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The Besseggen Ridge: Norway

"The difficulty of the Besseggen lies between walking and climbing and often gets defined as climbing grade 1 or scambling. One thing is sure: You will have to take your hands out of your pockets and use them! In dry weather the firm rocks offer good grips and friction but if rainy, matters quickly turn worse. In addition it’s a long way down on both sides: The Gjende Lake is 700 meters, the Bessvatnet Lake 300 meters below (from the highest point). Not everyone is equally comfortable with that! "

Listed as one of National Geographic’s World’s Best Hikes: Thrilling Trails, and one of the most beautiful hikes in all of Norway, is The Besseggen hike in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park. We started off the morning on a ferry ride across a long highland lake then hiked up a steep ascent to the ridgeline we would be trekking across for the rest of the day. We took our time taking in the breathtaking scenery and I stopped a number of times to break out my camera and take some pictures. By noon the clouds became think and the fog rolled in, obscuring visibility to around 10 feet, but we persisted, crossing snowpack and trying not to fall into the hidden streams running under the snow.

Finally, after spending about 5 hours on the hike, we reached the spot we were after and it looked as if the clouds were starting to thin. I quickly got setup just as the sun came out and immediately began taking photos. I captured as much as I could before Mike pointed out to me that dark clouds were coming our way, and as I looked up the path we had to go up, I began to get my first sense of dread.

The ridgeline was steep, rocky, and narrow. (And rates as a class 3 climb in the Yosemite Decimal System) In our rush to beat the oncoming storm, Mike stowed away our trekking poles as they were useless on the steep rocks we literally had to climb. Complicating matters was the 1,000ft drop on one side and a 2,250ft drop on the other with just a narrow 10ft wide ridge of boulders was the trail. Note: I am really afraid if heights.

If the height wasn’t enough for me, the storm clouds rolled in as we approached the steepest and narrowest part of the ridge, and it began to rain then sleet on us. I was so scared that my legs stopped working, and we took shelter on a small ledge. I began to wonder just how on Earth we were going to get word out to somebody where we were and that we needed to be rescued. Not only that, but where would the helicopter even land?

Seeing that the storm wasn’t about to let up, I gathered up as much strength as I could to make my way up. Later I saw the phrase “If you can’t get over your fear, you’ll just have to do it afraid.” And that always seemed apt for this situation.

Mike and I continued up, carefully climbing over the wet rocks. As we approached the end of the steepest section though, I placed my hand high up on a rock and pulled myself up, only to see a giant spider the size of a post-it note right next to my hand.

To put this in perspective, I need Mike to kill all the spiders around our house. I even need him to “kill” the dead ones. And he can’t just throw them away, oh no. Because that would mean I would be afraid of the garbage. I need him to flush the spider corpse away in the toilet, and even then I’m not quite comfortable.

So back to the giant spider just a few centimeters from my hand, on a steep mountain ridge where I am afraid of heights, in a foreign country in the middle of nowhere, and with a storm dumping water and ice onto us. At this point I may have said a couple choice words I won’t repeat here on my blog, but not out of fear but rather a strange concoction of competitive anger. This evil mountain was challenging me as much as it could, but I wasn’t about to let it win. No, I was going to kick it’s…um butt.

We stormed up the rest of the ridge, and reaching the top felt like I had conquered the world. And in truth I really had. Everything that could be hurled my way I smashed through and overcame my fears. The mountain had lost: I had won.

Granted we still had yet to reach the highest point, still had over 5 miles to go over a barely marked trail in the fog and rain with descents down slick snowpack, treks across the edges of waterfalls, and “the chain” which was the only man-made aid on the whole trail that we needed to hold on to as we sort of repelled down a 6ft rock step onto a tiny ledge that would have rewarded a tiny slip with a good 20-30 foot fall off a cliff.

And this is what the Norwegian hiking guides list as a “Moderate” hike.

This was the most difficult location I have ever traveled to in order to take a photo, but I believe that it was well worth it. (And I’m glad it turned out because I have no plans on going back).


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