This last day in Jotunheimen was devoted to the ridge of Besseggen, Norway’s most famous mountain hike. We chose the most common alternative of taking the ferry along the lake of Gjende to Memurubu and then hike over the mountain to Gjendesheim.
This article was first published in Norwegian on Sandalsand på norsk.
What to discover
The map below is taken from the hiking website Lommekjent and may be seen in full size there. The hike is about 13,5 kms and is estimated to 6 hours.
There are alternative routes for this day, with Gjendebu as the starting point as we had. Firstly we could (also) have made the trip over the ridge called Bukkelægret to the mountain lodge at Memurubu. In this case one first walk along the lakeshore for a little while and then go in for a steep climb 500 metres up. Read the description and map on Lommekjent (in Norwegian). 11 km, 3-5 hours.
For those who want to avoid Besseggen at all cost or dislike the idea of spending most of the day on a boat, there is another option. It is in fact possible to walk along Gjende between Memurubu and Gjendesheim. That trail goes at certain places quite high up in the mountainside to avoid old rockslides and cliffs. The length is 10 km and you should allow for 3-4 hours. Read the description and map on Lommekjent (in Norwegian).
Down towards Memurubu and the lake of Gjende. This is the first hill.
But now over to the trip I looked forward to when I woke up this morning at Gjendebu. My partner had incurred a bad leg during this week and chose to take the boat all the way back to Gjendesheim, a distance of about 20 km. For my own part, I noticed that my knee had become shaky, but no more than I decided to jump off the boat at Memurubu and started to climb the first hillside.
The first kilometre goes pretty straight up before the trail turns right in parallel with the Gjende lake. We pass the little lake at Bjørnholtjønne and continue to gain altitude another little bit. After five kilometres, I and everyone else who were hiking here this day, had climbed 600 metres up from the Gjende reaching the highest point so far, at 1,580 metres.
A look back on the Memurutunga from the east. Gjende to the left
My hurting knee was by new eagerly protesting my intentions, but I noticed that if I walked with a stiff knee I was able to relieve the pain. On the other hand, it is not easy to march like a goose stepping soldier in Norwegian mountains.
Anyway, from this point on we were able to see Besseggen all the way. The trail descends slowly a few hundred metres before crossing the link between the lakes of Bessvatn at 1374 m. and Gjende 400 metres further down the other side.
Here I can then finally look up at this infamous edge.
Besseggen with Bessvatn to the left, seen from below
What fits better then to quote what blissful Ibsen let Peer Gynt utter when he tried to impress his mother Aase with his hunting stories. Ibsen wrote about Gjendin ridge but had Besseggen in mind.
Have you ever been upon the ridge of Gendin? Fully half a mile it stretches, at the top as sheer and narrow as a scythe-blade. Looking downward past the slopes and past the glaciers, past the grey ravines and gullies. Either side you see the water wrapped in dark and gloomy slumber half a mile at least beneath you. Right along it he and I clove our passage through the air. Never rode I such a steed! Far ahead the peaks were sparkling as we rushed along. Beneath usin the void the dusky eagles fell away like motes in sunshine; You could see the ice-floes breaking on the banks, yet hear no murmur. But the sprites that turn us dizzy danced and sang and circled round us I could hear and seemed to see them ! (Henrik Ibsen)
Besseggen, steep ridge, parts of it
I started the steep climb, sometimes with the help of hands to pull me up, but by and large it went very smoothly. Up close the ridge does not seem by far as narrow and impressive as when you look at it from a distance and from the right angle. It is quite easy to find where to step, and there is no reason to take an involuntarily somersault and fall off the mountain.
It is often said that the best view is to that of the regular blue coloured Bessvatn and the green coloured Gjende. The latter is caused by fine grained glacial particles washed into the water. The colour is extra emphasized by the dark mountainsides and the vegetation on the sides. Light plays a role, and on a somewhat overcast day like this the contrast is not as striking as we may find on some postcards.
Postcard image of Besseggen with Gjende and Bessvatn unfortunately without the famous colours.
On top of the ridge, I do like everyone else, I turn around and understand why it is often recommended not to hike the opposite way. It is steep, narrow and for those who have developed a touch of vertigo, it can be a nerve-racking experience.
I continued my hike under severe protests from my aching knee, and I don’t think anyone has marched across the lunar landscape of Veslefjell as fast as I did that day. There was some fog up here, but I passed the highest point of 1,743 metres before descending down the steep hillsides to the Gjendesheim mountain lodge.
Wild altitudes above Gjendesheim and the end of Gjende lake
Read a brief mention of this hike, and the lodges of Gjendebu and Gjendesheim on Ut.no. The timetable for the Gjende boat is here.
This is the description of a 6-day round trip from lodge to lodge in beautiful Jotunheimen in the late summer of 1989. Due to the tour’s age it was never meant for publication. However, the round trip was so perfect (“Jotunheimen in a nutshell”) that I included it anyway. I think neither text or images, let alone the basic experience will be significantly different today.
The map shows the route we followed and lodges we visited or stayed at. The boat ride from Gjendebu to Memurubu is not shown. We stayed at all marked lodges except Memurubu. Almost the entire round trip runs within the borders of the Jotunheimen National Park. The map is composed of single maps from Lommekjent.no. A detailed map is included in the introduction to each article. Click on the markers to reveal the names of lodges, click on the lines to get information about a particular leg. (Norwegian text and links only.) Extend the map into a new tab if you prefer.
All legs are described in separate articles. This is the list:
Day 1: Gjendesheim to Glitterheim over Hestlægerhøe
Day 2: Glitterheim to Spiterstulen over Skautflye
Day 3: Spiterstulen to Galdhøpiggen and back
Day 4: Spiterstulen to Leirvassbu
Day 5: Leirvassbu to Gjendebu
Day 6: Gjendebu to Memurubu by boat plus hike Besseggen to Gjendesheim
See photos from this particular hike below. Click for a larger size.
There is a map on Lommekjent which to a large degree looks like our round trip. Open it, and then click the tab called “Detaljer/funksjoner” and choose “3D visning”. Be patient and let the map load. You will now fly this route with the help of Google Earth for the next 7:43 minutes. Fascinating.