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HOME AT FIRST's

ADVENTURE

NORWAY

How to make snowballs in summer...

Hiking & Skiing Norway's Folgefonn

Glacier in July

 

             JULY SKIING ON THE FOLGEFONN GLACIER, WESTERN NORWAY

Photo © Home At First

         Under intense blue skies about a mile above sea level, hikers and skiers on the Norway’s Folgefonn Glacier can have a snowball fight in July and never lose sight of the sea. Later that same day they can dine in traditional Norwegian style along the imposing Hardanger Fjord, or stroll Bergen’s historic harbor district in the balmy twilight of midnight.

 

CHANGES
          Funny how quickly things change. For the last hour we had scrambled steeply up a boulder field, making our way as quickly as possible to the highest point we could see on the ridgeline above us. Around us on the north side of the mountain rain clouds were gathering. Across the valleys to the north and the east dark gray curtains of rain fell from gray cloudbanks. Once or twice a few misty drops blew across the distance and warned us of changing weather. The three of us only climbed faster — each of us blazing his own trail across

Top of Norway -- a mile up by the Folgefonn Glacier with the Hardanger Fjord in the distance. Photo © Home At First.
A MILE HIGH IN NORWAY IN JULY: ABOVE TREE LINE, ABOVE
VEGETATION LINE, ABOVE THE FOLGEFONN GLACIER,
YET WITHIN SIGHT OF SALT WATER.
Photo © Home At First

the limestone rubble. A detour

 

around a narrow cirque led to a steeply littered ramp and a ten-minute push to the bald summit on the ridge.
 

 

GETTING HIGH

Hikers take a breather near the top of the Folgefonn. Photo © Home At First.
Hikers take a breather NEAR
THE TOP OF the Folgefonn.

Photo © Home At First

          Reaching a pinnacle always promises surprises. Standing in the open a mile above sea level, you quickly forget your sweat-soaked shirt and your rapid heart rate. The sudden revelation of 360 degrees quiets your labored breathing even in the thin air. Now we could see more than the rainy skies to the north and east. Now we could see the snow world to the south and west. The rocky right shoulder of the glacier tongue we had climbed to the ridge was now well above the glacier fall. The glacier — the Folgefonn, Norway’s third largest — spreads broadly across the vast, humped mountain like a Jovian white whale. Wherever its slope becomes severe, the glacier fractures with crevasses, looking from the distance

 

like cellulite on some massive albino thigh.

 

GLACIERS AND SALT WATER

 

          Further west and northwest the mountain re-emerges, pockmarked with glacial potholes, strewn with boulder fields, studded with minor peaks, and bejeweled with azure lakes, some with outlets, others simply captive and evaporative. Beyond by miles and fully a mile below, and as deeply blue, is more water, salt water, arms of the complex Hardanger Fjord, one of the largest and most majestic fjord systems in western Norway. The Hardanger Fjord — not the mountains — is the boss reality of this region. Human life in this part of Scandinavia turns on one’s ability to navigate the fjord, not the mountains.

The Hardanger Fjord — not the mountains — is the boss reality of this region. Photo © Home At First.
The Hardanger Fjord — not the mountains —
is the boss reality of this region.

Photo © Home At First.

North Sea. And the North Sea connects

 

this isolated region with the world. The mountains east of the coast and the intruding fjord lead only to the Ice Age.

 

Hiking along the edge of Folgefonn Glacier. Photo © Home At First.
Hiking along the edge of
the  Folgefonn Glacier.

Photo © Home At First. 

THE FOLGEFONN GLACIER
 
        The northern end of the Folgefonn Glacier slowly flows to its northern outlet as a mild slope between 15-35 degrees: a mile-long tongue of snow and ice packing a funnel leading to a moraine and a parking lot. Dotted lines of skiers traced the groomed surfaces of the glacial tongue. One line was the T-bar lift system (Norway’s longest glacier lift) carrying skiers ¾ mile (& 250 meters in altitude) uphill. Downhill skiers traced other lines following the lollipop trail markers on the glacier. Off to one side a long, slow line of walkers could be seen tied together — perhaps forty individuals — tracing a route down the glacier and away from the skiers and snowboarders. Another similar line was beginning its descent from the glacial fall line where the tongue began, almost as high as our position on the adjacent, glacier-free ridge top.

 

THE SUMMER SKI CENTER
          Skiing and snowboarding are not the only guided activities at Folgefonn. At the summer ski center, sledding, ice climbing, and guided glacier walking are also popular. (From other parts of the region there guided hikes ranging from fairly easy day hikes to challenging overnighters that first gain, then lose a mile of altitude.) Making things easy for the day tripper, the ski center rents all the equipment needed for all the snow and ice activities. It also has a cafeteria serving light meals. The less active will find the trip to the Folgefonn a great Norwegian adventure, too, if only for the incongruities.

INCONGRUITIES
          Among the great incongruities of the day —skiing in July, a parking lot hard by a glacier’s tongue, ice and shirtsleeves, snowfields and salt

Hiking on — or next to — the Folgefonn Glacier can be strenuous with risk of sunburn. Photo © Home At First.
Hiking on or next to the Folgefonn
Glacier can be strenuous
with risk of sunburn.

Photo © Home At First

water in sight of each other in summer — none

 

was more surprising than the road to the Folgefonn. The Folgefonn didn’t always end a mile above the Hardanger Fjord. During major Ice Ages, the glacier undoubtedly reached the sea. When it receded it carved a valley from the Hardanger Fjord uphill to the mountaintop. Today only the uppermost mile of the valley is icebound. Below that, a macadam road — much of it only one lane wide with passing places — snakes down about 10 miles to the Hardanger Fjord at Jondal. The road is a private toll road, with a tollhouse at the bottom entrance a couple of miles inland from Jondal village. To pay your toll, you must get out of your car, walk to the tollbooth, know your car’s license number, and pay NOK50 cash — a little less than US$10. One last important incongruity: the Folgefonn summer ski center (and, thus, its access road) is open during the summer only, closing in late August before the snow flies.

 

Jondal is a classic Norwegian village on the Hardanger Fjord below the Folgefonn Glacier. Photo © Home At First.
Jondal is a classic Norwegian village on the
Hardanger Fjord below the Folgefonn Glacier.

Photo © Home At First.

JONDAL & THE HARDANGER FJORD
          Reaching sea level at Jondal seems almost civilizing. There is a cafeteria and ski shop up the hill at the summer ski center, but the environment is clearly Nature-in-
the-Raw, so plan to head down by the late afternoon closing. Jondal has a sizeable store, a restaurant, an outfitter, and — most importantly — a ferry port. And when it’s in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s on top of the mountain, it’s ten degrees warmer down below. A coast road passes through Jondal from the southwest

 

to the northeast, mostly hugging the

Hardanger Fjord thanks to a number of tunnels and lots of curves. Follow the road northeast for most of an hour and you reach the next ferry landing. The Hardanger splits into arms that go off into the mountains in 3 directions forming a kind of a major crossroads in Fjord Norway.
         
HOME AT FIRST’s Hardanger Fjord regional lodging is a historic fixture at this important crossroads. One of the oldest hotels in Norway, it continues its traditional operation with more than a casual nod to its past. Style, service and tradition make a stay at this location an experience that permits guests a step back in time, whether or not they choose to visit the regional folk museum that is just next door.

 

BERGEN
          Back at Jondal, you may wish to get away from the Hardanger, which has no sidewalks to roll up at night, and get to someplace more urbane. Start by lining up for the hourly (at least 14 crossings daily) ferry across the fjord to Tørvikbygd on the western shore. Then, follow the coast road north to Norheim-sund, then the overland route to Bergen. The whole trip Jondal to Bergen requires about 2 hours. The 20-minute ferry crossing costs NOK105 for car & driver and NOF37 for each additional passenger, or something more than US$25 for a

Bergen's World Heritage Site Bryggen waterfront is much more than a pretty and historic place. Dining, shopping, and people-watching here are among the best in Norway. Photo © Home At First.
Bergen's World Heritage Site Bryggen waterfront is much
more than a pretty and historic place. Dining, shopping,
and people-watching here are among the best in Norway.

Photo © Home At First.

couple in a rental — perhaps steep

 

for a ferry, but downright cheap for a fjord cruise on a sunny summer’s day.

 

            HOME AT FIRST’s BERGEN hotel is 120

Fjord ferries are more than transportation. Count on experiencing splendid scenery, a break from driving, and perhaps even a little adventure. Photo © Home At First.
Fjord ferries are more than
transportation. Count on experiencing
splendid scenery, a break from driving,
and perhaps even a little adventure.

Photo © Home At First

minutes drive through superb scenery from Jondal. Even better, it is a pleasant 5-minute walk from Bergen’s Bryggen waterfront district, a place already so popular it didn’t need to be designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations to gain worldwide notice. Unlike the Hardanger, Bergen is crowded, lively, noisy, and full of ways to spend money on food, clothing, and entertainment. Just as sea-going yachts line the historic harbor’s wet side, restaurants, cafés, and shops of all nations have taken over the historic Hanseatic warehouses that put a handsome face on the dry side of the piers. (For a stylish Norwegian supper, try the Bryggen Tracteursted — Bryggestredet 2; Tel:(+47) 55 33 69 99 — on the second floor rear of one of the old Hanseatic houses. Fine Norwegian dining for two (without alcohol, which is very expensive in Norway) for under US$100. You can pay that much for Mexican or Euromodern at other places in town and come away feeling unsatisfied.)

 

          Haven’t had enough of mountains and

fjords? Bergen lays claim to being the city of 7 peaks and 7 fjords, with a funicular from the old city center leading to a mountaintop with a great view over the city harbor and outlying fjords. In January you can ride up and ski down — even at night under the lights — and snuggle to get warm in a cozy Bryggen bistro.
          In July you have to go a little further for skiing and a snowball fight: to the Folgefonn Glacier — and the trip is worth every gloriously scenic mile.

 

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOME AT FIRST TRAVEL TO:
 THE HARDANGER FJORD, BERGEN, NORWAY, AND THROUGHOUT SCANDINAVIA

This article covers some of dozens of activities suggested in
HOME AT FIRST’s exclusive "SOUTHERN NORWAY ACTIVITY GUIDE
Provided to HOME AT FIRST guests to NORWAY.

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