I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about climbing Norway’s highest mountain; the word “glacier” kept popping up in Google searches painting a picture of the vast sheets of white riven by crevasses that cover much of the Alps. My alpine trips, and the experience of friends had taught me that wandering about unroped on a glacier was a bad idea, the thought of my legs plunging through the snow into yawning nothingness whilst not attached to the security of a rope was deeply disturbing.
It appeared however that crevasses were not a problem on the route I was taking up Galdhoppigen, Norways highest peak, located in the stunningly beautiful Jotunheimen National Park. Although a sizeable part of the route was over the summit glacier it skirted its upper edge following the ridge line of the mountain. Indeed of the hundreds of people I saw on the mountain, I don’t think I remember a single roped party, indeed I appeared to be the only person to have bothered to bring any crampons.
There are two main routes up the 2,469m peak, the first, and easiest (which apparently does involve a glacier crossing) is from Juvasshytta Mountain Station where the initial 1,841m of ascent can be done by car. I had chosen to start from Spiterstulen Mountain Station located considerably lower down the mountain, just 1,100m. The station is at the end of a long private road through a stunning sub arctic valley; the road initially winding its way though beautiful pine woods before breaking out into a broad u shaped valley, or scrub, moss, and boulders.
The station which offers accommodation including camping was still in shadow and bitterly cold when I arrived, but was already busy (parking fees apply) with people preparing for a day in the hills. Norway’s second highest peak Glittertind is also accessible from Spiterstulen making it a doubly popular base.
The route began through the campsite, climbing steeply through dwarf trees and bushes as it wound its way up the hillside, the trail was easy to follow but rough and not way marked, higher up it becomes very rocky, although earlier in the season much of this may be covered with snow.
After about an hour I came across the first patches of snow, long furrows had been carved into them by the passage of hundreds of feet leaving a slippy surface that from watching others ahead of me clearly took some care to cross. Its always a judgment call when to put on crampons, is it a justified faff for 100m of snow? I work by the rule that I put them on if, either the consequences of a fall would be serious, or I’m likely to make up more time through the extra grip than I loose in the changeover.
Although relatively short I decided to put my crampons on at this point, and linking a number of patches together I was able to shoot past a number of groups and out onto a rocky plateau, from which rose a steep ridge of rock and ice, the first of two fore peaks one must pass to get to the true summit.
The next couple of km were challenging walking (particularly on the way down) even for those used to the more rugged Scottish peaks, rough rock and bolder hopping first up to the ridge and then up to the peak of Svellnose. Upon reaching the ridge the view opened out to the north, steep cliffs dropping down to a glacier stretching away in a brilliant sheet of white.
On the summit of Svellnose (which it is possible to skirt on the north side) I put my crampons back on as from here the next 2km to Galdhoppigen was almost entirely on snow and ice the first part of which was steep decent to the coll with Keilhaus Topp, the second of todays summits although little more than a notch on the ridge. The main summit gleamed in the sun, sparkling white in the distance, looking a considerable effort away.
Now well above 2000m I was probably beginning to feel the effects of altitude but taking it slow and steady the final cone of the mountain slowly got closer and closer. Black dots resolved themselves into lines of people coming up the other route from Juvasshytta, and then my crampon spikes were crunching up the final few meters the top.
The views in all directions are superb, the cliffs, spikes, and spires of the Jotunheimen peaks spearing up out of the landscape of white snow and ice, like great molars and incisors of the earth. The view into the park is wild, and rugged, with some of the peaks looking a severe mountaineering challenge. The summit was very busy with people enjoying a rest in the sun, and visiting the summit shelter which actually turns out to be a bar (no doubt the prices would be eyewatering even for Norway). It was such a nice day it felt good to linger on the summit taking in the view, there was little if any sign of human habitation just a vast panorama of mountains as far as the eye could see. there is certainly much more to explore here…
Overall the route from Spiterstulen was about 13km with 1,500m of ascent. Although I saw nobody else with crampons I would recommend you take them, although the snow was soft when I climbed the peak I still saw two people fall over at the summit on ice. In addition the decent in particular was much faster in crampons