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