Photo: Tonje Brattås
Tonje Brattås Articles / 27 Oct 2020

Tonje's Travelogue 7: Ice-Axes and Crampons at Nigardsbreen

After our crazy morning flying in the wind tunnel at Voss Vind we headed towards our next activity, a guided glacier hike on Nigardsbreen. We again passed countless little fruit stalls at the side of the road and just had to stop to buy some local raspberries, strawberries and cherries.

Photo: Tonje Brattås

It was about a 3 and a half-hour drive so we were not going to be able to drive and hike on the same day. Instead, we found a cosy little cabin at Gjerde Camping with one of the sweetest and friendliest check-in ladies we met. This was the perfect spot to use the BBQ and relax outside in the mountain air with a glass or two of wine. Feeling well-rested, we rose early the next day and prepared for the short drive to the glacier. As we exited the campsite, our favorite check-in lady was there all smiles to wave us off.

Somehow a little short on time, we arrived at the car park to the glacier hike a little rushed and flustered. We stumbled out of the car and hurriedly joined the group of tourists getting fitted for ice-axes and crampons. We met our Danish guide, Laurits, who briefed us on the basic safety protocols and explained to us the format of the trip.

Photo: Tonje Brattås

We would get a small speed boat from the car park to the glacier which would take only a few minutes. The operators of this ferry service were extremely cautious about social distancing and gave clear instructions not to sit beside anyone you were not traveling with. It felt a little ridiculous given the circumstances but we definitely appreciated the good intentions.

Once on the other side, there was a steady walk over rocks and huge boulders with a couple of rickety wooden bridges to cross before we reached the base of the glacier. Now it was time for another safety briefing and to put on our crampons, exciting.

Photo: Tonje Brattås

From the far side of the lake when we were in the car park, I did not think that the glacier looked all that impressive. Now that we were up close and personal, I realized how wrong I had been. This thing was huge! Of course, we had the usual story about how much the glacier had receded in the last 10, 20, and 30 years due to the effects of global warming, but man, this thing still seemed huge to me.

We started up the glacier in a single file, told to follow the footsteps of the person in front as we were roped together for safety. In the event that someone disappeared down a crevasse, the theory is that the combined weight of the rest of the people on the line would be enough to pull the stricken tourist up from the depths safely. Luckily, we never found ourselves in a situation to put this to the test.

Photo: Tonje Brattås

We zig-zagged and crisscrossed our way up the glacier passing dark seemingly bottomless holes and fluorescent blue pools of water. There was a kind of black grit over most of the glacier which we assumed was some kind of effect from the pollution in the air but Laurits explained that it was actually carbon sediment thousands of years old from organic matter frozen in the glacier which had now been exposed.

The further up the glacier we went and the farther away from other groups we became, you really gained some perspective on how colossal this huge chunk of living breathing ice was. As we stopped for lunch Laurits told the story of how the Nigard glacier got its name. In a period of rapid expansion between 1700-1748 where the glacier grew 3km, it swallowed up a local farm of the same name. Thus it became known as Nigardsbreen glacier. At its largest, the glacier tip was 4.5km further down the valley than it is today.

Photo: Tonje Brattås

Laurits was extremely knowledgeable explaining that magnesium in the glacier meltwater is what gives the fluorescent blue color and is a good reason not to drink from it as you will become sick. He also said that you can recognize valleys created by glaciers if they are in the shape of a U compared to valleys in the shape of a V which have been created by ancient rivers.

After lunch, we all got the chance to peer over the edge of a huge crevasse as we were held on the rope by the rest of the group. An interesting concept putting your life in the hands of complete strangers (OK, maybe a little dramatic). As we descended back down the glacier, being careful not to impale ourselves on the jagged crampons strapped to our feet, it was apparent just how huge this thing must have been when we realized the scale of the empty U shaped valley below us.

After dropping the ropes at the base of the glacier, we headed back down for a socially distanced taxi-boat.

We really enjoyed this hiking trip at Nigardsbreen Glacier with our guide making it fun and interesting.

Thank you Laurits and Fjord Tours!

Douglas and Tonje

Photo: Tonje Brattås