Even people who have been enjoying Norway’s many mountains their entire lives have a healthy respect for them, and take care to be well prepared for every eventuality.
There is much to enjoy among the peaks, valleys and plateaus in the Norwegian mountains, but the beauty and serenity can quickly turn dangerous. Make sure your training, your knowledge of the area, and your equipment are all equally well suited for the trip.
For instance, before you set out, you should let people know where you are going, and when you expect to be there. Consider the weather reports – not only where you are going, but nearby as well – and keep in mind that conditions might deteriorate. Plan what to do if it gets dark or if the weather gets worse. Is it best to turn around or is there maybe a shorter way to a tourist cabin available?
Any time you’re in an unfamiliar area, you should bring a map, compass and a mobile phone. There are many places in the mountains without mobile coverage, but you might get lucky, so don’t leave it behind.
Follow trails that are well marked on the map and pay attention to signs and information boards along the way. If you lose your way, however, be on the lookout for cairns of rocks, which are usually found beside well-established paths. Spaced so that the next one along is within sight, they will guide you back to safety.
Remember to bring a torch, hat, gloves and an extra set of warm clothes on long-distance hikes. You should also bring a safety vest. It takes up little space and makes you easier to find if you get lost.
Many of the precautions you should take in summer are also valid in winter, but to an even greater extent: When it’s cold, it’s even more important to dress in layers of wool, not to get wet, and to wear windproof outer garments.
Hypothermia is what you want to avoid in the wintertime. Staying dry helps, as does having enough warm clothing. If you have an accident and have to spend the night, make sure you conserve enough energy to dig a cave in the snow, or set up a snow shelter against the wind.
Make sure to insulate yourself from the ground or the snow if you have to lie down – skis are great for this, if not exactly comfortable. A large backpack can be used as a small makeshift sleeping bag, and even a small one may keep your feet warm and dry.
If you get thirsty, don’t be afraid to eat snow as long as it looks clean and untouched. It will cool you down somewhat, but dehydration will most often be a bigger concern than hypothermia.
Even though it’s winter, you should take care to bring sunglasses, as the glare from the snow can be quite intense and cause snow-blindness in extreme cases.
If you get lost, stay where you are and wait for help. Sticking your skis in the snow will make it easier for others to spot where you are.
Avoid walking on and below overhangs and other avalanche-prone places, particularly if you spot traces of avalanches elsewhere around you. Always remember to check the avalanche forecast in advance. You can’t outrun or outski an avalanche, so the best thing to do is avoiding them altogether.
Even in the summer, when the sun is out and warming nicely, you should pay attention to what clothes you wear and bring along. Make sure to shield yourself from the sun, and to be prepared if the weather should turn bad.
A windproof jacket is a must, as is woollen underwear, even on warm summer days. The mountain winds can get quite cold, and wool will still insulate you from the cold even when it’s wet – a property it does not share with cotton or nylon fabrics, for instance. Dress in layers, so you can easily regulate your temperature.
If you get lost, conserve your strength, but remember to eat and drink frequently. Sun, wind, and strenuous physical activity may conspire to make you dehydrated, even if you do not feel thirsty. Most running water in the mountains of Norway is clean enough to drink, but avoid water running through pastures or runoff from glaciers, as this may contain harmful microorganisms.
Remember that certain animals can be dangerous, and should best be given a wide berth. Polar bears, musk oxen, bears, and moose are all faster than you are, and can cause harm if frightened, surprised or defending their young.
If you have to be on the move to get help, walk downhill and try to follow creeks or rivers, as these will often lead to habitation.
Never venture onto a glacier alone. If you want to go hiking on a glacier, make sure you are accompanied by a certified guide.
The young American traveller Addie Minnis was overly confident before tackling Norwegian nature. That could have ended really, really badly.
By all means, enjoy Norway to the fullest, but be careful while you do so. After all, we'd like you to come back and see us again, and enjoy the rest of what we have to offer.
To an extent, all Norwegians have salt water in their veins, and learn at an early age how to behave in boats and along the shore. Thus it happens that we forget that the same is not always the case for our visitors, who might need some tips in order to stay safe - not to mention dry.