Walking Among Giants: A Three-Generation Hut Trek In Norway's Jotunheimen National Park

Trekking Norway. Copyright Michael A. Lanza

Jotunheimen National Park in Norway is a trekker's playground, with hut-to-hut hiking options to ensure comfortable nights. Michael Lanza photo.

Editor's note: Michael Lanza, the Northwest editor of Backpacker Magazine and a world traveler to national parks, recently experienced a three-generation jaunt through Norway's Jotunheimen National Park. The following introduction to that experience should whet your appetite to cast your eyes on Norway.

On a treeless tundra plateau deep in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park, we stop before a bouncy suspension bridge over a roaring, snarling whitewater river. I shoot a glance at my 75-year-old mom. In a tone that contains more fatalism than enthusiasm, she reminds me, “I’ve never crossed one of these.”

I nod, and calmly assure her, “You can do this." But the flushed look on her face tells me she’s not buying that line. I don’t need reminding that I’d planned this weeklong trek and convinced my mom she could handle it. I had even used a couple of words I’ve occasionally called on with her over the nearly three decades of adventures we’ve taken together: “Trust me.”

This week, it seems, I’m putting that trust to the test.

My confidence is not unfounded. I like to refer to my mom as The World’s Toughest Grandma. She didn’t even start hiking until her late 40s, when I first got her on the trail. After early forays up New Hampshire’s Mt. Monadnock, we moved on to bigger adventures together, ranging from a hut traverse of the Presidential Range to backpacking in the Grand Canyon when she was a spry lass of 62. But she’s never done anything as long or hard as this 60-mile trek. And she’s never been 75 years old on one of our big adventures, either.

It’s the second day of our hut-to-hut journey through Jotunheimen, and we’ve been hiking for five hours across a rugged, Arctic-looking landscape vibrantly colorful with shrubs, mosses, and wildflowers. Cliffs and mountains look like they were chopped from the earth with an axe. Lichen blankets glacial-erratic boulders. It’s beautiful, for sure, but rain, wind, and near-freezing temperatures have also made it a trial; the weather alone would be hard on anyone. Now we’re staring at this raging river spanned by a swaying bridge—which must look like a wobbly slackline to my septuagenarian mother.

Our multi-generation group eyeballs the bridge. In addition to my mom Joanne, the party includes my wife, Penny, our 11-year-old son, Nate, and nine-year-old daughter, Alex, and friends Jeff Wilhelm and his 20-year-old daughter, Jasmine.

Nate, our self-appointed guinea pig, forges across first, stopping midway to deliberately bounce the bridge like a diving board. (Not helping, Nate! I want to yell.)

Alternate Text

Alex strolls more cautiously across. My mom still looks like she might turn around and march in the other direction, all the way back to Oslo.

I recall another hike when I saw the same expression on her face. On a trip to Yosemite, when she was a youthful 58, she and I stopped at the base of the cable route on Half Dome while she contemplated scaling several hundred feet of dizzyingly steep granite. I told her we could turn back. We sat for half an hour in silence. Then she jumped to her feet: “OK, let’s go.” A little while later, we stood atop Half Dome, a beaming grin of disbelief on my mom’s face.

On this trip, I hope to see that look on my mom’s face again. Now I wonder: Have too many years gone by? Can she still make that leap of faith?

To read the rest of the story, see some gorgeous photos, and a video, visit The Big Outside.

Comments

I've hiked in Jotunheimen National Park. The scenery is gorgeous, the people are very friendly and so happy to have international visitors hike their park. And the bridges and everything else are safe and in working order. It's Norway, after all.

Danny www.hikertohiker.com

Did this fantastic hike from hut to hut in 1974, before it became a National Park. The food in the huts was outstanding. Dessert and coffee was served in a room separate from the main courses (served smorgasbord style). We hiked to the top of Galdohoppigen and Glitertinden (sp?), the two highest mountains of Norway, in white-out conditions. Learned of the resignation of Richard Nixon while on the trail. Found it very difficult to stay up with old ladies wearing rubber boots while crossing glaciers (which required a guide to rope us all together). Made lots of new friends, who later invited us out for a late-night ice cream party at their home in Oslo.