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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

First Glacier Hike in Vestlandet (Westlands), Norway

Maybe it's because I come from Houston, where naturally occurring ice is treated as the end of the world by the local media, but I've always loved natural ice.  I can't get enough of icicles and frozen lakes and streams. Glaciers are the most awesome ice around.  Thousands of years old, hundreds of feet thick, flowing like a slow motion river down a valley, and glowing bright blue.  Who can resist such an awesome and beautiful thing!  We've seen lots of them; barely hanging on to steep Himalayas, or even falling off in one case, and we've seen lots of calving of the Perito Moreno glacier near Calafate, Argentina.  So, when we planned our trip to Norway, I got all excited about visiting some glaciers.

While we were there, we took two glacier hikes on two different glaciers.  If you guessed that they've both receded quite a bit in recent years, you'd be right.  The first glacier, oddly named Nigards Glacier, or Nigardsbreen in Norwegian, flows from the ice cap, down the side of a steep mountain, and ends up near a lake.  The second glacier, Styggevatnet, is close to the top of the mountain and has a gradual slope, ending in a jagged, 100-foot blue ice face.

We knew the Styggevatnet hike involved kayaking.  What we didn't realize until the day of the hike was that it was 7 kilometers of kayaking, each way!  To get to the start of the kayaking, our caravan of about 8 cars drove for a half out on a road that dwindled to a gravelly switchback near the top of a steep valley. When we opened the car door, we were slapped in the face by a freezing, wet 40 MPH wind.  That was a rude shock.  The idea of sitting in a wet kayak with that cold wind numbing my fingers was not too appealing.    Luckily, after spending almost an hour getting geared up, the guides saved a few lives by canceling the trip.

The next day, the weather was better.  Here's the view from our starting point - the glacier is the expanse of white with the shadows of clouds sliding across it.  It's 7 kilometers away.  I asked why we couldn't just hike there, but they said there are lots of steep, slick places that would require climbing equipment and would be even slower.


Here's how it looked as we approached.  The face is about the height of a ten story building.



After we had lunch, we took off the kayaking gear, and put on the crampons, and got roped together.  Number one rule of Glacier Hike Club - "Don't Step on the Rope!".  There's a rope in the pic.  This was one of the hairier passages - a tricky step in a narrow trench, with deep crevasses within a foot on each side. 


In the photograph below, you can see a group of about 8 people with another group.  They're on the upper left part of the glacier.  This gives a much better idea of the scale of the glacier.


This photograph illustrates the depth of the crevasses.


Here you can see the rope in action as Jennifer leans over a crevasse.  Everyone got to take turns leaning over the abyss. Two people set their feet and lean back while one person looks over the side.  That was fun.



I'll save the second glacier hike for the next post.  Lots of blue ice coming up!  Click here to see the second glacier hike photos.




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