Norway 2022

Type: Packrafting

Start: Bøaflatadn

End: Gjendesheim

Date: 18 August 2022

length: 8 days, 78km


Day 1

We woke early to make the most of the pleasant early morning conditions. It took around an hour to cross the lake and once on the other side we paddled west along the bank to look for a suitable landing place. With luck we found an idyllic sheltered cove with a landing jetty. Once we had packed up we headed up a small dirt track to where it joined a gravel road, then headed west to where our map indicated a trail went up the Sanddalen valley.

The trail was not visible and the area blocked by a fence but after some confusion we decided to hop the fence and follow where the trail was marked. It eventually became clear further up the hill. The forest began as pine wood but soon turned to birch and poplar as we moved up the valley. The high temperatures and hard work climbing the hill soon made us question our decision not to carry water, but rather drink from streams as we passed them, as we did not encounter a stream for a few hours after we started climbing.

Half way up the valley, with the path becoming less obvious, we decided to cross a bridge to the dirt track that led up to the horse farm at the top of the valley, revealing a magnificent view of the U-shaped glacial valley for the first time. We lunched just past the horse farm/glamping site, which was to be our last view of civilisation until the end of the trip. The path went up the right-hand side of the valley and eventually turned right to climb up towards the plateau above. It was on this climb that we elected to camp at a wonderfully soft and flat site with spectacular views across the valley below. A rein-deer herd passed several times in the evening.

Day 2

The following morning we continued the ascent to the top of the plateau. Reindeer sightings continued regularly, and several seemed to be feeding on the snowdrifts that lingered in sheltered spots at this altitude. We passed the Tomashelleren hut at about lunch time and continued towards Olefjorden, the path undulating with some steep ascents. The weather that day was particularly pleasant, and we were afforded spectacular views of the Dingla valley as we descended.

As we neared Olefjorden, I noticed a few houses at the far eastern end of the lake and decided it was worthwhile to try turning my phone on (using up precious battery) to try to get a weather forecast for the following day. The crossing of Bygdin lake represented the crux of the trip, but bad weather could derail plans. Luckily I was able to get internet signal, but the weather forecast revealed bad news: a storm would come in the following afternoon/evening. Even worse, it looked like strong winds would continue for the day after that; in other words, if we didn't complete the crossing on day 3 by 5pm, we risked a 2 day delay to the trip.

It was decided that we would make camp by Olefjorden and wake up early the next day. We would probably make better progress after a refreshing night's sleep, and anyway, the sheltered area around Olefjorden, with it's scattering of low trees, represented the only chance of the trip to have a campfire. Whilst setting up camp I discovered the tent, a relic of the 1980s, had a cracked pole, which I repaired with Gorilla tape. The campfire was duly built and I even inflated the raft for a pleasant evening paddle, the sunset and calm water making an almost unbelievably idyllic scene.

Day 3

The alarm went at 6AM and we awoke with a mission. We needed to reach the shores of Bygdin around 1-2pm. We packed up quickly and were on our way well before 8AM. We crossed a bog then turned east and walked over the hill to desend into another birch-forested valley. A very steep and muddy climb took us once again above the tree line and we were now walking along a broad ridge between Olefjorden and Bygdin.

This was the part of the trip I had thought about the most, as there were no paths leading down to the south shore of Bygdin lake. I had originally planned to head west and to reach an accessible-looking gully, but now that we were short of time, we took a shorter but potentially less accesible route. We left the path before it started an ascent towards a peak, and followed a compass bearing to the top of a hopeful-looking gully. I determined that the top of the gully was passable, after which we could zig zag down the slope to the lake shore.

The descent to the lake shore took almost an hour, fighting through thick bushes and stepping carefully to avoid ankle injuries in the treacherous stones. Heavy rain began as we descended. Near the bottom, with the worst behind us and now sure that we could make the crossing in time, we stopped to make tea and recharge. Once on the shore we headed west a little and found a nice beach from which to inflate the rafts and launch. The capricious weather afforded us another idyllic crossing with views of the imposing mountains that marked the beginning of the Jotunheimen national park on the other side.

Upon landing the weather turned suddenly again and heavy rain returned. We made camp immediately, hoping to have it built before the coming storm. However, the beach was hardly a good spot, requiring the now taped tent to be erected entirely with rocks and offereing scant shelter. The high winds came in as forecast but never developed into a full-blown thunderstorm. Our early start to be the correct decision as the large waves would have made a crossing hazardous or impossible. That night the temperatures plummeted to nearly freezing, and the flapping of the tent in high winds made sleep difficult.

Day 4

We awoke to cold temperatures and it remained windy, although it had calmed a little from the night. The mountains were dusted with frost, further adding to the dramatic morning view. We began by heading west to the DNT Torfinnsbu which lay at the foot of a valley. No-one was around when we arrived at the collection of huts, but we found that the toilets were open. We took our time to enjoy the luxury of this particular building, all pine wood and even with art adorning the walls inside. The building was incredibly well kept, and there were even bags of organic material to shovel into the long drop after the important business was done.

Reluctantly emerging, we began our ascent up the valley. We reached the top in the mid-afternoon. The plan was to ascend a steep path on the east side, crossing over a pass to access the Leirungsae valley on the other side. This task appeared daunting, with the slope appearing very steep and no obvious sign of the trail. After we had fortified ourselves with a cooked lunch, we found the splashes of paint that marked the trail and began our ascent, aware that in the late afternoon we needed to be reasonably quick. With frequent rest stops and after losing the trail a few times we reached the top and picked our way over a boulder field surrounding a small lake on the top. We camped in a partially sheltered flat spot on the other side of the lake surrounded by snow covered peaks.

After dinner I went out alone to get a close and personal view of the nearby glacier, having never seen one before. On the way I found a helium balloon from a funeral. Written in English, I wondered how far it had flown before polluting this otherwise virtually untouched area. The sunset bathed the glaciers in a pink twilight, the stillness suddenly interrupted by a crack as a jagged boulder detached from the cliff and bounced down the glacier surface. The night was again cold.

Day 5

We began the descent to the Leirung valley with views of glaciers on either side. Crossing a ridge, we finally had a view of the river below. This was something I had been anticipating. I had not been able to find much information about conditions on the river and without much experience, I had not been able to determine exactly what the river had in store based on satellite imagery.

We were initally pleased that the river seemed raftable immediately upon reaching it and we pumped up the rafts, strapped on the bags and got going. Progress was initally good, although we frequently had to push ourselves off shoals. However the river soon braided out and we had to begin the exhausting work of portaging.

Eventually we decided to abandon the thought of making significant progress for the day and simply use the opportunity to enjoy some whitewater practice. I detached the bag and went up and down a couple of nice rapids a few times. After becoming more confident I attempted to hit an eddy half way down the rapid, but missed and took a swim. I decided to call it a day and we set up camp on a flat meadow where a side-stream joined. That evening I took a hike up this side stream to explore the glacier at the top of the valley.

Day 6

We began day 6 by wading across the river and walking a couple of kilometres to good place to start rafting. The first section of the day was an ideal whitewater section, with a mixture of read and run, scouting and only a one or two of portages. After portaging around the waterfalls however, strong winds picked up and progress was difficult with the inflated raft strapped to my bag. After being blown over a couple of times, I deflated the boat before finding another spot to re-inflate and put the boat in again. This second section was a little trickier and I ended up portaging about half the rapids. I continued rafting until just after the confluence with the Flybekken river, then we headed up a side stream towards the main path.

For the first time in the trip drinking water was a slight problem as most of the water was glacial. I waded across the stream we were camping next to in order to access a non-glacial source, walking some way up due to the presence of grazing sheep. The trip was beginning to take its toll, and it was decided to abandon any more slow whitewater rafting and make a push for civilisation the following day.

Day 7

We awoke to sheep surrounding the tent. We hiked up the side of the valley trying to find the main path, which was not where it was marked on the map, then forded the stream and continued down the Leirung valley. At the bridge near the bottom there were still many rapids. Indeed only the last meandering few kilometres of the river were really "floatable", and this would still have been slower than walking when the time taken to inflate, strap on bags, wear drysuits etc. was taken into account.

We encountered many day-walkers, signalling our imminent return to civilisation. We descended to lake Gjende, but our hopes of crossing immediately were dashed: what was forecast as a mild tailwind was actually a strong headwind. We headed east along the south shore, and when the wind died down we crossed the bright-blue lake directly beneath the famous Besseggen ridge.

On the north shore we hiked east, but decided to spend one more night in nature at a meadow. The campsite was idyllic, although its accessibility to the nearby tourist area of Gjendesheim meant it had been somewhat spoiled by trash and people leaving their business, replete with toilet paper, out in the open. For some reason a few people were hiking along the path that night with head torches. One of them blew into a whistle when passing.

Day 8

The final morning, we took our time in camp, enjoy the view and skimming stones on the lake. Finally we did the last few kilometres to Gjendesheim. A Minke ran across the path. We took our victory photo at the Gjendesheim hut, but then had another 4 kilometres walk to reach the campsite. Heavy rain set in. We took our much-needed showers, ate tortellini and sat in the kitchen for the rest of the day.

With 3 full days remaining until our return to Oslo, we climbed a nearby mountain, packrafted at sunset on the nearby lake, had a feast in a restaurant and visited a waterfall. We had more whitewater fun on the Sjoa river directly next to the campsite, although on the last day I tipped in one and lost my paddle.