“Is this your first time on a glacier?” Our gentle-spoken guide asked, his slim, 6-feet build towering over me.
“Yes” I nodded, glancing up from the camera’s viewfinder. It must be easy to hike to the top with his long legs, I thought.
My travel companions and I had driven over five hours to get to Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, situated north of the famous Sognefjord. It was my first time in Norway and my friends insisted that my trip would not be complete without a visit to the glacier. Of course, merely seeing the glacier was not enough. If I wanted to have an authentic Norwegian experience, I would have to hike to the top.
More than ten thousand years ago, the ice age left Norway covered in a large sheet of ice. As the climate grew warmer, the glacier eventually began to melt away, leaving behind what is Jostedalsbreen today. At over 480 square kilometers, the glacier covers the mountain plateau northwest of Jostedalen. For centuries, scientists have come here to study the post-glacial development of landscape and vegetation in the area. These scientists determined that Jostedalsbreen is at least 5,000 years.
Now I stood at the lake in front of Nigardsbreen, one of the most popular outlets of the Jostedalsbreen, waiting patiently to be fitted for my crampons. These traction devices would not only improve my mobility on the ice, they could also save my life.
From the parking lot at the base of Nigardsbreen, the tongue of the glacier is still a ten-minute boat trip and a 20-minute walk away. On the boat ride, I lost my thoughts in the glacier-blue water of the lake. When I looked up again we were already surrounded by steep snow-covered hills, with nowhere to go but up the large sheet of ice in front of me.
Although Jostedalsbreen is a beautiful blue sprinkled with spots of black minerals, it is a difficult three-hour hike to the top. We zigged and zagged, relying on the expertise of our guide to avoid dangerous thin ice. A few times we stopped to look at beautiful tunnels that had formed in the ice where the glacier had melted away. By the time winter arrives, some of these tunnels will have melted to a size big enough for people to walk through them. When we reached our halfway point, I noticed another group of fellow hikers. From across the glacier, they looked like black dots against the enormous backdrop of white and grey.
The last hour before we reached our final point was the hardest and steepest. The vertical incline was so great that we could no longer see the lake below us. When we finally reached the top, I was surrounded by snow-filled hilltops. As I gazed out at the pristine sight in front of me, I stood amazed at the beauty and power of nature. I had climbed Europe’s largest glacier – a piece of history that had been formed thousands of years before me, and will remain thousands of years after.