Day 2: THE HOME OF THE GIANTS
It was 6am when we woke up and packed our belongings. After 7am, the koldtbord breakfast was open. And at 8:30am, Julie and I checked out and left the Lærdal Hotel for the Utla Valley.
The Utla Valley (or Utladalen) was in the west end of Jotunheimen National Park. Jotunheimen was Norwegian for “Home of the Giants” (and you thought I was a San Fransisco Giants fan, didn’t you?) and it got its name probably due to the fact that the country’s tallest mountains could be found here.
However, we were after waterfalls, and Utladalen had the greatest concentration of tall and wild unregulated waterfalls in Norway – including Vettisfossen, which possessed the highest free-fall of all the remaining unregulated waterfalls in Norway.
We arrived in Utladalen at about 9:15am and didn’t start the hike until 9:45am. But that wasn’t before we checked out the huge Hjellefossen, which stood over a nice bathroom building with grass growing on its roof.
After Julie and I finished preparing for the hike ahead of us, we checked out the “naturhus,” which had some interpretive signs about the history and ecosystem of the Utla Valley. It was interesting, but we had work to do, so off we went…
The trail was on a road that was apparently only drivable by local Vetti residents. We had to walk to Vetti and had to be careful on one of the bridges, which was slick with oil.
It didn’t take long before we saw Avdalsfossen towering over the power lines at its base. By now, it was about 10am.
The trail provided all sorts of angles for viewing the impressive upside-down triangular waterfall. We even had moments of feeling the waterfall’s mist from the trail, which was quite a distance away.
Next, the trail entered a cleared rockslide area. It demonstrated to us just how fickle nature could be, especially when the valley walls are steep.
At about 10:45am, the trail started to climb. However, I noticed a small but powerful waterfall (Hyljefossen) spilling into a deep pool. Under a hot sunny day, I could see how this could be a spot for a swim, but today, rain threatened and I wasn’t in the mood to get wet.
When the climb ended, the trail continued to follow the Utla River and the Vetti community could be seen up ahead.
By 11:15am, we had finally made it to the remote village of Vetti. It was reassuring to see Vettisfossen signs, which encouraged us to continue. Now the trail narrowed and was on the more familiar dirt paths instead of the unsealed road that we had walked up to this point. It wasn’t long before we hit a very steep section with garden hoses and ropes secured to poles to help keep your balance. It seemed like every time we did a hike of any appreciable length in Norway, there was always a tricky steep section, and this one was no different.
At the bottom of the climb, the trail continued to follow the Utla River. We noticed a swing bridge going across the river, but we ignored it, knowing it didn’t take us to Vettisfossen.
By noon, we had finally arrived at the towering Vettisfossen. It was too bad that the bottom part of the waterfall was obstructed by a cliff wall jutting out before it. I was really tempted to find a way across the creek downstream of the falls, but it looked like it was flowing too fast and it was too deep even for the gore-tex boots we wore.
So we settled for the views presented before us and tried to enjoy the falls for as long as possible before making the return hike back to the car park. The skies continued to threaten rain, but ultimately it didn’t deliver.
It was about 12:45pm when we had our fill and headed back.
We ultimately returned to the car park at 2pm. But before heading for Skjolden – site of our next night’s accommodation – we made another brief stop at the nice bathrooms before Hjellefossen. When we left Utladalen entirely, it was 2:30pm.
When we returned to the industrial Øvre Årdal, we decided to go up a mountain road that was mostly unsealed. Of course, we had to pay another toll to use it (they had tolls or bomstasjoner everywhere it seemed) en route to Turtagrø.
There was still snow up in the moors where the unsealed road passed through, but the road was cleared of the white stuff. We eventually made it to Turtagrø at around 3:30pm and after a steep brake-burning downhill stretch, we made it to our hotel in Skjolden (appropriately named the Skjolden Hotel) at 4pm.
After checking in and dropping off our stuff, we were both hungry for a dinner as we spent most of the day exerting ourselves. So we headed back towards the waterfall that a Dutch waterfall hunter friend of mine named Olaf called “Fureasfossen” and settled in on a little camping spot called Vassbakken. Inside this spot, there was a quiet little cafe, where both Julie and I had some very fresh grilled fish. The food really hit the spot and we left satisfied and ready to take on Jostedalen.
As we got back in the car, we took a few photos of “Fureasfossen,” which tumbled directly in front of us. Then, it was time to check out some waterfalls in Jostedalen as well as a brief look at any of the easy-to-access glacier arms. We didn’t have any in mind, but the Statens Kartverk road atlas seemed to suggest that Nigardsbreen was the one we should do.
At 6:30pm, just before we reached the junction with Rv604, we took a few shots of the giant Feigefossen from across the fjord. This waterfall was the second tallest free-falling waterfall behind Vettisfossen, but that fact didn’t really matter to us as we had a blast checking out that waterfall.
Now, we took Rv604 into Jostedalen. Along the way, we saw the attractive Ryfossen and the parallel columns of Geisdalsfossen as well as numerous other falls we couldn’t immediately identify from our map.
We first tried to gun it towards the glacier first though it was hard to ignore the waterfalls along the way. But we stayed the course and ultimately made it to the turnoff near the Glacier Center leading west towards the Nigardsbreen.
By 7:45pm, we eventually made it to the car park for the Nigard Glacier. Given the grey weather and intermittent rain, the glacier didn’t really stand out against the grey backdrop of clouds and dark mountains.
However, the twisting glacier did look attractive nonetheless and it was quite a satisfying first taste of the Glacier Country that we were after.
And as planned, we drove back through Jostedalen on the way back to the Lusterfjorden. And along the way, we saw a bunch of the waterfalls we had skipped by earlier on the way to Nigardsbreen.
This time, we stopped for these waterfalls and properly documented them.
And with that we headed back towards the Luster Fjord and then back to Skjolden. On the way back to Skjolden, we spent a bit more time to check out Feigefossen across the Lustrafjorden.
Then, when we had our fill of that waterfall, we continued north towards Skjolden and noticed another tall waterfall across the fjord called Mordølefossen, which looked an awful lot like Feigefossen, but was way north of it.
By 9:30pm, after a brief retake on “Fureasfossen” and the nearby “Lingafossen,” we returned to the Skjolden Hotel and checked our email at the hotel lobby to see if the Nordic Company rectified the July 1st accommodation snafu.
Upon reading the email, it seemed they did book us for a place in Dombås at the Trolltune Hotel. So with that seemingly resolved, things looked like they were in order. And with that prevailing thought, both Julie and I went to bed in peace.