Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sunday 23 July - Birksdalsbreen

Where's Bertie? He's back at the picnic area in Oldendale where he spent last night.

I used the fact that it is Sunday as justification for a lie-in and thus it was gone 7.45 by the time we hauled ourselves out of bed. By then a few tour buses had already passed and one had disgorged its chattering passengers right outside our door, so they could each take a few snaps of the view before chattily re-embarking three minutes later.

Ten minutes later we were following them to where the road ends at the head of the valley. The parking fee there was more reasonable than expected: 50NOK (about £5) allowed us to stay until 2300. If we'd wanted to stay overnight it would have been 160NOK.

The need for breakfast delayed us from getting straight out the door, so it was gone half nine by the time we started heading up towards the Birksdalsbreen arm of the Jostendalsbreen glacier, the latter being the largest glacier in Europe.

On setting out I knew nothing about the Birksdalsbreen. I now know that it is an immensely popular destination, with the occupants of the tour buses (not to mention those using the huge car park) not even needing to walk the 3km up the easy track to the foot of the ice. There is the option of spending 220NOK on being transported up the first 2.5km in an 8-seater golf-cart-esque vehicle ('Troll Cars' as the PR peeps have christened them, the Norwegian tourist boards do like the troll theme).

Of course, we walked up, thinking that rather than visiting the foot of the glacier we would take a route uo a nearby summit which stands at around 1300m. As it went, once we got to the turn and reviewed the route map and information there we decided it would be more effort than we wanted to expend (not to mention that, unlike on the info board in the car park, it was now labelled a black 'expert' trail, instead of a red 'difficult', which suggested more exposure than I would be happy to accept). So we went with the crowds to look at this:

We tarried a while, but being in the shade up there, sought out some sun lower down for elevenses. It wasn't a bad spot we found for coffee and pastries:

The glacier was behind me as I took this snap

Back down at the visitor centre, information panels transformed the outing into an educational one. The photos showing the position of the arm of the glacier over the years were particularly interesting (it grew through the 1980s and peaked in the mid nineties, before retreating again). This, for example, is how it looked in 2006...

...and here is a similar shot I took today:

Back at Bertie we could then have left the valley and continued on our southbound trajectory, but we were parked in a nice location with a massive-drop waterfall on one side of us and the Birksdalsbreen on the other, and I quite fancied nipping back up to the glacier later in the day to see it with the sun on it.

After lunch, that's what we did.

The track leading up the river crosses, at one point, below a short, but very forceful, waterfall (up to 10,000 litres per second, apparently). It was quite a sight this morning, spraying all over the track, complete with a full-circle rainbow; with the increased flow in the heat of the afternoon the force was noticeably higher, as was the spray. It amused us to see people donning waterproofs to walk through that very short section. We did get a bit damp, but in the heat it only took minutes to dry.

Was it worth the second visit? Yep, I'd say so. Compare this snap with the first one above:

Back in the car park, and after my daily session of consulting resources to decide where we might go next (a particularly long session today; there are so many options), back down the valley we came. Again, we could have left the valley and continued on our way, but the easy option was to return to somewhere we knew to be good and quiet - i.e. last night's kipping spot.

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