Aurlandsdalen

August 26, 2014

We had heard good predictions for today’s weather, and when we got up the lake was very calm, although it was still rather cloudy. This was good news because today was the first day of our Aurlandsdalen trek. (The route is an ancient connection between the coast and the interior, and now it’s one of Norway’s classic hikes.) So once we had had breakfast and packed our bags we set off to walk the short distance to Finse. The start of the trail was easy to find, and we crossed the tracks, went through the gate, and started uphill.

View over Finse

By now the weather was sunny with a few clouds in the sky, so it was perfect for walking. And it was warm enough for us to not need jackets. The first part of the trail went uphill fairly steeply, through lemming-infested meadows, and then it levelled out through rocky areas before going up again. This was the pattern for the morning. The views back over Finse were quite spectacular and as we climbed we could see more and more of the Hardangerjøkulen glacier.

Wobbly bridge

There was a wobbly, but apparently well-engineered, bridge crossing the upper Finseåa River, and then just before noon we reached the Klemsbu hut. So far “Klemsbu” had only been a name on the map, but it turned out to be a winter shelter which belonged to the ski association. It was locked, but it was slightly sheltered from the wind so we stopped there to sit outside and eat lunch. We met two Danes here who were walking only part of the Aurlandsdalen trail; like us they were going to Geiterygghytta, but they would be returning to Finse tomorrow.

Hardangerjøkulen view from Klemsbu

After lunch we continued on, and soon we reached the high point of the day, near the Sankt Pål summit. Once we went over the pass the scenery changed quite dramatically, very much like going over the Chilkoot Pass, and now we were walking in a much drier environment with green, brown, and grey hills. Because of this there were not as many lemmings here. We descended from the pass, crossing three or four late snow fields and several boulder fields, before reaching a lush marshy area beside a lake.

Valley near Geiterygghytta

Now we were seeing many more lemmings, including one lemming which stood its ground at the edge of the trail and hissed at us, showing its teeth. We guessed it was a mother lemming defending her den, and we ended up giving her a wide berth. We had read that female lemmings can raise four litters in a summer and these lemmings seemed to be out to break the record. As we passed the lake Rosemary saw something swimming across it. We used the telephoto lens on the camera to look, and it turned out to be a lemming! We stood and watched it as it swam across the entire lake.

Swimming lemming

From here we could see the hut, Geiterygghytta, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. We had to go to the end of the lake, cross a small river, and then walk back along the service road. The location of the hut was quite spectacular, with a lovely lake in front and several hills surrounding it which would make it a good base for day walks. We were assigned our room, “Gulsildre” (a yellow saxifrage). It looked like we were one of the first to arrive, but it isn’t busy at mid-week at this time of year.

Geiterygghytta

As we had been walking it had been getting sunnier, so we went out to sit on the deck for a while. At the hut were several chickens, rabbits, sheep, and surprisingly a young reindeer. Apparently the mother reindeer didn’t have enough milk, so he was rescued and reared by hand. He was quite tame and allowed people to pet him.

Young reindeer

Dinner was good as usual, with a pea soup for starters followed by meat loaf, potatoes, and veggies as the main course and chocolate pudding with vanilla sauce for dessert. We sat next to the Danes who we had met back at Klemsbu. They had done quite a lot of hiking in the Canadian Rockies, including several hikes which we had done. After dinner we sat in the lounge and played cards for a while. It took us a while to get used to 10-Kn-D-K-E for the face cards, and it wasn’t until we were tired of playing that we checked the deck and found that several cards were missing!

Sunset at Geiterygghytta

Afterwards we went to our room to organize our packs. We had found that the hut offers baggage service, so we decided to pay 90 NOK each for them to take our packs to Østerbø tomorrow.

August 27, 2014

The sky was mostly clear when we woke up, and outside our window there was a little bit of frost on the roof. After breakfast we checked out and left our packs by the blue van, to be delivered to Østerbø Fjellstove. This enabled us to carry only our day packs, which would be much easier on our knees.

Power lines

We left the hut at 9:10 am and headed out along the service road for a short distance before climbing up a trail, gaining elevation for quite some time until we reached the tundra. Here there were a lot of lemmings, but no reindeer that we could see. The trail undulated up and down, but it was noticeable that we were losing elevation as the morning progressed. After a couple of hours we arrived at Steinbergdalen, which was a DNT hut but which is now closed. This was a good time for lunch, so we sat on a wooden rail to eat. There was a picnic table, but it didn’t have any benches and had lots of flies around it due to all the sheep droppings.

Tundra area

From there the trail climbed back up again, but this time it started side-hilling across a steep wet slope. The route paralleled the road below and also the power lines, so we were constantly aware of them. The scenery was very beautiful but we continually had to watch where we were going, because the footing was terrible and we were always hopping over muddy patches or climbing over rocks. There was almost nowhere which was a regular trail to walk on.

Trail below the cliffs

Although it didn’t seem like we were descending, the willows beside the trail started to become larger and we started seeing birds which don’t live in the tundra. After a couple of hours we came to a Hawaiian-style waterfall cascading down over the cliff above us, and this was a good place to drink and to refill water bottles. Finally we came to a view down the valley and we could see Østerbø in the distance. Our objective was in sight so that made us feel better. Of course it still took well over an hour to reach Østerbø, including a kilometer of road at the end, but the hard part was over. We did make it in less than 8 hours so we felt good about that.

Østerbø in the distance

We checked in at the Østerbø Fjellstove, where we had a cabin reserved. We were given cabin number 9, which smelled of stale cigarette smoke. It was also bigger than what we needed, but it had been all we could find when we were planning the trip. We had arrived a bit before 5 pm and dinner was at 6:30 pm, so we had plenty of time to sort out our packs (which were waiting for us in the hall) and have much-needed showers.

Our cabin at the Fjellstove

We met the German couple who had been at Steinbergdalen with us and chatted a bit with them, asking them about the two American girls. The girls had taken quite a while yesterday to reach Geiterygghytta so we wondered how late they would arrive at Østerbø. Dinner was the usual three-course meal, and it was really good, especially after walking all day.

After dinner we walked over to look at the old cemetery where people from the area had been buried since the 19th century. On the way back to the hut we met the American girls who were just arriving, three hours later than us. We found the German couple setting up their tent in the campground so we let them know about the Americans and chatted some more with them.

August 28, 2014

Breakfast started at 8 am today, so we were over there at about 8:15 am. There was a school group staying at the Fjellstove, so the breakfast room was a bit crowded. The food selection was the usual buffet, except that they didn’t have any porridge so we had to have cereal instead. After making our lunches we headed back to our cabin to finish up packing and also to clean the cabin, to avoid being charged the cleaning fee of 350 NOK.

Lake at Østerbø

Like yesterday we decided to have our packs shipped, and today it cost 100 NOK to send a pack by bus to Vassbygdi, where the trail ended. We were out on the trail by 9:30 am and we soon encountered all of the groups we had met on yesterday’s walk. But today we met numerous other people, because it’s possible to take the bus from Vassbygdi to Østerbø and then walk the trail back to where you parked your car. This section of the Aurlandsdalen was also good because it gave distance markers counting down the kilometers to Vassbygdi.

Ruined building

The first part of the trail was good to walk on, a nice path around the lake and then through the woods. We caught up to the two American girls and chatted with them for a while before carrying on. Soon the trail went past Nesbø, which had been a rather successful farm back in the 19th century according to the sign there, and then along a rocky section which had been blasted out from under a rock overhang. It was at the three-kilometer mark that we came to a trail junction, where we had the choice of taking the low route or the high route. The weather was fantastic for walking so we decided to take the upper route, which only added about 250 meters of elevation.

Bjønnstigen view

The upper route followed paths below the cliffs, like yesterday’s trail, and the views were quite good. There was a cairn at Bjønnstigen, the high point, and apparently the National Gallery has a painting of that view back in the 19th century. So perhaps we’ll look for that when we’re back in Oslo. The descent from here was done by hanging onto a cable and clambering down some very steep steps. It took us a while to get down that, and then the rest was a very steep trail with switchbacks. Taking the upper route probably added an hour to our walking time.

Bjønnstigen descent

Once we were finally down we found a level spot and had our lunch. The trail after this was very well graded and for the most part easy to walk along. Along the trail were several signs pointing out places of historical interest. We passed a few farms which had been abandoned, and after a while we climbed up above the river to a farm called Sinjarheim. Like all the other farms it had long been abandoned, but now it’s in the process of being restored. We chatted with the guy doing the log replacement for quite some time; he said that it was a slow process but that it wasn’t for lack of money, because the Norwegians were willing to donate a lot to this kind of project.

Sinjarheim repairs

We continued on down the trail, still following the river. By now the birch trees were getting larger and our trail felt narrow as it made its way through the forest. But eventually the trail turned into a dirt road through the outskirts of Vassbygdi, and soon we found ourselves at the Vassbygdi Servicebygg. This was a convenience store which had toilets and showers out back, and it was where our bus to Flåm would stop. And as we expected, there were our packs leaning against the front of the building. After we plunked ourselves down on one of the picnic tables outside, the first thing we did was to buy ice creams to eat along with our tea and the rest of our lunch.

Almost there!

It was just after 4 pm, and if today had been Friday then there would have been a bus scheduled to leave at 4:25 pm. (Actually only if today had been a Friday between September 12 and 26… the Norwegian bus schedules sometimes overwhelmed us with their complexity.) But since it was Thursday, the next bus wasn’t until 7 pm. After about half an hour the German couple arrived, and soon the idea of taking a taxi came up. Luckily for us there was a local man there who offered to call a taxi for us. When we found out that the fare would be 400 to 500 NOK we all decided that sounded pretty good when divided by two.

The Stabbur

The taxi was there in about 10 minutes and it took us about half an hour to get to Flåm and cost us 220 NOK. That was good because we saved about an hour and a half of waiting for the bus. We signed in to the hostel and found that we had been given a little house called “The Stabbur” for the two nights. A stabbur is a small farm building used to store animal food, but our stabbur had been redecorated and was a very nice place, even with its own kitchen. This was a great deal!

Our neighbours

We changed our clothes and then went over to the grocery store to stock up on food. Right next door to us was a small farm with two designer pigs and a sign opposing cruise ships in Flåm. We bought the usual stuff at the Coop and then went back to make dinner. We had just finished our dinner when we saw the bus arriving from Vassbygdi, so taking the taxi had definitely been the right decision. After dinner we walked down to the town centre by the docks and looked around the very large souvenir shop, but nothing really interested us. But the hike was finished and tomorrow we would be tourists again.

Next: Flåm

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