Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Who doesn’t love a good Norwegian hike? Ours started in the morning with a troll, followed rugged mountain terrain, lakes and lovely mountain huts all day, and finished at dusk on top of another mountain. Granted, the weather was cold and rotten but who cares? We’re no strangers to hostile-weather hiking and my girls couldn’t have cared less. Fully geared-up for the rain, they happily munched on a special bag of sweets while hiking. They also had a blast on the duck boards and spotted their first ever snow hare. The fluffy white creature was ready for winter when winter was not! For some extra zing, the trail came with an element of mystery. People get lost a lot on these mountains. Would we? I say, nothing like a solid Viking trail to fortify the soul. And boy did we feel fortified after 10 miles without seeing a single human.
Photo gallery – click to enlarge
It all started at the Bergen Tourist Information Center where we found a brochure of local walks. On the last page of the brochure, the Vidden Trail looked perfect – 12km/10 miles, 5 to 6 hours of walking, moderate/hard. A quick search confirmed it – most popular outdoors adventure close to the city. Described as Bergen’s best hike, the trail started with a cable car and followed a ridge line between Mt. Fløyen to Mt. Ulriken. The physical challenge would be most welcome after indulging in many of Bergen’s good restaurants. Only the weather forecast could have been an issue – rain and bad visibility. But hey, when is a foggy drizzle ever going to thwart a full day out?
The morning after exploring the fjords, we ate a hearty breakfast and made small sandwiches for lunch. With a thermos with hot tea and 2.5 liters of water, we left the hotel by Bryggen and hopped on the Fløyen cablecar to be smoothly transported to our trail head at the top. Keeping the lost reports in mind, we tried to buy a proper topo map at the souvenir shop but they had none. Seeing our girls, the salesclerk’s mood darkened. “We lose people all the time on this mountain! If it looks too dangerous, please turn around with the kids.” Sheesh, such drama. Had we underestimated the hike? We said thanks for the advice anyway and trailed on, our spirits slightly shaken – but not stirred, fear not.
We said good bye to the adult-size troll by the playground and hit the trail under a light drizzle. The main thing I was looking forward to on this hike was seeing the famed Norwegian mountain huts I’d read so much about in brochures – hutte, they’re called. It’s like trolls, they’re everywhere in Norway. Wildly, I even hoped we’d be able to take shelter in a hutte for lunch. The first mile followed a wide gravel road that’s used as a ski lane in the winter. Smooth grade, easy walking, beautiful spruce and fir forest on all sides. When a shy sun pierced the cloud cover, millions of water droplets twinkled like crystal beads on tree branches. Such a lovely mountain.
“Look, the first hutte!” I said. “That’s a hut?” asked my girls, “But we thought it was going to be cute like the one on the Isle of Scalpay!” Cute, Brushytten was not. More like a giant Lego gas station. It was also very closed and that should have tipped me off for the rest of the huts. From there, the trail rose up a hill above a lake and in the distance, the silhouette of another hutte appeared on a ridge. We reached a plateau where the fog came down on us as thick as on the streets of Dickens’ London. The more we walked, the thicker it was. We passed an eerie graffitied building and reached a T junction where we blanked. Left or right? The trail description didn’t help much. Checking the map, we turned right and a little ways away, spotted a big – professional – cairn. We were on the right track! We started an easy descent on a boggy hill and a small hut showed across the trail on another hill. As if on cue, the steady drizzle turned into a heavy rainfall. Shelter!
“I’ll check the hutte!” I said, heading for the stone and wood cabin. The windows were solidly barred with metal shutters. I pushed the door handle. Locked. I ask you – what’s the use of hutte if they’re closed in shitty weather? We stood outside against the walls under the roof extensions to avoid the worst of the rain and when it relented, pressed on.
On the topics of huts, I have to explain the Norwegian case. You see, I assumed these huts were for public use like most mountain shelters I’ve come across in other countries. Turns out the Norwegians love their huts differently. I later learned from the Norwegian Trekking Association that most of the huts in the Bergen area were private and that only a handful of huts run by the scouts or sports clubs were open a few hours on weekends. Private huts, hmm. The concept sounded good if you had the keys. However if you’re not the owner, you can break in a hut in case of emergency. Snow blizzard, night falling, life and death. “You can always find a rock to break the lock,” suggested the Tourist Information Center guy. Seriously? Yes, seriously.
Anyhow. The Vidden trail.
We soon reached a big atmospheric lake and climbed the steep towards the peak, urging our girls to stick to the left side of the trail as the right side was supposed to elbow “precipitous cliffs falling down to Tarlebøvannet Lake.” For the most part, it was an easy and gradual ascent following big cairns that were regularly spaced. Even at the thickest of the fog, we always saw the next cairn and admired how well the trail was marked. We were now on the higher plateau where, supposedly, breathtaking views awaited us to the north.
The beautiful high tundra largely made up for the lack of views. The low vegetation was a blend of fiery heather, brown grass and green ferns. It was also very wet and boggy, lots of slippery duck boards. On one occasion, my husband carried my girls across a portion of the trail that was a mini-lake in itself. His Alaskan rainboots were the definitely the shoes of choice, not my hiking boots. I skipped on rocks as lightly as I could and made to the other side almost dry. Looking at my watch, I realized it was past midday. What with the colder temps and steady drizzle, we weren’t terribly hungry but we could eat a sandwich. Of course, not a single tree in sight and the rain was there to stay. Ah well, we picked a large boulder where our feet would be dry and quickly removed our jackets to add two more layers so we wouldn’t catch a cold while not moving.
I’m not going to lie, we didn’t linger.
Judging from the map, we were roughly half-way through. If we kept a steady pace, we’d be down the mountain by 4pm. I’d decided to skip the last bit from Mt Ulriken and get off the mountain via funicular. A few times, the fog lifted and indeed, the views on the coast were beautiful. However the clear moments didn’t last long and fog and rain played a cat-and-mouse game all afternoon. I don’t know how they did it but my girls were unfazed by the weather. Occasionally picking a candy in their sweets bag, they chatted all along the hike and played pretend games like the best of friends.
Finally, we reached a pivotal point, the Turnerhytten cabin (closed). That’s where we got confused. Mt Ulriken was a mile away at most and we knew we should take the trail to the right. However, we were so used to following cairns that we looked for the next cairn – leaving the signposted trail. That, my friends, was a mistake and threw us off course during a long hour. By the time we realized we were off the trail, we had already descended the mountain quite fast and needed to backtrack cross-country through heather and bogs to the main trail. What a drag. (If you fancy reading more about getting lost in the wild, click here). The girls were still chirpy but I worried that the night would be upon us before we were down the mountain.
Keeping a positive attitude, I stuck with my 8-year old at the back while my husband kept up with my 10-year old. Around a lake, a white fluffy creature jumped out of the bracken. A snow hare! It was big and fast and turned around once to face us before disappearing fast. That was really cool. I’d never seen an animal in its winter coat in the wild before.
Huffing and puffing, we finally found the main trail and religiously followed the sign posts to the Mt Ulriken funicular. We made it! Ironically, the funicular driver asked us where we’d been walking and when we told her the Vidden Trail, she raised her eyebrows. “But it’s dangerous. People get lost there all the time! It’s dangerous with kids, it’s not a good weather.”
Here we went again. Muttering more things in her winter coat, she clearly disapproved. So much for encouraging families to enjoy the great outdoors. Never mind. We enjoyed it and the (rare) views (we saw) were really nice. Highly recommended to enjoy the Norwegian mountains close to a city.