Jotunheimen: Home of the Trolls

I set out early, around 630. I had slept in my car the night before, so when I woke, my cost benefit analysis told me that an early morning hike was better than continuing to deal with my aching back and cramped legs. It was cloudy but the rugged landscape was still stunning, and the air was filled with pine and the smell of rapids. I was filled with high hopes-I had dreamed of hiking this ridge since my friend had shared a list of Nat Geo’s top 20 hikes with me. I had seen the picture, and knew I had to come bear witness to Besseggen Ridge in person.

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The hike was trying, my breath was heavy, but I was in no rush. I stopped often, turning around to take in everything around me. Norway is a land of superlatives, and it was difficult to comprehend the immense beauty surrounding me at all times. The Jotunheimen mountains were given their name long ago, inspired by their wild landscape and Norse mythology-Jotun means troll. Home of the trolls.

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As I neared the ridge, I started to drown in clouds. I kept hoping I’d come out on top to find a jaw dropping vista, but the fog only became thicker and thicker. I reached the snow line and soon I couldn’t distinguish the white of the ground to that of the air. It was disorienting, creepy even. I felt as if the entire world had gone blank. My heart was pounding, and I felt panicky. I tried to calm down but the white nothingness was closing in on me. It wasn’t safe to be up here alone. What had I been thinking? I couldn’t see anything. I lost the trail and was standing defeated in the overwhelming abyss when I heard the voices of some British guys I had seen that morning in the parking lot. “I see her shadow, she’s standing where we lost the trail”. I couldn’t contain myself, “help!” I yelled, chuckling at the ridiculousness of it, only able to feel humor now as relief washed over me. I wasn’t going to die up here alone. I’d die with them. I now saw their shadows appear through the mist, moving closer to me. I had never been so happy to see another human being. I met them and after some deliberation, we decided there was no way we could continue on. We were defeated. There was a lot of sighing and heavy hearts on the way down, once we found our way out of the all encompassing blanket of white.
Morning continued on and the sun began to poke through the clouds. We could now see the crest of the ridge, where only a few hours earlier, had hung the cloud’s relentless breath. We went up for round two. My hamstrings and calves loathed me. They had no idea what they were in store for. We thought we had made it a third of the way along the ridge this morning. That was a joke. We thought we could do the hike in five hours, in time to catch the last ferry back to town. Also a joke.

The beginning of the hike was lovely. Despite the fire burning in my muscles, I was utterly content. The sun’s rays had blasted away the morning’s mist, and the vistas encompassed us in all of their glory. Norway’s wild beauty is captivating-it felt like I was at the end of the earth, or maybe the beginning of it. When I saw the views from where we had stopped earlier, I gave a great laugh. Now, sun soaked mountains rose up around us, the serene lake below us. It couldn’t feel more different than the foreboding white nothingness from this morning. Now it felt like endless freedom.

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We made good time up to the highest and narrowest part of the ridge, where we could see the deep blue Gjendes on one side, and the icy glacial lake on the other. The giants of Jotunheimen sprawled out ahead of us, providing a backdrop of snow covered, indigo might. My heart was so full. Before me was everything I loved, everything that made me feel the most alive. Deep breaths of fresh Nordic air filled my lungs up with the songs of summertime wilderness. My heart pulsed with purpose and gratitude.

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As we neared the end of the narrow part of the crest, we imagined we’d meet a gentle decline down to the lake where we’d catch the ferry. False. The jagged steep decline made for a terrifying descent. I clung on to the earth with all my strength, curse words flooding from my mouth every time my boot slipped out from under me, convincing me for half a second I would fall from the mountain’s ledge. We had three more challenging inclines and long beautiful ridges to cover before we finally saw the boat docks. We ran for the last hour. Ran. On the rocky mountain ridge. The bottoms of my feet felt as though they were being hammered with nails every time I took a stride. There were countless times I tripped and almost went tumbling to the earth. The good news is, I learned new things about my endurance when I had a ferry to catch. By the end, my knees were destroyed, and my legs were ready to give out, but man I had never deserved anything more than catching that ferry.

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My new friends and I gave each other knowing looks on the long boat ride home. We all felt like absolute shit, but also like we’d just conquered the world. There were no words to say. We had such an incredible, ridiculous, adventure of a day, and I was so happy the hellish fog had brought us together this morning. It was worth every difficult, wonder-filled, frantic step we took the rest of the day. I had hiked Besseggen. Miraculously. Finally.


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