August 13, 2014
Today was moving-on day so before breakfast we packed up our bags. It was time to take a chance on better weather in Jotunheimen. Our bus left the parking lot at Spranget at 10:45 am and we had to walk about 6 km to get there, so shortly after 9 am we were on the road. Luckily it was not raining, but to hedge our bets we put on our rain gear anyway and off we went, under grey skies.
Maintaining our usual 5.2 km/h pace we arrived at the parking lot in the middle of the tundra at about 10:30 am. Upon reaching the parking lot it wasn’t clear where the bus would stop, but since there was a bus schedule posted here it seemed probable that this was the right place. The rain started to fall lightly just after we arrived, but the bus arrived soon. Although we would be changing to two other buses, we bought single tickets through to Gjendesheim, hoping we would make the connections. The price was 292 NOK for the two of us, which we thought seemed very cheap for a trip of that length.
The bus left Spranget exactly on time and travelled through very pretty rural areas until we reached Mysusæter, which is a small ski area. From there our road was a narrow and twisting one-and-a-half-lane road, which our full-sized highway bus had very little trouble getting down. Within an hour we arrived in Otta, the main town in the valley, and pulled into the skysstasjon. (This is a central station serving both trains and buses, which is a really good idea.) Here we met the two Norwegian women with their teenage boys who had hiked from Grimsdalshytta to Rondvassbu at the same time as us. They had left Rondvassbu earlier than us and had gone river rafting, and it was quite surprising to meet up with them again.
Bus 501 left Otta just after noon, a few minutes later, but the printed timetable appeared to say that the connecting bus to Gjendesheim would wait for bus 501 in Vågåmo. We hoped that this would really be the case. The countryside in the valley our bus went through was very pretty, but then we had to wait ten minutes for road construction so we started getting nervous. But when we arrived in Vågåmo bus 506 was waiting patiently for us. This was great news for us because if we had missed the connection we would have had to stay overnight in Vågåmo.
Bus 506 climbed up out of the valley back into the high country again. This bus had wi-fi, so we made good use of it by checking the bank accounts and e-mailing the kids about our itinerary changes. Just before we got to Gjendesheim we were startled to see a large herd of reindeer right beside the road. We later found out that they were not wild, but a herd owned by the commune of Vågå.
We arrived at Gjendesheim in mid-afternoon, and what a difference from Rondane! It was sunny and clear with only a few clouds, and the lake was stunningly beautiful, rivalling Lake Louise. We checked in for two nights and were assigned a two-bed room. However Rosemary decided to ask if there was another room available on the other side of the hall, because then we would have a view of the river. Sure enough there was one, and not only was it larger than our original room, it also had two single beds rather than the usual bunk beds.
We unpacked a bit and then went down to the cafeteria and ordered a waffle and some tea for a snack. Norwegian waffles traditionally come with an indigenous variety of sour cream called romme, so we made sure to try that out.
We had given up on the idea of staying in Jotunheimen for a week because it involved way too much long walking, but that left the question of what we would do instead. We kicked around several options but the only certain thing was that tomorrow we would hike Besseggen, the must-do hike here. One possibility was to do some walks out of Gjendebu, the hut at the other end of the lake, but we have to make sense out of the boat schedule before planning that.
About 5:30 pm we decided to go out for a walk, so we put on our boots in case the ground was muddy. As the weather was good we decided to climb up the trail to the ridge which led to Besseggen and also to Glitterheim. By this time of day loads of people were straggling down from Besseggen and we were the only ones going up. The views down the lake were really terrific, always changing as the clouds produced varying patterns of light on the lake and its banks, and we were also lucky to see part of a rainbow in the opposite direction.
At the top of the ridge, where the trail to Glitterheim splits off, we realized that dinner time was approaching, so we descended quickly and changed into clean clothes before dinner. There were lots of people waiting for the 7 pm sitting, and here we were directed to sit in a particular place rather than choosing our own seats. This was a better system because it filled up the tables rather than leaving spaces. As usual we started with a cream soup, cream of asparagus, followed by enormous breaded pork cutlets with potatoes, peas, and beans. We had never seen such large cutlets. It was quite a good dinner although the meat was a bit on the fatty side. Dessert was a chocolate brownie with raspberry sauce and some very good vanilla ice cream.
After dinner we had tea and then went outside to enjoy the view for a bit longer. On the other side of the river Sjoa, which flows out of Gjende, were some tacky-looking fishing cabins which, based on their location, must be quite exclusive, and there were several people standing in the river and fishing. Back in our room we caught up with our journal-writing; since our room was next to the WC we listened to doors being slammed for quite some time.
August 14, 2014
We woke up early and looked out to see blue sky, so we hoped that would bode well for the rest of the day. But by the time we got up the sky was overcast and the mountain tops were shrouded in clouds. However, today was “Besseggen or Bust” so we packed our small packs and had breakfast. Normally the boat goes at 9:30 am to Memurubu, but today there was an extra boat at 8:45 am so we thought we would try for that. We arrived at the dock at 8:30 am and found a long lineup there; we weren’t quite last to board but almost.
We stood at the back of the boat for the 35-minute trip up the lake to Memurubu, and once there we packed away the warmer boat clothes and headed up the trail, along with most of the other 78 people who had come with us on the boat. The trail went up fairly steeply for the first hour, and the line-up of people climbing it was quite impressive. After a while one of the other hikers spotted a group of reindeer not too far away, and later Paul spotted a group of three which were quite close by. In this part of Norway the reindeer are mostly domesticated, so probably these animals were as well.
The farther we climbed, the better the views up the lake to Gjendebu were. The mountain tops were still in cloud, but at least we had no rain. At 11 am we stopped beside a small lake for tea and a snack, and then we carried on up and down until a bit after noon we arrived at the narrow strip of rock between Bessvatnet and the vertical cliff plunging down into Gjende. We enjoyed lunch at this small pass, admiring the deep blue waters of Bessvatnet versus the glacial green waters of Gjende. Fortunately by now the low clouds had lifted so we had great views up the lake and into the back country of Jotunheimen.
Now we came to Besseggen, which was a knife-edge ridge climbing steeply up about 250 meters of elevation. It took us maybe an hour to scramble up it using hands and feet, although looking back on it, we could hardly call it a scramble. Parts of it were very nerve-wracking but we both made it safely. However there were really only one or two places where we really found it necessary to use a handhold.
Once we reached the more level section we had some more tea before continuing across the plateau. We followed a groomed trail to the high point, where Norway’s largest cairn stands. We guessed that it was larger than the cairn atop the Old Man of Coniston. From here it was downhill all the way to Gjendesheim, with a chain to help us down one steep section. Off to the north was a rain shower but it stayed away from us, and we arrived back at the hut just about 7 hours after setting out on the trail. It had been a really good day’s walk.
We had alternated between craving hot chocolate and ice cream all day, and by the time we reached the hut the day was quite warm. So we both had ice cream sandwiches as our treat. For dinner we had pork again; this time it was pork steaks which looked suspiciously like last night’s pork, only not breaded. But it came with a very good spicy gravy, and the dessert of ice cream with forest berries was very tasty too. Our neighbours at the dinner table were a Norwegian/Swedish couple and a French/Polish couple.
After dinner we chatted with the friendly man at the desk, and he gave us some ideas for tomorrow. We were thinking of staying one more night, but since tomorrow was Friday we would have to pack up our stuff and move to a dorm room. Another option was to take the boat to Gjendebu and walk south from there out to another hut on the road, but the boat schedules were awkward and the weather forecast was very dismal. So after some thought we decided to take the bus to Oslo tomorrow morning and then do some research before moving on to other parts.
Next: Retreat to Oslo