norway

A week on ski at 78 Deg North, from East to West of Spitsbergen

Some reindeer were passing just in front of us as we were reaching Isfjord Radio. The wind was picking up, with a bit of snow in the air. We had completed 160 km on ski, across valleys & Glaciers, from East to West of Spitsbergen/Svalbard, in the Norwegian Arctic. It had been an adventurous week, learning new things along the way.

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A week ago we arrived in Longyearbyen and found our way to the Trapper’s hotel where we spent our first night. Information meeting was held at the hotel, last check and packing of the equipment done, a few things to buy at the local shops and a get to know each other dinner at restaurant “Kroa” just next door.

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I woke up early next morning, exited to get started on this week of adventure, not really knowing what to expect. It was my first time camping in a tent surrounded by snow, also knowing we had to play hide & seek with polar bears. We started our skiing from Agardhbukta, so transport by a vehicle was arranged to get us there. It was a Bandvagn 206 (BV 206), a tracked articulated, all-terrain carrier. 3 guides, 2 dogs and driver in  the front and our group of 12 squeezed in to the back. Quite the interesting experience, but not very comfortable. Knowing it would take at least 6 hours to get to the east coast it was just to start thinking about something else and get used to the bumping up and down.

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Arriving at the east coast I was happy to get out of the car and move my legs again. We organized our gear, got our skies on and were ready to start. It was windy and a bit snow in the air, so I was eager to get going.

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It was my first time skiing with a sledge, but it went well the first day as there was not much up and down. Arriving at the campsite, the next step was to put up our tent. We got some tips from our guides, to use the ski to prepare the ground to be as flat as possible, make sure to secure the tent before starting to put it up for it not to be blown away with the wind, dig a hole inside the outer tent to have head room to stand and make a wall in front of the tent in the wind direction to avoid snow to blow and get stored on the tent. Quite a lot to think about but after a few days it got easier. We also learned the trick of using our ski and poles as tent plugs.

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It was agreed that we would sit up during the night on shift to watch out for the polar bear, so with 2 groups we would have to sit for an hour each every 2nd night. An introduction how to use the signal gun was done. I think we were all exited about the fact that it could happen that we would spot a polar bear. We had to look out for something moving and in case a Polar Bear would come and we had to use the signal gun to scare the Bear and wake up the guides. Sitting up for an hour during the night was like being out during the day as the midnight sun makes the night as bright as day.

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I shared the tent with my 2 friends, Arne and Eva. Arriving at the campsite with wind and cold, we spent the evening inside the tent, eating our dinner, a snaps glass with cognac to make a toast for the day and get our sleeping bags ready for a good night of sleep after a long day skiing.

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The wind was blowing quite strong during the night. We had our breakfast, Rice porridge with Cinnamon and Sugar and some raisins or nuts added to it. Then it was down with the tent, packing the sledge and get ready for a new day. We crossed over the glacier, Passbreen, down Kjellsromsdalen, passing the mining town, Sveagruva, and put up our 3rd campsite at the end of Gustavdalen. The days continued with wind and not much to see as it was all white around us. We kept walking, with a 10 min break every 50 min, to fuel up on some chocolate and snacks.

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At lunch we had our daily supply of “drytech Real turmat”. Just put hot water, shake the pack and wait for 5 min and it was ready to eat.

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Being all white around me and not much to see, I just keep skiing, following the group, most of the time in my own thoughts, thinking about everything and nothing. I got a sense of peace being surrounded by nature. Just skiing listening to the poles touching the snow. Like a kind of meditation.

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At day 4, Arriving at Stormyra the wind stopped. It had been a hard day as most of the day had been skied with a slight slope down on one side as we where skiing along the mountain side. It was difficult to control the sledge not tipping over as it was sliding on the side of me, so I had to try to get a pace that would allow the sledge to follow but not slide down and stop as then it would tip. As we where turning around the mountain we where facing a quite steep uphill followed by a steep downhill before entering down at Stormyra. One of the guide fell and cut his hand on a stone so urgent attention was put to that to see that he was fine to continue. Then it was the challenge to ski down with the sledge as it was sloping both down and to the side, so I chose as some of the others to take the ski off and carry them down. Better be on the safe side to avoid ending up in the fjord and the ice cold water.

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The first part of Stormyra went quite easy and as the wind had stopped and the sun started to show itself between the clouds, so I enjoyed it and just kept walking. Around half way across the ice it became more difficult as the snow started to be more wet and it was like the snow was sucking me down. Every step was heavy, so when we finally stopped at the other side having a break and the guides decided we would camp, it was the best message I could have had. We still had to put up the tent and get organized with our things so when that was done I just sat down in my sledge, found my coffee, having a moment of rest. Totally exhausted.

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Being in the middle of a dream, I heard the words, breakfast in 5 min. Opening my eyes I realized i must have dozed off after my watch during the night. I heard people talking outside in a joy full tone, enjoying the nice weather. I could see when I was up during the night that the weather would be good as it was no wind, just a few clouds on the sky and cold. Showing -9 Deg C on the Thermometer. I had experienced and learned a few things during the first days. Keep everything you want to not be frozen inside your sleeping bag during the night. So wet napkins, my bottle of milk for my coffee (Had to bring a bottle of milk as they where sold out for milk powder in Longyearbyen), my clothes to change for next day, and any other things I wanted to stay warm.

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We all enjoyed the beautiful weather, skiing along the fjord. A few uphill parts but mostly flat until we where turning around the mountain side and was facing the side way slope again. My sledge was not very cooperative and kept turning over. The luggage kept shifting to the side so I had a few stops along the way to re-organize and try to get the weight to the right side.

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We found a nice spot for lunch and where surprised by the guides serving us Cheese and cured meats. During lunch we could hear some birds in the background. Getting up on the hill we saw some rock ptarmigan walking up the hill.

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We continued in the nice weather, passing some reindeer along the way, enjoying the sun and the nice view as we were skiing along the fjord and entering fridtjovhamna. From here we could see Akseloya that is almost crossing from one side of the fjord to the other. just leaving a small pass for the boats to enter.

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It was a beautiful day and even with my sledge not being on my side, this day could not have been more perfect. Entering Fridtjovbreen we put up our camp for the night. Some went with a few of the guides up on the glacier before dinner and some of us just stayed at the tent and relaxed. This evening the guides prepared dinner for us, Salmon with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Being Saturday we had a few shot glasses of whiskey cheering for a fantastic day. Chatting and laughter from the other tents where a sign that they where enjoying the evening as much as us.

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I woke up early next morning and stepping outside the tent all was quiet. The 2 dogs was sleeping. One of them had made himself comfortable in one of the sledge. It was cloudy and a bit of snow in the air, but looked like it might clear up during the day.

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We started off with a few steep uphill parts when entering up on the glacier, Fridtjovbreen, and this morning my sledge was not one with me. I wanted to get up and the sledge wanted to stay down. Looking at the others getting up the slopes without problems I was wondering what they had eaten for breakfast that I did not eat. Maybe it was just that I was tired from the other days of skiing, but with a little support and some push on my sledge from the others i managed to get up the first part. After the first part struggling it became easier. During lunchtime some took the opportunity to have a nap and get some rest for the next part up the glacier.

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The weather kept changing from cloudy to sunny so It was difficult to dress correct to not get cold and not get to hot and sweet, so I kept putting my jacket on and off.

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Arriving at the top of the glacier the weather gods where on our side and the sun where shining. We where facing a stunning view on both side of the glacier and the feeling standing on the top, enjoying the view, felt amazing.

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To ski uphill was quite hard but the downhill with the sledge for me was more challenging. I had to find a techniques to ski with the sledge on the side so it would not overtake me. It took a lot of energy to keep control of the sledge and myself with the ski at the same time.

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We all managed to get down. Some easier than others and some tried the option on sitting on the sledge down. With blue sky and no wind we decided to continue out the valley before setting up the camp. The distance did not seam far and we continued ski, with 50 min ski, 10 min break. Just keep going. It felt like there was no end to the valley. We where on day 6 and the following day we would reach Isfjord Radio, so we all agreed to continue until reaching the sea to get a shorter leg the next day.

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Reaching the sea the sky started to be cloudy and we had a nice light. Almost like a sunset.

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Our last evening sleeping in tent. We had become quite good at setting up and packing down the tent and it felt a bit strange to know that this would be the last time on this trip that we would have to put it up and take it down. I was looking forward to sleeping in a bed again, but still would miss this atmosphere you get when sleeping in tent out in the wild nature.

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Getting organized inside the tent we heard some snowmobile arriving outside. The guides asked us to come outside and again we where surprised with the cook and worker from Isfjord Radio showing up with waffles. What a fantastic surprise. We where all happy, eating and enjoying, until there where no more left. The guides had called them to get some supply of food for the dogs and had not mention anything about waffles. Waffles and Norwegian goat cheese and as Eva still had some crackers left we enjoyed Crackers and cheese for our coffee. And with a shot of whiskey we all forgot that we where exhausted after a long day of skiing. We had done 30 km on ski that day, up Fridtjovbreen, down on the other side and out the valley reaching the sea, enjoying the beautiful weather making us able to enjoy the scenic landscape surrounding us from all angles.

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The Arctic region of Svalbard is incredible and a fantastic location for seeking out wildlife and we where lucky to see a group of bloated walrus laying on the beach. One of them more gray and pale, so we where sure he had seen his last days, but there was still some life in him as he was moving his head.

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Continuing along the coast with the view of Isfjord Radio in front of us.

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Arriving, it was a group of blissful, tired but happy, tanned faces toasting with hot wine, beer and champagne. It was an emotional moment shared with friends and people I got to know during this week that went by way to fast.

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We spent the afternoon enjoying and toasting over some beer and wine, having a well earned shower and was served a 4 course dinner that tasted heavenly. A good night sleep in a bed and then our transport, the sailboat, Noorderlicht, was ready to take us back to Longyearbyen.

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A week together with a fantastic group of people, learning new things along the way was over.

The trip was booked via Hvitserk: http://www.hvitserk.no/

Guides where from Basecamp Spitsbergen: http://www.basecampspitsbergen.com/

Our hotel in Longyearbyen was the Basecamp Trapper’s hotel

 

 

 

Hiking Galdhøpiggen

I was happy and tired after hiking the Besseggen Ridge and my next plan was to hike to the top of Galdhøpiggen the following day.  I had checked options for the hike and I had 2 choices. One was to start at Juvasshytta and do the hiking crossing the Styggebreen glacier or I could start the hike at Spiterstulen lodge in Visdalen. My original plan was to stay at Juvasshytta but it was fully booked, but I still decided to start the hike from here as It was shorter and I had to drive back to Oslo the same day. So I had to be at Juvasshytta in good time before the first guided tour over the glacier that was 10am in the morning.

I was driving to my hotel and made a stop in Lom on the way. I needed a coffee and wanted to make a visit to Lom Stave Church to see it from inside as last time I passed by here It was closed and I could only see the outside.

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Lom is a municipality in Oppland county in Norway and is considered as the gateway to the Jotunheimen Mountains and the Jotunheim National Park. The municipality contains the two highest peaks in Norway, Galdhøpiggen at 2,469 metres (8,100 ft) and Glittertind at 2,464 metres (8,084 ft), which lie within the park.

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Lom Stave Church, which is located at Lom center, is believed to have been built in 1158. It was extended in 1634, with further addition of two naves in 1667. A few Runic inscriptions can still be seen in the church. The church also contains numerous paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries with religious motifs. Many of the paintings were made by local artist Eggert Munch, a distant relation of the famous Edvard Munch. The church also contains numerous examples of local woodcarving, as seen in the elaborate acanthus scrolls adorning the pulpit. Carved dragon figures on the roof are old symbols of protection against evil. It is still in use as the local church.

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After a long day of hiking and a visit to the local Church I was happy to reach the hotel. I had booked a room at Elveseter Culture and Art Hotel that is an old farm situated in Bøverdalen valley just outside of Lom. Elveseter’s history is linked to a family of gifted craftsmen of Norwegian folk art and pioneers in the hotel and leisure industry. They dared to think differently and succeeded.

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One of the characteristics of Elveseter, is the use of names and symbols from the ancient Norse Mythology. Names such as Midgard, Utgard, Tor and Odin, makes history come alive at the hotel and creates a bridge to modern times.

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I spent the evening having dinner and drinks in the hotel restaurant and a visit to the hotel bar before i headed to my Viking room for a good night sleep.

I woke up early so I had time to enjoy my breakfast before I had to drive to Juvasshytta for my day of hiking to Norway’s highest peak. I bought my ticket for the Glacier hiking and went outside to wait. But as the day before It was rain in the air and foggy and at this elevation with some wind as well, I could feel the cold. I was prepared for the rain but not the cold as it was in June, so I did not bring any gloves. Who need gloves in June, well I realized I would be very cold if i did not have it so I rushed in to the small store as I earlier saw they was selling some clothes. Looking at the watch I had to hurry and tried to get contact with the girl behind the counter to serve me before the others and get the right size of gloves. She came with different type as well, so I just took a pair that was made of wool and was fitting, paid and went out. I arrived outside and everyone was lining up listening to the guide. We needed to walk for some kilometers to arrive at the glacier so they handed out the equipment needed and some had to help out carry the ropes. Arriving at the start of the glacier we had to wait for the guides to organize the ropes and the groups so this took some time. The best decision I had made today was to buy my gloves. As we where all ready the wind got more heavy and it started snowing. The first group went off and we had to wait until they where on a distance before we could go.  The wind got heavier and same with the snow. Galdhøpiggen was surrounded by a white cloud.

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We crossed the glacier and left the ropes ready for the return. Then it was to hike up to the top. It is not a very challenging hike but still some snow so some parts took a lot of the energy. Reaching the top there is a small hut where they sell some snack, coffee and some souvenirs. They also sell stamps that can only be bought up here for the ones who wish to send some postcard home. The weather did not change as i hoped and still with a cold wind, it was quite comfortable to sit inside to eat my lunch.

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So here I was on the top of Norway. Event with the fog, the rain and the snow it felt fantastic and I was happy I got the weekend free to be out exploring this fantastic nature.

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Now it was back in the car and a long drive back to Oslo.

At Juvasshytta there is an alpine ski resort with lift on a glacier, with top on 2200 m.a.sl, the highest in Scandinavia. It is called Galdhøpiggen summer ski center and is open from June and all the summer, when the road is open.

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Some additional information about hiking to Galdhøpiggen:

Galdhøpiggen (English: Galdhø Peak) is the highest mountain in Norway, Scandinavia and Northern Europe, at 2,469 m (8,100 ft) above sea level.

“Galdhøpiggen” means “the peak/spike (piggen) of the mountain “Galdhø”. The first registered ascent was done In 1850 by three local men from Lom, the guide Steinar Sulheim, the local teacher L. Arnesen and the church warden S. Flaatten.

Access to the top of Galdhøpiggen is not especially hard: from Juvasshytta (1850 metres above sea level, 5 km from the summit) it takes about three hours up (including about 45 minute to prepare for crossing the Styggebreen glacier), an hour at the top and about two hours back. Some days in the summer, a few hundred people reach the summit each day. Guides are needed to cross the glacier, but are available every summer morning.

Galdhøpiggen can also be hiked from the Spiterstulen lodge in Visdalen, with a technically very easy, but still somewhat strenuous climb of 1300 m — nearly 4000 ft. It takes four hours walk up, two hours down. From Spiterstulen, hikers do not have to cross the Styggebreen glacier, and hence a guide is not required. Ardent peak-baggers may count three summits on the route from Spiterstulen: Svellnose, Keilhaus topp and the summit itself.

Hiking Besseggen – A part of the Norwegian National park Jotunheimen

I had my hiking boots ready, woke up early and was looking outside, it was raining, just as the forecast had promised but not what I was hoping for.

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I took my time eating my breakfast, hoping for the weather to clear up in the next hour. But with the dripping rain and the fog in the air I did not have much hope. I glimpsed out of the window to check the queue for the first boat leaving and as expected It was just a few persons standing there. I had to make up my mind if I i should gamble with the weather and go for this boat or wait it out for the next and hope for better weather. Quickly checking the forecast again it looked like it might clear up around mid-day, so calculating the time for when I would be at Lake Bessvatnet that should be about half way of the hike, I decided to wait for the next boat. I spent the time reading my book, looking out hoping for the rain to stop. I made my lunch pack ready during breakfast but checking my backpack I would need some more water. I went to the store and as the rain was still poring down I just stayed in here until people started to queue up for the boat.

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So here I was, just getting off the Ferry from Gjendesheim to Memurubu,  ready to hike the Besseggen Ridge, one of the most famous hiking destinations in Norway and a part of the Jotunheimen national park. Hiking Besseggen you have the option to start at Gjendesheim and do the hike to Memurubu and catch the boat back or do as I did, take the boat to Memurubu and hike back to Gjendesheim. I had been wanted to do this hiking for years so I had checked it out and was sure that the only option for me having fare of heights would be to hike it this way. The drawback hiking it this way is the crowd, as most people prefer hiking it this way. The ferry was crowded but as it was a rainy day and still early in the season, it still had capacity to take more people. The first part is uphill and quite steep so I stopped a few places on the way up to let the crowd pass me and took the the opportunity to take some nice photos and get a photo taken of myself.

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It was June so still snow on the mountain tops.

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It was clearing up a bit but the fog kept coming and going. The marking of the trail is quite good but as I was hiking alone in this weather I was letting the crowd in front of me but stayed just behind them for the first part uphill. As most of the crowd was making a good effort of walking fast the first part they needed a break at the first top, so I passed them and walked for a long time by myself. I love walking in the mountains just surrounded by the beauty of the nature. So quiet and peaceful, so I kept walking for about an hour almost by myself. Then I could see some people far in front of me. They might have been walking in front of me without me notice it as it was still foggy and it was only when the fog cleared I could see them.

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The group in front of me looked like being 2 couples so I just kept going in this tempo and stayed at a distance, but close enough to see them. It felt more comfortable as I know the Norwegian mountains and how fast the weather can change.

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The snow had been melting so the level of the water was quite high, something I would experience later on the trail as well,  so at edge of the lake I had to balance on the stones for a part and managed quite well without getting wet on my shoes. I was enjoying the beauty of the nature around me and the amazing view.

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Arriving at Lake Bessvatnet it was still foggy but the rain had stopped. It is quite a challenge to get down this part but I just took it easy and tried to follow the people in front of me and when down there was a track in the snow to follow so it got easier.

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I reached the point of the trail where I had Bessvatnet at one side and Lake Gjende at the other side. So then I new I was about half way. Looking at the watch I had kept a good pace.  And now was the time where the most challenging part start. At least for me it was. Just looking up seeing people climbing made me dizzy and I started considering if I would be able to make it. Options would be going back and well that was not an option. Other option could be to follow the Bessvatnet and see if i could get up at some other point to avoid the steep climbing, but sitting having my lunch break and evaluating it I ended up with the challenging option to just follow the track and hope for the best.

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I was still a step behind the 2 couples that had been in front of me for the most of the trip. and at this stage I was consider this as being quite clever as now I could follow where they where climbing and hopefully they would choose the best route and make it easier for me. So I was thinking if they can do it then I can do it. And as long as i don’t look down before I feel i am on safe ground this will go well. One step at a time. Finding my grip, the right place to put my feet and push myself up. At one point I passed a couple climbing down. They where asking me if it was far and well for me it was difficult to say as I was not looking behind, at least trying my best not to, so looking up I told them that they where probably half way. The women almost started crying telling me she would never do this again. It was the most scary thing she had done and she was not sure she would make it. I tried my best to tell her that the part until here was not so bad and she seamed more relaxed. I continued climbing up, trying not to look down but at some parts I was just at the edge so difficult not to look down. I just took a deep breath and continued. So far so good. I even challenged myself to turn around a few times to take some photos.

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The 2 couples was still in front of me and I could see that one of them started to have some problems with the height as well. I was just next to them now and one of the girl told me she had problems with fare of height but had overcome it, but now it came back. But we all managed to reach the top and could finally look back en enjoy the beautiful view. They made a break at this point as one of the guy was not in the best shape and he told me this part was more challenging that he had imagined.

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I took some photos and enjoyed the view and continued my way back to the starting point where I had taken the boat this morning. The rest of the trip was easy walking as most was flat or downhill.

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As I kept walking I started to get the view down to the Gjendeheim where I had slept the night before. I stopped took some photos and just enjoyed the view.

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At a few places going down I had to watch out. At one point the waterfall was quite heavy and had taken away a part of the trail so was difficult to cross and I was trying not to get my shoes under the water. I was close to  Gjendesheim and could see it at a short distance and I was thinking wow I did it and now I could understand why it is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Norway. I got down, picked up my car, feeling tired but in a good way and was happy I did the hike even if the weather was not the best. Looking at the watch I had spent about 5 hours from I got of the boat and reaching back to Gjendesheim. Not bad at all and now being tired and hungry I was looking forward to reaching my next destination that would be the Elveseter hotel, enjoying a good dinner with some good wine before my next hiking adventure the next day before heading back to Oslo.

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To get to Gjendeheim I rented a car in Oslo. I stayed over at Gjendesheim so a good thing is to book in front to make sure to get a room. It can be quite busy during the peak season.

When to go:
The main summer season in the Norwegian mountains is July and August.  These months will be your best bet for sunny, warm days, but be prepared for all kind of weather.

Getting there:
The start or finish of the Besseggen ridge is located at Gjendesheim, on the eastern end of lake Gjende and Jotunheimen national park itself.  Here you’ll find a full service DNT hut, a small shop/cafe, toilets, the ferry boat, and parking area.

By Bus:
Several busses travel to Gjendesheim daily.  The two options are to travel via Fagernes (to/from Oslo) in the south.  To the north the bus travels to Vagamo where one can transfer east to Otta and the train, or continue west through the fjords.

By Train:
There is no direct train link to Jotunheimen national park.  If traveling by train, say from Trondheim in the north, exit at Otta, where you will have to take the bus to Vagamo, then on to Gjendesheim.  The bus/train does not always meet at a convenient time, so be sure to check schedules.

Transportation links:
https://www.nsb.no/ – Train info
http://www.nor-way.no/ – Bus info
http://www.ruteinfo.no/ – Local bus info
http://gjende.no/ – Ferry boat info

Other Useful links:
http://www.turistforeningen.no/ – The Norwegian trekking association
http://www.yr.no/ – Norwegian weather

Winter in Oslo

White, Cold and Beautiful

It’s January and mid winter, it is snowing and the city is all covered in white. Here I am, back in Oslo on a business trip. I plan to spend some time during the stay trying out my skiing equipment and my skiing skills and It could not have been more perfect than this.

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The Royal palace during the evening hours. All cover in snow.

The unique about Oslo is how close it is to the nature so my Sunday plan was all about skiing. I woke up early,  took the metro from the City center and 25 min later I had my ski strapped on and was ready to explore the cross-country trails of the Oslo forest called Nordmarka.

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I started my skiing at Songsvann, It was snowing and it was all about finding the right ski wax to make sure not to spend all my energy on going backwards instead of forward, as I wanted to take the trail to Ullevålseter that is mainly uphill. After some struggle uphill and re-waxing half way, I made it to Ullevålseter and had a rest at the Cafe with some light snacks and refreshments before I returned back to Songsvann station taking the metro back to town.

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During my week i returned back to try out the trails at the evening hours as some of the trails have flood light to 10pm in the evening. Being out in the trail after the dark has a magic feel to it.

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With the easy access from the City Center you can go Cross-country skiing in the evening and end it with a nice meal at one of the many great restaurant in town or just go for some fun after skiing in the city of Oslo.

If your looking for some more adventures skiing you can head to the Oslo Winter park.

Travel Plans for 2014:

The land of the Polar Bear

One of the trips I have planned this year is a skiing expedition to the island of Spitsbergen and I am very excited about it. The Island of Spitsbergen is the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, which lies halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

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We will spend 10 days skiing across Svalbard and will be camping 7 of the nights in tents. Can you imagine the beauty of true untouched arctic wilderness all covered in white, miles after miles, and can you imagine the pain in your body after a few days when you have not done skiing for years, well I can.
So as I live in Singapore where there is no snow, I am doing my best to prepare for the trip in alternative ways, so here is my Roller Ski Ready to be used.

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We will start our expedition in Longyearbyen, the capital and the largest town with a population just over 2000 people. we will get a taste of the magnificent nature of Svalbard- spend the nights in solid mountain tents and pull our own sled with equipment. The Island is also home to around 3000 polar bear so can it be more adventurous than this?