Reunion with an old acquaintance: Nigardsbreen

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With campervan in Norway (part 2)

Next target destination

After some great experiences with the sea parrot (see Sea parrot – with campervan in Norway (part 1)), we left Goksøyr Camping and Runde the next day. We decided to head south and considered driving to Bergen, which we last visited in 2018 (read Back in Bergen and what to do?). But when we along the way saw a sign pointing to Jostedalsbreen National Park, we decided where our next destination for our campervan trip in Norway was. We wanted to revisit an old “acquaintance”: Nigardsbreen!

Nigardsbreen is not just a glacier. It is also one of many glacier arms of Jostedalsbreen – Norway’s largest glacier. Nigardsbreen is located in Jostedalsbreen National Park and when we saw the sign, it brought back memories from our time as a student of geography in Bergen. As part of our geography studies at the University of Bergen, we had been on a Quaternary geology field course in Jostedalen by Nigardsbreen. It had been an educational and really good and fun trip – an experience that had made an impression on us. It was therefore obvious to revisit the glacier.

Vi nærmede os Jostedalsbreen Nationalpark. Lobugten, Norge.
We were approaching Jostedalsbreen National Park. Lobugten, Norway.

Stop-over in Stordalen 

The weather hadn’t improved much since we left the island of Runde. It was cloudy, hazy, and still with some rain showers. We had shopped in the town of Volda, so we had supplies for the next few days.

Jostedalen and Nigardsbreen are on the east side of the Jostedalsbreen glacier, and even though we had made our way down the west side of the glacier – not that we had seen it – it was going to be a very long trip. And since it was a bit boring just to drive in that weather – even though it was obvious for a “transportation day” – and not experience the beautiful Norwegian nature, we decided it was time for a stop-over.

Bente searched for accommodation via the Park4Night app. She found a campsite in Stordalen, at the foot of the Jostedalsbreen glacier, which looked like a nice little cozy place.

On the way through Stordalen to the campsite, the rainfall of the last few days was visible in the river. The water was gushing and roaring in the river and some places the water was very close to the narrow road, but we were confident that it would be fine.

Camping in a beautiful setting

We were welcomed by the owners of Höyset camping, who were both very nice and helpful. Despite being busy, they had time to chat and tell us about their place. In addition to the campsite, which also has small cabins for rent, the hosts run a small farm and grow apples and strawberries, among other things. They told us that this summer’s weather conditions meant that the strawberry season was four weeks late and “things” were not as they should be. It was the same thing we had heard from the owner of Goksøyr Camping at Runde, that it was the wettest and worst summer in the last six years. It’s both thought-provoking and worrying.

From the designated spot on a grassy knoll, there was an incredible view. Through the haze and low clouds, we could just make out the Jostedalsbreen ice cap. The campsite is a good starting point for mountain hiking and glacier hiking, for example to Haugabreen and Snønipa. There are also good opportunities for angling or skiing in the winter. Read more on the website Höyset camping. But Uffe was struggling with an overloaded knee that had not improved after the hikes in the uneven and steep terrain on Runde. We were therefore not going up the mountain.

When the weather had cleared, we spotted an adult Golden Eagle. It glided quietly through the valley at a high altitude. But it wasn’t long before heavy clouds moved through the valley and it started to rain again. So from our shelter in Cama Coche, we were entertained by following a group of Poles who spent a long time in the rain arranging and setting up their four large motorhomes. And despite the instructions, they ended up setting up their “camping farm”.

Høyset Camping, Stordalen, Norge.
Høyset camping, Stordalen, Noray.

A stop on the tourist route

The trip continued. The landscape and nature did not fail to impress. We drove along fjords surrounded by mountains, passed the mountains through tunnels, and even made a single ferry crossing. The weather still didn’t invite us to stop and explore nature. But we did so a few times along the way – if only to take a break and stretch our legs.

One of those places was at Bøyabreen – one of the many arms of the Jostedalsbreen glacier. A small glacier at the bottom of a valley that quickly proved to be one of the “easily accessible” ones. There were already quite a few other tourists who also wanted to see a Norwegian glacier. A tourist bus and the relatively large restaurant Brævasshytten also indicated that this was a stop on the tourist route.

The Bøya glacier was quickly over and so we spent some time looking at orchids. They grew in several places in the area, but we never found out what species they were.

Bøyabreen, Norway.

A mixed flock

So far, it had been very quiet bird-wise at Bøyabreen. But back at our bus, we grabbed a snack and noticed a few willow warblers in the birch trees. Suddenly there was a lot of movement and activity of birds in front of us – and it wasn’t just warblers. It was a mixed flock (a flock of several different bird species) moving through the valley. We saw nine different species – the most numerous was the Willow Warbler with a minimum of 20 individuals. In the flock, there were also Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redwing, Great Tit, Willow Tit, Common Redpoll, and a couple of Reed Buntings. After five to ten minutes, the flock of birds had passed and it became quiet again.

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Reunion with an old acquaintance

It had been a long time since we had been in Jostedalen. But it was only when we left County Road 334 north of Gjerde and saw the Breheim Center that we recognized the area. We continued past the center and parked just before the road crossed Jostedøla. We got out of the car – and there, five kilometers away, at the bottom of the valley, we saw an old acquaintance: Nigardsbreen!

It was a special feeling we had. It was 24 years ago, we spent a week in May in this beautiful moraine landscape as happy students doing geomorphologic studies. Here we were again, in the midst of the magnificent nature and impressive landscape. It was both recognizable and unfamiliar at the same time.

The plan for the next day was to go all the way to Nigardsbreen and hike up to the glacier front. Therefore we decided to take a short walk now in the area and check for potential accommodation. On the opposite side of the river Jostedøla, we found that the old campsite was closed – and had been for a long time. The entrance was blocked by a red and white painted iron gate – so that wasn’t where we were staying. We followed the footpath along the paved road for a while through a low birch forest. The vegetation had grown taller and denser – and not as low and open as we remembered it. But it had also been many years since we had been there.

We went back and found a spot not far from the car where the vegetation was more open. Here we sat down and stayed for a while – just to enjoy the surroundings, the silence, and the Nigardsbreen glacier in the distance. 

Nigardsbreen i det fjerne.
Reunion with an old acquaintance. You can just barely see the Nigardsbreen glacier in the distance.

Where was the big boulder

We spent the night at Jostedal Camping in Gjerde, where we got one of the very last pitches. Fortunately, there was just enough room to squeeze our campervan Cama Coche in between caravans and large white motorhomes.

We had woken up early to get into the valley and start the trip to Nigardsbreen before all the other tourists would show up. It would also be much nicer to enjoy our morning coffee at Nigardsbrevatnet with a view of Nigardsbreen. And it looked promising from the morning. The campsite was quiet, the sky was blue, there was no wind and before long the Cama Coche rolled quietly into the valley. We stopped briefly at a couple of places along the road to check for birds – and to look for a very large boulder we had seen the last time we were here.

Many years ago, a very large boulder broke loose high up from the mountainside and rolled – or tumbled – all the way down the mountainside, eventually stopping on the valley floor. We remembered it as a really big boulder. Back then you could still sense the trail, like a wound in the landscape it had left behind on its way down. Fortunately, no one was injured at the time.

However, we were unable to locate it. It would need more time, as it wasn’t immediately visible from the road – or we just couldn’t remember the exact location. Apart from the fact that we couldn’t find the big boulder, all the other rocks and boulders in the valley show that that you need to be aware of the surroundings.

For mange år siden rev en meget stor klippeblok sig løs, højt oppe fra fjeldsiden.
Many years ago, a very big boulder broke loose, high up from the mountainside. Jostedalen, May 1999.

Consequences of a warmer climate

It turned out that we hadn’t gotten up early enough. There were already 5-6 vehicles in the large parking lot along the north side of Nigardsbrevatnet. And while we were brewing coffee, the next cars arrived – and a couple of tourist buses! The weather was nice and the view was great, so it was still nicer and more charming than the campsite.

You don’t have to hike all the way, from the parking area to the glacier. Instead, you can sail part of the way on Nigardsbrevatnet. Nigardsbrevatnet is a meltwater lake formed in front of the glacier. From the lake, you get the opportunity to see the landscape from a slightly different angle. We bought a ticket for the boat trip to save time by not hiking all the way and to spare Uffe’s knees a bit. After the boat ride, there is still a hike of about 1.5 km before you reach the glacier front.

Whether you sail or walk all the way, you will experience an incredibly beautiful, impressive, and dramatic landscape. You can sense how the ice has helped shape the landscape over time. At the same time, you’re also reminded of the consequences of rising temperatures and an increasingly warmer climate. Nigardsbreen is getting smaller and smaller as time goes by. Around 70 years ago, ice covered a large part of Nigardsbrevatnet. And even for us, it was clear to see that Nigardsbreen had shrunk since 1999. Now the glacier front was further back and higher up the valley!

Man behøver ikke at vandre hele vejen. Det er muligt at sejle et stykke af vejen over Nigardsbrevatnet. Nigardsbreen kan skimtes midt i billedet.
You don’t have to hike all the way. It is possible to sail part of the way across Nigardsbrevatnet. The Nigardsbreen glacier can be seen in the middle of the picture.
Sådan så gletsjeren ud da vi var på feltkursus i 1999. Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen, maj 1999.
This is what the glacier looked like when we were on a field course in 1999. Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen, May 1999.

The glacier front

The weather remained brilliant all day. The albedo was high (after all, we studied physical geography and geology many years ago for a reason). The sun was shining from a largely cloudless sky and sunglasses were necessary against the bright light, not only the direct light from the sun’s rays but also from the light reflected by the surface of Nigardsbreen and the exposed bedrock.

It’s hard to describe the experience – which is both subjective and very personal. But the closer we got to Nigardsbreen, the more impressive it all became. It was probably a combination of memories and the feeling of being a small (insignificant) piece in the big picture of dynamic geological processes. You get a sense of the powerful forces of nature that have been at work through time when you see the exposed bedrock, scour marks from the ice, the countless amounts of loose stones and boulders, the marginal moraines in the valley and, not least, the blue ice itself, from which the rushing meltwater gushed down through the valley.

Der lurer mange farer i fjeldet. Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen.
There are many dangers lurking in the mountains. Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen.
Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen.
Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen.
Nigardsbrevatnet og Jostedalen.
Nigardsbrevatnet and Jostedalen.

It started to get crowded

Like everyone else, we took the mandatory selfies with the glacier front as a backdrop. Of course, from different angles, both up close and further away. But most of the time we just enjoyed the surroundings, and took in the magnificent nature, and reminisced about our student days – nostalgia crept back in.

Like us, not all people were content with just hiking up to the glacier. Some had to surpass us by hiking upon it as well. Since it’s not without any danger, it’s only legal if you’re licensed, or if you are going on a glacier hike with a licensed guide. We had decided in advance not to do a glacier hike. I was a little tempted, but Bente wasn’t – quite the opposite. On the other hand, it would also be stupid as long as my knee was still bothering me – I certainly didn’t want to risk getting stranded on the ice and being carried down by a SAR team.

As the entire Jostedalen valley is a dynamic landscape visited by many tourists who have no (or very little) experience of wild nature, mountains, or glaciers, information and warning signs and barriers were set up right up by the glacier.

Gradually, more and more tourists showed up and it started to get crowded. It was time for us to move on, so we walked slowly back towards Nigardsbrevatnet. Our timing was perfect, as we didn’t have to wait long at the lake shore before we could board the boat that took us back.

Den "obligatoriske" selfie foran gletsjeren. Nigardsbreen, Jostedalen.
The mandatory selfie in front of the glacier. Nigardsbreen Glacier, Jostedalen.
Nigardsbreen besøges hvert år at mange turister. I baggrunde ses Nigardsbrevatnet.
Nigardsbreen is visited by many tourists every year. In the background is Nigardsbrevatnet.

The flood mark in Jostedalen

Later that day, as we were heading south, we made a stop further down in Jostedalen. There was one more place we wanted to revisit: “Flaummerket” – the flood mark in Fossøya.

Flaum is a Norwegian word for flood, and Jostedalen has experienced several floods over the years. At Fossøya you can see a flood mark – a rock with carved marks showing how high the water was in Jostedalen during the floods of 1898 and 1979.

In 1979, the largest known flood in the valley occurred. It had major consequences for the locals, but fortunately, no lives were lost. However, the material damage and economic costs were high, as many houses, bridges, and cultivated fields were damaged and destroyed. The cause of the flooding was the combination of very heavy rainfall and hot weather. This meant greater melting of glaciers and snow in the mountains than under normal conditions. In a matter of hours, the water flow in Jostedåla rose dramatically and peaked on August 15th, causing major flooding. In Fossøya, the water was 1.35 meters above the 1898 flood mark, which until then had marked the highest flood – and it happened on August 15!

Flaummerket i Fossøya, Jostedalen.
The flood marks in Fossøya, Jostedalen.

Country and western 

After seeing the Nigardsbreen glacier and visiting Jostedalen, we continued over the Norwegian mountains for the next few days, driving down through Hemsedalen to the Norwegian capital Oslo.

Along the way, we stayed at Lislette stall and motorhome parking outside Hønefoss. A motorhome site that sounded different and interesting enough that we decided to make a stopover there. As they write on their Facebook page: “More than just a stable. Fresh eggs – party rooms and rental apartment”. It’s a place for horse people, with stables and riding arenas. In addition to horses, there are also chickens and cats – and room for about 17 motorhomes. So if you’re a bit tired of the “typical” stellplatz and like a twist of country & western, we can only recommend this place.

It was during our stay at Lislette that we decided to take the ferry from Oslo to Denmark. We could feel that anxiety – or indecision – that are creeping in the closer you get to the end of a vacation. In any case, we had the feeling that if we drove towards Sweden, we would end up just “rushing” through until we were home. If, on the other hand, we took the ferry to Frederikshavn, it would be a different experience. So we booked a ferry ticket (including a cabin, which we couldn’t seem to avoid) departing from Oslo the next day. We were going on a mini cruise!

I vejsidestop i de norske fjelde.
A roadside stop in the Norwegian mountains.
Lislette stall og bobilparkering uden for Hønefoss.
Lislette stall and bobilparkering outside of Hønefoss.

Sightseeing and a calm sea

We had plenty of time for some sightseeing as the ferry wasn’t due to leave Oslo until three in the afternoon. As the weather was good – the sun was shining and it was warm – we headed down to the “museum island” Bygdø on the Oslofjord. As the name suggests, it’s home to three of Oslo’s most famous museums: the Kon-Tiki Museum, the Fram Museum, and the Norwegian Maritime Museum. Bygdø is also where you can swim from the beach with the exotic name Paradisbugten.

We skipped the swim, even though it was warm enough. We didn’t visit the museum either, as it was too expensive and the weather was too nice. Instead, we walked a small promenade along the water before driving to the ferry port.

The boat trip out through the Oslofjord was lovely, both because it was beautiful, but also because it was possible to spend time outdoors, not only on the trip through the fjord but also out on the Skagerrak. We were lucky enough to have practically no wind and clear weather throughout the crossing. The sea was calm and the air so warm that you could sit outside for a long time.

Since it was a mini-cruise, there were various forms of entertainment along the way. There was music for adults on the sun deck, which was quite excellent. We also watched some of the entertainment for the kids – which took place in the bar! and then, of course, there was the option of food and drink. Unfortunately, the restaurant managed to skip our order. Therefore, we waited far too long for dinner, which meant that our motivation to dance in the bar for the rest of the evening disappeared. Instead, we found our cabin and napped for a couple of hours before we had to disembark in Frederikshavn at one o’clock in the morning.

Aftenlys over et blikstille Skagerrak.
Evening light over a calm Skagerrak.

More information

Jostedalsbreen, Norway’s largest glacier, is located in Vestland county. You can read more about Jostedalsbreen Nastionalpark and Brehiemen Nastionalpark and get more information about activities and facts on the following websites:

All photos and video © Bente Steffensen & Uffe Damm Andersen, unless otherwise stated.