The colours of the water were mesmerising. Even more so, I thought, because the turquoise shades of Gjendevatnet were not on the shores of palm trees and golden sand, but surrounded by mountain peaks dressed in white. It looked as inviting as on any Caribbean beach, but the temperature… well I wasn’t so sure about that. I lowered myself down to the edge of the water and drowned my bottle beneath the surface. My hand felt painfully numb within seconds and I decided that no matter how inviting, I would stick to letting it quench my thirst.
From Oslo, the drive up to Jotunheimen National Park is not long. After roughly four hours we reached Gjendesheim, the gateway to one of Norway’s most famous hikes, Besseggen. Each year some 30.000 people take the journey here to cross the mountain ridge that lies between Gjendevatnet and Bessvatnet. As you start to ascend, the breathtaking views of snow-covered mountains start to appear. Eventually they are everywhere, as far as the eye can see. But the view from the ridge is best known for the two lakes that lie as a beautiful juxtaposition with their blue and turquoise waters amongst the wild and rugged peaks. It is a sight you won’t forget.
At Gjendesheim the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) has a tourist cabin available for those who need shelter from the harsh mountain weather, which at times can be seriously unwelcoming. Throughout the week we had frequently consulted the weather forecast, crossing our fingers that the early predictions of heavy rain would succumb to sunshine. On Friday morning we were in luck. The weather gods seemed to be on our side gifting us with great conditions the next day. But on Friday night as the car rolled into the parking lot at Gjendesheim, our hopes of crossing the ridge without getting wet was dinted. So was the hope of pitching our tent without getting soaked. We sat in the car waiting, listening to the rain’s heavy beat against the roof until the windows were all fogged up and the lake no longer visible. Eventually the rain gave away, but we could see that we didn’t have much time before it would start hammering down again. Near the shore of Gjendevatnet we found a perfect spot to set up the tent. There was just enough time to put it together before we could feel the drops falling faster by the second and we ran back to the car for shelter. This is what the weather is like; angry one minute and calm the next. It took us around an hour before we were settled inside our sleeping bags, something that would normally be done in 15 minutes. But that is all part of the adventure and when we were finally ready to get some shuteye, the rain that came with the thunderstorm was singing us to sleep.
The alarm woke us up at 5:45. There’s something magical about waking up surrounded by nature. Life is peaceful and it gives you an energy that is rarely found elsewhere. I zipped open the tent and let the morning in. Everything was double the beauty. Out there were the blue skies we had been hoping for, mirroring itself in the still waters together with the mountains and the white clouds rolling over them. We took a last look at the forecast. The rain was coming, but not until afternoon, so we packed up our gear and got ready to go.
We had decided to hike the most popular route, taking the boat from Gjendesheim further up the lake to Memurubu where you can walk over the ridge back to Gjendesheim. Already at 7 in the morning the docks were filling up with people excited to start their hike. The boat from Gjendesheim carried us over to Memurubu in roughly 30 minutes, we were ready to start our Saturday.
It is preferred to walk Besseggen from Memurubu because it allows you to climb the ridge instead of having to walk down its sharp angle. Moreover, I would rather walk in this direction to avoid the less steep, but much longer stage from Gjendesheim up to the mountain plateau. Instead, the initial leg of the hike from Memurubu is harder, but a shorter climb to where the path flattens out and leads your across the mountain to Bessvatnet and the actual ridge.
The first stage is a real workout, leaving you gasping for air whilst your calves are burning more for every step you get closer to the top. So we take our time, this mountain ain’t going anywhere. Sweaty, but excited we eventually reach the end of the climb. We gaze at Gjendevatnet that has rapidly become more distant. Down there we see the boat silently making its way back to Gjendesheim, leaving traces of small waves in the turquoise water. In front of us is the naked mountain, spotted with shallow waters and the snow that never really leaves these heights of nearly 1700 meters. The path follows Gjendevatnet back towards Gjendesheim with small inclines, flat surfaces and the occasional dip in altitude. Not before long we can spot Besseggen in the horizon. For now, it is only a hill, too remote to make an impact, but as we get closer we realise that there are indeed people climbing the steep and narrow passage we for a while thought were outside our destiny. The ridge will have us on our hands and knees…
After a short, but sharp descent, we arrive at Bessvatnet that lies straight down from the ridge. We have been walking for nearly four hours and as we pause for a minute to enjoy the deep blue waters of the lake, we realise hunger has arrived and just in time. We find a perfect spot to fuel up before we take on the steepest climb of the day.
After lunch we saddle up, a bit apprehensive, but it turns out that our ability to perform as mountain goats has been heavily underestimated. As we start climbing the ridge we are still on two feet, but as we continue the path becomes a wall that enquire both hands and legs to reach the top. But, the half-hour or forty-five minutes we use to reach the top of the ridge is not nearly as hard as expected, in fact it is a fun change to the straight path we have walked on for hours. Taking your time here is essential to be able to enjoy the spectacular views that makes this hike so popular. Halfway up the ridge, I stop and stand in awe of nature, which in its grandeur makes me feel free, emotional and empowered like nothing else. The desire to sit here forever and enjoy the breathtaking view was close to beating the competing desire to reach our destination before the rain would start pouring down…
So we moved on and reached the top where we can go back to walking in upright position. The mountain looks deserted except for the many people that are either just starting their hike or close to finishing, just like us. Because we decided to walk from Memurubu, the highest point of the trek lies at the end of our trip .The views at 1743 meters reach across vast areas. A little further down the path we spot a flock of reindeers on a patch of snow. The sight of these animals invites us to the last break of our hike as we stop to take pictures and enjoy the sight of a herd of reindeers.
As we move closer to start our descent, below us we spot our destination. Down there, some 750 meters away lies Gjendevatnet and Gjendesheim waiting for us to return. The goal was within reach. Above us the clouds were getting threatening and barely realising it, my feet gained speed as we eagerly began the last stage down to the car and potential shelter from the rain. Funny enough we met many hikers on our way down from the mountain who had just started their trek over Besseggen. Here we were doing our best to get away from the rain while others were walking right into heavy showers. Because the rain came and when it did there was no stopping it. In the end it paid off getting up early. As we reached the car after nearly seven hours of walking through spectacular Norwegian nature, we were again listening to the rain hitting the car from every angle, only this time with aching legs and tired eyes, but an experience richer that made us smile all the way home.
ESSENTIAL TO HIKE BESSEGGEN:
The hike up Besseggen takes between six and eight hours depending on your fitness level and the amount of breaks along the way. Checking the weather forecast is crucial. When it’s raining some parts of the path, especially the ridge, can be slippery and difficult to climb. Fog can seriously hamper your vision, which can be dangerous as some parts are narrow with sudden drops not far from the path. On days with strong wind, the hike over the ridge can be uncomfortable to carry out as the area you climb is not very wide and steep on both sides.
Hiking boots. The terrain and path is rocky and support for your feet is important.
Extra clothes. T-shirt, socks, rain jacket & pant + a warm jumper. Depending on the season you should also consider bringing a hat and gloves.
High energy food. Bring more than you expect you will eat during the day, incase something unexpected will happen to keep you away for longer.
1 liter bottle for water. You dont need to bring water for the full hike as you can fill up your bottle in Gjendevatnet before your start the hike and then refill along the way in the streams and small rivers that flow past the path.
Sunglasses & sunscreen.
Camera/Phone. You’ll want to take pictures!
Getting to Gjendesheim can be done in various ways: by car, bus or train/bus.
Besseggen and Jotunheimen lies more or less in the middle of Norway and in almost the exact same distance from Oslo (4 hr), Bergen (5/6 hr) and Trondheim (4/5hr). Look up google maps from your location to Gjendesheim and write down the necessary information. Remember that the closest gas station from Gjendesheim is 34 kilometers away (aprox. 35 min) at Beitostølen. Make sure you have enough petrol. Parking costs NOK 100,- per day at Gjendesheim.
From Oslo you need to get on Valdresekspressen, which will take you to Gjendesheim in about 4 1/2 hours. Buying tickets online will save you money.
From Bergen you can take the train to Gol or Fagernes and then a bus from Gol/Fagernes to Gjendesheim.
From Trondheim take the train to Otta and then bus from Otta to Gjendesheim.
Buying train tickets in advance can save you more than half the price.
The cheapest option is to bring a tent. That’ll make it completely free to stay the night at Gjendesheim or Memurubu. If you dont’t have a tent or don’t like the idea of camping, then there are tourist cabins at both Memurubu and Gjendesheim. If you opt for staying at one of the cabins, you need to book in advance during high season to be sure there will be a bed available.
The boat between Gjendesheim and Memurubu costs NOK 140,- one way/adult & NOK 70,- one way/child and takes about 30 minutes. If you have a lot of luggage that you do not want to carry over the ridge, you can send your baggage with the boat and pick it up after you are done with the hike. This costs NOK 50,- per piece. The Gjende boat’s website show a timetable for departure times, but in high season the boat usually leaves as soon as the boat is full. The firs departure is at 07:00 am.
At the cabin at Gjendesheim there’s a kiosk that sells food and other essentials. You pay for parking here. During high season they are open from 07:00am – 11:00pm. There are toilets here as well, but they cost NOK 5,- and need to be paid with the 5 kroner coin. You can change money at the kiosk. Be sure you have some cash as there is no ATM although you can get cash back from the payment machine.