Quick overview of Besseggen ridge hike

  • elevation gain: about 1.000 m
  • total length: 16 km (if you take the boat and only hike the ridge)
  • duration: about 6 1/2 to 7 hours
  • trailhead: either at Gjendesheim Gjendeose kiosk or at Memurubu hut
  • getting there: by car (road 51) or bus from Oslo (currently 161 Valdresekspressen)
  • type of hike: not too difficult, broad and well marked path, family trip. Difficulty depends on your starting point – if you hike from Gjendesheim to Memurubu, you will have to descent on the steep slope of Veslefjell. Some people will be more comfortable climbing up than down
  • you can also hike the full round trip, there is a path on the shore of lake Gjende. That’s another extra 10 km, adding about 3-4 hours of hiking time. Totally doable on a summer day when the sun sets late
  • it’s pays off to be early, as the tickets for the boat are selling quickly, and being late means getting on a later boat (see boat schedule)
  • don’t expect to be here on your own, it’s rather crowded (unless you go between late autumn and early summer, I guess)
  • parking lot fee: 100 kr, boat Gjendesheim – Memurubu 120 kr per person

The map

Here is a map showing the Besseggen ridge hike, with Gjendesheim as a starting point on the right, and Memurubu as the stop for the ship on the left. A great online resource for maps is Norgeskart, the also have a great mobile app for Android and iOs.

Map of Besseggen ridge hike. (c) http://www.norgeskart.no/
Map of Besseggen ridge hike. (c) Norgeskart

What to bring

Weather changes can be quite hefty and come quick, so pack something warm and for poor weather. Don’t rely too much on the weather forecast, it is never that accurate. Here you can download a PDF with information on Safety in the Norwegian Mountains.

Trivia

  • Besseggen ridge is the most popular hike in Norway, with more than 40.000 hikers per year
  • this hike is counted among the most thrilling hikes in the world according to National Geographic
  • the fastest time clocked for this hike was 1 hour, 16 minutes and 48 seconds in a foot race in 1963

 


 

Our adventure hiking Besseggen ridge

After the dramatic twilight sky at night it was fun to see how the landscape an the look of lake Vinstre changed its character in daylight. We started the day not as early as I would have liked to – I had wanted to avoid the crowds and catch an early boat. So packing up and getting ready was a rather quick affair.

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Toothbrushing looking out over lake Vinstre

 

We arrived at Gjendesheim around 9 am, and were intercepted by some friendly Norwegian youths – the parking lot at the lake was already full, and there was a shuttle bus going from the parking lot right at the 51. Yes, this not going to be solitary, but hey, this is Norway’s most popular hike. Besides, the weather was brilliant, and it was Sunday – what else to expect.

The boat ticket system is rather simple – get a number at the booth, and check the schedule to see which time you are going. Very efficiently organized. The actual ticket is bought on the boat, for a fare of 120 kr per person. We got lucky, and only had to wait 45 minutes. So, enough time for a coffee and hanging out, changing clothes and putting on sunscreen – the day was already getting hot. And we had thought we’d be going somewhere cold.

Fishing at lake Gjende
Fishing at lake Gjende

 

The boat ride takes about 20 minutes from Gjendesheim to Memurubu. The mountains framing lake Gjende look very impressive, and I’m extremely excited to be finally out and get going, up there.

Crossing lake Gjende

 

At the pier at Memurubu most people get off, so we’re starting the hike in a crowd of about 60 other hikers. The atmosphere is great, everyone is smiling and seems happy – a little bit like a Sunday excursion. We see all kinds of hikers – all ages, from kids to teenagers to people our age to really old people (maybe in their 60s?), some families, some with dogs. At the first part ascending on the glacier moraine up from the lake the crowd starts to stretch apart pretty fast, and we lose most of the people. It does not feel annoying to be out here with so many other hikers, if you can have parts of the way all to yourself.

An amazing variety of green and glaciers
An amazing variety of green and glaciers

 

The mountains are barren, covered with very low shrubs, mosses and green lichen. In the sunlight they almost seem to glow. There’s also a strong wind going, which can make the hike more demanding on days with less picture-perfect weather. As soon as we are out of the Memurubu vale, the path offers an amazing view of lake Gjende’s turquoise glacier beauty below, and the peaks of southern Jotunheimen. After about two hours we reach the first landmark, smaller lake Bjørnbøltjønne. From there on, we can see ahead the Besseggen ridge, crawling like a snake up to the highest point, Veslfjell.

View of lake Gende, looking towards Gjendesheim
View of lake Gende, looking towards Gjendesheim

 

View back over lake Gjende into Jotunheimen peaks
View of lake Gjende, looking back to Memurubu

 

We hike easy, take time and lots of pictures, and after about four hours arrive at the bigger lake, Bessvatnet. Here, we enjoy the famous, often pictured (and here repeated ;)) view of both lakes with their different shades of blue and turquoise. The difference in altitude is almost 400 meters, and together with the colours makes this view so compelling.

The famous view of lakes Gjende and Bessvatnet
The famous view of lakes Gjende and Bessvatnet

 

From here on, one last climb lies ahead – getting up Veslfjell. The last steep bit requires some scrambling. Looking back during  pause, I can see why the hike is also great starting at Gjendesheim and hiking over to Memurubu – it offers wonderful views in that direction. But personally, I prefer climbing steep slopes up to climbing them down, since my knees don’t like this kind of exercise. So for me, going the usual tourist route was perfectly fine.

 

Once arrived on top of the Veslfjell, the path first winds over a plateau covered with small rocks, not much growing there. With the changing light and the cloud shadows this barren part of the hike has it’s own special appeal. After a while, the path diverges, and we keep right, in the direction of Gjendesheim.

The (slightly boring) way down after
The (slightly boring) way down after

 

After crossing the plateau, the descent begins – quite steep, just as the ascent. It is one of those descents that I would use hiking poles for, but I gave mine to Nils, who had some knee problems, and just jogged the steeper parts down – that way, it is less stress on my knees, and I have to endure it shorter ;). After getting down, we sit out in the sun and have a cold drink and relax, watching the other hikers and the sun slowly going down. The shuttle bus takes us back to the parking lot, where we tiredly reach the car.

We take the road to Spiterstulen, and since we are both very sweaty, we stop at a lake along the way. it takes admittedly some willpower to get into the cold water, but washing down sunscreen and sweat is such a good feeling. Still light outside, we drive on along the 51, taking a left onto the 55 and drive along a valley with the broad river Visa in the evening light. After a while past Glitterheim and Lom, we get to the road to Spiterstulen hut – called Brekkvegen, through a valley where the river Visa originates in the mountains. The road turn out to be a real pain for the car – badly maintained, full of potholes, making a steep ascent. We’re glad as we finally reach the more open valley, and finally find a place to camp on the riverside. We pitch up the tent, and cook a can of soup, and enjoy the Venezuelan rum which Nils has brought – tenting with style :). Galdhøpiggen in view, we fall asleep.