Claus Helberg and Den Norske Turistforening
A life dedicated to the outdoors
The Norwegian American
It’s a little like which came first, the chicken or the egg. Four years before Claus Helberg became a hero of Operation Gunnerside, the 19-year-old Rjukan lad was hired as a route instructor at the Den Norske Turistforeningen (DNT), The Norwegian Trekking Association. He retired in 1998 but would stay connected with the organization for 68 years, until his death in 2003 at 84. In 1993, he was named an honorary member.
Helberg would contribute many innovations, books, articles, and lectures that have enabled hikers to better enjoy the outdoors. “He built guards, marked trails, and lured people to the mountains,” according to an article on the DNT website.
Since 2009, the Claus and Ragnhild Helberg Foundation bestows an annual Claus Helberg Memorial Award for the “preservation of cultural heritage in the forests and mountains.” At the birthday centennial event, his wife, Ragnhild, presented it.
Helberg’s most important pupil and hiking companion was Queen Sonja, starting when she was Crown Princess in 1979. In a 2015 article on klikk.no, Helberg was quoted as telling VG, “It started with a letter from Erling Lorentzen, who I was with in Kompani Linge (resistance force) during the war. He asked if I would like to propose a hike for him and Crown Princess Sonja that summer. I said I would like to join the tour myself. I chose the Aurlandsdalen, where I went for my very first hike, and so we were off.”
They would hike in summer and winter. The pair hiked the Sunnmøre Alps in 1980. She said in the 1988 Trondheim Trekking Association yearbook, “We literally crawled on hands and feet with the backpack, and I would definitely advise people who are not afraid, to walk this trip. But on the other hand, I can promise those who take it a wonderful experience. Even I would never have gone for a walk without such an experienced mountaineer as Claus Helberg.”
In 1983, they were joined by 74-year-old Danish Queen Margarethe to hike the Hardangervidda, far less dangerous than when Helberg had skied it in 1943.
Both queens joined him at his 80th birthday in 1999. His health was failing, and he proclaimed that the royals were capable on their own.
“They have given me pleasure because they have so clearly expressed the great experience they have had in nature,” Helberg told VG. “That’s good enough payment for me. You get to know each other, you depend on each other and you share experiences together, regardless of weather, wind and toil. In nature one is oneself. For queens, it may be particularly important, because otherwise they appear in public light.”
In January 2019, DNT paid homage to Helberg on what would have been his 100th birthday. He developed the idea of self-catering cabins, which came, in part, from his war experiences. In an article on the DNT website, it mentions that following the war, more people were interested in exploring the mountains, so additional cabins were built. The crowds were not present, partly because of lack of food. Remember, as a hero, he skied to cabins in search of food. First, he drew on the notion of military rations.
“In the long run this did not become sustainable,” Helberg said in the biography Wizard of War and Peace by DNT’s Per Roger Lauritzen. “People got the worst hunger, but everyone who has tried battle rations knows that this is not a great taste experience.”
Then, he recalled in London during the war, the newsboys would put a hat next to the newspapers when they went to lunch. Customers could put money in the hat and take a paper.
Helberg translated the idea to the mountains and the first self-service cabins opened in 1954 in Olavsbu and Storkvelvbu, offering varieties of meat and fish canned goods, soup bags, cold cuts, coffee, tea, biscuits, and canned syrup—a practical and tasty innovation to enhance Norwegian outdoor life.
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.