Trekking Norway’s Nigardsbreen Glacier

Although my Norway itinerary was packed with exciting activities, glacier trekking was probably the one I was most looking forward to. It’s hard not to be inspired by glaciers. Growing up on Long Island we learn from a young age that it was a glacier that originally formed the island itself. Since learning that as a kid, it’s hard not to be in awe of one of nature’s most powerful forces that is continuously carving out the earth while appearing to stand still. Having visited glaciers before, I was curious how Norway’s Nigardsbreen would stack up compared to snowmobiling on Iceland’s Langjökull glacier or heli-hiking New Zealand’s Fox Glacier. I was ready for anything but my experience on Nigardsbreen truly surpassed anything I could have imagined.

Nigardsbreen glacier nestled within its Norwegian landscape

Nigardsbreen glacier nestled within its Norwegian landscape.

Getting to the Glacier

The first challenge with Nigardsbreen was actually getting to the glacier itself. There was no monster truck to drop us off or helicopter to land us on top. We would approach the glacier on foot after taking a boat across the glacial lake from the closest point with road access. I was anxious. Wanting to spend maximum time on the glacier this seemed like a waste of our time and energy. It turned out though that approaching the glacier in this way added an element to the experience I had never previously enjoyed. The edge of a glacier is an extraordinary thing to see. What appears to be a defined wall from a distance turns out to be a complicated mix of cuts and crags with water running through, over and under feeding the lake below. After crossing the lake by boat, we set out through the brush crossing bridges and jumping over rocks until the grey ground beneath us was replaced with an unmistakable blue.

Having lunch at the glacier centre before setting off on our trek. You can see the glacier out the window.

Having lunch at the glacier centre before setting off on our trek. You can see the glacier out the window.

Crossing the glacial lake by boat before setting out on our trek.

Crossing the glacial lake by boat before setting out on our trek.

Preparing to Trek

Unlike my previous glacier experiences, trekking the Nigardsbreen had significantly more safety concerns. Because we would be climbing onto the glacier at its edge, the terrain was particularly treacherous and we would need to be able to navigate everything from bottomless crevasses to ice tunnels. We were each fitted with ice axes, sturdy boots and crampons which would enable us to walk on the slippery ice. We also wore harnesses and were tied to one another in single file.

Sturdy boots, crampons and an ice axe are all required gear for trekking the Nigardsbreen glacier.

Sturdy boots, crampons and an ice axe are all required gear for trekking the Nigardsbreen glacier.

Our guide, Steiner, was an expert climber and knew how to safely bring people onto the glacier. Although we didn’t know it, the very first part of the trek was a test. He watched us closely and made note of who was sure footed and who was not. When we reached a certain point, three people were detached from the group and sent back down to the bottom to wait for us. Safety was the primary concern here and the rest of us had made the cut. It was now time for some serious glacier trekking.

Our guide Steiner explains some of the safety issues we need to keep in mind before setting off on our initial climb.

Our guide, Steiner, explains some of the safety issues we need to keep in mind before setting off on our initial climb.

I might look the part, but I had no idea what I was doing at this point.

I might look the part, but I had no idea what I was doing at this point.

Challenges  & Hazards

For the next few hours our group snaked up the glacier in single file. We were careful to dig our crampons into the ice with every step so that if someone fell, the rest of us could brace ourselves and rescue them. Besides the obvious benefits, being tied to the people in front of and behind you has other benefits as well. It forces you to go slowly and to take each step extremely deliberately. When we would reach a crevasse or other hazard it was only possible for one person to cross at a time so everyone needed to work together to get across and make sure the person currently in the most danger had enough slack and was being looked after.

A glacier is unlike walking on any other surface you've ever encountered. The sheer scale of things is difficult to grasp.

A glacier is unlike walking on any other surface you’ve ever encountered. The sheer scale of things is difficult to grasp.

Team work is essential when walking through areas like this.

Team work is essential when walking through areas like this. One misstep and you will get hurt.

How far down does it go? I sure don't want to find out.

How far down does it go? I sure don’t want to find out.

Ice caves can be a lot of fun but without your crampons you couldn't even stand up on the curved floor.

Ice caves can be a lot of fun but without your crampons you couldn’t even stand up on the curved floor.

Steiner told us from the beginning that we will be successful if we “trust ourselves and our equipment”. This turned out to be great advice. With the crampons we were able to walk at angles that would be otherwise impossible and it took real confidence in your own ability and in the capabilities of the gear before you were comfortable doing so. Stepping over a bright blue ice crevasse with no visible bottom is no joke but knowing that we were moving as a team and that if anything happened the rest of us would be there to support one another made all the difference. At times, the trek was exhausting both physically due to the conditions and mentally due to having to measure each step and be so hyper-aware of the situation around you.

Sometimes a glacier can feel like another planet!

Sometimes a glacier can feel like another planet!

You Can Do It!

We had no issues on our trek and everyone completed the trip successfully without incident. In roughly three hours we only traversed less than 10% of the entire glacier. This was by far the best glacier experience I’ve ever had and by the time I took my final step of the trek and removed my crampons, I felt truly accomplished.  If you’re interested in experiencing the raw power of the Nigardsbreen glacier yourself, check out Visit Norway for more information.

Slow and steady...everyone must help everyone else.

Slow and steady…on this terrain every step counts.

 

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