Trekking in Norway – the essentials

If it`s easier or harder, wilder or milder, better or worse, depends of course on what you are comparing to, your fitness level and experience, where you go and when you do it. Your four-year-old could easily run up the local hill on a nice summer day, whereas the same hike in December would be a leg breaker; the paths transformed to frozen waterways, the rocks glaciated with ice.

Norwegians are hikers, we are proud of our nature and we welcome travelers from all over the world to enjoy our wilderness. But the excessive use of the mountains doesn`t come without drawbacks, and for our own safety, for the safety of others (like the rescue team), for the enjoyment of others, for conserving the landscape and maybe just out of respect for the environment, there are skills and rules and codes that every outdoor person should know and respect.

The last few years, some tourist attractions have experienced a blasting increase in the numbers of visitors. In 2010, 800 hikers were registered at Trolltunga. In 2016, the number was 80.000! The rescue team was called for 40 times. The Pulpit Rock estimates about 300.000 hikers in 2017, Kjerag 60.000 and Besseggen 30.000. And these hikes are not comfortable walking. Sure, it`s not climbing, most people don`t need a guide, the routes are marked and Sherpas from Nepal have done a tremendous job on some of the tracks. But hiking boots are still essential, the ground is rough and the tracks might be muddy and slippery from heavy rainfall. The weather could change in an instant, and what is an easy stroll for one person, another would consider as a major challenge.

So, what are the essentials of hiking in Norway?

Right to roam / The public right to access

Right to roam

In Norway, everybody has the right to roam freely in forests and open country, along rivers, on lakes, among the skerries, and in the mountains – irrespective of who owns the land. The right is part of our cultural heritage, and it`s main principles are enshrined in the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1957.

In the open countryside, we can hike and ski. We can go riding and cycle on trails and roads, we can go swimming, canoeing, rowing and sailing. We can rest and camp, we can fish in the sea, and we can pick berries, mushrooms, and wildflowers. But there are limitations, so please read the link carefully.

Bakken - self-service lodgin

And the right doesn`t come without drawbacks: How much nature is left when 80.000 aim for a selfie at Trolltunga? How can a small community like Odda, where Trolltunga is located, deal with 40 mountain rescue operations each year? Farmers have their fences trampled, and what about those unfortunate cabin owners in the area, who find toilet paper behind their garden bushes?

Maybe there have to be more regulations? A daily maximum of trampers? Guided tours only? An entry fee, to cover the maintenance of the tracks and the rescue operations? As much as I love my right to roam, I`m not sure if it`s sustainable for the times to come.

The Norwegian mountain code

This is the old version,

which I grew up with and recite easier than the ten commands.

And this is the 2016 up-to-date version (my translation):

1: Plan your tour and leave a word of your route.

2: Match your terrain choice and travel plan to your abilities and the conditions.

3: Acknowledge weather forecasts and avalanche warning.

4: Be equipped for bad weather and frost, even on short walks.

5: Bring what is needed for helping yourself and others.

6: Choose the safe courses. Recognise risk of avalanche and unsafe ice.

7: Use your map and compass. Always know where you are.

8: Turn back in time. A sensible retreat is no disgrace.

9: Conserve energy and seek shelter if necessary.

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Expect sudden weather changes

If there is a signature element about hiking in Norway, I would say that is the sudden weather changes. And the weird thing is that it`s persistently from nice weather to bad weather, very rarely the other way around…

When I was trekking in the French Alps six years ago, what surprised me most, was that even the guides wore cotton clothing from inner to outer and just packed a very light day backpack for the mountains. Wow, I would never do that in Norway! Four seasons in a day is what I assume for a summer hike. So, my mountain clothing is pretty much the same year-round, summer or winter. I just skip the shorts in the winter.

Underwear: WOOL, occasionally silk. At wintertime, everything is woollen, even my bra! But at summer, I might change it for silk. I never wear cotton underwear when I`m hiking in the mountains because I think it gets really wet and cold and uncomfortable. At summer, I might wear short underpants and a short-armed t-shirt or a singlet, but I always carry long woollen underpants and a long armed woollen t-shirt in my backpack.

Middle layer: If I wear a middle layer, this is in wool too; long underpants and a thin woollen sweater. I don`t bring a thick sweater – multiple layers of thin clothing is better. They insulate more, and I can easily regulate if I get warm or cold.

Outer layer: I choose between different outer layers according to the weather. All of them are windproof. And I like hoods on my jackets.

In dry weather, I pick a thin cotton or polyamide jacket. It`s not insulated, just a one layer windproof. I like my trousers a bit stretchy. They`re also in a polyamide fabric. But I always have waterproof garments in my backpack – a waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers. Mines are in gore tex; they have to be re-impregnated now and then and are not completely waterproof in heavy rainfall. The alternative is oilskin, which neither lets the water in nor the moisture out.

I also have a down jacket or a Primaloft jacket in my backpack. I usually put it on as the first thing I do when I stop for a rest. Sometimes just outside my outer garments, sometimes underneath, when I want even more warmth or when it`s raining. I take it off as soon as I start moving, even if it feels uncomfortable cold for the first few minutes. That`s the way it should feel, then I don`t sweat out my extra gear. I never wear all my clothing when I`m in activity; then there`s nothing to put on when I stop. The only parts of my body that I keep warm at all times are my head and my hands.

Mittens: Are essential in my backpack. Always, summer and winter. I don`t wear finger gloves, knitted and felted mittens are far warmer. My mum knits the most beautiful Selbu mittens, and they are a very welcome Christmas present! I also have windproof outer mittens in my backpack. Sometimes, even in summer, they are crucial.

Headgear: Just as fundamental as the mittens. I have two kinds of headgear; a woollen beanie for warmth and a baseball cap for sun protection. I only buy jackets with hoods, so the cap itself doesn`t need to be windproof.

Headover: Very versatile and in wool of course!

Socks: For the most part I`m OK with two pairs of socks; one pair for activity and one pair which I keep dry by all means, for resting and camping. My socks are in a wool blend, which is stronger than wool only. I always put on the hiking pair with my hiking boots, even if the socks are wet. It`s a bit uncomfortable at the beginning, but it gets better when I start moving. For me, one pair of socks in my boots keeps me warm, as long as the boots are a bit on the wide side. Others rely on multiple layers even on their feet, for warmth and to reduce friction.

If the weather is warm, I like to sit barefoot when I rest to let my feet dry. That`s very effective for preventing blisters. Then I also examine my feet, and tape any sorenesses.

Hiking boots: Mines are all leather, with medium-high ankle collars. I go for boots with good ankle support, which I think is particularly important when I`m carrying a heavy rucksack, and I choose leather because my tours are rough and wet. I wax my boots regularly, and with good maintenance, I find they can handle quite a lot of water. If I want to dry them out during the night, I remove the soles and fill the boots with newsprint. But I`m not too worried if they are not completely dry in the morning. One last thing: I never wear brand new boots for a long hike because of the risk of blisters.

For multiple day hikes, I put a pair of trail runners or hiking shoes in my rucksack. I like to take my boots off when I camp, I like to change my footwear now and then, and the extra shoes are a safety supply if for some reason I can not wear my hiking boots.

Gaiters? Sometimes. If I`m expecting rotten snow, then they are brilliant. Or if there`s much wading, they keep my feet dry for longer. And if there`s a lot of low vegetation, they protect my trousers and prevent small sticks and spikes from invading my socks.

A sleeping pad: Standard equipment in my backpack. A sleeping pad can be a life saver, insulating from heat loss to the ground. I never rely on a pad with air cells as my only sleeping pad, I always bring a foam pad as my safety gear.

A wind sack: Standard equipment in my backpack, to be used as a bivouac shelter. It`s quick to get in, and I don`t have to pitch it. I use it when I rest in cold and windy weather, and combined with the sleeping pad it`s surprising how warm and cosy it can be inside.

Sleeping bag: Standard winter equipment, even on day tours. I also like to put a light weight sleeping bag in my rucksack for summer hikes. If something happens, say if I break a leg or have to stay outside for the night, I`m well off with a sleeping pad, a wind sack and a sleeping bag.

Shovel: Standard equipment when there`s snow.

A thermos with warm water.

Dressed like this and with these items in my rucksack, I`m pretty well prepared for most conditions. But I still keep an eye on the weather forecast. I don`t go skiing if there`s a blizzard on its way, or if the risk of avalanches is high. Then I enjoy indoor life!

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Risk of avalanches

There is a risk of avalanches, even at summer. Varsom.no is a helpful website.

When there is snow, always consider the risk of avalanches.

Recognising avalanche terrain: Avalanches most often occur on slopes steeper than 30° (starting zone). The height has to be 5 metres or higher. However, the avalanche might reach terrain flatter than 30° (deposition zone or run out). But from the toe of the runout to the starting zone, there is never less than 20°. (Question 1: Is the terrain steep enough to avalanche? Question 2: If not, is it connected to steeper terrain?)

Recognising the warning signs: Summer snow is usually old, and the risk of avalanches in old snow is usually low. But if it`s sunny, there is a risk of loose, wet avalanches. The danger increases during the day. Most loose, wet avalanches occur in the afternoon when the temperature is higher.Wet and soft snow surface, an onset of rain, snowballing, pinwheeling and recent loose wet avalanches are signs of instability. Deep foot-penetration is another sign of increased wetting.

If you have to cross steep slopes of old summer-snow, choose the early mornings when the snow is hard, and be careful not to loose foothold!

But there might be snowfall even at summer, which heightens the risk of avalanches. The risk of avalanches is at its highest after heavy snowfall, when it is or recently has been windy and in rising temperatures. Recent avalanches, crackings and rumblings (“whumps”) are always serious danger signs.

Make conservative route choices. Choose the mountain ridges before steep slopes and valleys.

The Norwegian trekking association DNT

20.000 km are 12.500 miles and equals halfway around the earth at The Equator. And it`s the length of foot trails marked by the Norwegian trekking association. The red T stands for «tourist», for whom The (Den) Norwegian (norske) tourist (turist) association (forening) was intended when it was founded in 1868. «Let us make it easy and affordable, for the plenty to see what is tremendous and beautiful in our country.» It was the era of national romanticism when emotions, individualism, the past and nature was emphasised. Norway, the once so proud home of the Vikings had been under the rule of Denmark for more than 400 years, and then from 1814 in a forced union with Sweden. Now it was time to define what was truly Norwegian. In the attempt of building a nation, literates, musicians and painters turned to folklore and sought inspiration from nature. The mountains, the fjords, the farmland and the waterfalls expressed the essence of the country, now there was beauty in the wilderness. And for some, nature even was a source for recreation.

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Those few «some» were not the common people, by far they were men at the top of the society, tourists paying local guides and porters to carry their luggage and escort them up the mountains. But from the 1920`s, the masses found their way to the outdoors.

Through the years, DNT has changed and evolved more or less in sync with the spirit of the time. Nansen and Amundsen, the great explorers, became national heroes, promoting the sport of skiing. The winter mountains were conquered by the crowds, and now the association branch-marks 7000 km of ski tracks.

It also operates more than 500 cabins all over the country, open to members and non-members. The cabins are of different types and standards, as described on the official website. My favourite cabins are the three tinned ones at Heibergtunet Storevatn They were built about hundred years ago as lodges for foreign counts and barons hunting reindeer and grouse, and when I step over the threshold of the main cabin, it feels like I`m entering another period of time. The walls are covered with huge reindeer antlers, watercolours from a time when the tourists were artists, and a title from World War II, signed Vidkun Quisling, proclaiming that the Nazis are taking over the area. In a corner, there`s a leg-hold trap for birds of prey, a gruesome device with rusted jaws. It was placed on the top of a cairn, and when a falcon or a raven or a buzzard sat down for a rest, the iron jaws clasped around its legs, the bird facing a long and painful death.

For the last 15 years, I`ve been an active member of DNT. This is where I`ve found some of my best friends, and made a lot of nice acquaintances. I sign up for guided tours, usually weekend outings in the local mountains. In 2013, I qualified as a DNT summer guide, and since then, I`ve been guiding my own tours as well. It`s not paid work, but most costs are covered. Hopefully, I will learn new skills hiking Norway from north to south, competence which I will get used of as a mountain guide.

Ulvaskog

Maps

I print my own maps from Kartverket.no

They cover all of Norway, they are free, up-to-date and I can choose between 1:25 000 or 1:50 000. Thank you, Kartverket!

GPS

The official Norwegian system is UTM/EUREF89

I only relate to UTM coordinates when I hike.

For practical purposes, I set my GPS to UTM zone 35 in Finnmark, at UTM zone 33 in Troms and Nordland, and at UTM zone 32 from Trøndelag and south.

Drinking water

There is usually an abundance of water when hiking in Norway. As good as all of it is drinkable, but meltwater from glaciers contains microorganisms and sludge that might give diarrhoea.

As a rule, I drink streaming water away from livestock without any hesitations. But some years the rodents are teeming in the mountains, and then it would be a good idea to boil the water.

And I don`t drink water from the most travelled paths, like Preikestolen and Trolltunga. With so many people and so few toilets, I imagine the creeks are e-Coli reservoirs.

Fishing and hunting

With a few exceptions, you may fish in the sea with rod and line without a licence.

Miljodirektoratet.no

But a licence is needed if you want to fish in rivers or lakes.

Hunters must be 16 years or older and pass a hunting proficiency test. Foreign nationals who have hunted previously can document this by means of permits, licences or the like. This documentation should be sent to the Register of Hunters in good time before the date on which they intend to start hunting. Hunters will need to pay a hunting licence fee, and they will need a hunting permit from the landowner. Landowners are entitled to demand payment for the right to hunt.

This is a helpful website for hunters:

Hunting in Norway

And these links are useful for both fishers and hunters:

Finnmark and north of Sweden:

inatur.no

Mainland Norway, except Finnmark:

Statskog.no

inatur.no

Fishing regulations are a bit intricate, so make sure you buy the right licence. Troms and Nordland are pretty straight forward, here you can buy a Statskog Norway Licence for all public land. But from Nord-Trøndelag and south, the public land is divided into common lands (Crown Lands), and a separate licence is needed for each Crown Land.

Ulvaskog

Norwegian climate

Norwegian climate is diverse, to say the least.

I live in the south-west of Norway, where the climate is temperate and oceanic. It tends to be very changeable, but normally not extreme, and as it is warmed by the Gulf Stream from the Atlantic, it is warmer than areas on similar northerly latitudes. We have mild, wet winters and cool, wet summers. I would say it is raining eight out of ten Christmas Eves, and I remember how disappointed I used to be as a child waking up to a wet 24 December.

Not so in the south-east of Norway, where there is a cool, continental climate with brisk and cold winters and mild summers. The easterners expect a white Christmas, with horse-drawn sleighs and snowball fights. Or at least that`s what they give the impression of. Their summers are warmer and sunnier too, and they always get a nicer tan than us westerners.

There`s a mountain range running through Norway from south to north. The mountains are not particularly high, with Galdhøpiggen being the highest at 2469 m, but they make a definite impact on our climate. Their steep westerly walls catch the clouds coming in from the sea, resulting in a rain shadow on the east side of the range. And since the mountains are far north with regular downpours, glaciers are abundant. The mountain neither has a coastal nor an inland climate, but their own weather, with lower temperatures, especially at summer.

In most of the northern parts of Norway, the climate is subarctic, with long, usually very cold winters, and short, cool to mild summers. But the coastal areas in the west still have milder winters, due to the Gulf Stream. The northeastern coast, though, from North Cape and East to Vardø, have an arctic tundra climate, as the average July temperature is below 10 ºC.

In Svalbard, the Arctic climate is principally a result of its latitude, characterised by long, cold winters and short, cool summers. Here there is true polar tundra, where the soil is permanently frozen in permafrost.

Source: Wikipedia

Path to Bakken
All the photos in this post are from Lysefjorden, my hiking backyard.

Midnight sun, polar night and northern lights

You have to be north of the Arctic Circle to view the midnight sun. Or at least that was what I thought.

The Arctic Circle runs through Norway in the county of Nordland, and from here and north, the sun remains visible around midsummer for the full 24 hours. The further north, the more days with potential midnight sun. At Svalbard, there is no sunset from approximately 19 April to 23 August.

But since the atmosphere bends the rays of the Sun, you can enjoy the midnight sun as far as 90 km south of the Arctic Circle.

The same atmospheric bending of the sun rays is causing the polar night to be shorter than the polar day. At Tromsø, the polar night lasts for around 50 twenty-four-hour periods, while the midnight sun lasts for around 64 twenty-four-hour periods.

The polar night isn`t totally darkness for 24 hours. At mainland Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, there is polar twilight around midday, where the Sun is below the horizon, but less than 6º. At Svalbard, however, there is a civil polar night period around midwinter, when there is only a faint glow of light visible at midday.

There might even be polar twilight south of the Arctic Circle. This is true for Rjukan, where the high mountains are blocking for the low winter sun. But the inhabitants of Rjukan don`t let themselves be overruled by the elements, so they`ve mounted a sun mirror on the mountain wall, reflecting the light to the market square below.

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You don`t have to be north of the Arctic Circle to view the northern lights, but it helps a lot to be within the auroral zone. 

The auroras, known as northern lights or aurora borealis in northern latitudes, and southern lights or aurora australis in southern latitudes, occur when strong solar winds throw electrons and protons against the Earth. When the electrical particles hit the atmosphere, the energy is emitted as light. Most auroras occur in a band around the magnetic poles known as the auroral zone, but they can actually appear all over the world, and have been observed in Bombay and Egypt (1872), and in Singapore and Jakarta (1909)!

The auroras appear all year around, but at summer they are hardly ever seen against the bright sky.

Against the dark clear sky at winter time the auroras are displayed as meandering bands of green, yellow, blue and red. The most common colours in northern lights are green-yellowish followed by blue. The red shades are rarer, and used to evoke fear and horror in older times.

A region that currently displays an Aurora, is called an auroral oval, a band displaced toward the nightside of the Earth. If you want to know when and where to spot the auroras, an Auroral forecast will be of good help.

The auroras also appear on the dayside of the Earth, although they are less frequent and occur further north. In Norway, night-time auroras are best viewed at the coast of Troms and Finnmark, while the daytime auroras are best viewed at Svalbard when the polar night is at its darkest.

Sources: Wikipedia, Truls Lynne Hansen

Norwegian units of measurement

We use the metric system:

Length: centimetre, metre, kilometre (KM).

Weight: gramme, the kilogram.

Temperature: degrees Celsius.

Electricity: volt, ampere and ohm.

Useful websites:

Weather forecasts: yr.no

Avalanche forecasts: yr.noVarsom.no

Avalanche problems: Varsom.no

Daily updated maps of snow, weather and water conditions: senorge.no

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