Trip to Trolltunga in Hardanger, Norway - August 2012 & 2013
Snow-clad mountains, beautiful glaciers, spectacular waterfalls, narrow fjords, Edvard Grieg, world heritage sites, steep railways, long tunnels, Trolltunga, old power plants, low hanging clouds, small ferries, sheep and cows on the road, questionable road standards, rows of cherry and apple trees – this is a short trip report from Hardanger in Western Norway with a focus on Trolltunga, Folgefonna glacier, the Flåmsbana (Flåm railway) and the world heritage site of Nærøyfjorden! Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are taken by Nikki and Gard with our cameras (Canon EOS 450D and Panasonic Lumix camera) - you can see a lot more photos on this page. Note that there is a copyright mark on the photos and you can get in touch if you want to use them. You can also find some of the photos from our trip on my instagram account.
The trip begins - roadtrippin'
As we live close to the area we just packed up the car and drove north on route E39 - I have plotted some of the main attractions on this Google map of west Norway. To start with the landscape is not really that exciting even when heading east on E134 towards Oslo. But then when you get to Åkrafjorden we came across Langfoss which has a total drop of 600 meters (close to 2000 feet) and it gives you an indication of things to come. Langfoss was voted to be one of the top 10 beautiful waterfalls in the world by CNN. Here you also start meeting a feature that you will come across a lot in west Norway: short and long tunnels. The landscape here is rugged and in the old days the roads were exposed to rock slides, lots of snow in the winter etc. With long tunnels you avoid a lot of these problems and some of them are impressive in length – at the moment the longest road tunnel in Norway is Lærdalstunnelsen which is about 24 km long (15 miles).The tunnels also mean that you can get from one valley to another and basically get move from one micro climate to another. We noticed this when we drove to the skiing resort of Røldal not far from Langfoss in the winter a couple of years back of 2012. At sea level by Åkrafjord there was no snow but after a couple of tunnels we came to Røldal with 3 meters of snow!
But back to the road trip in the summer time: about 170 km out of Stavanger you get off route E134 and turn north on route 13 towards Odda. After only a couple of minutes we saw signs that we were on Hardanger National tourist route and we also came across the twin waterfall Låtefoss. I’m a bit ashamed that I had no idea about this waterfall when we drove there the first time so we were impressed to all of a sudden come across it. But it is a great place to take a rest, stretch your legs, take some photos and feel the mist from the twin waterfall spray on your face.
From Låtefoss it was only 15 km (about 10 miles) to Odda but on the way we had to slow down several times as waterfalls kept on appearing to the left and to the right and all of a sudden we also got a glimpse of the shimmering white snow and ice of the Folgefonna glacier on the left hand side – what a scenic route! I don’t know what it is about waterfalls but I’m fascinated by the roar of the water and the power of the moving masses. Today Odda is a small little town but it used to be quite the tourist destination back in the days! In the beginning of the 20th century it was one of the most popular destinations in northern Europe and in 1904 there were 80 cruise ships that came into Odda and the Hardanger fjord! They came to see the spectacular fjord, the mountains, the wild waterfalls and the glacier.
We drove past Odda and along Sørfjorden (the part of Hardanger fjord that leads into Odda) and to the small place called Lofthus where we stopped to check in at Hotel Ullensvang. Again we were amazed by the beauty of the waterfalls along the way but also the steep landscape where cherries and apples trees are lines up just as you see grape vines lined up in Tuscany. This area is known for the fruit production and along the way there are small unmanned huts booths where you can help yourself to cherries and leave the correct payment. To start with we were impressed by this level of trust but when we stopped at to photograph one of these huts it turned out that there was a surveillance camera installed.
Hotel Ullensvang is a fascinating hotel today. It is run by 5th generation of the Utne family and it opened in 1846. Over the years it has expanded a number of times and today it is a modern hotel with various facilities such as tennis courts, swimming pool etc. But the main attraction is maybe the serenity that you get from just looking out on the fjord and the mountains surrounding it. This is the hotel that Edvard Grieg came to in 1877 and the small cabin that he used when he was composing his works can still be seen at the hotel today. The hotel contains a lot of artifacts and memorabilia from the area on display around the hotel including mannequins in bunad (the Norwegian traditional costume). Here is my review of hotel Ullensvang when we stayed there last year.
First attempt at Trolltunga
On the Tysso Via Ferrata tour we first got a guided tour of the Tysso 1 power plant which now serves as a museum as the new replacement power plants have been made inside the mountains in order to avoid too many scars in the mountains around Odda. When it was in its prime it supplied about 10% of the electricity in Norway so it was a huge and modern facility back then. The story of Odda is not that unique – a lot of majestic waterfalls around Norway has been redirected and put in pipes in order to produce electricity. After the tour of the power plant museum we drove just a few minutes and parked with our guides and we got a harness and a helmet and instructions on how to use the equipment, information about always being hooked up to the cables with the two carabineers etc. It was only a short walk over the 4-5 massive pipes leading down to the power plant and we started by climbing up the along the pipes using a combination of iron ladders bolted to the mountain, using an old wooden staircase used in connection with the construction and by climbing on the rock phase itself. It felt pretty safe as we were always hooked on to the cables with the carabineers. It is pretty mind-boggling to think about the fact that this was constructed over a 100 years back and in this steep terrain basically everything had to be done by hand!
We followed the pipes a few hundred meters up before we started moving away on iron ladders bolted into the mountain in a terrain that was probably at about 60 degree angle so it was steep and it is exciting if you are not used to heights – I hope that some of the photos and this youtube video can give you an impression of the climb. We ended up at Lilletopp after about 3 hours of climbing in the ladders and we walked down to the car using a different route. The Tysso Via Ferrata was great fun to try – I have wanted to try the Italian Via Ferrata for some years and this was a good substitute to start with. The route is not that demanding and it gives you a taste of what you can expect if you go for Trolltunga using “Himmelstigen”. We had great fun and I got to learn quite a bit about Norwegian history on the way!
Time for a walk on a glacier!
We check out of the hotel early on Sunday morning and we were happy to see that the weather had improved. To get to Jondal and the Folgefonna summer ski center we drove a few kilometers north to Kinsarvik and took the ferry over to Utne and drove to Jondal from there. The road is not good at all so if you plan to bring your Ferrari you might have to reconsider taking this route ;-) Not only is it a very bumpy road but we also came across cows in the middle of the road! It is also quite common to come across sheep in the middle of the road on mountain passes around Norway so remember to drive carefully!
When we came to Jondal we drove towards the glacier and the road spiraled up continually. The summer ski center was totally deserted when we arrived and the clouds were hanging low in the terrain - I was afraid that the whole thing would be cancelled due to this. But soon we saw another car arrive and it was our guides and it took a few minutes to get dressed up in some sort of harness, helmet and we got boots, crampons and an ice axe. The top of the glacier is at about 1600 meters (5250 feet) and the parking at the summer ski center is at about 1200 meters (about 3950 feet). When we drove back it was 8 degrees Celsius at the parking (about 46 Fahrenheit) and at sea level it was 20 degrees Celsius (about 72 Fahrenheit) just to give you an idea about the temperature. We were a group of 12-14 people and we got tied together with a rope (I guess it was “Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno”...or one for all, all for one) and we started hiking up the first hill.
To start with the ice and snow was fairly slushy as the temperature was high but it improved as we got higher and it got colder. The clouds were still very low so at times it was hard to see the difference between the snow and the clouds – I guess it would be very easy to get totally lost in weather conditions like this. After about 1 ½ hours we had a short break before we headed down in terrain towards the lake Juklavatnet – as we were walking there the sun broke through the clouds and at the same time the glacier shifted character. The route we had been taking so far was covered in snow but when we walked down this branch, the ice was exposed and it was beautiful in the sun. The ice was shimmering in a light blue color and there were cracks and caves in this terrain as the ice moves where the mountain is steeper. We could also hear the sound of ice breaking and falling off the glacier further down in this branch.
The trek on the glacier lasted about 5 hours and even if the weather was not perfect, it was amazing to experience. The beautiful light blue color of the glacier ice in the sun was unforgettable and I would love to do another trek on the glacier in the future. If you want to experience this get in touch with e.g. Folgefonna Breførerlag . We took the trek called “Blueice trip in Juklavassbreen“ but they also have other treks - you can e.g. cross the glacier and take a look at the view from the summit point - it is supposed to be spectacular.
Hardanger trip part 2 – 2013
Second attempt at Trolltunga
We met up with the guides and got a harness, helmet and a bike and paid the fee and started biking. According to OpplevOdda “If you're in normal good shape, and over 15 years of age, OpplevOdda would like to invite you on this trip.” The first part is biking on a mountain bike for about 7 km (about 4.5 miles). We biked along the lake Ringedalsvann and the water in this lake is so clear that it is almost spooky – apparently you can go kayaking on the lake and it is spectacular in great weather as the visibility is so good. The road soon went from a wide road to a dirt road and it got more and more narrow. On the right hand side it was a bit of a drop down towards the lake so it is best if you are relatively comfortable on a bike and have good balance. At some places there had been rock slides and we had to walk over these sections.
After about 7 km we parked the bike and started the second leg of this tour. The hiking was in fairly steep terrain (rock face covered with loose dirt, pebbles and brush) and it was a bit slippery. As the weather was good I was walking in a pair of shorts and with running shoes which worked out fine. After about 1 km in this terrain we came to the lunch stop – we just camped by a small stream and it was a good opportunity to fill the water bottles straight from the stream. The landscape was impressive as we were heading up an old river bed. Not any river bed – this was where the river flowed when Tyssestrengene waterfall was free to crash down from the mountains above. Tyssestrengene was one of the highest waterfalls in the world with vertical drop of 312 meters (1000 feet) but in connection with the power plants in the area, the water fall has been redirected in pipes. After lunch we continued for another km or two in terrain with boulders and rocks until we reached the starting point for the climbing. As we experienced last year, we strapped on a harness and helmet and locked into the cables with two carabiners. To start with it was not that difficult but soon we were climbing more or less vertically and you climb about 200 meters! With the experience from last year, the climb was manageable but you should probably reconsider this route if you have a fear of heights!
When we reached the top we were at about 1200 meters and had an amazing view of the lake Ringedalsvann, parts of the Folgefonna glacier and surrounding mountains. We stopped by to look at the huge potholes made by the river that used to flow here before crashing down 300 meters and it was only 1 km to walk over to the Trolltunga. The weather was perfect and the view to Trolltunga was breathtaking when we got there. The rock known as Trolltunga is located at about 1200 meters and it hangs about 700 meters above the lake below. As you can see from the photos the view is incredible. Over the years this place has become more and more popular and on weekends with great weather you might experience quite a lot of people at the top. We had to line up for a few minutes to take some photos of us on the rock but it was quite a rush sitting on the edge of it!
We didn’t stay at Trolltunga that long – we still had to get back to the starting point. I have to admit that climbing down was the scary part! Going up I kept focus on the next step and basically just looked up – going down it was necessary to look down to see where the next step was located and this means that you get a true impression of how high up you really are! It didn’t help that one doesn’t always have a clear view of where the next step down is. I was quite happy to get back down so I could start the hiking instead. We started our trip at about 10:30 am and we came back to the parking lot at about 8 pm. This hike was hard and we were both quite sore in legs and arms several days after the climb. Before you go on this kind of adventure make sure that you are in good shape and that you can handle biking in various terrain, hiking in steep terrain and that you are not afraid of heights. It was a breathtaking adventure and with perfect weather we got to experience Trolltunga that way you see it on postcards! When we got back to the hotel that night it was pouring down so we were very lucky when it comes to the weather! It was so rewarding to take a warm shower when we got back to the hotel!
Steep railways and mighty water falls
destination was Vossevangen or just Voss as it is also known as. This
place is known for extreme sports, rafting, hiking, skiing and
smalahove. The latter is a...eh...dish that includes half a head of
sheep. It is quite tasty but looks pretty barbaric as you don’t often
get to stare into the eye of the animal that you are about to eat ;-)
The train ride gives spectacular views of Norwegian landscape at its best: the fjords, valleys, country homes, waterfalls, etc. and There is also running commentary in lots of languages along the way on as info is shown on flat screen TV’s. After about 4 km we had a 5 minute stop at Kjosfossen. According to Norwegian folklore there were seductive forest creatures (siren) called huldra and in the summer the huldra appears dancing along the waterfall. It is kinda tacky I guess but we aim to please the tourists in Norway ;-) We spent most of the time looking out the windows. Flåm does not have that much to offer apart from the scenery. Today it seems to work as a transport hub as cruise ships can come in, tourists are moved in and out of buses and tourist come of and get on Flåm railway. The small community can offer some restaurants, hotels and a large souvenir shop. We just spent a couple of hours there having a picnic to celebrate an anniversary before we headed back to Myrdal and back to Voss. You can read more about the Flåm railway on VisitFlåm.
A great wine cellar – in Voss?
Our meal began with a pretty bland bruschetta amuse bouche – seemed like a store bought baguette with chevre topping. My fish soup to start with was not bad and seemed to contain both salmon and cod like fish together with some roe on top. My meat was maybe a bit more than medium done and not that tender but it went very well with the wine that I had ordered. I ended with a panna cotta served with a raspberry ice that was very good – but I kept on dreaming about the Sauternes that I saw in the wine cellar earlier in the evening ;-) Our waiter seemed a bit nervous but did an OK job during the evening.
Roadtrip to Gudvangen to see a World Heritage
We drove the short distance to Gudvangen and there we got a view of Nærøyfjorden (the Nærøy fjord) which was named as a World Heritage site together with Geirangerfjord in 2005. There are many fjords to choose from in Norway but I guess Nærøyfjorden was chosen as it is long and narrow and that makes it spectacular. We were planning on driving onwards to Flåm but a ferry came in and as the weather was good we decided to drive the car onboard and take the cruise to Flåm instead. The fjord is just 250 meter (800 feet) wide at some places while the mountains surrounding it are as high as 1760 meter (about 5800 feet). Mix in some amazing waterfalls, patches of snow and houses in places where you think it would be impossible to build...well, then you have a picture perfect Norwegian fjord. The cruise took about 2 hours and cost about 950 Norwegian kroner (160 USD) for the car and the two of us.
Time to go home - conclusion
Please get in touch with me if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to answer. Here are some useful links
Feel free to continue to the next page of this trip report: more photos from the trip.