Backpacking in Norway - 1990
Bill's brother Jack discovered this hike (Aurlandsdalen) while in Epcot's Norway Pavilion at Disneyworld. The idea was to spend a week hiking in the Norwegian mountains, traveling from hut to hut. We arranged to append the trip onto a week in Greece. On July 6 we flew business class on a SAS plane out of the heavily guarded Athens airport to Oslo via Copenhagen. We arrived in Oslo after midnight and could still see some sunlight. The transition from the oven-hot air in Athens to the chilly, damp night air in Oslo was a shock. We checked-in to the Savoy Hotel and decided to put our shorts near the bottoms of our backpacks.
On Saturday, July 7, after a very short night's sleep, we met with Jack, JoAnn, Bob, and Shannon for a good continental breakfast in the hotel lobby at 7:00 AM. We stowed our extra luggage in a storeroom, checked-out, and were on our way to City Hall by 7:45 AM. We found several groups assembling and located our group which was to ride in a Mercedes Station Wagon. Because of lack of space, Bill and Bob had to ride in a bus. An hour or so's drive past fjords, mountains, and lakes found us in the town of Al. Here we switched into a large van which careened its way on dirt roads into the snow-patched mountains (snow!). We disembarked in Tovik and proceeded to hike for an hour through snow, rocks, and mud to our first hut in Iundsgolung. We quickly discovered that Norwegians hike differently from us: they walk fast and don't look down - their feet feel the terrain. Cathy felt as though she was constantly trying to catch up with the group and was very discouraged. She decided that she would strive to stay at the front of the hikers for the remaining days of the trip. Bob, Jack, and Bill were assigned to Room 3; Shannon, JoAnn, and Cathy, along with a Norwegian woman were assigned to Room 1. The evening meal was splendid. After dinner we spent some time in the common room sitting near the smoky fireplace. Bill shivered as his body tried to adjust from the 110 degrees of Mykonos to the chill of this Norwegian mountain. Although it didn't get completely dark, we retired at about 10:00 PM facing a 6 hour hike over a mountain the next day, carrying our backpacks. Since we were staying in huts each night, we didn't need to carry food or drink, but we did have to carry our clothing, toiletries, and reading materials on our backs. We discovered the all important "drying room" the first night. This heated room was the place for boots, socks, and other damp equipment to dry out overnight. Sleeping was done on bunk beds in dormitories. We carried our own "sheet sleeping sacks" and used the blankets and pillows provided in the huts. Toilets were typically housed in outhouses. Meals were served family style.
We got up at 6:30 AM on Sunday, walked to the outhouse, re-packed backpacks, and got ready for the day. Breakfast was an excellent spread: porridge, bread, rolls, meat, cheese, and soft-boiled eggs. We packed a lunch from the breakfast buffet. Our day's hike began at 9:00 AM. We hiked up a small mountain (1536 meters) through snowfields, mud, and fog. It rained, sleeted, and snowed throughout most of our 6 hour trek. We forded streams and traversed some very steep terrain in snow. We encountered some new ice in places, so the air temperature must have been in the low 30s at times. It was a pretty miserable day weatherwise, but quite a lot of fun meeting the challenge. The whole group of us grew closer as we lived through our common experience. Our rainsuits worked beautifully - everything was dry underneath. Cathy did a super job and was quite near the leaders at times. Her spirits were lifted and her confidence increased throughout the day. At the end of the hike, we traveled half by boat and half by van across/around Lake Strandauatnet to our lodgings which really was a hotel: hot showers, indoor plumbing, sauna, and electricity. We all took long, hot showers. In fact, Bob took 4 showers in conjunction with a sauna. How important simple things are when you're on the trail! Dinner was pork and sauerkraut, but there were plenty of peas, carrots, and potatoes for Bill.
Monday started at 6:30 AM with a hot shower. The drying room did a great job on our wet boots and socks. Breakfast was another good spread, but Bill concentrated on porridge and packed 4 slices of wheat bread for lunch. We hit the trail at 9:00 AM and headed toward Geiterygghytta.The weather was partly sunny until lunchtime, so Bill wore shorts and a shirt. As long as we kept going, the temperature seemed fine, but it felt cold as we stopped for short breaks. We crossed many more snowfields and many of them had rivers flowing under them. The views were much better as it stayed pretty clear all day. It is beautiful country, accentuated by the snow. The sky was light blue and the air and water were wonderfully pure. There are lakes in every valley and small streams with rapids and waterfalls everywhere. It was so quiet! There were no sounds of civilization; no car engines or horns, and no airplanes overhead. We had shelter from the wind and a warming sun at our lunch stop. It was very pleasant. By the end of lunch, the clouds threatened, so Bill put on his rainsuit for the remainder of the 5:45 hour trek. The night's hut was smaller than the first night's, but seemed to have all of the necessary amenities: outhouse, shower (5 kr. for hot water), warm drying room, heat, and a beautiful view of a half-iced lake at an altitude of 1221 meters. We really enjoyed the peace and simplicity of the tour. Along with its spiritual benefits, it was also somewhat challenging physically. Dinner consisted of cream of mushroom soup, boiled potatoes, shredded salad veggies, battered fish, and flan. Bill continued to subsist on boiled potatoes. The view from the window was Arctic-like: gray sky, snow and ice-encrusted gray lake, lots of snow on the mountains, wind, and rain mixed with sleet. Terrje, our guide, says that this is natural for this particular site. He forecasted high winds, cold (32 degrees Fahrenheit), snow at 1440+ meters elevation (where we would be), and also rain - not a pleasant prospect. Bill continued his re-reading of Thoreau's Walden and turned in at 10:10 PM.
A cold trip to the outhouse and a hot shower (5 kr. well spent) started Tuesday. The hot wood stove felt very good as we headed to breakfast at 7:30 AM. Bill enjoyed his hot porridge as usual. We began at 9:45 AM with a packless side trip to view 10 "kettles", which are holes in the rock caused by waterfalls at the end of the Ice Age. Legend has it that the kettles were made by trolls to cook their food. We put on our packs and began our day's trek at 10:20 AM, heading north to Steinbergdalen. We climbed about 300 meters into fog and lots of snow fields. We crossed several rivers on snow bridges and some by fording. There was a high wind and very little sun for the whole day's journey. We finally lunched at the base of a waterfall with easy reach of the next hut. After a long, leisurely lunch, we had to cross rapids partly by hopping rock to rock and partly by crossing a somewhat rickety wooden bridge. With some cooperative help, we all made it safely to the other side. From there it was all down hill to the hut. The hut was really lovely: free hot showers, indoor plumbing, sauna, rustic decor, comfortable sitting rooms, and a large fireplace. Bob and Bill were in the shower in no time at all. Then we went into the common room for an afternoon of talk. Before dinner, we got a pamphlet describing the Aurlandsdalen Valley which is the goal of the tour. The pamphlet, along with various maps and a videotape gave us a good idea of the sights yet to come. This particular spot is a beautiful valley setting with patches of snow and ribbon-like waterfalls scattered over the valley's walls. Dinner was cream of asparagus soup, salmon with sauce, boiled potatoes, shredded salad, and rice in cream. Bill enjoyed the potatoes and salad. After dinner we talked and read. Jack set up his medical office and treated Cathy's toe blister and JoAnn's cut. Heidi, who had been bravely hiking in aerobics sneakers and running shoes could hardly walk at this point. Both of her feet were swollen so much that she thought she would take a bus instead of hiking the next day. We read until 10:30 PM and then turned in.
At 6:30 AM on Wednesday, we saw a rather dreary, rainy morning. Bill started with a long, hot shower and then discovered that his socks were still damp. Terrje said that this day's hike would be 4 hours. The pamphlet says 3 hours, so Bill wondered if the slow Americans made for the differing times.The morning's schedule was for breakfast at 8:00 AM with hiking beginning at 9:30 AM. This was the mud day! Mud, muck, slippery rocks, falling, slipping, wet boots, wet socks, wet feet, down, down, down. The walk per se was a bit unpleasant, but the scenery was spectacular: steep walls leading down into the valley filled with lakes and rivers. Waterfalls were everywhere and the sounds of rushing water were a constant treat for the ears. We lunched in a light rain, but it wasn't so cold, so it was almost pleasant. Heidi decided to hike with us. The American women sent their packs on the bus and some of the Norwegian women did the same, but Heidi wore her pack. We arrived at Østerbø at about 1:30 PM (so 4 hours). The hut is set down by Lake Vikjanes (813 meters) in a small cluster of buildings. Two of the buildings are abandoned farms and there is an old church here, down the road. When the rain lifted, we took a stroll to the church. The hut was very nice, with knotted wood in the interior, indoor plumbing, free showers, sauna, and a nice common room. Jack, Bob, and Bill shared a room for 3. Dinner consisted of cream of mushroom soup, pork and sauerkraut, sausage, boiled potatoes, and cauliflower. Dessert was a canned pear half with a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Before and after dinner we sat at a "purring" fire with a couple of our fellow hikers. We had some good conversation about the sights to see in Oslo and swapped biographical details. The proprietor showed slides at 9:00 PM of some of the sights that awaited us the following day. Terrje went around to each person and asked about fear of heights. Evidently the high trail option had lots of exposed ledges. There were many options for the following day:
Trail: bus, high, low
Pack: none, day, full
Cathy opted for (low, none) and Bill opted for (high, full). When we headed off to bed at 11:15 PM, it was raining extremely hard and the wind was blowing fiercely.
Thursday was the culminating day for our tour. We hit the trail at 9:00 AM and spent the day traversing the famous Aurlandsdalen Valley. The scenery was truly awesome: a combination of waterfalls, a rushing, falling river heading toward Sonnefjord, and abandoned farms sparsely perched on ledges of land in the valley walls. Bill had some bursitis in his left knee and Cathy suffered with a right calf injury, but both of us made it through the day. We took a bus from Vassbygd to Aurland, and spent an hour in this village at the end of the valley where all of the people of the valley had to go to get to any civilization. Then we took a bus to Flåm, where we booked into a rickety old annex to the Hotel Fretheim. We were right on the water of Sonnefjord, but we weren't so sure that it was safe. At dinner, our party occupied 2 tables in a large dining room filled with Americans on bus tours. The din was unexpected. Many heads turned as we hikers devoured mass quantities of food (cream of cauliflower soup, roast beef, boiled potatoes, mixed vegetables, and mocha pudding). Our group was in an obviously festive mood. In a gesture of solidarity, one Norwegian couple bought a knife for Terrje and included all of us in the payment. After dinner, our party of 17 retired to one of the hotel's lounges for coffee, tea, and some stronger potions. Cathy was somehow appointed as spokesperson for the whole group as she presented Terrje with a signed card and the knife. We all sat in the lounge merrymaking until about 10:30 PM when the U.S. contingent retired for the evening. Terrje commented to Cathy that she is very fit, which made her feel quite good. It was a good day!
On Friday, we packed our still wet and muddy boots and headed for breakfast at 7:30 AM. There was a busload of Italians in line for breakfast, so we walked down to the harbor before going back for breakfast. We caught the Flåm railway to Myrdal at 11:00 AM. The short (40 minutes) ride took us up steep mountains above roaring rivers and along surging waterfalls. We waited at Myrdal for 20 minutes for the train to Oslo. This long ride took us out of the snowy mountains into the lushly vegetated lower valleys approaching Oslo. Water, in the form of rivers and lakes, was still a major feature of the landscape. We arrived at Oslo Station at 5:30 PM, said goodbye to Terrje, and headed for the Savoy Hotel. We reclaimed our luggage and moved into our rooms. Cathy and Bill headed for the waterfront for dinner. We found an upscale food court in a mall and enjoyed grilled salmon, potatoes, salad, and bread; a very good meal for $36. We walked around the waterfront area which was partially under construction with highrise apartments and offices above ships and restaurants. It looked like a larger version of Washington Harbor in part. The restaurants came in all varieties: Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, American, and Norwegian. We saw a large cruise ship, the Viking Sky, which was on a fjord cruise. About 9:00 PM we headed back for boot and sock washing and long showers.
We went to breakfast on Saturday at 8:00 AM. We shopped for sweaters and souvenirs for the kids. We walked to the palace to see the Abel (a mathematician) statue by Vigland - very enigmatic: Abel, half-clothed, standing on the backs of two young men representing Genius and Fantasy. Then we walked to the fort and the waterfront and went through the partially closed National Gallery. We met with Jack and JoAnn and Bob and Shannon for lunch at Tex (burgers, fries); Bill had an apple and pumpernickel bread from the health store next door. After lunch Cathy and Bill walked to Frogner Park and saw hundreds of local citizens lying on the grass as if it were a beach (topless females as well). We explored the Vigland Sculpture Garden. This is a fascinating complex consisting of scores of statuary; most are groups (mainly pairs) of naked humans of all ages. There are babies, children, pubescent youths, youths, adults, and the elderly. Some of the statues are in bronze and some are in granite. There is an obelisk of partial human forms at the highest point of the complex. Scattered around the garden were the inevitable busloads of tourists: the videotaping and clicking Japanese, and the vulgar Americans mostly interested in the genitals of the statues. Large groups of tourists are not the best of American exports. We then walked over to the Vigland Museum at the edge of Frogner Park. The museum had an admission fee of 20 kr. even though all published information (including the museum's own brochure) indicated that the admission is free. The museum is contained in Vigland's studio (he is also entombed there in the form of ashes). The collection consists of sketches and models of Vigland's many works. The evolution of the sculpture park is very evident in the various small and scale models. Most of the models seemed to be in plaster. Bill bought a book describing the sculpture garden and many of Vigland's other works. We went out on the lawn in front of the museum and alternatively napped in the sun and read the Vigland book. On the way back we found a 7-11 store with nonfat frozen yogurt. As we enjoyed our treat on a street corner, the rest of the sibs rode by in a tram with much waving. Then we walked back to the hotel. Walking to and from Frogner Park was quite interesting. We got a good feel for a part of the city. We passed the Nobel Institute (near the palace) on the way. The residential buildings reminded us a bit of Edinburgh. Lots of balconies and flowers decorated the old, but well maintained buildings. We discovered an Asian section including a mosque as we neared Frogner Park. We also were amazed by the very light automobile traffic throughout the city. This might be due to the weekend; we didn't know. It is a very clean, cared for city and could be a good place to live, except for the expense. We cleaned up and rested at the hotel and then headed to the waterfront for dinner at the Ristorante La Piazza. We ate outside and had salad and salmon with white wine sauce. The food was quite good, but expensive ($70). Then we headed back to the hotel and watched a track meet on TV (the sibs were there). We turned in before midnight.
We ate breakfast at 9:00 AM and then all of us went to the waterfront to catch a boat to Bygdøy, where the museums are located. We started with the Viking Ships museum. This building houses 3 viking ships, a cart, and some sleds. The ships date from around 1000 AD. The ships were fairly large with 15 oarlocks on a side. It required from 30-33 hands to sail these ships. We then went to the Folk Museum of Norway. There are a couple of large buildings which house folk costumes, furniture, the old Hall of Parliament, and Ibsen's study. The open air portion of the museum has a hundred or so buildings, mostly from Norwegian farms, which were collected from throughout the country. There was an old one room school, a parsonage, and a stave church. The next stop was lunch at the waterfront, a pretty spot. After lunch we went into the Kon Tiki/Ra museum which commemorates and houses the balsa raft and papyrus ship. There were also various artifacts collected on the voyages and photographs of construction of the vessels and some events on the voyages. Then we went through the Fram Museum, which houses the ship Fram which steamed/sailed close to both north and south poles. These voyages were multi-year by design. Both ship and crew were hardy specimens. The we took the boat back to Oslo Harbor. Bill and Cathy bought some troll gifts and headed back to the hotel. All of us headed to the waterfront for dinner at 6:30 PM. We went to the Bighorn Restaurant, a steak and salad bar place, so Jack would be able to get a big steak. The women and I ordered salmon steak and salad bar; Jack and Bob ordered big steaks. The food was OK, but certainly the least good of the restaurants we had tried in Oslo. The meal was expensive ($90 for two). After dinner we walked around the waterfront for a while and then headed back to the hotel to pack.
Bill woke up with a very gouty right foot on Monday morning. His gout attacks are usually caused by some trauma and the hike would qualify. We all breakfasted at 7:00 AM and took two cabs to the airport. Our plane was scheduled to leave at 10:20 AM and the plane for the others was to leave at 11:00 AM. Our plane was delayed until 11:45 AM, so the other took off first. We finally took off on a Boeing 767 bound for Stockholm, Sweden. After an hour on the ground for plane cleaning, we took off for Kennedy Airport at 2:00 PM. About halfway to the US, we were informed of a badly ill person on the plane (we guessed a heart attack) who was being treated by a doctor/passenger who requested a beta-blocker from any passenger under such medication. Later, we were informed that our plane would land at Bangor, Maine so that the ill person could get medical care. What a landing! There was an obvious thunderstorm outside (we could see huge bolts of lightning) and the plane bounced like crazy on the way in for the landing. We safely landed at what looked like a military base (we saw a big, 4 engine NASA plane and a large military cargo plane). The ambulance came and removed the ill passenger while we sat on the ground for about 30 minutes. There was no grumbling from the passengers, many of whom would be missing their connections at Kennedy. The captain reassured us that he would avoid any t-storm cells on the way up and we took off in the rain. We landed at Kennedy at about 5:00 PM, an hour late. A long wait for our luggage to pass through customs and resubmit to TWA for the flight to Washington, and then a hustling walk (limp for Bill) to the domestic terminal occupied our time at Kennedy. Our 727 took off at 7:20 PM for Washington and landed at 8:10 PM. It was wonderful to see son Bill waiting for us at the gate! Bill's gouty foot really hurt by now, so he was limping badly as we went to get our luggage. Cathy's backpack didn't make it to National Airport, so we reported it and were told that it would be coming on a midnight flight and delivered later. We arrive home at 10:30 PM after 20 hours en route. It's always nice to be home!