Traverse of the Hardangervidda Plateau (Finse to Odda), Norway

The Hardangervidda Plateau is the largest alpine plateau in Europe. It’s a massive area of thousands of lake, rugged hills, a big flat glacier, roaming herds of reindeer, waterfalls and lots of solitude. It had caught my imagination years ago when I stumbled upon Uli Hamacher’s great time lapse YouTube video (https://youtu.be/zGN_Z-Iheso). I took a few years but I finally made it there.

After flying to Oslo, I took a long but comfortable direct train ride to Finse on the northern side of the plateau. Finse is a stop on the Oslo to Bergen railway, so it was an easy place to start the traverse. Information about the train is found here: https://www.nsb.no/en/our-destinations/our-regional-railway-lines/bergenrailway

The train station at Finse

The train arrived late at night, which was no big deal since it didn’t really get dark at that time of year. I hiked for about an hour and then wild camped near the impressive Hardangerjokulen Glacier. The ground was very wet and boggy, so it took awhile to find a suitable spot to set up my tent, which became a recurring theme for the next week. The plateau receives a lot of snow throughout the year, so once it melts the ground is very soggy, combined with the hilly, rocky terrain, makes it surprisingly challenging to find a good spot to setup a tent.

Hardangerjokulen, from Finse

The next day I hiked around the east end of the glacier and camped on the south end. It had been a long tough day of slogging through boggy ground and dealing with cold winds and showers but rewarding for the glaciers views, rugged terrain and the sense of vast wilderness, solitude and adventure. I only saw two other hikers that day. Hardangerjokulen is a big ice cap (kind of like a giant pancake) on top of a broad little plateau, with some glacial tongues flowing off it on different sides. Fun fact: parts of The Empire Strikes Back were filmed here (the ice planet Hoth).

Day 2: walking around the east side of Hardangerjokulen
One of the glaciers flowing off of Hardangerjokulen

On the third day I headed south through Liseth, a small hamlet of vacation cottages, checked out Voringfoss, an impressive waterfall, then crossed a highway and continued south. The weather was better that day and the terrain was drier and gentler. I ended up camping beside a river near a hut. I decided to treat myself to a dinner in the hut but changed my mind when I saw the price! The prices in Norway are a bit of shock coming from North America, so I just stuck with my lame backpacker food.

Cabins at Liseth, with Hardangerjokulen in the background

The fourth day crossed over drier, rockier terrain. While eating lunch on rocky hill, I was treated to a view of Harteigen, a prominent little blocky mountain that is visible from much of the plateau. It had captivated my imagination when I first researched the plateau, so I was stoked to finally see it. It’s a prominent landmark on the plateau and can be seen from very far away on a clear day. I continued on and made a river crossing (very cold!), chatted with a local guy who was staying at his little fishing hut on a river, then got hammered by some high winds in the afternoon. At some point my the rain cover on my backpack was blown off. When I finally noticed it, I backtracked a few hundred meters and luckily found it. It’s suprisingly hard to find a black object amongst the rocks. Not wanting to lose it again, I stuffed it away and kept going, eventually getting to a really nice hut run by the Norwegian Trekking Association (https://english.dnt.no/). I don’t like sleeping dorms, so I set up my tent outside the hut although I took advantage of the opportunity to cook inside, warm up by the fire, have some tea and chat with other hikers. It was nice respite from the cold, wet weather.

FIrst view of Harteigen

The next day I headed west through even more rugged terrain, which became more mountainous as it approached the fjords of the coast. This section felt very wild and untouched. I didn’t see any other hikers all day, the only sounds were the wind and me gasping and cursing while wading through an ice cold creek. After a long day of walking, I finally arrived at another hut (well, 2 huts right beside each other) and was surprised to find them both completely full. The hut warden was a friendly old Norwegian fellow who was cool with me sleeping on the floor of the storage shed. I hung out with the other hikers sleeping in the bunks, who were a diverse group from Malta, Czech Republic and Germany…and me, the token Canadian.

Harteigen at night

The next day was the final day of the traverse, after which I would end up at the town of Odda on the coast, once voted the ugliest town in Norway. To be fair, Norway is full of good looking things; the people, the scenery, the architecture…so I guess even the ugliest town would probably still be nicer than a lot of the run down towns in Canada. Spoiler Alert: Odda was not that bad, maybe a bit industrial, but totally overshadowed by the fantastic scenery. It was at the end of a beautiful fjord, backed by a gorgeous lake and flanked by rugged mountains. It actually reminded me a lot of Squamish, BC, which I have always thought is quite nice. This is as ugly as it gets in Norway??? Wow, that’s not too bad.

A small portion of the lineup for Trolltunga

 

Along the way I would visit the all too famous Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue), favourite of the Instagram selfie crowd. Someone at the hut had mentioned that there were hour long lineups to walk on the famous rock but I thought they just exaggerating. Well, was I ever wrong…when I crested the hill where I got my first look at Trolltunga, I actually remember my mouth literally dropping at the shock of seeing THOUSANDS of people. I am not kidding, there was line of hikers stretching for kilometers. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a surprise after spending a week in near solitude, only seeing a handful of people, then running into a huge flesh mess of tourists. Damn you Instagram!

A small portion of the lineup to sit on Trolltunga

It was a bit sad to see because the trail was becoming absolutely trashed, a quagmire of mud growing ever wider as people tip toed around the edges. There was garbage strewn around; it was a gong show. I pity the park rangers who have to figure out how to take care of this area. But, I have to say, Trolltunga is an amazing site to behold. I didn’t bother trying to walk onto the rock itself, mostly because of the crowds but admittedly also because I get vertigo and can’t get near a cliff anyway. Instead, I wandered off and found a relatively quiet spot overlooking the fjord and enjoyed a lunch break. The fjord that Trolltunga sticks out into is actually a freshwater lake that is perched above the saltwater Hardangerfjord. After a soaking up the scenery, I grudgingly walked the rest of the trail down to trailhead, probably passing a couple thousand people along the way. And yes, I recognize that I was also a tourist and part of the problem but I felt a bit of smug self-importance because I walked a week to get there. Once I got to the trailhead, I  bought a local apple cider and a waffle from the shop and caught a taxi into Odda. I don’t know what everyone is complaining about, I thought it was a nice town!

Ringedalsvatnet, the fjord that Trolltunga sticks out its tongue at

Desperate for a shower to wash off a week of hiker’s funk, and also needing to get wifi to let my loved ones know I was still alive, I decided to stay at campsite on the edge of town and use it as a base to do a day hike the next day. It was a bit crowded when I set up my tent and every time I came and went, more tents showed up until we were all crammed so close together that you could hear everything going on in the tent next to you…EVERYTHING! In hindsight, I should have taken advantage of Norway’s freedom to roam law and camped in the woods but that shower was pretty nice.

The next day I day hiked up a nearby valley to check out a glacier spilling down a mountain off the big Folgefonna Glacier. It was a nice walk past a tranquil lake, along some pretty farms, through a bit of forest and right up close to the glacier.

I had a great time hiking the traverse and would love to cross it again on a different route. I loved its rugged beauty, the fresh air, the sense of wide open space, the freedom to camp where I please and the silence.

PS. Give Odda a chance. It’s actually very nice.

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