Well, we’re still alive but barely.
We did get breakfast at 5:45 and we did get to the parking lot around 6:30. There are actually two lots - a small one at the trailhead and a large one where there used to be a funicular to take you to the trailhead. The funicular is no longer there so now, you have to walk up the switchback road to the trailhead, adding about 6km and 4 hours to the round trip. Everything I had read said the top lot fills up very quickly so I did our planning based on the lower lot. But we got the second-to-last parking spot in the trailhead lot. And oh man, am I glad we did.
The first two km was fairly flat, easy going terrain. Then we hit stairs. Stairs that never seemed to end. But they eventually did and we got to climb a rock face. Nothing as bad as Kjeragbolten but we were happy to have the hiking poles. Things leveled off for a bit after that and we started a fairly regular pattern of climbing then descending, passing (and filling up our water bottles in) waterfalls, overlooking lakes and mountains - it was a gorgeous hike. And the trail wasn’t very busy, either. We were often the only people around, which was lovely. After just over 3 hours, we reached the tongue. And it was totally worth it. The tongue is really neat but the view over the lake was stunning. We queued up for photos before settling down for a rest and snacks, enjoying the warmth of the sun in the cool air. Surprisingly, there was not only cell coverage but a couple of wifi networks, too. But, every year, there are several rescue excursions for hikers who have gone off track so it may be they were put in to help with rescue efforts?
Then, it was time to head back. We passed a lot of people on their way up to the tongue - people who started much later than us or who had to do the first 3km up the road. Lots of them had tents - camping near the tongue and watching the sunrise is very common, plus it breaks the long hike up. Some of them had dogs, including one very tiny dog that was very excited to be out for a walk. We did the hike back in about the same about of time as it took to go up. You’d think it’d be much faster since there is more descending than climbing but it turns out we’re old and when your knees hurt, it takes forever to descend. This was when we really started feeling grateful for the trailhead lot - I’m not sure we would have been able to handle the additional walking, even if it was on asphalt, given the steep angle. We ended up stopping on the road down and picking up a young Australian fellow who had been quite far ahead of us when we started the hike back but steadily slowed his pace and seemed to really be struggling. He was looking pretty rough when we stopped and didn’t even think twice about jumping in. We also picked up a Norwegian couple - she was eager to take the ride, he thought it was fine to walk. She overruled him. It takes about 10 minutes to drive the 3km because it’s all just switchbacks so the five of us had a nice chat on the way down. All 3 seemed pretty happy about not having to do the last few km of the hike - and really, it’s just an asphalt road that leads to the trailhead, it’s not like there are spectacular views to take in, you’re just on a road.
In all, it was an amazing hike. We were really lucky with weather, it was about 11° when we started and peaked around 20°. I don’t think I could have handled it if it was much warmer. And we were really very, very lucky to get that trailhead parking spot. Hot showers and some Thai food has made us feel mostly human again but things are pretty sore - knees, in particular. We’re incredibly grateful that we had our hiking poles and had upgrade to ankle boots, I don’t think this would have been doable without them. But, it’s pretty fun to know that we were capable of doing an hike that’s considered expert level by the Norwegians and the views & sense of accomplishment we have were worth every twinge of pain.
We head off to Bergen tomorrow, spending most of our day in the car. I think our weary bodies will appreciate the rest.