Trolltunga, Norway: Winter Hiking Adventure

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The Sherpa trail to Mt. Ulriken in Bergen, Norway.
The Sherpa trail to Mt. Ulriken in Bergen, Norway. Mahalakshmi Venkatesh photos

Hiking Up Trolltunga During Norway’s Bitter Winter

By Mahalakshmi Venkatesh

In the bitter cold winter season in Norway, I ventured out with some friends to conquer a “must-do” hike: Trolltunga. Despite the difficulties we experienced, this adventure was one I’ll never forget.

What is Trolltunga?

Herdangervidda National Park
Herdangervidda National Park

Trolltunga or the Troll’s tongue is one of the most well-known, long-distance hikes in Norway’s biggest National Park, Herdangervidda.

The destination gets its name from the rocky platform that prominently sticks out from its surroundings, and resembles the tongue of a troll-like fjord.

The trail is about eleven kilometers long-each way and the hike takes about seven hours to complete. I personally think it needs more perseverance than technique. The elevation gain, about eight hundred meters is quite spread out. So, I recommend it to anyone who does not mind hiking long distances, with adequate breaks in between.

That said, it still requires much preparation and planning, especially for a winter hike. In the following sections of the blog, I have covered the do’s and don’ts, after committing some signature blunders myself!

My Trolltunga Experience

This was a demanding hike. At that, doing it off-season was incredibly difficult!

Ephemeral footsteps
Ephemeral footsteps

Pure and fresh snow covers you knee-deep, along the entire trail anytime after September. Mid-October is still agreeable if you’re doing a group hike with a licensed guide.

So on 16th October, on the last permissible hike for 2021, I made history with Addy and Illeas.

45-Minute-wait to the Top

Unlike summers, when tourists wait for up to 45 minutes to get a picture on top of the Trolltunga, it was just the 3 of us in the entire national park.

We were hiking with our guide Marius, and besides us, there was only the park ranger and his dog Phia, in their mountain hut.

Navigating that vast white wilderness would’ve been impossible without Marius’s expert knowledge of the trail.

Sunlight struggled to make its way through the thick clouds that surrounded us during the ascent.

Three and a half hours later, as we neared the peak, some of the mist and clouds cleared away miraculously, to reveal the fjords below. Snow it seems can scatter serendipity abundantly!

However, by picking the wrong pair of hiking shoes, based on videos of the trail from two days earlier, I frolicked into puddles of trouble and ice water, just a few meters away from the iconic Troll’s tongue.

A severe bout of hypothermia followed, and I just couldn’t drag myself any further. Marius had to immediately help me down two cups of hot chocolate to calm my nerves. After 15 minutes of uncontrolled shivering, we were finally ready to brainstorm and plan, how to get me to hike back ten kilometers.

The mountain ranger's hut
The mountain ranger’s hut

Fortunately, all the common sense that was amiss when picking up my hiking shoes, came rushing back to suggest that Marius cut the heel of my wet stockings.

This antic, along with a pair of feet warmers from Marius, helped my feet unfreeze a bit before I slipped into my spare socks and plastic bags to shield my feet from my drenched, frozen shoes.

Temporary Fix

This temporary fix to shield my feet from the frozen temperatures, Addy’s motivational words, and the pair of extra-warm gloves loaned by Illeas all went a long way.

Combined, it all worked like magic for the next six kilometers to the hut of the blessed mountain ranger, who only by chance, happened to be in possession of everything that I needed in new condition.

Thermals, woolen socks, waterproof hike boots, and a cozy Viking hat- he lent everything, without charging a penny. I could only accept it all gratefully, springing into more puddles of icy cold slush for the rest of the hike, without a care in the world.

I also jutted my tongue out at that wretched troll, who won’t let me conquer him.

For a while, I felt miserable for not having made it to the rock’s tip despite hiking the whole way. In retrospect though, whoever needs that picture of me atop Trolltunga, screaming invincible, especially when I had tons of love and care from the people around.

The feeling of having overcome adversity, and making unforgettable memories with strangers who turned friends in no time is much dearer to your badass, wannabe Viking!

Best Time to Visit Trolltunga

Mid-June to mid-September is your safest bet. Summer days are long in Norway, with more than fourteen hours of daylight. So there is a great chance that a bad weather day will turn around, and still leave you with plenty of time to complete your hike!

Bergen
Bergen

That said, winter is a unique experience and the scenery of the snow-covered fjords is enchanting.

The season rarely guarantees good weather conditions, though. In fact, it can get downright dangerous.

Without our guide, I am certain we would have lost our way in that white wilderness that kept amassing snow from an unexpected snowstorm.

The trails were completely covered by the time we made it to the top and the weather was nowhere close to the positive prediction from that morning’s report.

In fact, ours was the second to last hike of the season, and the tour company canceled their last scheduled hike, which was a week later.

Summer or winter, the weather is unpredictable in this region.

Trolltunga Hiking Tips

Dress in layers and waterproof attire (hiking shoes and overcoat) in any season. Carrying a pair of thermals won’t hurt even in the summer. Make sure to always have a spare sweater, a beanie, and a pair of gloves and socks. If you have nothing, you might end up needing help from strangers.

Bergen city as seen from Mt. Ulriken
Bergen city as seen from Mt. Ulriken

Here are also a few tips to challenge the troll in winter:

  • The trailhead is accessible by public transport only from mid-May to mid-September. Outside this period, it is best to go on a guided hike.
  • Another option is to rent a car, but it is still dangerous to explore on your own, particularly in winter; especially if you don’t know the area well enough. In fact, a family that drove up to the trailhead on the day of my visit had to turn back, because they parked at the lower parking lot, which makes the hike even longer than the upper one.
  • Our guide parked at the upper lot, where we had already bypassed two kilometers of the hike and could complete it safely, even under adverse weather conditions before nightfall, which is as early as 5 pm, after mid-September.
  • Carry hand and feet warmers. I didn’t even know these existed until Marius lent them to me during the hike. These are everyday products in Scandinavia and are sold in local clothing stores.
  • Waterproof, touch-friendly gloves and a go-pro/a transparent zip-lock for your phone will go a long way, under adverse weather conditions.

Getting to Trolltunga

The closest airport is Bergen Airport (BGO), and the trailhead is a three-hour drive from Bergen. Odda is the perfect base for your hike, due to its connectivity to Bergen and proximity to the trailhead.

Be well-rested before the hike and only schedule it for the day after your arrival in Odda. The transport options between Bergen and Odda are as follows:

DIRECT OPTION: Bus no. 930 runs directly from the Asane bus terminal in Bergen to the Odda bus station.

CHANGE OPTION: Trains run between Bergen and Voss train stations, and you switch to bus no. 990 to Odda, outside the train station in Voss. This is also the most scenic option. I bought my tickets online here.

You can even purchase them at the train station in Bergen and then from the bus driver in Voss, but remember to carry both cash and credit card, as payment options might be limited!

The Odda bus station is right by the harbor and likely, the most scenic bus station on earth! Have a look below!

The view of Odda harbour from Odda bus station.
The view of Odda harbour from Odda bus station.

Trolltunga Hotel Options

There aren’t plenty of stay options in Odda. I booked with Trolltunga Camping via booking.com. I recommend booking in
advance to secure the backpacker dormitory beds in one of the two hostels in Odda, as they are the cheapest option.

If you also plan to stay an additional two days in Bergen as I did, here are a few must-see places to add to your list.

  • Take in morning and evening views of the historic trade hub, Bryggen from the Vagen harbor.
  • Watch out for the trolls of Norway, who are popular in Norse mythology and the vibrant street art.
  • Marvel at the interiors of St. Olaf Church, especially the wooden pulpit and the glorious stained glass windows, above the altar.
  • If visiting in winter, get your dose of morning workout by hiking to Mt. Fløyen (elevation gain of 400m). I recommend starting the hike around 7 am from the old town center and reaching the top just before sunrise, to catch the stunning transformation of Bergen city from dawn to morning.
  • Take the cable car/Ulrikbanen to Mt. Ulriken, the highest of the 7 mountains in the vicinity of Bergen city, and hike back down to Bergen town, via the sherpa trail. I didn’t indulge in much of the local cuisine, but picked up some Svele and Brunost (Norwegian pancakes with brown cheese) from a grocery store for my picnic atop Mt. Ulriken. They were delicious!
Street art in Bergen
Street art in Bergen

And with that, I am wrapping up my blog post on Trolltunga and Bergen, I hope you have a great experience tackling the big, bad troll, as I did!

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Mahalakshmi Venkatesh is a software engineer by profession. Her love for photography and travel writing helps her render a unique perspective on the places that she has been to. Visit her travel blog.