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Jotunheimen – The Home of GIANTS

August 16, 2013

Another Rocky Plateau

Jotunheimen National Park in Central Norway is one of the most popular parks in the country and there is plenty of reason for it. It contains many of the highest peaks in Scandinavia (namely Galdhøpiggen and Glittertind, which register at over 2400m) and road or boat access to lodges means you can experience it in as much or as little comfort as you like.

I chose to hike in Jotunheimen as I was already planning to hike the Kungsleden in Sweden and wanted to get in more hiking before I went home. Jotunheimen seemed to be what came up most frequently when I would google search “Norway” and “Hiking”.

The logistics of getting to the park are fairly simple. There are roughly two buses per day from Oslo to the most popular hiking area in the park, Gjendesheim Lodge, which is the trailhead to the Besseggen Ridge. The buses generally need to make one connection, but the bus drivers announce where you need to go in Norwegian and English.

Due to its mountainous location, Jotunheimen’s hiking season is fairly short, basically June to September, with July and August being most popular. This makes the lodges and more popular areas of the park somewhat crowded, though you shouldn’t have much trouble booking last minute or adjusting what days you have booked in what lodge.

Camping is allowed almost anywhere in the park and most lodges allow you to camp in the area and use the facilities, for a price of course. Mountain lodges are regularly spaced throughout the park, and are not exactly what I would call rustic. They all had full service restaurants and a small store where you can buy very basic provisions (chocolate bars, beer, wine, fruit). They do not have self-service kitchens, so you have to rely on the restaurants for your food. All of the lodges we stayed at had road or boat access, and honestly were a little too populous and refined for my liking.

Jotunheimen has a fairly extensive network of trails which are well marked with the distinctive red T. I wasn’t sure exactly where I should hike, different websites had many different suggestions, and lodges in the park are run by different companies. So I consulted the Den Norske Turistforeningen (DNT) website. They are the Norwegian hiking authority, and run many huts throughout the country. They also run reasonably priced guided tours, and seeing as I was tired out from doing logistics for the Kungsleden, I decided to join the “Across Joutnheimen” tour (sometimes called “Around Jotunheimen”). Still, if you want to do it yourself, and it is very reasonable to do it yourself, the DNT can help you out with routes and there is a centrally located office in Oslo. The one thing I don’t like about the site (and it seems to be a Norwegian problem in general), is that they tend to describe hike lengths in hours, not in kilometers (or even miles). I understand they’re trying to describe the difficultly of the route, but hiking time is highly subjective. Visit Norway and Visit Jotunheimen also have good information and has a spectacular interactive map. If you dig a little, has the distances of the routes in kilometers, I’m not certain of their accuracy, honestly they seemed to overestimate a bit to me, but I’ll list them along with the routes below.

Besseggen Ridge Profile

If you just want to hike the Besseggen ridge, most people seem to stay at Gjendesheim, take the ferry to Memurubu first thing in the morning, and hike the ridge back to Gjendesheim. This means you are going uphill for the steepest section, which is the easier way to do it.

The tour I chose was more or less a loop, from Gjendesheim and back for seven days of hiking, staying in the local mountain lodges.
Jotunheimen Mosaic

The route and lodges:

Gjendesheim: This is where the bus stops and where the large parking lot is. Very nice DNT run lodge.

Gjendesheim–Memurubu: Over the infamous Besseggen Ridge along Lake Gjende. This is a difficult day of hiking due to ~1000m change in elevation which can be steep and narrow in places, and also due to the crowds. Approximately 30,000 people hike this section every summer. But don’t worry, most people don’t go any further and the rest of the park isn’t so crowded. About 16km total.

Memurubu: Accessible by boat from Gjendesheim (and Gjendebu). Privately run lodge.

Memurubu-Glitterheim: Fairly difficult hiking, towards the end of the day you’ll ascend to a plateau and mountain pass that are quite rocky. But the beginning of the hike is mostly hiking along a lake. Listed as 26km.

Glitterheim: The base for summitting Glittertind, Norway’s second highest peak at 2465m. We attempted to summit, but the weather was too bad. There is access by gravel road for supplies, but you can’t drive directly to the lodge. DNT run lodge.

Glitterheim-Spiterstulen: There are two main routes between these lodges: one over the summit of Glittertind and one along the base of the mountain. I wish we had taken the summit route as we missed summiting the day before. The valley route is moderately difficult, you still have to hike over a pass and a rocky plateau. I talked to some other people who took the summit route and it was reasonable. Listed as 20km (the summit route is listed as 19km).

Spiterstulen: The base for summiting Galdhøpiggen, the highest peak in Norway at 2469m. We didn’t attempt it, but it is a reasonable peak to summit. Accessible by a paved road. Internet here for a fee. Privately run lodge.

Spiterstulen-Leirvassbu: A moderate day of hiking. It rained quite a bit for us, so I don’t have a lot of pictures. Listed as 17km.

Leirvassbu: Accessible by road. Very well stocked bar. Irish coffees (with Baileys) cost 55NOK. Free internet access. Privately run lodge. Leirvassbu can be bypassed, there is a cut off trail from Spiterstulen to Gjendebu that is well marked.

Leirvassbu-Gjendebu: Moderate hiking along a series of lakes and down a waterfall, back to beautiful Lake Gjende! Couldn’t find a distance for this section of the hike. Maybe 15km.

Gjendebu: Another nice DNT run lodge. Irish coffees here cost 100NOK, but with a healthy shot of Jamesons are worth every crown.

Gjendebu-Memurubu: Another ridge hike along Lake Gjende, fairly difficult ascent to the ridge (with chains to help you up in sections), but otherwise stunningly beautiful and far less crowded than Besseggen. Also, you can send your bag on the ferry and just hike it with a day pack. Listed as 9km.

Here we took the ferry back to Gjendesheim and caught the afternoon bus back to Oslo.


A book I wish I had come across before I went: Three in Norway (by two of them). A 19th century account of three Englishmen travelling in Jotunheimen. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg.

I bought the Cappelens Kart version of the Jotunheimen map at Gjendesheim. There is also another version, but you need two maps to cover the whole park.

If anyone knows the distances between all the lodges in the park, please let me know.

There are quite a few river crossings, and if there has been significant rain they can swell. Not to a point where I would consider them dangerous, but I would recommend gaiters and maybe stream crossing shoes.

I wish I had brought my Spot GPS so  I could make a little map like I did for the Kungsleden, but I didn’t have time to review to data from the Kungsleden to see how good it was.

Animals most likely to be encountered here are reindeer, lemmings, birds, and farm animals (cows, goats, sheep).


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