Deep inside Norway’s rugged fjord country and right into its high alpine area lies Jostedalsbreen, covering almost 500 square kilometres of mountain terrain with ice. It is the largest ice cap on continental Europe and thanks to its remote location it offers excellent opportunities for hiking, ice climbing, glacier walking, kayaking, etc. The park caters for everyone’s needs: from easily accessible glacial tongues and guided family tours on the ice to steep mountain tours and multi day ice cap crossings. It is a stunningly beautiful place and a recommendation for anyone who visits Norway with a love for untouched nature.
However remote, local roads lead around and into the edges of the park so getting to your starting point is fairly easy. When we (me and my Norwegian better half Pj) started planning the trip I got slightly excited and had a big tour in mind that would lead us pretty much to all the corners of the glacier. Now, this was a bit optimistic: I probably don’t need to tell you that travel distances around a 500 square kilometre large ice cap are quite long (although Pj needed to tell that to me), and travel times are prolonged by narrow and steep mountain roads, heaps of tunnels, and a ferry if you are coming from the south. So we had to limit our exploring to the southwest side of the glacier, and I can only tell you about that. I’m sure however that towards the north (Stryn community and Lovatnet) there is a lot of pretty and wild places as well with plenty of opportunities for the outdoor enthusiast. Our 3 stopovers in the park were Styggevatnet, Nigardsbreen and Flatbrehytta.
Styggevatnet is the lake outlet from the Aurlands glacier and has been dammed for hydropower purposes. It is as far as you can go in by car from the southwest, and its remote character gives it the benefit that the large tourist masses don’t make it all the way there. There is numerous valleys in its area that offer excellent wild-hiking opportunities, and it is also on the border between Jostedalen and Breheimen National Park, Norway’s newest and holder of a considerable part of the wild reindeer population.
When we got to Styggevatnet in the evening we planned to camp up close to the dam and hike around the lake the day after, but had to change our plans around a little. The road was still closed, for avalanche danger as we read the day after, so we drove down a bit to find this wonderfully sunny spot at Stegaholten. In the morning we packed up and went back up, analysing the avalanche danger before deciding on continuing the final 5 kilometre climb on foot.
The climb was more than worth it: we were all alone on the top, to our surprise not looking at the pretty blue lake we had seen on the pictures but at a still frozen water mass and snowy surroundings. That immediately also killed step two of our plan, to go around and approach Aurlandsbreen, as the rocks were far to icy and slippery and the risk of falling onto the weak ice was too big. So we just sat there and enjoyed the view and the silence, descending again before midday to keep the avalanche risk from the steep slopes around to a minimum.
Probably the most famous, most accessible and most visited glacier in the area, but definitely worth a stop. I was quite happy we decided to head in before high season, it probably gets pretty crowded there in July and August. The beauty of Nigardsbreen is that you can very easily walk up to the ice front to get a closer look at it. Some people go in a bit too close, glaciers are dangerous and it’s a bad idea to come close to slippery rocks nearby streams or to venture under ice that can break off.
We spent the afternoon going around on the glacial polish and enjoying the view. The glacier is very dramatic, only its view from the road already makes it worth going there. We did not go for a guided walk upon the glacier. I did it once in Iceland and it was not extremely exciting, however as we saw the tours actually climbing on the blue ice it did look like a lot of fun. Maybe something to keep in mind for next time.
We kept the best part for the last and on the final day of our trip we set out for Flatbrehytta, an old cabin at the margin of Flatbreen and the start or finish of many longer expeditions on the ice cap. It is the Norwegian queen’s favourite cabin, and I must say that I very much understand why: once you get to the top, the view is truly stunning. With mountains all around, Fjærlandsfjorden on one end and Flatbreen on the other the cabin is placed within a 360° angle of breathtaking views.
The path up the mountain is steep. We had our packs with full camping equipment with us, so it took us around 4 hours to make it to the top. The way is very rewarding: already halfway through the views over the valley call for the occasion break on the mountain. We relaxed behind the hut for a while to shelter from the wind before we set off to find a tenting spot. As we left the cabin and returned fruitlessly – everything was too wet, too steep or in a wrong angle to the strong wind – we found some fresh tracks in the snow right behind the cabin. After closer inspection we found multiple sets and concluded that a woolf family must have passed us at 100m while we were looking in the other direction – they probably didn’t smell us because we were standing downwind. Shortly after we heard them on the mountain but never got a glimpse, a shame! Out of fear that they would be hunted down we didn’t tell anyone in the area about it. But by now, they are probably long and far gone.
The next day we went up to the moraine to have closer look at the glacier. It’s really impressive to get so close to them, only then you can imagine how powerful these streams of ice actually are and how small we stand besides them. It’s a sad story at the same time, just as many others the glacial tongues of Jostedalsbreen are retreating and as we stood next to the glacier pieces of it were crumbling off, rushing down the steep mountain side. Later on we watched some old pictures of the same glacier on the parking lot, and realised that the mighty glacier we saw is only a shadow of the mighty glacier that was there only decades ago.