Not the Trolltunga—but spectacular nonetheless
When the Norwegian weather changes your summer hiking plans
In 2013, I was supposed to hike the famous Trolltunga mountain peak in Skjeggedal. It is one of Norway’s most incredible natural wonders, with breathtaking views of the Ringedalsvatnet Lake nestled near a small offshoot of the Hardanger fjord.
It is named after how the jutting rock looks like a mountain troll’s tongue sticking out! The landscape is south of Jotunheimen, the land of the giants according to folklore, or giant trolls (jotner).
I spent weeks convincing myself that I was capable of the almost 17-mile trek to a point over 2,000 feet above the lake. I wasn’t going to ruin the party of the group of four of us planning the trip. But the main feeling I had was fear of not being able to accomplish this “expert” level hike.
A classmate of mine had done the hike and expressed a kind of disbelief that she had managed to accomplish it. It was much longer than she originally thought and she told me she had to climb a lot of rocks and at one point thought she lost the trail. Luckily, she was not hiking alone and managed to get to the top during her late summer trip.
Our trip pushed on in late September, and we traveled first to Bergen on an overnight train. We stayed one night and explored the city. My friend who was on the trip with me said, “I remember taking so many different forms of transportation. Train, bus, ferry, and by foot.” The travel was exhausting and soon we were on a bus to Odda, where the four of us stayed in a small two-person camping cabin. We arrived late and shuffled all of our things into the room.I led the charge of speaking to the manager of the campground about taking the bus to P2 Skjeggedal, the official starting point of the hike. Being the only member of the group who spoke Norwegian, I was the obvious choice.
The manager informed us that because of severe weather, the bus had stopped running altogether. This could have been related to it being the very tail end of the safe hiking season for Trolltunga, which is typically June through September. In the off season (October through May), it is highly recommended that you hike only with a trained guide.
In the face of our disappointment after taking a train, a bus, and a ferry to get to Odda, she suggested we do a local hike to the Buerbreen Glacier, through Buerdalen (the Buer valley). To my relief, this hike was two to four hours, compared to the minimum seven- to 10-hour commitment of Trolltunga. And the starting point was not far from where we were staying.
There were mixed emotions about this change of plans, but we couldn’t change the weather or get to the trailhead on our own.
As one of my traveling companions puts it, remembering the trip, “I had this slight relief when the trail was closed but was really bummed to have the build up end so abruptly.” So our new plan to hike the Buer trail was on.
The hike proved to be challenging enough. Beginning in Buer on a small gravel inlet road, we walked in and surveyed the out and back path. Going in is almost entirely uphill, which gives a beautiful view of the valley below. Along the way, there is a runoff stream, and travelers have made a habit of creating sculptural rock piles in the creek bed.
The origin of these is to mark the path, but in this case they’ve spread all along the water’s edge. It’s a nice display that reminds you of how many have been here. There’s also wildlife to cross, a protective highland cow (on the other side of a fence), and free roaming sheep along the trail.
Certain sections are rocky and even have secured ropes to climb up to get over large boulders and clusters. This could be described as bouldering for a short while! Some areas have narrow wooden bridges crossing over rocky patches.
There are other natural elements to look out for as well, stinging nettle, and of course ice. It’s important not to try and get too close to the glacier itself, because of this reason, and wear appropriate hiking shoes and clothing layers.
We didn’t come across any other hikers and the temperature was pleasantly cool in the fall season. As we ascended higher, the views became more picturesque and gave us such an authentic Norwegian experience.
The four of us in our group from our study-abroad program were simply glad to be spending the time together and seeing a new place. We moved past the disappointment and into a new appreciation for the trip that we ended up having.
The Buer trail was lush, with some foliage turning slightly into fall colors. We hiked all day and were immersed in a place we would have never visited otherwise. It was a slice of life in small town Norway, where the nature is unparalleled.
Maybe someday I’ll return to do the Trolltunga trek when I’m more prepared, when I have time to mentally process the trip and plan ahead in case of inclement weather. It’s an amazing spot that I’d love to visit, but I am satisfied with where we ended up. My friend on the trip said, “I also remember just being so happy. It was so beautiful.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.