How to find the Magic of Norway in the Mountains
Norway has been on my bucket list ever since that very first time I rode the boat ride with the scary trolls in Epcot a bajillion years ago. I was completely enthralled with a place in a faraway land with mystique and folklore. This was the magic that all fairy tales were spun around. And, let’s face it. As a kiddo barely able to scratch my name to paper, fairy tales were life. Could it be a place like this existed?
Well, grown up Nicki got her chance to find out. Although, fairy tales hold less sway in my day to day, I’m still a sucker for tradition, culture, and stories. Luckily, anyone living in or guiding in Jotunheimen National Park will happily tell you a Norwegian tale. As a country of devoted story tellers, the folklore of Jotunheimen National Park has been passed down next to warm fires on chilly nights under dark skies for generations. In late summer 2018, I spent 3 days hiking across the park. On its own, it is a beautiful and challenging trek. But the stories, the traditions, and the food made it unforgettable.
Let’s start with the basics. First, Jotunheimen National Park means “Home of the Giants.” According to ancient Norse Mythology, the gods lived in Åsgard, the humans in Midgard, and the bad giants – in Jotunheimen. Sounds inviting, right?
Yet, this national park has rightly earned its name being home to Norway’s tallest 29 mountains and the highest concentration of mountains over 2,000m in Northern Europe. The tallest, Galdhøpiggen, stands at 8,100 feet. With elevations not even reaching 10,000 feet these mountains may not seem daring, but the challenge lies in the actual elevation gained from valleys carved by glaciers to the summits. The mountains of Norway rise from sea level, while those of other ranges with higher elevations rise from high continental strata.
These mountains have been challenging mountaineers for generations. I learned about the mountaineering history from local Norwegian guide, Glenn, as we trekked through Svartdalen or the Black Valley. My ears were quick to perk up as I was hanging onto every word. Even though our day was foggy and the rigid peaks hidden by rain clouds, I could still sense the power and allure of the peaks.
Back in the Golden Age of mountaineering, there was much dispute as to the toughest peak in the region. Originally, it was believed to be Knutsholstinden. Yet an Englishman named William Cecil Slingsby was quick to prove otherwise as he ascended the peak with a milk maiden declaring it a ladies peak. Don’t get all riled up just yet over Mr. Cecil. He also led his sister to the tops of the mountains of Norway and fathered a daughter who became a mountaineer in her own rite. He continued his quest with a first ascent of Store Skagastølstind (Storen) which was then considered unclimbable. In all he is credited with 50 first ascents. He later went on to write, “Norway: the Northern Playground” and has become known as the Father of Norwegian Mountaineering.
Glenn wasn’t the only Norwegian with stories in the park. Before dinner, I was serenaded by a melancholic song sung sweetly by Solbjørg Kvålshaugen, the hut’s hostess. This was after being served the biggest and tastiest home-made cinnamon buns I have ever sunk my teeth into. This was just the first dish I experienced that she and her cooks prepare from scratch for all of her guests daily. Both dinner and breakfast proved equally yummy with food intentionally sourced locally and prepared methodically. I was even treated to a shot of their very own Aquavit, Norway’s traditional spirit. Following dinner, Solbjørg Kvålshaugen led us to a nearby hut to retell the love story of Aasmund Olavsson Vinje, a Norwegian poet and original resident of the home.
As far as the wildlife goes, reindeer, elk, deer, mink, wolverines and the lynx call these lands home. In fact, farmers free range graze herds of reindeer throughout the park. (Yes, you read that right!). I unfortunately missed the opportunity to spot any reindeer because they had been taken to slaughter the previous week. I did get to enjoy a few meals where the locally sourced and sustainable meat was the star of the dish. (Mmmmm….Reindeer stew!)
Of course, Jotunheimen National Park has had its fair share of more recent accolades. National Geographic has named the scramble up the rocky spine that lies between Gjende Lake and Bessvatnet Lake one of the best hikes in the world. The Besseggen Ridge hike is not for the faint of heart. It’s a Class 1 scramble towering 700m high above the turquoise Gjende Lake below. It’s like Zion’s Angel’s Landing’s meaner Norwegian cousin. Let’s not forget that the day totals 8.6 miles with 3,309’ in elevation gain. And we LOVE it!
There you have it. A little bit of the magic of Norway that I learned on my trek in Jotunheimen National Park. You can experience it for yourself this summer when we travel to Norway. As far as your luggage goes, we rely on the Ferry system to transport our luggage hut to hut as our feet transport our bodies. It’s truly a unique adventure rich in tradition, folklore, and food. And we feel, one of the best ways for any passionate outdoorswoman to experience the real Norway.