Iselin, look over the edge a bit further!
photographer Sverre Hjørnevik
I look at our guide and third walking companion Robert Caspersen, who, to my eyes, appears to be lying half over the edge, and looks more like he could be lounging on the sofa in front of Netflix on a Sunday afternoon. He must have long since overcome any fear of heights he may have had, perhaps atop some summit in Patagonia or at the South Pole. Or maybe while climbing the high mountains of Pakistan. I, on the other hand, have a fear of heights something akin to a random neighbour who calls whenever it suits him. It's not that I've never been up a high mountain before, but my fear of heights can come and go. Perhaps it's because of the wind that has picked up to a fresh breeze, or the airy ridge traverse, or all the loose stones on the way up to the ridge. Whatever it was, there was something, and now I'm lying here, edging forwards to stick my nose over the edge again. Sverre calls out that we are done, and I let out a sigh of relief that I managed it. Although, of course, I didn't manage it. Sverre realised pretty quickly that this picture wasn't going to be great with me lying as stiff as a board with my nose just about over the edge with Robert beside me doing the exact opposite.
Fortunately, looking down isn't the only option at the summit; you can also look up and away into the distance to the Hurrungane mountain range, which doesn't seem that far away. With their correspondingly high 2000-metre peaks, they appear as distant relatives to Falketind, and one almost has a feeling of reverence at being allowed to see the world from their perspective. As the first alpine peak to be climbed in Norway, Falketind appears as the very entrance to Jotunheimen. In more recent times, this climb has been described as the discovery of Jotunheimen, and has helped Falketind attain something of an iconic status. When you stand at the summit and gaze out at the Hurrungane range, it's easy to imagine the feeling the first climbers must have felt when they 'discovered' the mountains in the distance.
In the summer, the road into Koldedalen is open, and it is almost possible to drive to the foot of the mountain. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that there is limited parking and the road is relatively narrow. We set up camp with our tent to the right of the road above Koldedalsvannet, with views towards our goal on one side and Uranostind directly opposite further east. With a stream directly above us, we were quite pleased with theposition of our tent.
On the other hand, we hadn't anticipated the number of mosquitoes there would be in the mountains in mid-August. A cold spring had delayed hatching, and time after time the blood-thirsty monsters chased us into the tent during meals. That said, at least the tent was one up on the one-man tent that accommodated us during the winter trip.
Choice of route
The most common route up to the summit of Falketind is often referred to as the 'normal route'. You start at the end of the road next to Koldedalsvannet and head west into Morka-Koldedalen. Here, you keep to the north side of a lake at 1291 metres above sea level. Towards the end of the lake, you will encounter a steep snowdrift, which, depending on the snow conditions, may present a challenge. It might be a good idea to have an ice axe to hand. The path continues alongside Andrevannet, making its way between stones and scree until you come to the Stølsnosbreen Glacier. You cross this before continuing along up the route on the west side of the river.
Here, you cross a section of steep rock, which can be slippery in wet weather. The glacier awaits you at the top of the mountainside. Keep to the edge of the glacier at the start, before heading onto the main glacier further up if you have glacier equipment. We decided to go straight up to the right and follow the mountain ridge all the way to the summit, but the normal route follows the glacier to the foot of the summit with a scramble on the final section. We went down the same way. The trip is estimated at 10-12 hours, which was also how long it took us.
The Stølsnosbreen glacier
This particular glacier is relatively homogeneous, and is considered to be safe. If you keep to the right of the glacier, you will be walking more on snowdrifts rather than blue ice, and there are also no major crevasses here. The crevasses are in the middle of the glacier and lead up to Stølnostind. If the weather is warm, walking in the snowdrifts is fine, but be aware that if it has become frozen and the weather has been cold, the final snow slope leading to the summit can be challenging. If the snow is frozen solid, you will need to use crampons and an axe to reach the summit. If you slip, you risk injury, as there are several stony sections.
It is important to use your eyes if you cross the glacier without walking in a rope line or using glacier equipment. If you look upwards, you will see the formation of the lines in the ice. The biggest challenges are visibility and fresh snow. If it has been snowing, which is not uncommon in Jotunheimen in summer, you should be particularly cautious because the crevasses will no longer be visible. It is also not a good idea to move around freely on glaciers when visibility is poor.
Just place your hands and feet in exactly the same hand and footholds that I used!
Robert Caspersen moves around like Spider Man on his way up to the ridge.
I take a deep breath and move out onto the mountainside, which has a free line of sight down to Andrevannet around 700 metres below. Climbing may be taking it a bit far, but it's certainly a scramble. I kick away loose material beneath me and try hard not to turn around to see whether the stones hit the water far below. Fortunately, it's not long before we reach the top of the ridge, which winds its way to the spire that constitutes Falketind itself at the southern end of the glacier. Thankfully, it's a bit easier to find some 'Kodak Courage' and pose in honour of the photographer where I can look out over the fantastic view without having to look down.
We had great conditions for the trip despite the strong wind on the summit. The rock was dry, the snow was wet, and we didn't need to use crampons on the way down, as the footprints in the snow served as a stairway. Some way down, we are sitting around the Primus with the mosquitoes downwind of us, and can see the familiar photograph motif of Falketind and Hjelledalstind coloured purple, pink and yellow, before being entirely taken over by blue. The final thought that struck me before retreating to my sleeping bag is that the silhouette of the summits really does look like a gateway.
Advice for summer trips:
1. Rain is your biggest enemy in the summer. The weather changes quickly in the mountains, and if you are caught out by rain and plummeting temperatures, it's important to be prepared so that you can change clothes relatively quickly afterwards, and possibly protect yourself from any precipitation. Make sure you always carry a waterproof jacket in your rucksack and an extra layer of clothing in case the weather takes you by surprise.
2. Windproof clothing is often the most comfortable thing to walk in if the weather permits this. Softshell trousers that breathe well, and a windcheater to protect you from the wind while maintaining good ventilation are good choices.
3. It may also be necessary to use crampons in the summer. This depends on the conditions, but when crossing a glacier, it's a good idea to have both crampons and an ice axe handy.
4. Don't forget sun cream! The sun is strong, and even though temperatures may be low as you approach 2000 metres above sea level, the sun will be reflected from patches of snow around you.
5. Mosquito repellent. Mosquitoes aren't a problem while you are moving and are higher up, but it's nice to be able to relax around a Primus in the evening without being exsanguinated.
6. Use your eyes! Visibility and fresh snow are the biggest challenges when moving around on a glacier during the summer. Both fresh snow and poor visibility make it difficult to read the terrain and see where the crevasses run.
7. It is important to consider the nature of the stone in areas not covered by ice and snow. There may be many loose stones, and you should be aware of this, especially in steep terrain. There may be considerable amounts of loose moraine on the right-hand side of the glacier, and it might be a good idea to keep to the snowdrifts.
8. The Stølnosbreen glacier is generally homogeneous and stable, but may vary from year to year, so be sure to always check what the conditions are actually like at the local tourist cabins.