Hiking in Jotunheimen
Day 4: From Spiterstulen to Gjendebu (15 miles, 2600 feet)
The last leg of my planned counter-clockwise route was a 14-mile trek that would take me south from Spiterstulen to Gjendebu. My plan was to take the boat from Gjendebu back to Gjendesheim the next day (and catch the connecting bus back to Oslo).
In restrospect, the segment from Spiterstulen to Gjendebu was probably the most enjoyable part of my trip. My body had gotten used to the weight of the pack, and the first half of the trip was a mild walk on a mostly soft dirt trail that tracks the Visdalen river. Two miles from the lodge, I saw a herd of reindeers, which disturbingly were not the least bit put off by the presence of a few gawking human beings. A couple more miles later, the trail veered upwards.
(Above: On the way up the Uradalen Valley)
At this point the scenery changed. Runoff from the lakes up above cascaded out of the valley into a river down below. Once again, I found myself walking on the now-familiar lichen-dappled field of rocks. Up above, ominous-looking clouds moved in. The valley, with the peaks of Hellstugutindane and Uradalstindane as stoic sentinels, had a certain eeriness to it. I have not seen another human being since I left Spiterstulen 2 hours ago. As I came upon a big, flat rock by the shore of a placid lake, the clouds parted to reveal a very pleasant window of sunshine. I took advantage of this by setting my pack down to rest. It was one of those moments to die foreating lunch as the warm sunshine was hitting my face; a nice, clear lake just below me; distant glimmering peaks all around; and peace and serenity that I had all to myself.
(Above: The first in a series of glacial lakes on the way to Gjendebu; rain fell shortly after ths picture was taken)
As I was finishing lunch, threatening clouds, as if on cue, moved back in and gobbled up my sunshine, almost instantly giving me a chill. I hoisted my pack and moved on. The trail continued at the lakes southern edge, this time on larger boulder blocks that required scrambling at times. It started raining as I crested a snowy plateau at 5,700 feet. The trail dropped back down to follow the eastern perimeter of 2 adjacent lakes. This section was almost exclusively on rock fields, which felt monotonous (not too mention too jarring) and not at all enjoyable. It took me over an hour to get around the lake. Finally, the trail started descending steadily as it approached Gjendebu and Lake Gjende.
(Above: Birch trees and shrubery characterize the verdant meadow just before Gjendebu)
I passed yet another pretty waterfall, framed by vibrant red and blue wildflowers that lined the trail down the meadow below. The scenery changed again as I got lowera thick forest of birch trees hug the lower hillsides and shoulder-high shrubs and grass crowded the trails. I was startled when I unexpectedly came upon a herd of cows munching on the lush leaves of the meadow. The cows and I stared at one another until they grudgingly gave way.
(Above: The stream continues to gather strength before emptying into Lake Gjende)
The lower I got, the thicker the birch trees got. The lushness of the area contrasted sharply with the desolate barren landscape that characterizes Jotunheimen at higher elevations. It was here that I realized how much trees and vegetation contribute to the cheeriness of a landscape. Soon I reached the DNT hut at Gjendebu (by the way bu, although it sounds African, is the Norwegian word for a hut or a small cabin). It was Sunday evening, and the weekend visitors are gone. Nearly deserted Gjendebu was very soothing and restful, just what I was looking for before taking the next day's boat back to Gjendesheim and on to Oslo.
(Above: DNT's Gjendebu, a peaceful place to spend a Sunday evening)
This time I was assigned a bed in a room that sleeps four. The 2 other guys are Norwegians on a 4-day trip, having started from Fondsbu in southwestern Jotunheimen. I had breakfast with my roommates the next morning, and we talked about the Norwegian landscape, especially the part within the Arctic Circle. I pointed out that one of the Norwegian hiking guides at the opposite table looked very much like a Viking with his long scruffy beard. They were much amused by this observation. To my surprise they offered to give me a lift to Oslo. The only catch was that their car was parked in Fondsbu, a 5-hour hike from Gjendebu. Even though I had looked forward to a restful last day at Jotunheimen, I decided to lace up the boots one last time and go with them, my right foots painful metatarsal notwithstanding. I warned them that I may have to turn back if my foot and my abused knees got too painful. Amund and Ingar turned out to be the perfect hiking companionstheyre both very laid back and intelligent, and in the time it took to complete the moderate hike from Gjendebu to Fondsbu, weve discussed Norways policy on whale hunting, Bill Clintons Monica Lewinsky problem, Norwegian v English chocolate bars, potato farming, Ibsen, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the use of folk themes in Norwegian classical music, the causes of lactose intolerance, Americas commercial empire, why a café societies would not take hold in Norway, Falcon Crest and Dynasty, and a little bit of a whole lot of everything else.
(Above: Nearing the end of a steep descent into Fondsbu, with Lake Bygdin in the background)
As an unexpected bonus, I later got a back-seat tour of southwestern Norways mountainous terrain, with running commentaries from Amund and Ingar. We stopped at a farmhouse just outside Jotunheimen for some home-processed goat cheese, but were quite turned off by the dirtiness of the building. For Amund, who works for a super-kommune in Gol in charge of testing and monitoring meat and other food products against virus and bacteria, it was almost too much to take. We got out of there seriously disappointed. We got to the town of Gol and Amund gave us a tour of his impeccable lab, proudly showing off the places ISO certification. Upon seeing his well-organized and spotless desk, I remarked that in America a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind I hope he realized I meant it as a joke. We dropped him off at his place (seriously big and spotless, almost like his lab) in a small town called Gulsvik, and Ingar and I drove on to Oslo. Ingar is a very soft-spoken man, and was unnecessarily apologetic about his English-speaking skills. He owns a couple of farms outside of Oslo near the Swedish border, but he also works for his kommune. Soon we reached Oslo, and Ingar dropped me off at the hotel where I was to spend the night before my early-morning flight to London the next morning. I said goodbye and thus was left with a favorable impression of the country of Norway and its friendly people.
(Above: Amund and Ingar, posing in front of the shark-fin like peak they had climbed 2 days before)
Updated: September 13, 1998