Travel Diary: Norway Part 5 – I fought the glacier (and the glacier won)

But I didn’t fall down a crevasse, so it could have been worse.

I’m warning you now that this post is going to have a *lot* of pictures.  Norway is outrageously scenic, and if you add glaciers, you basically double the whole scenic thing.  There are mountains.  There are fjords.  There are glaciers.  There are glaciers on mountains overlooking fjords.  You get the idea.  There are also photos of me and my friend all dressed up in glacier-climbing gear looking slightly terrified.  I may or may not share those ones.  You have been warned.

Saturday, August 16th – Folgefonna Glacier

Today was our much anticipated trip to Folgefonna glacier, and it started early.  The bus leaves Bergen just before 7:30 in the morning (eep), so we had to leave our B&B just before 6:30 (double eep) to get into town on time.

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It’s quite a trip. You start with a two hour bus ride through mountains and fjords.

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Lots of mountains. Lots of fjords.

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Incidentally, a note on Norwegian scenery, at least in this part of Norway. There are mountains, and at the bottom of the mountains, there is water. Then the land goes up and becomes another mountain.

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Every time.

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No flat land at all, really.

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Slartibartfast was a busy boy.

So you start off taking all these picturesque photos of mountains, and fjords, and mountains with fjords, and fjords with mountains, and around every corner there is another spectacular view.

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After a while, we started laughing, because every time the bus (or later, the boat) went around a bend we would both go “Oh, wow!”.

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After a while longer, we couldn’t figure out what was photography worthy… perhaps everything?


Next, we had a twenty minute ferry ride across the fjord.

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This was stunning.

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It was also far too short.

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I can’t get over the amount of water there is here!

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Another bus ride, this time along a very narrow road up a mountain.

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This landscape was fascinating to me.

It starts off with fir tree woods and waterfalls…

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…. then we get higher, and the landscape becomes ferns and heath…

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… then mossy boulders (and so many different colours and kinds of moss, too)…2 bus 5

… then boulders without moss, but patches of snow and scraggy grass.

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Quite near the top, we saw two sheep grazing.  I can’t imagine what they found to graze on – this landscape is the definition of inhospitable.

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We could see the glacier, shining blue and white, almost marbled, across the mountain top.  A stunning sight.

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And then we were there.

We were given walking boots (ours were evidently not sturdy enough), crampons, gloves, helmets, sunglasses, ice axes, and the all important harnesses.

Me, looking enthusiastic and as though I am about to brain myself with my own axe.

Me, looking enthusiastic and as though I am about to brain myself with my own axe.

Then we got a lecture on rope safety.  It was about at this point where my friend and I both began wondering whether this had, in fact, been a huge mistake.  What were we doing here?

My friend, looking apprehensive, but competent.

My friend, looking apprehensive, but very prepared.

Then we were shown the slope which we would be climbing to get to the glacier. Folgefonna is, apparently, the summer training ground for skiiers planning to compete in the winter olympics.  We were climbing up and around the side of the ski slope – 200+ metres up at a steep, steep angle, on ice covered by slushy, melting snow.

This would be the 'what were we thinking?' moment.

This would be the ‘what were we thinking?’ moment.

One woman in our group took one look at the slope and declared that she was staying right there at the bottom of the glacier.  We could tell her about it when we got back.

Incidentally, my favourite Folgefonna fact: the glacier moves at the rate of about 5 metres a year.  Since the ski slope, and ski lifts, are on the glacier, this means that every few years, they have to shift the ski slope and the ski lift, because they have been gently gliding down the mountain….

And then we started. I don’t know how to describe how difficult it was.  The snow was very slushy, and my legs are very short, so every step I took, I broke through the snow and went ankle deep or higher down into the snow, and slid back.  Often, I fell over.

And yet... beautiful.

And yet… beautiful.

And because we were roped together, I couldn’t stop to get my footing, because everyone was still moving.  I couldn’t choose how to climb the slope, either, and the shallow, side-ways zig-zag route our guide picked was excruciating on my bad ankle, because whenever we were heading to the left, I was having to walk largely on the side of my foot.


Honestly, I hated it. It didn’t help that I had mild cramps and was feeling generally under the weather for hormonal reasons – but in all honesty, I don’t think I’d have done much better even if I’d been in the rudest of good health.  After five minutes, I was miserable – I couldn’t catch my breath, I felt as though I was expending enormous effort to achieve no movement at all, my ankle hurt, and I could neither keep up nor stop.

By about 20 minutes in we, were maybe a third of the way up the slope, and I wanted to cry.  Also, my vision was going a bit funny around the edges.

Trying desperately to look as though I want to be here.

Trying desperately to look as though I want to be here.

We kept going.  With several stops – thank God, most people had mucked up putting on their crampons, so we had to keep stopping when the crampons fell off.

Still, at least three of the stops were for me, which was humiliating – I felt as though I was spoiling things for everyone.  The girl two or three people ahead of me was also having some difficulties, and we started glancing at each other every so often, hoping that this time it would be the other person who required a stop!

Still going up the slope... no end in sight...

Still going up the slope… no end in sight…

After about an hour, we were nearly at the top of the slope, and I was beginning to suspect that I could not actually survive this climb.  Every time we stopped, I was fine, but after four steps, I was totally beyond myself again.

This was the point at which the guide told us that a) we were reaching teh point of no return if anyone wanted to go back, and b) that we would be walking for approximately a kilometre at that same ankle-killing angle that had been making my life so impossible already.

My friend and I, just before I turned back.

My friend and I, just before I turned back.  Note the look of relief on my face.

This seemed like an honorable out.  I don’t think I could have done that walk anyway, but it was absolutely certain that I could not do that particular walk on the ankle that I had broken five years previously.

(Also, I’m pretty sure the guide was talking specifically to me when he mentioned the point of no return thing.)

From here on, all the photos are by my friend (she took several of the bus ones, too, but the next few are places I didn't even see...)

From here on, all the photos are by my friend (she took several of the bus ones, too, but the next few are places I didn’t even see…)

So I said that yes, I would take the snowmobile back down, and, to my great relief, the other girl who had been flagging chimed in that she wanted to go back, too, bless her.  We both confided in each other later that we were very, very relieved not to have been the only one going back!  Also, she turns out to be 15 years younger than me, which makes me feel a little bit less as though I am the most un-fit person in the world.

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My friend asked if I wanted her to come back too, but since she actually was coping, I told her that I’d really like *one* of us to see the glacier at least!

We got on the snow-mobile, which went hair-raisingly fast down the really quite frighteningly steep slope (and oh lord, I wanted more hand holds).  If I have no new white hairs tomorrow, it will not be the fault of the snowmobile driver.

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And now I am sitting in the café at the bottom of the slope, feeling shaky and, to be honest, very much inclined to burst into tears.  Part exhaustion, part the humiliation of not being able to make my body go up that slope.  But I am also feeling increasingly crampy, so it was probably the right decision.

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Bergen, several hours later

So it turns out that I was actually on the glacier even while I was on the ski slope, which is comforting, though I do wish I’d got to see the blue ice.

This is the crevasse that I did not have the opportunity to fall down.  Which is good, because we all know I would have taken that opportunity!

This is the crevasse that I did not have the opportunity to fall down. Which is good, because we all know I would have taken that opportunity!

It seems that turning back was the right choice.  There was only one 15-minute break all day, the ground was extremely uneven, and at one point they had to use their picks and crampons to climb a vertical surface.

And I really could not have done that without injuring myself.

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My friend was nearly weeping with exhaustion when they got back – it was apparently very intense and evidently the tour’s definition of ‘slow’ was not the usual human definition of slow.

[Later Catherine: And in fact, she was so traumatised by the whole thing that she told me later that she could not bring herself to buy ice cream while we were in Paris – because the word for ‘ice cream shop’ is ‘glacier’!]

Meanwhile, I had a long chat with the other two women in the café and learned that there are many glaciers out there that one can reach without first exhausting oneself on a ski slope.  Maybe next time I will visit one of those.

I don’t regret visiting this one – I did see some spectacular landscape, but I really had hoped for blue ice.

The return of the glacier-hiking group.

The glacier hikers return to home base.

(My friend tells me that even on the ski slope, the snow was much bluer than normal snow – a result of the glacier underneath.  I have no basis for comparison, of course.)

We took the bus back down the hill, and then the boat across Hardanger fjord (yes, Hardanger like the embroidery), and then the bus back to Bergen, where we had pizza for dinner and trudged up that last hill and the stairs to R’s apartment to share our adventures.

And to sleep.

Tomorrow is going to be a *quiet* day.

When one is in Norway, one must at all costs wear one's woolly Viking hat.

On the way home…

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