The highlight of our trip to Norway was a day trip to walk on Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in Europe.
While in the central fjord region of Norway, we based ourselves in Balestrand. It was a great location for reaching the Sognefjord sights but more challenging for day trips inland. We discovered that a day trip to Jostedal via public transportation was difficult. Reaching the glacier required two buses—one from Balestrand to Sogndal and a second bus from Sogndal to Jostedal. Although it’s possible to reach Jostedal in time for the glacier walks, it’s not possible to return to Sogndal in time to catch the last bus back to Balestrand.
Roadtrip: Balestrand to Jostedalsbreen
With public transporting out, we decided to rent a car for the day. Luckily there is a small rental car agency based in Balestrand, Balholm Bilutleige. The company had six cars for rent although all came with a premium price. We inquired online, exchanged emails and reserved a car for the day. The owner was friendly and even delivered the car to our hotel the evening before our agreed rental day which allowed us to start the journey first thing in the morning. The drive to Jostedal required us to take a short ferry (between Dagsvik and Hella) and then a 100 km drive on winding, scenic roads.
On arrival, we checked in and paid for our glacier walk. Per the website, you can just show up for the glacier walks, however, on the advice of the Balestrand Tourist Information Center, we called ahead and placed our names on the list for the specific date—no payment details were required when calling.
The Jostedalsbreen National Park has a beautiful, new visitor’s center. In addition to a small cafe, shop, and restroom, there was an exhibition about the glacier, people and life in the area. From the visitor’s center we then drove ten minutes into the National Park to reach the parking lot near the glacier. (Note: You have to pay a small fee to enter the National Park.)
Gearing up for the Glacier
It was a soggy, wet day. There were low clouds with a steady drizzle. Most people had rain gear. We were thankful for our raincoats and hats, but it did not take long before we were wet!
Our group congregated and the two guides fitted us with crampons and provided ice picks. Sturdy shoe wear is a must for the hike. Unlike most others who had hiking boots, we only had tennis shoes. The guides provided us with hiking boots to use, which we were very thankful for later! After grabbing a pair of gloves (albeit gardening gloves) we set off across the parking lot to catch the small motor boat across the water towards the base of the glacier.
From the boat we walked across a rocky terrain to reach the glacier, at which point the group of 11 was split into two sub-groups. We stepped into our crampons and harnesses and then clipped into a rope to form a human chain for safety. After a quick tutorial from our guide about how to walk on the ice, we were off!
On the Glacier
The glacier was enormous! As we set out, we took baby steps at first. It took some time to trust the crampons but slowly we gained confidence and started our zig-zag ascent up the glacier. The top of the glacier was a dirty white color due to blown dirt and debris. However, under the base layer and in the crevasses, the ice is a beautiful blue color.
The experience was one of a kind and as we made our way up the glacier, the views back over the river and valley were incredible. Luckily, the rain subsided about the time we started our ascent, but we were thankful for the loaner hiking boots as they kept our feet warm and dry the whole time. All in all, it was a fantastic experience that we would highly recommend!
We also had a fantastic and one-of-a-kind guide, Mingma Tsiri Sherpa, leading us up the glacier. He was from Nepal and holds the Guinness Record for summiting Mt. Everest 19 times. During the summer he is a guide on the Jostedalsbreen glacier in Norway and then at the end of the season he returns to Nepal where he leads expeditions in the Himalayas.
Walking on the blue ice of Jostedalsbreen was a highlight of our time in Norway. It’s not the easiest location to reach from the fjords but definitely worth the effort to get there. We would highly recommend it for the view alone!