In The Home of the Giants – Norway, Scandinavia, Europe
This country is a pleasure to drive in – some of Europe's best roads and no cars on them! I crossed the Sognefjell Road which rises to over 4,000 feet, 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 Jotunheimen, the home of the giants, I was off to climb the biggest. Galdhopiggen at 8,101 feet is the highest mountain in Norway, indeed, in northern Europe.
A fantastic country for driving
"What a fantastic spot" I mused as I drove past a campsite 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 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. It 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 3,000 foot drop to one side, 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 beneath the flat grey cloud base.
Hytta means hut or cabin; it 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, however, is set in an arctic landscape about 6,000 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 cabin to meet the guide and fellow climbers. We were a group of seven or eight led by a local guide who was based here.
A fantastic country for climbing
Norway's highest mountain had remained stubbornly hidden in cloud until now. As we set off over the plateau Glittertind, the runner up by 11 meters appeared through the clearing mists, followed by Galdhopiggen, much nearer on our side of the valley. The peak reminded me of Snowdon in shape. It rose just over 2,000 feet above the hut. We headed more or less towards it, climbing gradually across acres of stones, walking through snow which became deeper as we progressed. To everyone's joy, the clouds rapidly dispersed, the June sun shined warmly as we reached the glacier known as Styggebreen. The name means dangerous or hazardous – so called because it's one of the few Norwegian glaciers that remains snow covered and thus, has 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, a smaller glacier called Piggbreen on our left, and up over easy rocks where the sun had melted some of the snow. This had re-frozen forming treacherous patches 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 at 8,000 feet; kicking steps up the slope was fairly hard work. I made good progress though, encouraged by two or three of my companions. I seemed to have become known simply as "The Englishman" by my fellow hikers – they were Norwegian and Swedish – apparently 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. 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 walker's route 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 under the summit and began our way back down. I followed a couple of the party who were skiing 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, I popped in for a coffee before heading back over Sognefjell. The place was full of athletic looking characters in ski gear. They turned out to be some of the Norwegian National Ski Team. They practice at the summer ski centre since the snow is usually good all summer. Back to the car for the trip down the mountain, I noticed that the bus had gone. I never did get to see it negotiate that road.