The Bessegen Ridge is one of the most popular day hikes in Norway. That’s not surprising given the absolutely stunning landscapes of Jotunheimen National Park and the views of the two blue lakes. September certainly was a great time to go to see all the fiery autumn colours.
The Bessegen Ridge (top of 1743m) is in the south eastern part of Jotunheimen National Park. It starts from a small settlement called Gjendesheim at the eastern edge of Lake Gjende (984m). During the summer months (services steeply start to drop off in mid-Sept) a ferry takes passengers west along the lake to Memurubu and Gjendebu and then they hike back. There’s nothing to say you can’t go both ways, but it’s easier that way.
It’s roughly 13km from Gjendebu to Memurubu and another 13km to Gjendesheim. Both legs involve very steep up and down so both legs are considered day hikes on their own. Some 30,000 people hike the trail each year and if you consider that most of those will be coming in the summer months you’re likely to see a few hundred people on those days.The lake was home to a Norwegian outdoorsman and freethinker called Jo who lived there during the 1800s. He took the name Jo Gjende and built many cabins there. Jo firmly believed in natural philosophy, living off the land and in being one with nature. He was a very intelligent man, with strong reasoning and often engaged in debates with local political and religious figures showing his sceptism of Christianity.
We took a bus from Lillehammer to Fagernes and then changed to the local bus to Gjendesheim (275NOK total). By September the buses had dropped down to daily Friday & Sunday services only. Unfortunately for us it was Sunday meaning we had no way back until the following Friday, but we backed our chances of hitching a ride out.
Arrival Day and Camping
We arrived late in the afternoon and enquired at the Tourist Hut about camping. They offered no specific facilities for campers and advised us that free camping was okay just across the road. So that’s what we did!
Finding a spot was relatively easy because hundreds of people were just leaving after a rock concert over the weekend. The Norwegians left no trash behind – not that hard eh?
After setting up camp we walked a little along the Bessegen track. We wanted to do a short hike, but turned around after weighing up the reward vs effort equation. It was lucky we did, the views at this end of the trail weren’t great anyway and rain came in which made for a dramatic afternoon.
We spent some time soaking up the warmth in the lodge. Strictly speaking we probably shouldn’t have, but when it’s almost 0 degrees no one in a country that understands cold will turn you away.
Duration: 6-8 hours
Climb: 750m up and down
It was surprisingly clear at dawn so I got up to watch sunrise. It was pretty glorious for the first hour or so, but it was certainly only a few degrees.
I wasn’t the only one freezing though. There was a fisherman wading in the river. The cabins across the river looked old, but so warm in the first light. I wonder if any of them were built by old Jo? Unfortunately it’s an hour walk back via the highway to cross the river unless you have a boat.
At 9.30am we took the ferry (120NOK) to Memurubu to start the hike. The boat was super smooth as it glided across the shimmering waters of Lake Gjende. There were loads of midges though! But it seemed they were all dying from the cold so they didn’t bother us. By about 10am we set off on the track.
Amazing autumn colours burned as the sun doused the fjord in gold. I’d never seen so many trees in this kind of alpine landscape before, but I suppose the altitude is still quite low.
I really have to say again how much I love the European way of taking dogs out hiking. No one seems to believe this as strongly as the Norwegians.
I have never seen so many dogs out hiking with their owners as I have in Norway.
I would have been interested to see the malamute navigate the rock scrambles on Bessegen Ridge, but surely there’s no way the Pomeranian did it without being carried!?
Not only do Norwegians love taking the dogs out. Hiking seems to also be a big thing for girl’s trips. I’m pretty sure that 75% of walkers were female and not just girls being dragged along by their boyfriends. It was girlfriends walking with girlfriends!
The views only got better as we continued to climb from Memurubu up to the Bessegen summit. After crossing the spine of the ridge between the two lakes the views really started to open up.
This was the biggest reward. I kind of wished that we had camped in the middle beside Lake Bessvatnet to have opportunities to take the best shots, but it would have been very close to sub zero there at night.
From there it was a long trudge back down to Gjendesheim. It only took us a bit over an hour from the top to get back down to the bottom again. The legs were feeling it by then!
Back at the lodge we treated ourselves to wine, dessert and had plenty of time to just chill. That alone costs AUD$50 in Norway though! (300NOK).
As there were no buses between Monday and Friday we had to walk the 2km back to the highway to hitch a ride back towards Fagernes.