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Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane
Jostedalsbreen.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

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The spring's most beautiful ski trip

Crossing the Jostedalsbreen Glacier lengthwise is a true spring skiing classic.

A trip in a sea of fog

Published: 5 April 2018

"Right over there must be Brenibba and Lodalskåpa. It's supposed to be real nice here!"

Bjørn-Tore Lunde is packing down a tent in the middle of Jostedalsbreen, mainland Europe's largest glacier.

He stops and has a look around, but cannot see very far. The fog is as thick as porridge at ankle height, and everything is white.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

It is day two of a 3-day ski trip from Bjørnstegane in the north of Jostedalen to Øygard in Fjærland. A ski trip where 60 kilometres will be covered in one of the country's most spectacular hiking areas.

Here, jagged peaks jet up through a white rolling carpet. It is beautiful and wild here.

The classic spring skiing trip "Crossing Josten Glacier Lengthwise" is the ultimate dream trip among Norwegian glacier excursions. So far, the dream has been completely covered in fog.

"The main focus now is moving forward," says Bjørn-Tore and straps on his skis. 

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

Preparation

Glacier guides Lisa Kvålshaugen Bjærum and Joel Ormala bid a warm welcome at the "Bretun" lodge in Jostedalen.

They work for the mountaineering company, Jostedalen Breførarlag, and are preparing to guide a new group safely over the glacier.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

After all 16 group members have introduced themselves, Lisa and Joel go over the program and show them the route on the map.

After a discussion about equipment, various adjustments are made to each member's packs. It is essential to bring along all the required items, but not too much. Most backpacks end up weighing between 15 and 20 kilograms prior to departure.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

When it is time to hit the sack, girlfriends Eva Frisk and Sissel Tveter check the weather forecast on yr.no one final time. It may have changed? But no, the symbols indicating rain and wind shine at them from the mobile phone's display. 

"This weather report is about as dreary as it could be," says Eva and laughs before turning off the light in the lodge dorm.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

Finally under way

A small strip of snow is neatly arranged on the road and makes it possible to head out on skis right from the parking lot at Bjørnstegane.

The rain is trickling down, and jacket hoods are cinched up securely. Heavy clouds hug the mountainside in all directions.

It ends after just a few hundred metres. The snow has melted, and there is no choice but to secure the skis on backpacks and hike on foot inward towards Fåbergstølbreen Glacier.

After a good hour of trudging along, the skis are strapped on again, and the group can get started on the steep slopes on the north side of the glacier.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

Just over 1500 metres of elevation is on today's agenda, and with Joel as a sled dog in the front, the ascent is gobbled up in big gulps.

Visibility comes and goes during those first few hours. The beautiful blue façade of Fåbergstølbreen Glacier colours everything as backpack straps gnaw at shoulders and one's pulse thumps through veins at a high rate. Perhaps the strain would be slightly lessened by eating a chocolate bar during the next break?

The pioneer

The very first crossing of Jostedalsbreen Glacier was probably done by Ole Bøyasva from Fjaerland in 1788. He cross-country skied from his home village to Oppstryn - and back.

Since that time, a whole bunch of adventurous people have followed in Bøyasva's ski tracks. Every winter and spring, hundreds of Norwegians head out on the popular ski trip.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

You can choose among several different starting and finish points, and it is common to start from both Stryn and Jostedalen

Some guide services offer the ski trip as part of their program, and it is for good reason that you need a guide.

Crossing the glacier, critical route selection and orientation in dense fog, are just some of the challenges. Particular caution must be shown on Supphellebreen Glacier. There are many crevices, and you need to bring a harness, rope and other security equipment, and not least, you must be able to use it.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

In the stronghold of monotony

It is day two up on the glacier, and the rain and wind have ravaged and tugged on the tent all night. Visibility is 10-15 meters.

In clear weather, you would now have a view of the notorious Lodalskåpa which, at 2,082 metres above sea level, is the highest mountain at Jostedalsbreen glacier.

The majestic nunatak, nicknamed "Western Norway's Queen", has an alluring effect on summit enthusiasts. Bjørn-Tore is one of them. He collects 2000-metre summits and was hoping to be able to visit the "Queen". Alas, the weather gods answered with a resounding "no!"

The entire morning session is skied in the fog. The guides lead the way using a compass, followed by a long, single-file line of ski tourists.

For Lisa and Joel in the front, it is very demanding to hold a straight course without any reference points, and they constantly adjust the direction; to the right, to the left, then right again. A serpentine double track is left in the snow behind them.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

During the food break, everyone sits with their back to the wind all and munches on dry pieces of bread. The wind whips, and it is almost hopeless to hear what the person next to you is saying. They chew in silence. Then, it is time to get going again. One foot ahead of the other. Kilometre after kilometre.

"It's starting to get a little monotonous," says Eva.

"It requires increasingly more effort to tell yourself that "you can't control the weather."

Hallelujah moments

Late in the afternoon, the clouds suddenly begin to clear up in a given direction. Slowly at first, teasingly, only to reappear. Then, all of a sudden, they are gone in a flash, like when theatre curtains are swiftly drawn aside. 

Wide smiles beam across sweaty faces that are peeping out of cinched-up hoods. The sun is playing strip poker, and more and more garments must give way.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com
Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

All at once, your backpack feels oddly light. Your skis are gliding effortlessly across the sparkling, white surface. Your body is filled with joy. The dream has become a reality.

After about an hour, it returns. The fog. Not even gradually. One cold gust of wind is all it takes, like some kind of ambush. The guides must once again get out their GPSes, and the group prepares to continue as fog walkers.     

After just over eleven hours, and having covered more than 30 kilometres of terrain, the tired skiers have earned the right to pull up the zipper on their sleeping bags.

Early Morning

"The only thing better than going to sleep above the tree line is waking up above the tree line." 

It is only half past five in the morning, but it is already crowded at the campsite. Pål Iversen stands and squints at the gentle rays of the sun that is about to rise. Some clouds are nicely arranged around the campsite, but the fog is gone. 

"That quote is borrowed from my wise 14-year-old son," he says and smiles.

"It's really amazing to wake up in the sunshine and see lots of beautiful scenery. I'm excited about today's descent.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

The trip's final day begins with some morning exercise up a hill from Bings Hollow - a deep formation in the snow created by the wind. From there, the day is full of great skiing, first in flat terrain, and then downhill. 

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

The mood is pleasant among the group, and good progress is made. The GPS is required on a couple of occasions, but the weather becomes gradually nicer, and Lisa can easily determine the correct route without navigational aids. This is her sixth trip across the glacier, and she knows the area well.

"Over there you look out toward the Myklebustbreen glacier arm and Snønipa Mountain," says Lisa and points towards the north-west. 

"Due west lies Stardalen Valley, and to the east, you see Langedalsbreen Glacier with a lot of visible blue ice. The weather gods are being nice, and impressions are being absorbed by all the senses. The icefalls and snowy expanses are awe-inspiring.

"It's so amazingly beautiful here," Eva exclaims.

"And so much easier to cross when you're rewarded with such a view," replies Sissel. 

The skis glide easily over the snow. Most people are using climbing skins on their skis, giving both better grip and glide in the slightly undulating terrain. Some members of the group are chatting with each other as they ski while others enjoy the experience on their own.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

For fit mountain skiers, this is the ultimate ski touring experience.

"I have already started to plan a new trip across here," says Paul.

"This is absolutely fantastic, and I'd like to see the scenery on the legs of the first two days as well."

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

Descent

"Now, you can put on the harnesses, as we'll soon enter some steeper terrain. On Supphellebreen glacier, there may be crevices," exhorts Lisa. 

The climbing skins are ripped off the skis, and in more or less graceful style, the members of the group slide one by one down Supphellebreen and Flatbreen, which leads into a kind of half-pipe of a mountainside. We're talking steep.

"Oh, my God, are we going down here?" 

The scepticism is visible in Eva's eyes. 

"I don't know if I dare."

"Sledging is the solution," says Sissel, and sits on her rear with the skis in the snowplough position.

The summer returns down at the Flatbre mountain cabin. Warm ski clothing is replaced with shorts and a t-shirt, and the guides grant an extra long meal break. The view of the Fjærlandsfjord is fabulous.

From here, only the home stretch remains; A 1,000-metre descent on foot down to Øygard in Fjærland. Lush deciduous forest forms a chartreuse gateway over the trail, and finely-tuned birdsong can be heard from the treetops.

The forest bottom is covered with fresh wood sorrel, and wild strawberries are in bloom at various spots. It smells like soil, sun, plants, life. The smell of summer is in stark contrast to the stench from your buddy's sweaty socks in the tent on the glacier.

A rushing stream with ice-cold glacial water is used to cool sweaty faces and fill empty water bottles.

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane

Jostedalsbreen, Sogn og Fjordane.
Photo: Thomas T. Kleiven / Visitnorway.com

"Ohhh, what a delicious way to finish," Eva exclaims.

She lets her backpack drop to the ground for the last time in the parking lot where the bus back to Jostedalen is parked and waiting.

"Hey folks, we did it!"

Cheers in unison, big hugs and wide grins on tanned faces are a testimony to a wonderful trip. The rainy weather and the whiteout? They are already forgotten!

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