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Eastern Norway Jotunheimen Vågå

The Besseggen Ridge in Jotunheimen

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Hike over the Besseggen ridge

The Besseggen ridge is one of the most popular day hikes in Norway and has reched a kind of cult status. “Everyone” wants to have done it once in their lives. During the short season (end of June to mid September) up to 60 000 hikers complete the tour. This heavy traffic shows in form of partly severe erosion and destroyed vegetation. The DNT (Norwegian Hiking Association) has been repairing and revegetating the worst sections of the trail, both on the Gjendesheim and the Memurubu side. Please show respect to the sensitive alpine nature, don’t cut short and stay in the middle of the track when walking the Besseggen!

General Remarks:
You need to be fit for this hike. With 6-7 hrs walking time (without rests, which quickly take about up to 2 hrs extra) and net 900 meters elevation gain/loss (both up and downhill), this is no walk in the park. The trail is mainly good, but very stony throughout and fairly demanding over the whole length. Wear hiking boots with solid soles that offer good traction.

The Besseggen ridge itself is just a short part of about one kilometer of the complete 14 km long track, but it’s situated right in the middle of the tour, which makes matters worse as the distance whether you complete whole track or turn around half the way is equally long. If you’re in doubt whether you’re capable of the whole tour you should start from Gjendesheim (otherwise you run the risk of an unplanned overnight at Memurubu if the last boat has left). In this case you can turn around on the top of the ridge without actually having to climb it down, and you still get a great view.

The technical difficulty of the Besseggen often is defined as climbing grade 1 or scambling. One thing is sure: You will have to take your hands out of your pockets and use them. In dry weather the firm rocks offer good grips and traction but if rainy, matters quickly turn worse. In addition it’s a long way down on both sides: The Gjende Lake is 700 meters, the Bessvatnet Lake 300 meters below (from the highest point). Not everyone is equally comfortable with that. The feeling for hights is very individual. The Besseggen is completed by children down to an age of 8-10 years and hikers with heavy backpacks, and 60 000 persons walk here in just one short season. Most of them do fine, some better, some worse. So chances you will make it, too, are good, but you should not underestimate it, especially if you’re inexperienced. If you get affected by the hight take your time, breathe deeply and lower your centre of gravity. Search for good grips with your hands and take one step at a time. The steepest part is just about 50 meters in elevation and is accomplished rather quickly.

The hike, done in the traditional way, is a one-way-tour where the other leg is a boat trip over the beautiful Gjende Lake. If you take the boat in or out depends on several things, and both alternatives have their pros and cons that should be considered. The advantages of taking the boat to Memurubu and walking back to Gjendesheim are a) you’re independent of boat departures and can use all the time you want on your hike without worrying to reach the last boat out and b) that most people will consider the ridge itsself easer uphill than downhill. The disadvantages of that direction - which at the same time are the advantages of the other way around - are a) if you find out that you want to turn around when the difficulties start, you end up back in Memurubu and either have to get there early enough for the last boat out or stay over night and b) you walk away from the famous view and always have to remember to turn around to enjoy it.

By far the most people take the boat in and walk back from Memurubu which means that the departures from Gjendesheim in the mornings are much more crowded than the afternoon departures back from Memurubu. It is highly recommended that you book the boat trip in advance. For timetables, terms and booking, visit www.gjende.no
The boat service runs daily from mid June to mid September and then during the weekends until the first week in October. In peak periods and weekends there are often extra departures, so check out online before travelling.

Route description from Gjendesheim:
Take your car or the bus to Gjendesheim (toll car park).

The trail ascends rather steep and steady from right across the mountain lodge Gjendesheim. After ca. one kilometer you reach a crossing where the route to Bessheim continues to the right and the route to Memurubu via the Besseggen turns to the left, still quite steep uphill. Next you encounter a very steep rocky step where the trail makes a u-turn to the left. This short section often can be experienced as quite demanding (even more than the ridge itsself), especially in the other direction when coming down with worn out legs and knees after a long and strenuous walk. There’s a chain to hold onto to make this approx. 1.5 m high rock step easier to manage. The trail keeps ascending steeply until you reach the high plateau of the Veslefjell (1743 m.a.s.l.). You cross the rather flat rocky plateau and reach its highest point, marked with an enormous stone cairn. The plants with white (when fading rose and dark purple) flower petals and bright yellow centre along the trail are Glacier butter cup (Ranunculus glacialis). It’s the highest flowering plant in Northern Europe and can be found up to the summits of the highest peaks (2400 m.a.s.l.).

Now you’re almost half way and only one more kilometer away from what many consider to be the highlight of the whole track and the reason you’re doing this hike – the Besseggen ridge. It narrows as you descend, but there are always a few meters on both sides before the steep drop to the two lakes at each side, even though it’s a long way down. Towards Lake Bessvatnet to the right it’s not as far down as to Lake Gjende to the left, but you still get a pretty “airy” feeling. It’s time to take a break, breathe deeply and enjoy the stunning panoramic view with the narrow ridge between the two lakes and the snowcapped, pointed peaks of central Jotunheimen in the background.
About halfway down the Besseggen you reach the steepest section that lasts approx. 50 meters of elevation. After that the worst is over and you soon reach the narrow band between Lake Gjende and Lake Bessvatnet. This is a popular spot for a well-earned break with the possibility for a dip in Lake Bessvatnet on a warm summer day. Those doing the hike in the other direction take a deep breath before starting the ascend of the ridge. 

You’re now done with the worst part, but there are still about 100 meters in elevation to climb up again and a fair distance to cover before starting the two kilometer long descend to Memurubu, of which the last part is fairly steep (and slippery with sand on smooth rocks). Here too, at parts the path is deeply eroded and rock steps have been buildt. Take your time and please do not cut short – please remain stay on the main track. If you didn’t bring hiking poles you might miss them here (if you brought some, please put them away on the ridge as there they're in your way and more of a hurdle than a help).

Walking time: approx. 6-7 hrs + breaks, Distance ca. 13-14 km


Alternative 1: Veslefjell, 1743 m.a.s.l.
As described above until the highest point on the Veslefjell and if you wish a bit further to the start of the Besseggen Ridge. Follow the same way back to Gjendesheim.

Walking time: approx. 5 hrs + breaks

An alternative route exits to the left just after passing the highpoint of 1722 m.a.s.l on the return. It is signed and leads in the direction of Bessheim, and you see Lake Bessvatnet to your left all the time. Just before you reach the outflow of the lake, make a sharp right towards Gjendesheim. This route is approx. 3 km longer but far less steep as the direct route back down, and you get a nice round trip.

Alternative 2: The lakeside track from Gjendesheim to Memurubu

Instead of walking the Besseggen Ridge, you can follow the trail along the shore of Lake Gjende. This trail, too, can be accomplished in both directions in combination with the boat. It is not as exposed as the high route and much easier. This unmarked but very visible path starts at Gjendesheim and leads at first flat along the shoreline. Three times it climbs approx. 50-100 elevation meters avoiding steep cliffs. Most of the time you enjoy a fine view of the emerald green glacial Lake Gjende.

Walking time: ca. 3,5 hrs, 11-12 km

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