Scandinavian wilderness hike 3- from Skarvheimen to Jotunheimen

When next morning I get to the train station at Geilo, I soon learn, that there is a fire in a tunnel between Bergen and Oslo! Nobody knows when the next train to Finse will leave! Not good, but it takes only an hour and the problem is apparently solved. On the train back to Finse I meet a german couple with their 4-year old daughter. They want to do a stroll around Finse! I suggest, that this is probably not the best place for a relaxing walk with a young child, but when we arrive they put the complaining girl in protective clothes and really walk out in rain, and wet thawing snow, wow! I am not sure this child will like the outdoors when it has grown up...

Near Finse it is just raining and grey, but a little further up dense fog sets in. There are sticks to mark the winter skiing route, but soon the white stuff is so thick, that I can't see from one marker to the next, although they are not far apart...
The region I am going to visit now between Hardangervidda and Jotunheimen is called Skarvheimen. The word "Skarv" in Norway is used is for mountains with steep sides, but flat tops.
The biggest of them I climb first. Hallingskarvet is a 450 sqkm nationalpark, which only has been established in 2006 to protect this refuge of arctic plants. There even should be some polar foxes, which are almost extinct in Scandinavia! The "Skarv" is 40 kilometers long, but only 2-3 kilometers wide!
After three hours ascending I reach the locked Klemsbu hut at around 1600 meters, which belongs to the hotel in Finse. From there I continue following the sticks, before I realize after a look on the GPS that they lead me to the wrong direction!
The right trail follows the ridge, where dark rock is already snow free, before at 1663 meters the highest point is reached. On the map this area is marked as a glacier! The whiteout conditions are worse for me, as I am wearing my goggles, necessary to protect the eyes, but worsening the disorientation as well...

                                   Dense fog on the roof of Hallingskarvet

On the descent finally visibility becomes better and I reach the valley where the large Geiterygghytta is located. Like so often in Norway there is a ugly powerline and a road, which is still snow covered. It was the old connection to Aurlandsdalen, nowadays just a dirt track. I continue for a while and pitch tent above the valley.

                                 Descent from the Hallingskarvet plateau


In the morning it rains again, but soon only a light drizzle remains. I follow the valley with the powerline for a short time, but soon ascent back into the mountains. Although I am gaining altitude, the climbing is rather gradual. 
Lemmings are small rodents which are very important for arctic ecology as they are the dominant food source for birds of prey and small predators like foxes. On this long hike I spot only one living lemming and the dead one on the photo. Although their population density always shifted dramatically, nowadays it seems that they are heavily affected by climate change. More about this topic I will learn later in the hike, when I have a where interesting encounter!

             Lemmings seem to be affected by climate change

Before I reach Kongshelleren hut, I need to cope with an obstacle. There is a bridge, but the river which connects some lakes has split into several channels. When I look out for the best way to cross, it turns out, that by jumping from stone to stone, I get across with dry feet!

                                    Near Kongshelleren hut

The weather now is fantastic and I enjoy immersing in the wide landscape along some ice covered lakes like Volavatnet.


From the northeastern shore of Austre Volavatnet there is a short climb to a pass at around 1500 meters overlooking the Lungsdalen, into which I will descent for quite a long time.

                                         Pass at 1500 meters

On the other side of the valley, steep, dark walls rise. Although a lot of the snow has already thawed, there are many large snow fields, and my face is burning red...

                                       Descent into Lungdalen

At first view one snow bridge is not different to many others I already have negotiated, but soon after the crossing I see, how violent just some meters behind my crossing spot, a raging torrent comes shooting out of the snow, plunging down a steep chute. Although the snow still looks quite stable it leaves a strange feeling just having crossed above the abyss...

               Crashing through the snowbridge is not advised here!

Finally I reach the green valley and need to cross the river. As the bridge is not ready for the season, I need to wade. This is doable, but the water reaches high up my thighs...
Around the Lungsdalen DNT- hut is a cluster of buildings, and parts of the meadow are fenced, here at the shore of the large Lungsdalvatnet. It is sunny, nice and warm, no surprise that the first mosquitos are out, still not aggressive...    


Two men, the first people since Finse, repair a fence, probably soon there will be sheep around!
I ascend into the beautiful Fødalen, passing thundering cascades and a chain of lakes. When I pitch tent the thermometer shows 
14 C°, here at only 1180 meters spring is in the air! But mini icebergs are still floating on the lakes...
Next morning my tent is dry, a first on this walk...

                                         Camp in beautiful Fødalen

The weather is very good, which is nice, because today I want to cross a number of high passes on a quite alpine route!
I climb out of the valley and have a nice view on Klevavatnet below and back into Fødalen.

                                        Above Klevavatnet

After a short descent I traverse the steep snow slope above the lake. Luckily the snow is not hard, otherwise this would be an easy slide with a final plunge into the icecold water...
From the lake I climb to a pass and think I already need to descent into the valley. Only after walking for some time I realize that I am wrong and I need continue climbing. 

                                        Beautiful morning

Unlike most days, where the orientation in the wide landscape is rather easy, today is more complicated  with a lot of steep climbs and descents. The most spectacular day up to now, with fantastic views!

                                      Fantastic views      

                                                 I negotiate different passes

Above 1500 meters the landscape is again rather wide and bleek, stones and snow...


Near Skavlevatnet I climb to the highest point of this hike so far, at around 1700 meters. Clouds are coming in, but still the weather is fine.

                               Panorama from Pass at 1700 m

I follow the shore of Bjordalsvatnet for some time, where the just thawed surface seems almost black.

                                         Øvre Bjordalsvatnet

The planks for the bridge at Bjordalsbu hut are missing, but even without it is no problem to cross. 

                                             Near Bjordalsbu

The weather has changed again. It is cold, grey and windy. Ascending not very steep to a flat pass proves more difficult than I thought, because the terrain is very rocky.


On the other side a waterfall comes directly crashing out of a snowfield. There are warning signs and a vehicle track. Apparently this is again part of a lake regulation system...
This happens quite often in the Norwegian mountains: At first look they seem to be wild and untouched, but a closer view often reveals signs of energy use, from powerlines to tracks, to artificial channels and dams. 
In the evening it rains and I manage to bowl over my pot with tomato sauce in the tent. Yummi...
Next morning it is still grey, cold and windy. I start the long descent  into Hemsedal, where I reach the road at just 1000 meters.

                                    Downwards into Hemsedal

The private owned Breistølen fjellstova is still closed, nobody is around...
Soon I ascend on the other side of the valley, marvelling at the greenery of willows, junipers and the lush spring flowers.

                               Spring has arrived in Hemsedal

Soon I am higher up again, follow valleys and cross two snowy passes. Once I picture a ptarmigan on a rock.


After wading the outflow of Masseringstjørni lake I have my usual chocolate lunchbreak. At this I eat 100 gramms nut chocolate. As my feet are nearly all the time very wet, it is absolutely necessary, that I use such breaks for drying them. This works well and I don't develop blisters, although like on other wet trips before, this time I don't apply vaseline or other fat to the feet. The fat should prevent the softening of the skin caused by the constant wetness. But to my delight I can do without, so my daily life is less messy...

                                     Drying feet

I carry on hiking under the grey sky with only little altitude difference, until the climb to the pass Suleskaret.

                                    No sun today

It would be nice to climb the impressive mountain Suletinden nearby, but the summit is not clear, so it is not worth the effort.
For a long time I follow the shore of lake Øvre Sulevatnet to the hut Sulebu. Meanwhile the clouds on Suletinden have lifted, too late for me to climb....


In the distance the snowy mountains of Jotunheimen, my next destination, appear.

                                                  First views to Jotunheimen

After leaving Sulebu hut, I meet the first Wild Reindeer of this trip!
Once they were widespread across Scandinavia, but today only in southern Norway about 25.000 of them continue to live. The reindeer further north, in Lapland, although most of the time free roaming, are domesticated. The wild reindeer of these areas where hunted to extinction in the 18th century.
There are two groups of about 40 animals, lots of them cute, new born calves, sometimes white in colour. They are not very shy, so I manage to photograph them. After pitching tent, I get close to the reindeer again and observe them for some time.

                                         Young Wild Reindeer calves

Although I climbed more than 1000 meters today, in the evening I have covered more than 30 kilometers. The process of getting used to constant hiking seems to evolve rather well!
In the morning the weather is nice and clear and it seems to become a beautiful day. Now the mountains of Jotunheimen appear much closer...

View towards Jotunheimen

It doesn't take long and I get close to a big herd of Wild Reindeer, more than 100 individuals! While some are resting on a hill, I manage to get very close to get some photographs.

                                       Wild Reindeer calf

Resting on a hill

Young and old

For most of the 10.000 years since humans live in Scandinavia, the Wild Reindeer where by far the most important animals. Their meat was a valuable food source and their skins kept the people warm in the cold conditions of the north. No other animal is that often depicted in petroglyphs and the remains of hunting pits which where thousands of years used to trap them, are still visible. 
Now Norway is a rich country and nobody really depends on Reindeer meat, but still the Hunting of these animals seems to be something important in Norwegian culture. This goes so far, that even in Nationalparks the hunting is allowed!
One would expect that where Wild Reindeer roam in large herds, there are their predators like Wolfes, Bears and Wolverines as well. Yes, there is a handful of these large carnivores living in Norway, but they are strictly controlled, so their presence seems to be more symbolic. Surely they are not allowed to play their natural role in the ecosystems. I will learn more about this topic at other occasions on this hike...

Outlook on a hill

I descent into Smeddalen where spring in the birch forest is in full swing. Cuckoos, thrushes and warblers are singing and the fresh leaves are a joy for my snow starved eyes...

Spring in the birch forest

There is a hiking trail in the valley, named Kongevegen, because in the old times Norwegian kings where travelling here. In the forest charcoal for iron production was produced an information panel tells.

Interesting information

At the road I pass the tiny hamlet Kyrkjestølen with a stave church, though just a replacement for the historic one.

Soon I climb steeply out of the valley. When I am having a break, I can enjoy a warm sun, for the first time of the trek. Can't believe, that sometimes it gets nice and warm around here...Very different to yesterday...
I pass a lake which is already free of ice, and there are some ducks!
Something new as well! Birds are singing and at the River Grøna I spot a dipper.

Towards Jotunheimen
After a long ascent I reach a ridge which I follow for some time. Down below is lake Tyin, a large waterbody on the edge of Jotunheimen. 
Jotunheimen means "Home of the giants". This name is really deserved because in this area loom the highest mountains of Scandinavia. Galdhøppigen reaches 2469 m! Although my route just touches the western border of Jotunheimen, I am looking forward to the area!

Lake Tyin
A long descent brings me to Sletterust, a village with a lot of scattered wooden huts. Probably most of them are just weekend or holiday homes, right now the place seems almost deserted. 
After crossing the road in Tyedalen I climb towards Mannsbergvatnet. Unfortunately a new road recently has been built, which replaces the trail for some distance. Like so often in Norway the lake is used for electricity generation, therefore the new road, an ugly scar crisscrossing the fjell.

                                                 New road

It is always hard to believe how much some hundred meters of altitude change the landscape. While in the valley, at 1000 meters, the snow is mostly gone, at Mannsbergvatnet, 400 meters higher I am back in winter. Some snowdrifts are still four meters high!

Masses of snow
This is a winter wonderland, with some steep, challenging climbs on the snow. I would like to pitch my tent, but not necessarily in the snow, so I keep on moving...

Winter wonderland
Finally I get to a slope, where patches are already snow free. Here I find beautiful messengers of spring, some Pasque flowers!

Pasque flowers
The afternoon was grey, but the evening brings back sunshine and blue sky. Although nearby Kyrkjevatnet is used for electricity generation I have reached Jotunheimen Nationalpark, which protects an area of 1155 sqkm.

                                 Island in the snow

Next morning is unusual calm and friendly with 6 C°. After a steep ascent I get incedible views of the Jotunheimen mountains!


Now I descent from above 1400 meters to just 900 meters in Hjelledalen. Here I am out of the snow, and dwarf birches form a quite dense vegetation.

                              Dwarf birches in Hjelledalen

The river is quite powerful and I need some time to find a wading spot. Even though I manage to cross, this is a wild one who needs to be treated with respect!

                                         The wild Hjelle river

I have lost the trail and have to do some surprisingly tough bushwacking to get on the path again. I climb again, pass Øtjørn lake with some mini icebergs swimming and finally get to a fine lookout across Utladalen to which I descent next.


I get in birch forest and later there are even pines! The first conifers since the first day of the hike!
Cloudberries present their white blossoms. Although the bleak fjells are fascinating on their own, I am very happy now to be in a real, beautiful forest!

                              Cloudberry blossom

                                       Pines in Utladalen

I get to Vettismorki, a cluster of log cabins, nowadays probably mostly summer homes. In the vicinity is Ingjerdbu, a DNT hut, where I eat my lunch.


I follow the valley but soon climb along a steep side creek to higher ground. When the forest is behind I get good views over the steeply inclined Utladalen. The Hurrungane Mountains on the other side of the valley are especially wild. There are hanging glaciers and waterfalls come tumbling down from everywhere. Vettisfossen is with 275 meters fall the highest waterfall in Norway!
Unfortunately now it is grey and a light but continuous drizzle rains on me.

                                        The wild Hurrungane mountains

                                         Many waterfalls

                                                    Upper Utladalen

The walking over many wet treacherous rocks, often hidden by a layer of soft snow, is slow, and affords a lot of concentration unless I am keen on breaking my ankle...
Finally I descent steeply back into the birch forest, full of life.

                                                       Huge frog

I reach the large hut complex of Skogadalsbøen which resembles more a hotel, than a mountain hut. But as always, season has not started and nobody is around.


Trails to all directions start from here and one could say, that the signpost is a little confusing...

                                                Trails to all directions

Here in the valley at only around 800 meters it is surprisingly warm. 19 C° when I pitch tent is a record so far! This allows me to really enjoy the time at camp, with cooking and eating outside. When I go for an evening walk it doesn't take long and it rains again...

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