Jostedaalbreen National Park is one of Norway’s top tourist attractions. It is covered by a glacier that spans over 474 km² and is 80 km long, and several places are covered in ice layers over 500 metres thick. It is the largest glacier in mainland Europe and sees about 600,000 visitors every year.
More than 250,000 of these visitors go straight to Briksdaalsbreen, a glacier located on the Northern side of the National Park which is easy to access and lies between high peaks, with beautiful waterfalls tumbling down the mountains.
The Jostedaalbreen glacier is seen behind a beautiful lush valley with icy and loud waterfalls.
The area has been enabled for lazy visitors, who can choose to be driven up to the place in “troll cars”, even though the hike from the parking lot to the glacial lake in which the glacier terminates takes about 20 minutes.
The calm roads surrounding the fiords at the site turn into a frenzy of buses and cars the closer you get to Briksdaalbreen, with tourists from all over the world seeking to get a glimpse of the intense shades of blue crowning the ice.
But signs every 200m up the road also show a very different reality: the retreat of the enormous glacier, with dates and size dating a few hundred years back.
Brickdaalsbreen was not really of interest for us.
Having left it behind, we were lucky to bump into Sagueva, a funny and charming Spanish girl who was working in the tourist office in Stryn and did almost two hours of overtime to help us find what we were looking for.
She recommended a 5h hike up to her favourite glacier in the area, only known to locals.
It rained as we took off and the forecast was not promising: it would rain non-stop at least until midnight.
We prepared our bags and our rain coats and bag covers and found a place to park following her directions. It was empty: the only noise to be heard was the sound of the distant waterfalls and the rain dripping on our coats.
The first phase of the hike was easy, following a road uphill and then a little trail through the forests’ wet bushes and over the rushing rivers to reach a little lodge with five or six houses located in a forest glade.
Norway has more than 500 public cabins placed in different spots in the countryside. Some of them are staffed, with private rooms and dormitories and others are a bit more rustic, but they are always equipped with wood, gas, food and full kitchenware.
We could have stayed there and kept it easy but we decided to get closer to the Erdal glacier.
The humidity was intense and we felt wet, but the view was amazing and the goal challenging, so we kept on following the red signs of the trail.
It went uphill and the trees disappeared, and the higher we got, the less vegetation, until we reached the last phase of the hike and started climbing the slippery rocks surrounding the glacial lake.
The noise of a nearby powerful waterfall silenced our efforts to talk, we just focused on the red signs and tried not to fall as that could have been fatal. At some point we reached a wall that seemed quite impossible to climb given that we were both carrying big destabilising bags.
Jon even had his camera hanging from his left shoulder and tried first, but had to step back and put the camera away. I then tried and somehow made it up the wall, helping him up right afterwards with our walking sticks.
Once we were over the wall it only took 10 minutes to reach the glacial lake and the view was stunning!
It was so rewarding, peaceful and fascinating! And above all, we were alone.
It took us some time to find the tiny hut next to the lake that Sagueva had told us about, but we finally did. It was a wooden triangular hut with the very basics: Two slim beds, a table, a shelf and a gas stove.
Finding the little hut surrounded by fog was no easy task.
The temperature outside was around 8ºC and the hut was cold as well. We were freezing and tried to turn on the gas stove but to our surprise the gas bottle was empty.
There had to be another one, so we searched under the beds and found another bottle. We tried and tried, but it was also empty.
It was too late and too dangerous to go back, but just imagining spending the night there with no chance of warming it up was all but ideal.
Then we found an old kerosene Primus stove dating back from the 19th century. It was rusty and dirty and we had no idea about how to make it work.
I had had my phone on airplane mode and turned it on in case we had some reception.
To my surprise, I had 4G in the middle of nowhere!! I looked up a video on YouTube not even knowing what to call the stove and found one video in which the one being used looked exactly like the one we had in our hands.
We checked the hut and found ethanol, lamp oil and matches, everything we needed to make it work, according to the YouTube video. Unbelievable.
Jon tried to turn it on but it was cold and hadn’t been used for a long time, so it took a while, but after 30-40 minutes he managed to stabilise the flame and keep it going.
We warmed up some water and made ourselves some tea. Just sat and looked at each other feeling extremely self-satisfied and happy.
The hut suddenly looked completely different. It was warm, cozy, romantic…just perfect.
We had found exactly what we had been looking for and were enjoying every single minute of it.
The hut was warming up and the tea was served.
It was still raining outside and a thick fog had taken over the place, so we made some dinner, played cards, found some blankets and went to sleep.
When we woke up the area was still covered in a dense fog, so we cautiously started our way back down. We were slow, we couldn’t see much and the rocks were even more slippery than the day before.
We sat down and used every spike and our walking sticks to descend.
It was great fun and we were smiling all the way down. And when we think back on that hike we both lighten up and think about our lifesavers: the old Primus and Youtube.