“A weekend, in Norway!?” my grandparents said to me in surprise, like Norway was too far to go just for a weekend. Europe is surprisingly small compared with the likes of Australia, and even New Zealand, and I reached my destination 8 hours after leaving home. A mere hop across the water in my eyes.
Norway was exactly how I imagined it: evergreen forests, red wooden lodges, an abundance of rivers, lakes and impressive mountain peaks. It was also rather cold and expensive but that certainly hasn’t deterred me from a second visit. I was met at Oslo airport by my Norwegian friend Martha who was my hiking buddy in New Zealand. Read about some of our hikes here. This weekend she was kindly taking me on a tour of some of the most beautiful walking regions of her homeland.
We drove for four hours to reach her family cabin situated in the mountains close to the town of Hemsedal. She is the fourth generation to stay here and the cabin’s cosy interior displays years of happy memories and family adventures. The views are pretty spectacular too and I dreamed for a little mountain hideaway myself.
The next morning we made an early start and drove an hour north to Ardalstangen. Driving in Norway is enjoyable; roads are smooth, scenic and speed limits low. A few snacks at the supermarket set us back around £30 and a meal at a service station, £20 each. Not cheap by any standards.
Our walk started close to sea level and climbed a gruelling 1200 metres to Middagshaugen, a peak overlooking the village of Ardalsfjord, an inner branch of the great Sognefioden (fjord) and Lake Ardalsvatnet. The town of Ardalstangen is positioned between the two. Apart from Milford Sounds and Marlborough Sounds in New Zealand, this was the first time I had seen a fjord and it certainly beats any river or lake in terms of colour and beauty.
Wild blueberries, red currants, black currants and raspberries kept our energy up as we walked. Half way up we stopped for a break to take in the view and signed a visitors book which was kept in a box nailed to a tree. We carried on until we reached the top where we enjoyed a traditional Norwegian lunch of rye crackers with cured meats, cheese and these strange cinnamon cream pancake-like wraps.
That morning at the car when Martha suggested we bring the ginormous thermos with us I laughed. Not a chance I was dragging that sort of weight up 1200m with me! Martha, and most Norwegian’s I believe, don’t worry about weight when hiking or biking. The rest of us on the other hand spend a huge amount of effort in carrying as little as possible. My brother for example has a base weight of 3kg. How!? I do not know. I asked Martha why she has no worry about weight. “It makes the workout harder” she says, as if it’s a good thing. There’s no doubt about it. Norwegians are machines.
After a scenic coffee up the top, which I have to admit was worth carrying the thermos for, we made our way back down. As soon as we reached the car the heavens opened. We couldn’t have been luckier, dodging the rain all weekend. We continued our adventure by van, up around the lake to the northern end where the larger village of Ovre Ardal is situated. This is home to the largest waterfall in Norway which was, according to Martha, “just a short walk away.”
After a 3am start the previous day, not much sleep the night before and a 1200m climb a few hours earlier, I was pretty tired. However, as always I was eager to explore new places, so I pushed on. Two hours later I fell silent. No matter how much I ate there was absolutely nothing left in the tank. Martha sensed my struggle and suggested we stop at a cute little lodge for a beer which she kindly bought. The 330ml can of beer went straight to our heads and I regained my motivation and enough energy to continue walking.
The waterfall was impressive but I was so over-tired all I could think about was setting up camp and crawling into my sleeping bag. We decided to sleep in the van as it was far more appealing than having to pack away a damp tent in the morning. It had started raining. Martha cooked us sausages and I cracked open a bottle of port I bought at Duty Free. We sang along to country music while reminiscing about our time in Australia and New Zealand.
The next day started much the same as the day before, with a bowl of apple and cinnamon porridge. We drove the van up a valley into the mountains. Here we were going to attempt to summit Store Soleibotntind, which sits at 2083m. It was a long technical climb but I was excited. I love climbing mountains. We stopped just before the snow line for lunch and assessed the conditions which weren’t looking favourable. Thick fog had come in so we started to turn back. It wasn’t worth the risk. A while after we had descended a fair distance the fog cleared and we made the decision to turn around (again) and attempt to summit.
I would call myself a fairly experienced hiker but this walk was tough! The route went over circular rocks and boulders, some slippery, some loose. There’s wasn’t a path as such, just a vision to the top. As we passed the snow line things got really tough and I was amazed at how difficult it was to hike in untrodden snow. I’ve walked in snow before but this was on another level. Martha the machine trooped on and I struggled to make the reach her footprints left behind. Later I realised that by following her footprints I was actually making it harder for myself as compressed snow is slipperier than untrodden snow. Lesson learnt!
After a long looong climb we reached the top and just as we did, it started to snow. Unfortunately this meant we couldn’t see the views over the ranges and mountain lakes but it was a magical experience. After a hot cup of coffee (yes I was persuaded to lug the thermos up a mountain for the second time) and some energy food (heaps of chocolate of course) we made our decent.
As if someone had flicked a switch, the weather turned and we were now in thick fog and heavy snow. Martha pointed out that this is why she doesn’t care about pack weight and carries so much gear. The weather in Norway can change so drastically, you must always be prepared. I struggled to keep up with Martha heading down who stressed that is was vital we get down as quick as possible before we loose our trail of footprints in the fresh falling snow.
My Goretex trail runners really weren’t geared up for ankle deep snow but luckily my trusted carrier bag over the socks trick kept me warm and dry. Martha had lent me a pair of her old waterproof hiking trousers which were a godsend as I spent the first half of our descent sliding down the snow on my bum. I started this walk in shorts. What was I thinking.
Back at the car we ate everything in sight and drove south to Martha’s farmhouse in Heggedal, a seven hour spectacular drive away. I was introduced to all the farm animals and after a cuddle with one of the rabbits we enjoyed a delicious meal her mum had prepared. It was rabbit. Dessert was fresh waffles with brown cheese, a favourite in Norway. I loved it so much, Martha’s mum kindly gave me the rest of the block to take home.
The house was delightful and very traditional in appearance and design, similar to her mountain cabin. I love wooden beams and the cosy feeling they bring. Norway felt like I was in Moonmin land with grass roofs and wooden walls. The mountains, lakes and forests remind me a lot of New Zealand which I imagine, is why I’ve taken such a liking to Norway. What a beautiful place to live. A massive thank you to Martha and her family who made my weekend in Norway unforgettable.