The ascent of Norway's highest peak
30.04.2008 0 °C
This country is a pleasure to drive in - some of Europe's best roads and no cars on them! I'd crossed the Sognefjell road which rises to over 4000 feet, from the Sognefjord via Turtagro and was heading down through a valley reminiscent of the Llanberis Pass in North Wales, but on a much vaster scale. Looking at some of the rocks above the roadside, it was easy to see where the tales of giants and trolls came from. This was Jotunheim, the home of the giants and I was off to climb the biggest of them all. Galdhopiggen at 8101 ft or 2469m is the highest mountain in Norway and indeed, in Northern Europe.
"What a fantastic spot" I mused as I drove past a camp site at the end of a clear blue lake. Another car passed me going the other way - the first I'd seen in over 20 miles. The road did a sharp right some way after the lake and maintained its descent of the broad, forested Boverdal Valley. On the far side, huge mountains rose steeply into the clouds, snow clinging to their upper reaches.
Having descended into the pine and birch woods, the road wound back to the left and continued its gradual descent towards Boverdal, the river now on the left. Passing the hamlet of Elveseter, the valley levelled out and I presently reached the road signposted right to Juvasshytta. Stopping to open the gate, I continued up the single track lane which rose steeply up the tree covered hillsides, stopping again to pay a small toll to drive to Juvasshytta.
Once above the tree line, the road became a dirt track and began to climb in earnest, the views expanding down the Boverdal valley and across to the cloud topped mountains opposite. I drove carefully along a section with a steep 3000 foot drop to one side, which is always a good reason to pay extra attention to the road, before climbing the final curves to the flat stony expanse of plateau where Juvasshytta was to be seen just beneath the flat grey cloud base.
The word 'hytta' by the way, means hut or cabin and comes from the residences in days gone by, of the farmers who moved up the mountainsides to tend their animals during the summer grazing season. This hut or hostel however, is set in an arctic landscape about 6000 feet above sea level on a broad treeless plateau which didn't look like good grazing on account of the lack of grass. I was amazed to see a bus in the car park. That must have been fun, getting up here! Braving the cold wind, I went into the warmth of the hostel to meet the guide and fellow climbers. We turned out to be a group of 7 or 8 led by a local guide who was based up here.
Norway's highest mountain had remained stubbornly hidden in cloud up until now, but as we set off over the plateau Glittertind, the runner up by 11m, appeared through the clearing mists, followed by Galdhopiggen, much nearer on our side of the valley. The peak reminded me of Snowdon in shape and rose just over 2000 feet above the hostel. We headed more or less towards it, climbing gradually across acres of stones soon walking through snow which became deeper as we progressed. To everyone's joy the clouds rapidly dispersed, the June sun shining warmly as we reached the glacier known as Styggebreen. The name means dangerous or hazardous glacier - so called because it's one of the few Norwegian glaciers remaining snow covered and therefore with hidden crevasses, year round. Roped together, we set off over the glacier. The route was marked by poles and led in a straight line towards the right of the peak.
Having succeeded in crossing the Styggebreen glacier without any of us falling down a crevasse, we unroped for the final climb to the summit. The route led along below a ridge, past another, smaller glacier called Piggbreen on our left and up over easy rocks where the Sun had melted some of the snow. Thich had re frozen forming treacherous patshes of hard ice in the shaded cracks and hollows.
The final pyramid was snow and though not difficult, I did begin to feel the altitude having come up from sea level that morning. We were after all at 8000 feet and kicking steps up the slope was fairly hard work. I made good progress though, encouraged by 2 or 3 of my companions. I seemed to have become known simply as 'The Englishman' by my fellow hikers - they were all Norwegian and Swedish - apparently there's not many of us around in these parts!
Breathlessly, I made the top, stopping at the viewing indicator to take photos. The cloud had all but gone and we were treated to a view extending past Fannaraki and the jagged Skagastolstind to the South all the way up to distant Snohetta in the North, perhaps 100 miles away. East of us the countless peaks of the Jotunheim gathered in white topped rows like waves on the sea, while on the western horizon lay the flat white miles of the Jostedalsbreen ice field - the largest in Europe.
Closer at hand the summit fell away in a sheer drop to glaciers at our feet. We had clearly come up the easy way! There is another walkers route up here, from Spiterstulen accessed from further down the valley past Boverdal. You don't need a guide for that one - as long as you don't get lost, that is - there being no glacier crossing. The route however is much longer and involves more ascent than from Juvasshytta.
We signed the visitors' book in the small hut just under the summit and began our way back down. I followed a couple of the party who were ski ing down without skis. They were able to remain mostly upright while I descended part way on my backside much to all our amusement!
Back at Juvasshytta and I popped in for a coffee before heading back over Sognefjell. The place was full of very athletic looking characters in ski gear. They turned out to be some of the Norwegian National ski team. Apparently they practice at the summer ski centre here as the snow's usually good all summer. Back to the car for the trip down the mountain and I noticed that the bus had gone. I never did get to see it negotiate that road.
Pete Buckley June 2001