Cruising – Thursday – Olden and the Briksdal Glacier

Olden is a small Norwegian village about 60 miles inland on the Nordfjord, with a population of under 1000. It is situated at the mouth of the Oldeelva river, in the Olden Valley, or Oldedalen. All around Olden, are steep snow-capped mountains, soaring to over 6200ft high. There is a lake, and nearby in the Briksdalen (the Briks valley) is the Briksdal glacier, or Briksdalsbreen. Briksdalsbreen is in the Jostedal Glacier National Park, and is an arm off the northern edge of the Jostedalsbreen. (The Jostedal glacier is over 60 miles long and is the largest on mainland Europe.) The Briksdalsbreen plunges from a height of 1200 metres, down into the narrow Briksdalen valley, and is about 15 miles south of Olden.

Today my phone alarm went off at 6.45am – a raucous cock crowing continuously for about five minutes, while I struggled to turn it off! We had to get up early to re-book our trip to the Briksdal Glacier – due to a mix up with our tickets. Thankfully there were two places left for the afternoon trip, so having booked and paid, we spent the morning wandering along the road at the edge of the fjord.

The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the air was fresh and clear, and we were awed by the grandeur and splendour of the magnificent, snowy mountains towering all around us.

Then it was back to our cruise ship Oceana for an early lunch, and off on the coach to the Briksdal Glacier. We travelled first by the edge of a little tumbling river, and then along the banks of the small green Floen Lake. The road twisted on, past colourful farms and steeply sloping swathes of grassy pasture, until we reached Lake Olden, where we stopped for photos.

Lake Olden is also very green, this is due to the clay and sand particles suspended in the water, and the fact that the water is very cold as it is fed by icy falls of melt-water tumbling down the mountainsides from the glacier. The camera hasn’t picked up the green very well in these photos, but believe me, it really was green! After the Lake, the road cut through a dark single-lane tunnel, one of many, designed to protect the road from rock slides, which are quite frequent. We were told there are about 30 rock slides a year in Norway, about half of which are reasonably predictable. The road snaked on, passing majestic mountains with snow encrusted tops and icing sugar slopes. Sheer sides of dark striated rock, pitted and crevassed, and streaked with snow, like white bands of quartz running horizontally through the black rock. Lines of dark spiky firs adorned the middle slopes, interspersed by softer green trees and other foliage. And lower down, the mountainsides sloped less steeply into green valleys of rough grass, dotted with wild flowers. High up in the mountains I could see tiny valleys filled with snow, reaching downwards until they metamorphosed into minute white waterfalls of spray and waterspouts, bouncing down the rock faces.

We arrived at the Briksdal Inn, left the coach and began climbing the steep path up to the glacier. It was steep. It was very steep! Within five minutes, breath coming in gasps, heart hammering, I stopped to look at the view. A good excuse to stop, but not just an excuse as the sight of the mountains alone took your breath away! The sun on the white mountain tops, the dark rock below, and a glimpse of the glacier ahead. Heart steadied a little, I pushed on, and round a bend was the road! “No need to take the path,” the guide had said. “It’s very steep. Just follow the road.” And we’d managed to follow the steep path completely by accident! The road was not quite so steep but it was still hard going. There was a rumble behind, and the first of the ‘Troll Cars’ approached, carrying those who hadn’t wanted to walk. Why didn’t we choose that option? Ah yes, the ticket mix-up, there had only been walking tickets left, and I really did want to see the glacier. We were spurred on until the next twist in the road revealed a set of steps. Here was a dilemma, we could take the less steep route that the Troll cars took, although it would probably be longer, or we could take the stairs! I gritted my teeth, grabbed the rail, and panted my way up the steps – one, two, deep breath in; one, two, deep breath out. We stopped again at the top to catch our breath and take more photos. We could see the path we had taken zig-zagging away below us, but the glacier didn’t look any nearer. On we went, following the road as it snaked upwards. We passed over a bridge, with a water-fall on one side that started way above us, splashing and tumbling almost vertically down until the water reached a blue-green splash pool below the bridge. We continued along the road with the river on our left. The going was becoming a little easier, and we swung along, with our breathing more regular, but aware that with the next turning we could be going steeply uphill again. And with that in mind we made a big mistake, but if you want to read about our little adventurous detour, click on ‘My Briksdal Glacier Story’, under the ‘My Writing’ page,  on the right!

We continued on and up, until the path became level for a while, and finally down into a little hollow, and we had reached the viewing area. We were as close to the glacier as we were able to get. We stood by the edge of a small green glacial lake, and above us hung the Briksdal Glacier. Briksdalsbreen a frozen river of ice, clinging to the edge of a hanging valley, suspended like a thick layer of dry royal icing, bent over and tumbling motionlessly over the edge and down into the valley, cracked and crumbled. It was amazing, so huge, so awe-inspiring. The ice was suspended, not only frozen by its deep iciness, but as if it were frozen in time. Brilliant white and icy blue, glinting in the afternoon sun, contrasting with speckled turquoise shadows in the cracked and crumbled surface. A deep rumble like thunder grumbled and growled, the glacier was moving, minutely, infinitesimally, uncontrollable.

Reluctantly we left, and began the mile and a half trek back to the Briksdal Inn, but at least it was downhill all the way. I’m glad we made it, and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.

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