Saturday 8 February 2020

Norway End-End 2018

*This is one of many trips that didn't get posted when I all but abandoned this blog back in 2015. It's now 2020 and I'm adding in that missing content in a more photo-based blog post, this trip was from 2018*

End to end hiking is my passion. A hike starting at one end of a country and finishing at the other feels complete, particularly so if that start and finish is bordered by sea. Actually, the sea is quite important because the feeling of physically not being able to walk further is a very satisfying way to end a hike, more so than any man-made border. Walking Norway is one of those great hikes and this one turned out to be a particularly satisfying on many levels. It also be happened to be my toughest hike to date!

Walking the length of Norway has a name, it's called Norge på langs (Norway lengthwise) and is becoming more popular. According to the Norge på langs website around 30 people attempted it my year. This hike is very much a route and not a trail, there is no official trail the length of Norway. Despite there being no trail it's common to start at Nordkapp (North Cape) and finish at Lindesnes. I like to be different so visited neither of those places. Nordkapp is actually on an island, off the mainland, and linked by a tunnel so doesn't fit in with my mainland end-end hike. It's also not a great start to the walk as you follow a reasonably busy road and will have to hitch through the tunnel, as it's not walkable. I started on the coast where the tunnel emerges on the mainland. I also picked Mandal over Lindesnes for my finish point purely for logistical reasons. Mandal isn't quite as far south as Lindesnes but there's not much in it. As it happens I actually finished in Kristiansand which was down to a change of route brought on by the weather. Kristiansand was a good place to finish and has great transport links.

Planning your own route is part of the fun with a Norge på langs and you can make it as tough or easy as you wish. I went down the more challenging of route choices and I can say the Norge på langs was the toughest long-distance hike I've done to date. The vast boulder fields of southern Norway are something I will never forget!

Norge på langs route

Route Stats

You can download my route here

Distance 2818km*
Ascent 58788m*
Hiking days 81
Avg 35km/day

* recorded by Garmin GPS watch

Finnmark 4-15 July

Finnmark is the northernmost part of continental Europe and situated far north of the Arctic Circle. It's remote and very quiet hiking here. This visit was very different from when I was here last year when there was still 1.5m of snow on the ground! I was very lucky with the weather and it was mostly surprisingly hot and dry. Most river crossings are unbridged but the waters were so low that they were not an issue. Finnmark isn't particularly mountainous but I enjoyed its rolling hills and quietness. There's not much out here other than Reindeer. I really like Finnmark.

Tunnel to Nordkapp
The start, the tunnel is off to the left and that's the sea behind
The E1 trail runs from Nordkapp to Sicily and will likely be a big part of any Norge på langs hike

When I stayed here last year the snowline was 1/2 way up the windows!

Reindeer are about the only thing you see in any numbers out here

This far north you have sunlight 24hrs/day

Nice to be back on the Nordkalottleden (Arctic trail) which I hiked in 2014

Reisa National Park, Troms 15 July

The river Reisa has cut a gorge through here and there are many waterfalls. It's a lovely place but has really bad mosquitoes during the summer months! The E1 route descends into this gorge on an exposed cliff path. The safety wire is a nice touch but not really needed in summer.

River Reisa
One of the many waterfalls
Looking back into the gorge

Käsivarren - Finland 16-18 July

While this was a hike in Norway my route did pass into Finland and Sweden. The main reason I did this was to resupply. Basic hiking foods that are perhaps not so healthy, off the trail, but that make up a big part of a hikers diet are incredibly expensive in Norway. On top of that Norway increased its sugar tax 83% the year I hiked! £5 for a small bar of chocolate? £5 for a can of coke? I paid those prices in the more rural stores... Any chance to resupply outside of Norway should not be missed! Kilpisjärvi is just over the border in Finland and not far from the Three-Country Cairn where Norway, Finland and Sweden meet. This is a very popular tourist destination in the summer and accommodation can be scarce in Kilpisjärvi.

Borders out here only exist on maps or indicated by the odd cairn
Just over the border in Finland

The sun never sets but it does get low

There's a lot of WW2 history in this area, like this old bunker
This WW2 bunker is now a mountain shelter

Almost back in Norway
Three-Country Cairn where Norway, Sweden and Finland meet
Øvre Dividal National Park 18-24 July

Now back in Norway, it's a wonderful hike through the Øvre Dividal National Park and Rohkunborri before leaving Norway again to resupply in Abisko (Sweden). Some of this section is along the border so you pass, unnoticed, between Norway and Sweden numerous times. This really is a superb section and one of the most memorable sections in northern Norway.

Abisko (Sweden) to Sulitjelma (Norway) 24-31 July

There's quite a lot of swapping from Sweden to Norway, and vice-versa, on this section. Mostly while hiking you don't know what country you're in, it matters not out here. I followed the Nordkalottleden Trail which I'd hiked a few years earlier. It perhaps spends a bit too much time in Sweden, for a Norge på langs hike, but it's such a spectacular section that I really wanted to do it again.

From personal experience, I can tell you it is very slippery..
..and much deeper than it looks!

Scandanavian bridges always make me laugh, yes it is at that angle, yes those rails are kneehigh and useless!

This double drawbridge design was quite impressive though

Some crossings require boats, notice a 2nd boat on the far bank, always leave a boat on both banks

1/2 a bridge!

Not sure what the point of this bridge was!

Junkerdal and Saltfjellet-Svartisen National Parks 3-6 Aug

The dramatic landscapes of the previous section continue here. It's also here that you pass through the Arctic Circle which is quite a big moment on any Norge på langs hike. The Arctic circle marks the northernmost point at which the centre of the noon sun is just visible on the December solstice and the southernmost point at which the centre of the midnight sun is just visible on the June solstice. It's marked on the map but does move around each year.

Many Norwegian mountains huts are locked but some, like this, offer good basic accommodation if needed

Lovely hut close to the Arctic Circle

Hattfjelldal and Børgefjell National Park 6-14 Aug

I remember a miserable day walking into the small town of Hattfjelldal to resupply. The weather on this hike had started great but had been gradually deteriorating the further south I hiked. There was more heavy rain forecast so I took a day off here to let it pass.

Boat & pulley system to cross this river

I was tempted!

Blåfjella–Skjækerfjella National Park 17-21 Aug

According to Wikipedia Blåfjella–Skjækerfjella is the third-largest national park on the Norwegian mainland and one of the largest remaining true wilderness areas. It's certainly a very wild and undeveloped area. I'd been following the E1 hiking route, on and off, for a while and mostly it follows established hiking trails but through Blåfjella and Skjækerfjella it's very vague. Looking at the E1 map there's just an odd waypoint every 20km or so with a straight line joining those points together. Basically, there are no trails here, and therefore no E1 route, and you must make your own way. Normally I relish sections like this but given the heavy rains and rapidly rising rivers I was a little apprehensive. Actually, the hiking here was mostly ok, it did rain the entire time but it was easy enough to keep follow a bearing. The main issue experienced were the gorges that intersected my route at regular intervals and took a bit of effort to find suitable, and safe, crossing points.

This was the toughest river I had to ford. Faster and deeper than it looks here

One of the many gorges to be crossed on this section

I want one!

Verdal 23 Aug

Mining was/is clearly big in many places of Norway but around Verdal I passed more old mines than anywhere else. I'm always fascinated by industrial archaeology and particularly love old mines.

Trollheimen 30-31 Aug

Trolls are a problem everywhere in Norway but particularly so in Trollheimen. Trollheimen means the "Home of the Trolls". Watch out, you have been warned!

Missed this particularly grumpy-looking Troll

Traditional Sámi shelter

Reinheimen & Breheimen National Parks 2-6 Sept

My lasting memories of both these national parks is just how tough the hiking can be. The terrain is mostly rock and boulders. Sometimes these boulders might be small, sometimes these boulders are as big as cars, but there will always be boulders in your way, and you cannot bypass them! The only "green" areas are the valleys which seemed to be around 20km apart. 20km/day is about as far as I could cover in a full days hiking out here. Camping outside of these green valleys is nearly impossible as you will not likely find a rock-free area to pitch. It's certainly a stunning and memorable area, with those high rocky mountains and Glaciers, and makes a lovely summers hike. It's not so nice in the wind and freezing rain I mostly suffered!

The trail runs along this boulder bank for more km's than I care to remember!

Øvre Årdal 8 Sept

Øvre Årdal is an old mining and Aluminium producing town. Most of the mines appeared closed but the Aluminium plant is very much still open. I didn't stay but did resupply in one of the many shops.

I found these tree sculptures amusing

Øvre Årdal
Hardangervidda National Park 8-10 Sept

Hardangervidda is where I made a decision to head a little further east and finish in Kristiansand rather than Mandal. That change would take me around the endless boulder fields which had got a bit monotonous! Crossing boulder fields is slow but can be fun when they are dry but, at best, they were always wet and slippery and for at least the 1st few hours, each day, also frozen. Totally treacherous!

Telemark 11-19 Sept

The decision to detour around the boulder fields turned out to be a good one when the snows that had been threatening for weeks arrived the following day. Looking back towards the high mountains, I'd crossed only yesterday, I could see they were completely covered in a white blanket. I considered myself lucky to have got through. My route from here would still be mountainous, for a while longer, but would hit the more built-up areas sooner than my original route.

Onto the coast 20-24 Sept

The last few days were a lot more inhabited than I was used to but it was still good hiking. Emerging on the south coast of Norway was pleasing but I was also a little sad it was over. I will always remember Norway for its beauty, but also its brutality!