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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) more than 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 undertaken the demanding task to repair the worst parts of the trail by laying stone plates and fix the damage to the vegetation by planting new. The path from Gjendesheim uphill to the Veslfjell can be seen from as far away as the road over the Valdresflya! Please show respect to the sensitive alpine nature, don’t cut short and stay in the middle of the track when walking the Besseggen!
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. Wear hiking boots with solid soles that offer good friction. There are shorter versions and alternate routes for less trained walkers that still offer breathtaking views.
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. And if starting from Memurubu, you still should be able to reach the last boat outbound in case you break up the walk turn around, otherwise you’re stuck in the middle of Jotunheimen until the next morning. If you’re in doubt whether you’re capable of the whole tour you should start from Gjendesheim. In this case you don’t have to reach a boat and you can turn around on the top of the ridge without actually having to walk it down and you still get the best view.
The difficulty of the Besseggen lies between walking and climbing and often gets 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 friction 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!
Hights are an individual thing. Children down to an age of 8-10 years and hikers with heavy backpacks do this ridge, and 30 000 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 feel the suction in your stomach 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 without thinking ahead or looking down. The steepest part is just about 50 meters high 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. The advantages of taking the boat to Memurubu and walking back to Gjendesheim are a) you’re independent of boat time tables 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 easer uphill than downhill. The disadvantages of that direction (which at the same time are the advantages of the other way around) are a) you can’t really turn around when the difficulties begin but must finish at any rate and b) you walk away from the famous view and always have to turn around to enjoy it.
By far most people take the boat in and walk back from Memurubu which means very long lines at the boat ramp before the first departure, especially when the weather is fine and on weekends (be there at least 1 hr prior to departure!).
The solution simply can be to postpone the decision of which direction to walk depending on getting on the first boat or not. If you get on, you go from Memurubu, if you don’t, you go from Gjendesheim. It’s a great walk anyway! (There’s another boat an hour later, but then it’s going to be quite late already. If possible, you should start earlier.)
The boat timetable is available on www.gjende.no, your accommodation or nearest tourist information. The boat service runs from mid June to mid September (but not necessarily in both directions and both in the morning and afternoon everyday in the low season, so check the times thoroughly before planning your trip).
Route description from Gjendesheim:
You 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 rock step where the trail makes a u-turn to the left. This section often can be experienced as quite demanding, especially in the other direction when coming down with tired legs and knees after a long and strenuous walk. Some may experience this very short part as more difficult than the Besseggen itself. There’s a chain to hold onto to make this ca. 1.5 m high rock step easier to manage. The trail still ascends steeply until you reach the high plateau of the Veslefjell (1743 m.a.s.l.). You cross the rocky plateau and reach its highest point, marked with an enormous stone cairn.
The plants with white (when fading rose and dark red) blossoms and bright yellow centre along the track are Glacier butter cup (Ranunculus glacialis). It’s the highest blooming 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 it’s only one more kilometer to what to many is 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 small 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, ca. 50 meters high. 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 swim in Lake Bessvatnet on a warm summer day. Those doing the hike in the other direction take a deep breath before ascending the ridge.
You’re done with the worst part, but there are still about 100 meters in elevation to climb and a fair distance to cover before the two kilometer long descend to Memurubu, of which the last part is fairly steep. Here too, the path is deeply eroded and in dry weather it can be dusty and slippery (loose sand on smooth rocks is hazardous!). Take your time and please do not cut short – stay on the main track! If you didn’t bring walking poles you might miss them here.
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 that avoids the steep section on the way up 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, 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 lakeside to Memurubu. This trail, too, can be accomplished in both directions in combination with the boat. It is not as exposed as the high route, but the winds still can blow fairly stiff.
The unmarked but very visible path starts at Gjendesheim and leads at first flat along the shoreline. Three times it climbs approx. 50-100 hight 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