner")

This time we were going the other way. We headed down into the depths of Åmotan, where five good-size rivers converge over waterfalls and cascades into a deep gorge. At the bottom two of the raging rivers are crossed by small suspension bridges, and there is a wet meadow that is continually blasted by spray from Sviufossen, a big waterfall that empties straight into the gorge.
IMG_1903.jpg(Bridge over the Linndøla River)

From there we took the very steep trail up out of the gorge and towards Vangshaugen, our next hut. Faced with a choice between walking a dirt road or a muddy trail, we took the road, where a nice guy who had a cabin in the area stopped and offered us a ride. We pointed out that Ralph was soaked from a swim in the river but we spread a towel for him in  the back of the station wagon and the driver was cool with that.

Vangshaugen was built in 1910-1911 as one of several fishing-hunting retreats in the area by Ethelbert Lort-Phillip, one of a couple of rich English dudes that took an interest in this part of Norway. It’s a bit reminiscent of an Adirondack great camp, a nice log building perched on a knoll overlooking a mountain lake, with number of outbuildings of varying age and condition, including a newer annex with two and four bunk rooms and, of course, a dog hut. The upstairs interior of the main building is decked out in rustic comfort, with antique furniture, leather comfy chairs and sofas, and glass-doored bookcases full of old books. And they have showers!
IMG_3419.jpg(Vangshaugen interior)

The weather forecast for the coming days was for heavy rain, so it was here that we decided to abort. We had one more nice day and used it to hike in and stay a night at Grøvudalshytta and see if we could find some of an endemic species of alpine poppy that  grows only in this valley (we didn't). There’s an operational traditional summer farm close by where you can get  waffles cooked over a fire with fresh made sour cream and strawberry jam and buy a few other dairy products. Ralph’s favorite part was the sheep.
IMG_3441.jpg(The summer farm in Grøvudalen, also called Gammelsetra)
IMG_1925.jpg(Making cheese)
IMG_3443.jpg(Close encounters of the sheep kind)

We hit it off with  the host (vertina) at Vangshaugen, and she gave us a ride down the valley to Gjøra, where could catch a bus up Sunndalen to Oppdal and from there the train back to Trondheim. She was looking for summer help to fill in a two-week gap, and Zoe took the job, so Nancy and I returned for a couple nights later in the summer before the three of us plus Ralph did part two of the hike.

To be continued...

1:38 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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(Part two -- Against the grain)
Screen-Shot-2016-12-25-at-5-31-49-PM.png(Start at Brandstadbu upper right)

Going west as we did, the hike starts out on Dovrefjell, a broad, reindeer-infested plateau with a few big rounded summits and broad valleys. The valleys get deep as you cross into Sunndalsfjellet, but the uplands are still plateauish. Then the last few days take you into the deep relief and relatively craggy peaks of Romsdalsalpene, my favorite part of the route. If we had continued from Vangshaugen we would have a couple of relatively (for me anyway) unexciting days to get to Reinsvassbu. On our restart, we cut off that bit by driving up into Øksendalen, a starting point for some top-notch backcountry skiing, and hiked straight into Reinsvassbu, where there is no dog hut so Ralph and I tented out while the ladies stayed in the hut.IMG_3804.jpg(looking back down upper Øksendalen)

Then came the precipitous 1100 m descent to Eikesdalsvatnet, a big, very beautiful, fjordlike freshwater lake just 20 m above sea level and separated from a real fjord but a few km of flat farmland. The trail goes down a steep valley that must be regularly swept by big avalanches from the surrounding walls – most of the scattered birch trees in the lower half started out horizontal or even downhill, and down at the bottom there are some broken off spruces at the edge of the forest.

IMG_3848.jpg(Heading down)
IMG_3854.jpg(Zoe above Eikesdalsvatnet; our route the next day took us up the V-shaped valley on the other side of the lake)

We called up the farmer that lives at the trailhead for a ride across Eikesdalsvatnet in a small skiff. That brought us to Hoemsbu, a big yellow farmhouse converted to a hut set back in mowed green fields a little ways from the lake shore.  It has something like 30 beds plus the usual dog hut. The main hut has a big well-appointed kitchen – when Zoe and I came through, there was a big group that had hiked over form Åndalsnes and were met by a chef who served up gourmet meal, one of many tours offered as part of the Romsdal mountain festival. This time it was just us three plus Ralph in this incredibly beautiful place.
IMG_3906.jpg(Hoemsbu and Eikesdalsvatnet)

As we descended from Reinsvassbu we got a preview of the first part of our next day’s work, the steep ascent up Hoemsdalen to the Hoemskaret pass at 1300m. We just paced it out, no hurry, with the sharp thumb of Juratind slowly growing closer as we passed it on our left, and made the pass by early afternoon. But we still had a ways to go, with the weather closing in – back down to maybe 1000 m, then a really rough traverse across giant talus before a final ascent to Svartvassbu, making for a long day all told. 
IMG_3907.jpg(Hazelnuts: EIkesdalen (oak valley) could more accurately be called hasseldalen)
IMG_3918.jpg(ascending Hoemsdalen)

Svartvassbu is a pair of tiny, 6-bed unserviced huts – they have bedding, cooking facilities including pots and pans, plates, utensils, and so on but no food. From a short walk out the front door of the hut you can watch the sun set Goksøyra, a big rock face above the north end of Eikesdalsvatnet.
IMG_3955.jpg(sunset on Goksøyra)

In the morning I took a solo flyer up Helvetestind for views of the perennially frozen lake in Helvetesbotn and mountains all around before we all circled back down into Eikesdalen.
IMG_3979.jpg(view from Helvetestind)

The hike in its pure form continues for a couple more days, to tiny Vasstindbu high up on a ridge, where I have seen a couple of the more spectacular sunsets of all my days in Norway, and then on to Måssvassbu before crossing over a pass to Isfjorden. From there it’s a short drive/bus ride to Åndalsnes at the western of the Raumabanen for transport through the spectacular Romsdalen to the main Oslo-Trondheim line. Instead, we wanted to circle back to our car, but after the hard day the day before doing it in a single push would have been a bit much for old Ralphie – this was his last big tour – so we asked around and found a cabin to rent for the night in the little village of Eresfjord, then I used the afternoon to power hike back through to Øksendalen, pick up the car and drive back around.
IMG_4001.jpgNancy above Eresfjord)

We drove home by first driving the length of Eikesdalsvatnet, then taking a mountain road up the scenic Aura valley, past a series of hydropower lakes on Sunndalsfjellet (the raison d’etre for the road), then down scenic Litldalen to Sunndalsøra before taking the main roads home. I had never seen the Eikesdalen end of that road before so it was a good way to finish. To reiterate, I think this is one of the overall best multi-day hikes that I know of an Norway, with a mix of scenery and history that’s hard to find and put together in a single tour anywhere in this beautiful country. The weather in western Norway is iffy, but if you hit it right it doesn’t get any better. 5 stars!

IMG_4018.jpg(view down Eikesdalsvatnet)
IMG_4038.jpg(monument on Eikesdalsveien)

Merry Christmas!

3:02 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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Merry Christmas too you and yours too great hike and report 

5:51 p.m. on December 25, 2016 (EST)
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I am no purist, so hiking among such splendor yet sleeping in a bed most every night sounds like a great experience, more so as I transition from apprentice codger to journeyman status!


11:36 a.m. on December 26, 2016 (EST)
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The more trip reports you post from Norway, the higher it gets on my wish list. Thanks for the great report and photos. Merry Christmas. 

6:58 p.m. on December 26, 2016 (EST)
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I've read through it once.. but will be back to read through it again! What an amazing trip!  Thank  you so much for sharing.. .

9:06 p.m. on December 26, 2016 (EST)
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So beautiful there from your pictures..I could see why you take trips often...Thanks for sharing and Happy Holidays

9:00 a.m. on December 27, 2016 (EST)
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Thanks for sharing! Great pictures of extremely beautiful country.

9:56 a.m. on December 28, 2016 (EST)
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Stunning photos. Thanks for sharing them. Happy New Year!

4:43 a.m. on December 29, 2016 (EST)
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God dag! how nice to relive happy days in the Romsdal area which I was in some 50 years ago, a lone Scot with a Swedish climbing group. Our objective was the Troll Wall but it was closed after a Czech team peeled off so we spent time on Bispen Kongen and the Romsdalshorn plus hiking in the area around. Thanks for some very fond memories.

1:43 p.m. on December 29, 2016 (EST)
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Wow! Excellent TR and photos of some stunningly beautiful landscape.  Thanks for sharing, BigRed!

7:34 p.m. on December 29, 2016 (EST)
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Wow, very nice hike and trip report!

8:43 a.m. on December 30, 2016 (EST)
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Exquisite, Excellent, Enticing. Many thanks for the effort put in the report and sharing.

March 21, 2018
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