Snowy white peaks, steep and lush mountainsides with spectacular waterfalls that find their way down to the the greenblue fjord… Can you imagine a prettier place to go for a run?
In June we did a run to explore Hardangerfjorden, a place I have had on my “to explore” list for a long time, but which has never properly made it’s way into my schedule. One of the reasons for this is that the Hardangerfjord requires that you have a car to get around with if you want to get as much as possible out of the experience. The hardangerfjord’s “must see places” are so spread that it was not possible for us to run from place to place as I have done when I’ve been running in Jotunheimen, Lysefjorden, Rondane and Aurlandsdalen before.
But the Hardangerfjord is worth a visit even if it is not possible to fastpack. The Queens Trail, Trolltunga and Oksen are places that constantly appear on my Instagram feed and have given me water in my mouth. Steep and lush mountainsides with spectacular waterfalls that find their way down to the the greenblue fjord… So that’s why I packed my car full of running and camping gear and set off on a 5-day roadtrip with Ian Corless to one of Norway’s most beautiful fjords.
Not exactly “fast packing””
The difference between travelling this way and my usual fastpacking adventures became clear already when I started packing for the trip. When I’ve prepared for a fastpacking adventures, I’ve packed my backpack with precision. Every single thing that has found it’s way into my bag has been carefully considered through the following criterias:
Do I really need this? And what is the worst case scenario if I don’t have it in my pack?
I have managed to run from cabin to cabin 7 days in a row with a pack that weighed no more than 4kg, but still contained what I needed if accidents were to be out or if I was surprised by a blizzard on the top of a mountain, and then it goes without saying that there were no luxury items or unnecessary dilldall included in the bag. The clothes I wore washed up when needed and the toothpaste was rationed so that it was just enough for 7 days of toothbruising. Not to mention the toothbrush that was divided in two. When fastpacking, every single gram matters.
This time I could bring as much as I wanted on the trip, and the car was packed full of 3 different pairs of running shoes in addition to sandals, short and long tights, three pairs of shorts, several long-sleeved and short-sleeved t-shirts, windjacket, rainproof jacket, socks in all colors and materials, toilet bag with all you need and don’t need… You get the picture, this time I didn’t think about what to bring, I simply brought my entire running wardrobe with me.
From Oslo to Hardanger
We set off right after I finished work one Thursday afternoon and spent the afternoon and early evening driving from Oslo to Eidfjord over Hardangervidda. 2020 will probably be remembered as the summer when the snow never left the mountains. There were still 2 meters high braving edges the Hardangervidda plateau, which told me that there would probably be some snow running up on the highest parts around the Hardangerfjord.
I got that right, and when we arrived at Eidsfjord we saw how the mountains that surround the fjord had a distinct snow line. Like cupcakes with white icing, they stood there in a row and tempted us to go out and play on the trails. And with high expectations for tomorrow, I pulled the curtains for the window at Quality Hotel Vøringfoss in Eidfjord after a good dinner the only night we treated ourselves with some hotel luxury on this trip.
Day 1: Dronningstien in Hardanger
The Queen’s Trail in Hardanger (also called “Queen Sonja’s panoramic tour”), which runs up to 1100m altitude in the mountains between Kinsarvik and Lofthus, is described as one of Norway’s most beautiful trails and is one of Queen Sonja’s favourite hikes. It is not difficult to understand, because as soon as you get up on the mountain you are rewarded with delightfully views of the fjord and mountains, and the view you retain most of the trip over the mountain.
We parked the car in Kinsarvik and got the maximum number of vertical meters on the trip. Many choose to start the trip from the car park at Røte which will save you 4km on asphalt with about 250 vertical meters, but then you pay about 10 pound in parking fee and later, (if you do not choose to run the queen path out and back, you will have to take the “tourist bus” from Lofthus which will drive you all the way back to the car park , but at the same time costs twice as much as the local bus that runs between Lofthus and Kinsarvik).
The entire trip is between 16 and 20 km depending if you choose to take the trip from the parking at Røte or if you start by the fjord in Kinsarvik and give you a total of about 1200 meters of elevation.
When we took the trip in June, there was still some snow on parts of the route, but the snow was easy to run in.
There are several small streams where you can fill water on the trip, but if you don’t carry a huge water bladder I always recommend stopping and filling at streams so you always have enugh water when running places you haven’t run before. I was a bit out of practice and forgot to fill up my bottles in the creek just before you get to the stone with Queen Sonja’s name on it. And because of the amount of snow there was nowhere to fill water on the bottle before we were more than halfway through the trip. Of course, you can put snow in the bottle, but personally I’d rather have running water on the drinking bottle when I’m out for a run.
The tour ends with the monk’s stairs down to Lofthus, 616 steps in stone laid by English Cistercian monks in the 13th century.
From Lofthus there is a local bus that takes you back to Kinsarvik, but check the schedule in advace. Lofthus is not the midpoint of the world and the buses do not go every 5 minutes there.
Day 2: Trolltunga and Buerbreen
We chose to camp at Odda Camping and had a base there on our night 2 and 3 in Hardanger. From Odda it is only a short drive to the parking in Skjeggedal where most people start the trip up to Trolltunga. However, we were lucky, because there was room in the top parking, although you normally have to pre-book space there.
The parking attendants on p2 got a little worried about us when they saw that we had “sneakers” on our legs and very small packs. They warned us that there was snow almost all the way to Trolltunga, which we were already aware of, and were looking forward to.
We started running from p3(top parking) at 8am, but we were not at all the first ones to set out on the trail to Troltunga that day. By the next 90 minutes we had run past several hikers and although there was snow most of the time it was easy to run in the early morning. The night had been cold and the snow was still solid. The trip to Trolltunga does not offer any really long slopes, but still you get over 930 meters in total on the 20km long run. It feels like you’re always going uphill or downhill.
On the trail to Trolltunga you get some truly beautiful views of the mountains and Ringedalsvatnet, and with all the snow it was quite magical. Although it was cool at the beginning of the day, it didn’t take long for the sun to get the temperature to rise significantly up there. The trip up to Trolltunga took us about 1h and 45minutes in spite of many photo stops. And believe it our not, we actually had Trolltunga all to ourselves for nearly 40 minutes! Which is quite unusual on a nice weather day. I guess we can give Covid-19 credit for not having to stand in line to take the obligatory Trolltunga photos at that day.
After spending some time enjoying the view and fuelling up with new energi, we ran back to the car to cheers from all of the hikers we had run past on the way up.
If we behaved like kids in the snowy downhills? Absolutely! There’s little that beats running down mountains in snow like this…
Although Trolltunga is described as a demanding trip, we were back at Odda Camping at 2pm and we were not ready to just relax at the campsite for the rest of the day. So after eating ice cream and lunch, we took an afternoon hike up through Buerdalen to have a look at buerbreen, one of Folgefonna’s glacier arms.
The trail up there is not runnable, here you have to scramble and use all four to get up, (and afterwards down), and you cross several wild streams with ice-cold glacier water on the road. It’s a beautiful and fun hike and there are ropes that make it easier to get up and down the most tricky places. The hike is no longer than 6km out and back, but during the 3km up you get 410 meters vertical. When you reach the end of the trail you can see the impressive Buer glacier from a safe distance.
- The signs that say you should not go closer to the glacier are there for a reason, so do obey them.
- If you are not so enthusiastic about cows then be aware that you will pass a grazing area at the very beginning of the hike where there are many huge cows with large horns. These seemed very calm and leisurely, but as with most large animals with horns, it pays not to go too close.
Day 3: Waterfalls in Husedalen
It was windy on the third day and so it was good idea to head through Husedalen valley instead of going up in the mountains. The valley has 4 fantastic waterfalls and now that the snowmelt was full on, the amounts of water and energy that were thrown out in the waterfalls was spectacular.
The trail goes by Tveitafossen, Nyastølfossen , Nykkjesøyfossen and ends at Søtfossen waterfall. It is almost 7 kilometers one way and gives a total of 750 meter vertical. So it’s not an easy run even if you move up through a valley. You are also guaranteed wet shoes on this trail and must wade with water to above your knees a couple of places.
The 14km long trip took us 4 hours including many photo stops. Here it is a short distance between the “Wow” stops and each waterfall has its own distinctive character. It is a trip that I truly recommend!
Tip: At the third waterfall there is a plateau and a cabin. Here it is perfect to pitch your tent! So whether you want to split the trip in half or have plans to go further up towards hardangervidda and bring tents this is a perfect camp spot.
Back in Kinsarvik we got in the car and drove off towards the mountain Oksen. The trip to the parking lot outside Tjoflot, which is the most common place to start when summiting Oksen, took in excess of 1 hour. On the road you cross the Hardanger Bridge, Norway’s longest suspension bridge, which is an attraction alone.
We found ourselves a nice place to set up the tent not too far in from the car and spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying life in a hammock.
Day 4: Oksen 1241moh.
We started the trip up the mountain Oksen early on the fourth and final day in Hardanger. Everyday life with work waited at home in Oslo the next morning, so today’s adventure had to be a shorter one. The run up Oksen was completely different than any of the other runs we had done during our stay in Hardanger.
The way up offered a steep uphill, fantastic views and some challenges from time to time where there was still snow. The first piece goes up in the forest, but you get early little tastes of what the trip will offer by views. As soon as you reach the tree line you always have a view of at least one of the arms of the hardangerfjord and when you reach 5 kilometers and 1000 meters when the top of the mountain you have 360 degree panoramic views of Hardangerfjorden, Eidfjorden, Sørfjorden and Granvinfjorden.
We had planned to head on to Ingebjørgfjellet, but as we reached the summit of Oksen, we saw right away that there was no good idea due to snow and ice. Here you would slide a long way if you lost your grip. And we hadn’t brought our crampons, so it was a no.
So instead we went back down the same way we had come up, got in the car and drove back to Oslo with a pitstop at Vøringsfossen on the road.
What to bring
What I clotes and gear I wore varied from day to day as the the weather and temperature changed. As I’ve already told you, I had packed almost all of my running gear in the car and could choose freely from day to day whether I wanted to wear a long sleeve or short sleeve, wool or synthetic. Jeg usually go for wool in the mountains and I always bring a long-sleeved wool in my pack. The only day I chose long tights was on the trip to Trolltunga, and was just as much about protect my legs from the sun since I managed to get a proper sunburn on my legs on the first day in Hardanger. Otherwise, I’d probably go for shorts that day as well. The shoes I wore were the inov-8 Trailtalon 290 and inov-8 Roclite g 275. These are the shoes I wear most on long quiet walks. Roclite (which is one of my favourite when it comes to fast packing), has a slightly better grip in mud and on technical terrain, but the Trailtalons is my favorite on dry and less technical terrain and provides maximum comfort.
Equipment I always carry in the bag on the mountain:
- Pack (usually inov-8 Race Ultra Pro 2 in 1 (15L)
- Waterproof jacket (Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket (wind, waterproof and super light)
- Waterproof trousers (Inov-8 waterproof race pants)
- Mini headlamp from Petzl and extra set batteries (This is only for emergencies if there should be fog or if I needed to be able to give a light signal in an emergency, i.e. not a headlamp that provides floodlight in the middle of winter and sits as cast on the head, if you plan long trips at darker times of the year so go for a variant that provides better light even if it weighs a little more)
- First aid kit: Single pack, hand liquor, disinfection swabs, support bandage, scalpel blade, plaster, patch, k-tape, paracetamol
- Safety equipment: Blizzard bag (wind bag, disposable because it weighs the least), space blanket, a set of heat pads (life saving if you are surprised by cold weather or get injured and can’t keep the pace up), waterproof matches and a couple of tampons (if you have to fire up bonfires).
- Map and compass (on well-marked one-day trips I only use my watch and maps on the phone, on long trips I have with paper maps).
- Fully charged mobile phone (with the Help123, Norgeskart apps, if necessary, bring a small powerbank and charging cable)
- Something to have water in (inov-8 soft bottle a 500ml, 1-3pc depends on how easy it is to find water on the road. If you’re not sure, bring a bottle too much)
- Light wind and waterproof mittens (inov-8 All terrain pro mitt)
- Two buffs, one in merino and one in cotton
- (inov-8 watherproof race pants)
- Extra warm midlayer to the upper body (the old variant of the Inov-8 thermoshell that weighs nada and yet has a greatinsulation ability)
- Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket (Wind, Waterproof and Super Light)
- Extra pair of woolen socks (inov-8 merino socks)
- Long sleeve upper in merino if I do not start the trip with it on me (inov-8 long sleeve merino)
- Merino or underwear leggings if I start the trip in shorts, (usually I bring Swix underwear longs that warm well and weighs minimalistic).
- Fuel in the form of chocolate, nuts, slices of bread and dried fruits. Keep a little too much than too little. If you run out of energy, the risk of cooling will increase.
- Credit card
- GoPro (don’t embark on trips like this without a camera!)
If you want more details about our Hardanger adventure, check out Ian Corless blogpost about Exploring Hardanger here.