Norway’s roads less traveled: Hiking between east and west

Photo: David Wilkinson / Flickr A hiking cabin on the Hardanger plateau.

Photo: David Wilkinson / Flickr
A hiking cabin on the Hardanger plateau.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

This article is the sixth in our series of “Norway’s roads less traveled.” We asked Morten Paulsen, Norway’s Consul General in Houston, to suggest an authentic Norwegian adventure for American visitors.

The previous articles are “Spitsbergen: A place out of the ordinary” by Ambassador Aas (April 15, 2016), “Ulvesund lighthouse is calm yet wild” by Elin Bergithe Rognlie (May 20, 2016), “Halden, an idyllic small border town” by Eivind Heiberg (July 1, 2016), “Tree-top adventures at Høyt og Lavt” by Lise Kristiansen Falskow (July 29, 2016), and “Hvaler highlights the sun and the sea” by Hilde Skorpen (September 23, 2016).

Consul General Morten Paulsen offers an exciting hiking proposal for the truly adventurous:
When sitting in warm summer temperatures in Houston and being asked about a favorite destination in Norway, the thought of fresh mountain air quickly comes to my mind.

Hiking in the Norwegian mountains is an important part of the Norwegian heritage. I have very fond memories of hiking with my family and friends, beginning in early childhood.

Traditional hiking from cabin to cabin has experienced a renaissance in Norway over the past few years. Most of the properties visited are owned by the Norwegian Trekking Association (in short, DNT). Hiking can be done either on foot in summertime or by cross-country skiing in wintertime.

When visiting Norway, this is an excellent way to meet Norwegians in their natural habitat, literally. There are excellent opportunities to socialize, both on the trails during the day and in the cabins at night. Some of the cabins are not connected to the electric grid and therefore there is no internet. Spending candlelight time together with new acquaintances under such conditions is very special. It is commonly said that Norwegians are never as social as when they are hiking on foot or on skis in the mountains.

Photo:  Terje Rakke / Nordic Life AS /  Visitnorway.com An example of the DNT signs you’ll see marking trails throughout Norway. Though they’re relatively easy to follow, consider making friends with a more experienced hiker or taking a guided tour if you’re nervous. And always bring your map and compass!

Photo: Terje Rakke / Nordic Life AS / Visitnorway.com
An example of the DNT signs you’ll see marking trails throughout Norway. Though they’re relatively easy to follow, consider making friends with a more experienced hiker or taking a guided tour if you’re nervous. And always bring your map and compass!

Hiking trips can be undertaken in most mountainous areas of Norway, but Hardangervidda is probably the best location for beginners. There are plenty of routes to choose from, it is easily accessible, and, most importantly, the terrain is manageable for the not-so-experienced mountaineers.

Hardangervidda is a mountain plateau located in central southern Norway, covering parts of the counties of Buskerud, Hordaland, and Telemark. It is Northern Europe’s largest mountain plateau, and it is also the location of the biggest national park in Norway. It has wide, flat plains, abundant wildlife, plentiful fish, and magnificent waterfalls.

This area offers great outdoor adventures throughout the year, but the forces of nature can be fierce, even in summertime. Pay attention to the weather forecasts and dress accordingly. As we say in Norway: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!” Plan with care what you bring in your backpack, and don’t forget a map and a compass.

The trips from cabin to cabin can follow several different routes, and good maps and marking will make it easy to find your way. In the summer, the network with cairns (mounds of rough rocks serving as landmarks) and with red Ts on rocks is widespread and varied in Hardangervidda, guiding you along the trails to the next stop. In wintertime, poles and tall signs will guide you. If you have a mediocre sense of direction, why not make some tour buddies at one of the cabins and let them lead you to the next destination? DNT also provides guided tours.

«The Norwegian Mountain Code»
The mountain code presents Norwegian guidelines for safe hiking. Every Norwegian knows this mountain code by heart.
1. Plan your trip and inform others about the route you have selected.
2. Adapt the planned routes according to your ability and the conditions.
3. Pay attention to the weather and the avalanche warnings.
4. Be prepared for bad weather and frost, even on short trips.
5. Bring the necessary equipment so you can help yourself and others.
6. Choose safe routes. Recognize avalanche terrain and unsafe ice.
7. Use a map and a compass. Always know where you are.
8. Don’t be ashamed to turn around.
9. Conserve your energy and seek shelter if necessary.

Today you can find both staffed and self-serviced cabins at Hardangervidda. For beginners, the staffed ones might be preferable. The standards of the cabins vary and you can find everything from simple stone arches to large catered lodges where you are served a three-course dinner. Where food is served, it is always locally produced, giving you an authentic Norwegian feeling. Enjoy your meal with a cold beer—just like your fellow Norwegian hikers! If the weather permits, you can also experience spending the night in a tent or under the open sky, cooking from a Primus stove. This can be an amazing experience.

The beautiful trips over Hardangervidda are easily accessible by public transportation. The NSB trains leave from the city center of Oslo four or five times a day, and they stop at several good starting points for your hiking trip such as Finse, Haugastøl, Ustaoset, and Geilo. The train rides are normally reasonably priced, and, if you’re an early bird, you can get the so-called mini-price tickets for as little as $25. The train will not only get you to the starting point of your hike easily and safely but also take you through beautiful scenery between Norway’s east and west coasts. It is, of course, also possible to reach these destinations, with the exception of Finse, by rental car.

If you still have not had enough of Norway’s spectacular nature after your cabin to cabin trip, you can hop on the train again, which will take you to Norway’s west coast with a final stop in stunning Bergen.

I spent four years studying in Bergen and might be biased when stating that Bergen is probably the most beautiful city in Norway. It is located with the sea on one side and the mountains in the back. Bergen is often called “The Gateway to the Fjords” with its location right in the heart of Norway’s fjord region. It is a good starting point for day trips to the fjords and countless other beautiful destinations that will make you want to extend your stay in Norway for at least a couple more days.

For essential information about your trip, please visit english.dnt.no and www.nsb.no/en/frontpage.

Morten Paulsen has been Consul General of Norway in Houston since September 1, 2015. He loves being associated with the good work being done by the Norwegian business community in Houston and their American partners. Houston is one of Norway’s most important business locations, with the largest concentration of Norwegian energy companies abroad. Paulsen is a graduate of the Norwegian School of Economic and Business Administration. Before joining the Foreign Service, he held positions in the Ministry of Oil and Energy and Den norske Creditbank. He has served in Hamburg, Berlin, and Bonn in Germany and in Singapore. He is married to Anne-Beth Feldt and has two children.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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