Galdopiggen (Norway)

In High Places

By: Burton A. Falk

Norway is a long, narrow country--1.100 miles from top to bottom. only 75 miles wide at mid section--with 632 of its total area classified as mountainous. The tallest, most renowned of its peaks lie in Jotunheimen, an alpine region located a quarter of the way up the country's rocky spine, 250 miles NWN of Oslo.

Until a few years ago, a debate raged as to which of two Jotunheimen peaks, Galdopiggen or Glittertind, was Norway's highest. The conundrum was due to the fact that, although 8,098' Galdopiggen is the true rocky high point, 8,082' Glittertind wee often a few feet higher because of a build up of ice on its summit. The question has become moot in recent years, however, as the icy cornice on Glittertind has receded and Galdopiggen is now acknowledged as the country's one and only true high point.

My four companions and I arrived in Oslo, after a flight from Iceland, at noon July 24. We rented an comodius nine-passenger Dodge Ram van at the airport and began driving north on Norway's main north-south highway, E6, by way of Lillehammer, site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Five hours and 308 km later, at Otta, we turned west on route 15, toward the Jotunheimen.

At 7:30 p.m., after another 64 km, we entered Lom, a resort town whose bustling shops, inns and campgrounds reminded me of Jackson, Wyoming or West Yellowstone on an evening at the height of the summer season. We arrived too late, however, to find accomodations. Everything was full. We dined at a local cafeteria then continued up a twisting toll road to the 108 year-old, above-timberline Juvasshytta, located at 6,000' at the base of the most popular route up Galdopiggen.

Arriving at the 75 bed hut at 9:30 p.m., we found, once again, that all accommodations were spoken for. what to do? By than it had started to rain and the idea of setting up tents in the cold and wet was not a pleasant one. It was then we discovered one of our gas-hogging van's few advantages. Stuffing our gear in the front seat, we were soon stretched out (three in the luggage section, two on the rear two tiers of seats), in a well deserved sleep.

Next morning, because of near-terminal jet lag, we slept in until 8:30. Finally opening our eyes, we found the weather to be dark and blustery. Sheets of rain dashed across the puddles in the parking lot. To our amazement, however, large numbers of Norwegians were arriving by bus and car to begin the climb of Galdopiggen. it was then we began to get a glimpse into the scandinavian psyche. These robust folks seem to have a genetically implanted, hermetically sealed passion for outdoor activities, no matter how bad the weather.

Not to be outdone, we assembled our packs and scurried for the hut, where at the 9:30 serving (a breakfast buffet is served every half hour) we downed a hearty meal of porridge, soft-boiled eggs, bread, rolls, a selection of herring and cheeses, coffee and tea, all for the bargain price of 75 kroner ($13 U.S.) each.

After brunch, the rain having tailed off, we found even more climbers starting up the well-worn trail. The scene was reminiscent of the massive assaults launched on Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge each promising weekend in the spring. The ascent of Galdopiggen has become so popular, in fact, that, during the summer months, starting at Juvassahytta, guided tours are lad up the mountain at 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. daily. On the day of our climb, the guided parties grew to about thirty climbers each. My companions and I decided to do the climb on our own, however, and so, at 10:50 a.m., we too started up the trail. To our right, a throng of unrelenting Norwegians were hurling themselves down a glacial ski run. No wonder the Scandinavians win so many medals at the Winter Olympics.

A little over an hour into the hike, we arrived at the broad Styggebreen Glacier, where we stopped to rope up. Ahead of us, under a canopy of low clouds, a long snake of roped-up climbers from the 9:30 guided group could be seen nearing the far side of the ice flow. Half an hour later, we too reached the rocky nose on the far side, where we untied, dropped our rope and continued up toward the mist-shrouded summit. At 1:15 p.m, while we were kick-stepping up a snowy slope, the clouds parted and, as if by magic, the summit hut appeared just above. Within another few minutes our ascent was complete.

We ate our lunch in the unusual, old Norse-style hut, bought and mailed a few postcards, then started our uneventful return trip to Juvasshytta. Total round trip time for the climb, including lunch--five and a half hours. On the day of our climb, crampons and ice axes were not necessary, although if it had bean colder and icier, both would probably have been helpful.

Since our plan was to climb Glittertind the following day, we returned to Lom that evening, ate dinner once more at the cafeteria then drove up yet another toll road to the 3,600' Spitarstulen hut, located in the valley between Galdopfggen and Glittertind. Arriving at the sprawling, 140 bed complex at 8 p.m. we found again that all accommodations were taken. Also to no one's surprise it had started to rain. Again, we opted to sleep in the van.

Arising at a more reasonable hour the following morning, we discovered that the rain continued. A myriad of waterfalls splashed down cliffs on both sides of the valley. While eating breakfast at the hut, we reviewed the information regarding climbing the Glittertind that we had gleaned from two guides at the hut the previous evening, i.e. the western route from Spiterstulen to the summit takes about five hours, eight and a half to nine hours round trip; ropes, ice axes and crampons are not required on the route, and, most important, because of dangerous cornices near the summit, the route should never be attempted while the mountain is in a cloud. Stepping outside after breakfast, we found the rain continued to pour down; clouds hung low in the valley. After a brief, disconsolate discussion we decided to scrub the attempt and begin our four day drive to the Arctic Circle and the high point of Finland.

ODDS & ENDS Another popular way to climb Glittertind is to make an east to west traverse, starting at the 120 bed Glitterheim hut, ending at Spiterstulen. In fact, because the Glitterheim hut lies at a higher elevation than Spiterstulen, the climb to Glittertind's summit from that hut only takes about three hours. This route has one major drawback, however. Because Glitterheim lies within National Park boundaries, cars may not be used to approach it, and thus a hike is necessary just to get to the hut/trail head.

In spite of the Norway's abundant North Sea oil, gasoline in that country remains expensive. The tab to fill our tank was usually in the $70-$90 U.S. range.

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