Coasting with uncertainty

Top of the Besseggen trail, Norway 2017

Two days went by without seeing another soul. I slept to complete silence and perpetual daylight in a cabin sprouting turf. I hiked deep into forests worthy of Midsummer’s Night Dream, picked distant mountain tops and found my way to the top. Then I arrived at the edge of Lake Bessvatnet to a slammed parking lot. 

The night before, Marcel the Belgian had arrived and we spent the night drinking bottles of wine and discussing our route. We scoffed, mocking the herds who had taken the typical route written in guide books and travel blogs. We knew they were at the other end, simultaneously staggering in queues up the trail like the start of an oversold marathon. They had taken the boat to Memurubu, the tiny compound along the end of the trail, to start their hike and stroll to a finish at their cars in Gjendesheim. We chose the opposite and figured we would use the boat only as a scapegoat on the way back.

The purples, yellows, and pinks that sprouted along the trail were a mental softening. We made our way up the well-maintained ramp and the views became astounding in no time. We reached the apex in little more than an hour. Only when we were dangling our feet over the edge, taking in the lines of peaks that flooded the sky, did the herds start to ascend, snapping photos of their formulaic poses. Hands on knees. Ducklipped selfies. Friends forever arms intertwined. ‘I was just sitting there on the edge and this stranger took a photo of my back as I postulated on life.’ We had inadvertently chosen to reap the reward before the work and now we had to swim against the current.

Descending from the trail towards Memurubu, Norway 2017

​The first step was to avoid stepping on hands or laughing as we descended from the mountaintop. Thus we had to avoid looking into the wide eyes of the struggling, cringing zombies with their outstretched hands, wearing shirts declaring their sporty superiority. Or inadvertently kicking a small dog over the edge. Or kid. The second step was to determine our route back. The night before, in our wine-induced arrogance and haze, we had planned to summit a second ridge to complete the loop back.

​If we were to take that ridge, we’d be hiking well into midnight. I sped up, cursing myself for relaxing at the top. I caught up to two hikers in front of us – two of the mere six that had chosen the same direction. All had massive packs, obviously staying overnight in Memurubu. Do you know the time of the last boat? The blonde one pointed: ‘That is it’.

The sky continued darkening, provoking an internal sense of urgency. Even though we had hours of time, It had been sunny for ten days straight and it felt like dusk. When the black roofs of Memurubu were in sight, a Norwegian crispy whisked by. I thought I would ask as once last hopeful, desperate measure. ‘I believe another boat at 5:30 was added.’ It was 5:12.

We we’re lucky, though. there was an alternate trail out following the water. It was a 10 mile stroll comparatively.

​// When I resumed thought or sensation in my limbs, I thought of the truly hopeless and destitute roaming the cracked earth, desiring merely a sip of water. Or the true adventurers – the hikers that made these journeys without. Then I would think of me. Me with my gortex, sunscreen, Camelback, Salomon runners with the tire soles, my shelf-stable prebaked bread and croakies. Croakies! Fucking croakies!

The absurdity and embarrassment of croakies consumed my thoughts for several bends. When the end was in sight, we sat along the shore to sip a Pilsner and stare at the still-dusky sky. In that moment, the fabled boat sped by to dock for the night.

I ran down the path on the spare energy reserves and slid into the dock. I reread the schedule, checked my watch. Reread the schedule, glared into the distance of the lake. Yes, a 5:30 boat was added. Starting next week.

If you go:
Sweet nearby Airbnb * check out the image below
Trail info
Boat info

Other notables:

  • Buy a hiking map of the Jotunheimen National Park from a convenience shop
  • Nearby, there are three other national parks and one of the largest glaciers in Europe.
  • A rental car is nice to have as buses are infrequent and some hikes require high logistical transportation.
  • If not an option, take a train to Otta.