Galdhøpiggen, Norway, across a glacier.

Date walked: 06/08/2019

Ascent: 600m

Galdhøpiggen is the highest mountain in Norway and in Northern Europe at 2469 metres but in comparison with other mountains is not technically challenging. That suited us very nicely as we are not into technical challenges preferring to avoid the chance of falling off if at all possible There are two usual ways up. The easiest with only 630m ascent over 5km is from the north from Juvasshytta. This is the highest point reachable by road in Norway and there is a mountain "Hut" and summer ski centre there. However you have to cross a glacier (Styggebrean) to get to the summit. The other way is from Spiterstulen to the East at a height of 1100m making a climb roughly equivalent in height to Ben Nevis.
We decided to climb Galdhøpiggen from Juvasshytta and descend to Spiterstulen. It's not advisable to cross the glacier alone (crevasses and so on) and it's possible for 300 Norwegian Kroner (about £30) to join a guided group, which is what we did. Several other people had the same plan as we did. I'd really recommend this if you are ever in the area.
We'd been staying with our Number 1 son in Trondheim from which it is possible to reach Juvasshytta by train and two buses. Everything arrived on time, and seemed to work beautifully. We took a train to the town of Otta, a bus to Lom and then another bus (luxury coach really) to Juvasshytta. The road climbs up the hill higher and higher entering a strange land of black rocks and very little else. Juvasshytta is situated on a flat area at an altitude of 1841m next to a lake with a small glacier above. There is also a summer ski centre on another glacier but this was closed because of a lack of snow this year. We arrived about 2.30pm which gave us some time to explore - there is a boardwalk with interesting information boards in English and Norwegian telling about the flora and fauna and geology of the area and the difference between a glacier and a snow patch. We also learned that we were on permafrost, which I found very exciting. I've never knowingly been on permafrost before! We camped overnight on the rocks for a fiver each which allowed us use of the facilities. It was a friendly place where the staff were helpful and cheery.
Juvasshytta and Galdhøpiggen from our tent

In the morning we joined a group of 50-60 people from about age 7 or 8 up and including several dogs. We were issued with chest harnesses and set off at about 10am from the lodge. The first hour or so takes you on a good path to the edge of the glacier where we had a short break while the guides spread out the ropes.
looking back to the lake (Juvvatnet) and the little glacier

dire warning about glaciers, the pictures say it all!

Some seriously impressive cairn building.

The guides spreading the ropes at the edge of the glacier

We were about two metres apart and about fifteen people to each of four ropes and were advised to keep the rope fairly tight. I didn't mind this as it meant Rudolph could pull me up, after all he is a reindeer so why not? We took a steady pace across the glacier and reached the other side after about 45 minutes.
getting set up on the ropes.

Couldn't take many pictures while crossing for obvious reasons but here is one

Crossing the glacier was a magical experience. There was no snow on it so it was relatively safe as all the cracks and crevasses were visible. Our guide told us under these conditions the ropes were mostly for group management to stop people wandering off too near the holes. I never expected the surface to be so variable and the place to be so noisy! There were little burns of meltwater which sometimes disappeared down cracks and at one point we could hear a roaring of some massive flow under the ice. I really recommend this and would do it again.
We continued attached to the ropes until everyone was off the glacier then left them stretched out to make it easier for the return journey. At this point we sat down and had picnics, before heading off in our family groups for the summit. Those of us who were continuing to Spiterstulen rather than going back the same way left our harnesses behind for the guide to take back on the way down. From here it was a steep rocky climb to the summit. True to form we reached the top about ten minutes after the clouds, but never mind.
From this point it is 1km and 200 vertical metres to the summit. Our guide's PB was about 11.5 minutes, the record is less than 10.5!!!

the Kellhaus Topp which we will cross on the way down

One of Rudolph's cousins, we met two on leads coming down as we went up.

Bit of weather coming in just as we approach the summit

On the top of Galdhøpiggen there is a little hut and a man lives there in the summer season and sells hot drinks and snacks. We did not go into the hut as we were anxious to get going down the other side.
The summit hut

Rudolph at this moment is the highest person in Northern Europe

and it's my turn. 2469m, 8100ft

We were aware that there was a forecast of thunder in the early afternoon. The guide had told us that a thunderstorm would be the only thing that would make him turn back. It really did not look like a gathering thunderstorm but it arrived just as we did, and as we started to descend from the summit we heard a strange buzzing sound. It seemed to be coming from our rucksacks, or the tops of our heads. As we descended it went away. We realised it was static noise and hoped we were not imminently going to be struck by lightning! Apparently one of the guides carries a defibrillator, but we had left them behind! There were two further tops to cross before going down the mountain and as we climbed the second top the buzzing came back. We decided the best thing to do was to keep going as quickly as possible to get off the mountain, but as we descended the second top, we heard a distant rumble of thunder and we didn't hear the sound again.
looking south from just off the summit over Svellnosbrean glacier towards our planned hike for tomorrow

There was a wee bit of glacier to cross at the third top - we could either cross it on a small shelf, which looked fine, or go up and round it, which looked like a lot of effort, and might involve getting buzzed again, which we really didn't want
Looking back over the wee bit of glacier we crossed. Doesnt look as scary on the picture. it wasn't difficult, but it was a long way to fall!

After this we were really ready for a brew and some lunch so we got the kettle on and sat in the rain feeling pleased with ourselves and relieved to be alive!
The descent to Spiterstulen was quite hard work, all on boulders probably for 3/4 at least of the way, but the route was easy enough to find as every so often there was a red T painted onto a stone to mark the way. It cleared up shortly after our stop and we had stunning views in every direction. We took our time and enjoyed the views, stopping for another cuppa further down when we reached running water.
looking South, sun now out again

another striking cairn

look for the red T

reading the map. it's an excellent 1:50 000 map printed on waterproof paper. Beware though, contour interval is 20metres so everything is steeper than it looks!

slightly drunk happy mugs

Looking south to Urdadalen

first view of Spiterstulen

Flat ground at last! the bridge over the river at Spiterstulen.

There is a formal campsite at Spiterstulen but we decided not to stay there as there was a rather strong smell of drains coming from the toilet block. In Norway you can wild camp pretty much anywhere but at Spiterstulen if you camp within 1km of the lodge they will come and collect payment from you, so we headed south, up Visdalen, until we found a good spot where we were pleased to hit the sack ready for a good rest before a low-level walk the next day.
photo of the map as I don't know how to make a gpx track work for Norway.

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Location: north yorkshire moors
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Ideal day out: waking up in a tent in the middle of nowhere and then doing 2 or 3 munros followed by a hot bath
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