Galdhøpiggen summit in Norway's Jotunheimen National Park is the highest point of Scandinavia and Northern Europe. To reach an astonishing panoramic view over the mountainous Norway, you just have to climb up to 2469 m.a.s.l. with around 1,500 meters of elevation gain.
Galdhøpiggen summit can be accessed from Juvasshytta by crossing the Styggebreen glacier with guides, or from the Spiterstulen lodge in Visdalen, by basically just hiking without any special equipment or guides. Guided tours to Galdhøpiggen are organized, too.
I hiked solo the beautiful mountain trail in August 2020 from Spiterstulen.
Jotunheimen National Park
Jotunheimen means 'home of the giants'. The rugged mountains of Jotunheimen and the mysticism surrounding the area have been a source of inspiration for great artists throughout history.
Already since the 19th century, Jotunheimen has attracted hikers and mountaineers to the large national park. Norway's Jotunheimen offers plenty of high mountains, beautiful hiking trails in lush valleys and mountains, and stunning landscapes.
Galdhøpiggen trail is perhaps the most famous of all the trails, but Besseggen Ridge hike has been called one of the top 20 best hikes in the world. One of the classic hikes is also Fannaråken mountain trail.
How to get to Galdhøpiggen?
The most popular starting point to hike Galdhøpiggen is from Spiterstulen mountain lodge. The hut is located at the end of Visdalsvegen road.
I drove along the scenic route 55, Sognefjellroad, from Turtagrø until I passed by the Røisheim hotel where the road takes a turn right to Visdalsvegen road. The narrow and bumpy gravel road takes you straight to Spiterstulen. Sheep and cows graze freely on the area, and you have to drive carefully because of the animals. There is also a road and parking toll (100 NOK in 2020) that can be paid in the reception at the lodge or with a credit card by a machine outside the building within 24 hours of arriving.
Spiterstulen lodge is located at 1,100 meters above sea level, which means possibly cold nights (I didn’t think about this in advance). There is a camping site on the other side of the river. It is also possible to pitch your tent elsewhere for free, but you need to go far enough, over 1 kilometer’s distance from the buildings. I wanted to use the toilets, so I paid for one night’s camping (145 NOK). The price included a token coin for a six minutes shower, and apparently some covid extra.
I had arrived at Spiterstulen around noon, and after visiting the reception, pitching my tent, changing clothes, packing my backpack and visiting the toilet, I was all good to go an hour later at 1:12 PM. It's a tad late to start the Galdhøpiggen hike, I recommend hitting the trail already in the morning.
The sky was blue, and the sun was shining bright. A light merino wool top and a long-sleeve technical t-shirt were warm enough.
The Galdhøpiggen trail
The Galdhøpiggen trail from Spiterstulen to the mountain summit and back is 13 km (8 miles). There's a small cafe at the mountain summit with some benches outside the building.
The trail is well marked all the way, getting lost is unlikely. The hike is basically quite easy, basic fitness is all it takes to climb the route. There are no exposure or airy spots.
The Galdhøpiggen hike and my own experience
The Galdhøpiggen hike begins by the bridge where there is a “T” sign to the small forestry area on the right. A clear path with rocks and loose gravel starts ascending through the tiny trees and vegetation. I was looking at my GPS app while hiking, and soon in the beginning of the trail the app showed a Y shaped trail. I think the trail had been rebuilt here a bit, as it didn’t quite follow the map. I made some extra half a kilometer hike back and forth until I was sure I was going to the right direction. But if you just follow the path and the T-signs, you’ll be fine, and after a while, back on the map too.
The low and mid-alpine tundra scenery is beautiful with plants and mosses covering the ground, cute cotton grass tussocks and pretty late summer flowers still blossoming, and water burbling in the streams coming from the mountains. It was getting warm climbing in the sun and I took a short break sitting on a rock, drinking water and just breathing the fresh air. I hadn’t seen other people on the trail, only six sheep who stared me a bit warily.
After some time, the plants disappear, and the ground is just bare rock, gravel, and some spots of snow. It also got chillier and I put on a merino wool sweater. Then all of a sudden there is snow on the ascending trail, and it is slippery!
While not very steep, the snow trail was quite long, and hiking got slower. And then out of the blue, there were also other people, coming from the opposite direction. Early birds, I thought to myself, while I smiled and shouted ‘hej hej’ to everyone I passed by on the trails. (In reality, I was the late bird as usual.)
After the snow scrambling, somewhere between 1,700-2,100 meters there are rocks and big boulders, and again smaller rocks and gravel.
Every now and then it seems like the summit is near, but when you take the Spiterstulen trail, you actually climb up also two other two-thousanders, Svellnose (2,272 m.a.s.l) and Keilhaustopp (2355 m.a.s.l) (I realized this only after the trip). And between the ‘fake summits’, you do some good amount of descending too.
Then the stone turned darker, almost black, and there was more and more snow. The next stretch of the trail goes along a wide ridge. At 5 pm I was getting hungry, so I sat down and fluffed my backpack, and a delicious cheese bread roll meal was ready. I had only one liter of water mixed with sports drink powder (I forgot the other water bottle in my car), so I tried to regulate drinking in order to have some water on the way back too. There are no streams for filling up your bottle up in the mountain after reaching 1,600 m.
The sunlight reflecting from the white snow was dazzling, and a pair of sunglasses were pretty much needed. After the break there was some more climbing up among huge rocks and boulders. Another solo hiker coming down stopped by after we had exchanged hejhejs. He said something in Norwegian, and I said sorry. The guy was just chatty and wanted to cheer me up as I was hiking alone. He estimated that it was still at least up to 1-1.5 hours to the summit. Well, at that point it felt like a long way to go. He also told that the small hut café was closed because of covid. Farewell my dreams of coffee and coke!
Like the guy had said, there was some more snow climbing and descending ahead. The last climbing in snow was the hardest, as the slope was really steep and the snow extremely slippery. I had never been happier having trekking poles with me (except on hiking the Bear’s Trail). A few people passed by, and I saw a woman slid a few meters on the snow.
I don’t think there are any really dangerous areas on the trail but sliding all the way down the snowy slope could actually get you bruised.
After five hours of hiking, I reached the peak at 6 pm (only 45 minutes after chatting with the nice guy, ha!). I was the last hiker of the day, and there was only one couple sitting next to the cabin finishing their lunch. I saw a metal stand some twenty meters up and figured out it marked the summit.
When I reached the summit, the couple were already on their way down, and I was all alone in the huge mountain. Every step I had taken during that day felt so worth it. The 360 degrees panoramic view over the mountains with that astonishing sunshine and blue sky just took my breath away. I got all emotional and experienced a deep connection with the planet Earth. May sound cheesy and clichéd but I still get goosebumps when wading through that moment in my memories.
I felt extreme happiness and gratefulness of my existence. Galdhøpiggen was the zenith of my trip to Jotunheimen National Park. Not an ultimate adventure you spend years of dreaming about, but a spontaneous self-love trip from a whimsical idea, to hectic planning and joyful execution in less than three weeks.
I went back to the cabin and sat to the wooden bench. And then I ate the vanilla coconut bun I had brought with me to celebrate the summitting. I didn’t get my coffee, but I was way too happy to think something was missing. I could have stayed there, literally on the top of Scandinavia, forever. But in order to get back to Spiterstulen before dark, I gazed the astonishing view one last time, said my thanks to the mountain, and started descending at 6:50 PM.
Coming down from Galdhøpiggen
When the sun goes down, it gets dark quite fast. And the trail was on the east side of the mountain. Luckily the way down is always faster than the way up! Around 8:30 PM I witnessed a spectacular light show when the last rays of sunlight painted the clouds and the tops of the mountains with all shades of orange and red.
I also caught and passed by a couple of hikers while I was speed walking down and hopping on the rocks. I was getting thirsty and my tongue felt like sandpaper. As soon as I had descended enough, I rushed to a small waterfall next to the trail and drank straight from the stream. Secretly hoping that nobody had used the rocks above it as their toilet.
At half past nine in the evening I saw the lights down at Spiterstulen, and while the sky was still quite bright, the trail became difficult to spot. I had a headlamp in my backpack but managed without it. Walking down the last stony steps I slipped, just a little, but straight into the bushes, and got some small scratches into my arm. (Like always, the first thing that came into my mind was ‘hope nobody saw me!’)
Finally, just before 10 PM I was back at my tent. I ditched my backpack into the rental car, grabbed a pile of clean clothes, and headed to the shower. That was sooo luxurious, washing away all the sweat and dirt, and warm water was a huge bonus, as it was getting pretty cold outside.
The last thing to do was preparing a great tomato-garlic pasta, served straight from the freestanding pouch with a cup of hot chocolate, under a dark blue sky with billion stars. I was really tired, and my fingers were turning icy, so I didn’t go walking the two hundred meters back to the car to get my Canon. But while that epic sky in the valley between Galdhøpiggen and Glittertinden mountains is not in a picture, it will always remain in my memories.
Read also: Besseggen hike: the most beautiful trail in Jotunheimen National Park
About my food: I had enough (a big cheese bread roll, a huge vanilla coconut bun, an energy bar, and 100g dried fruits and nuts. 1L water with sports drink powder was not enough but I survived.)
About my equipment: it was incredibly freezing at night! My ‘3 season’ gear felt more like hanging out in a fridge wearing a t-shirt and shorts. I had every bit of clothing on me, including my down jacket inside my sleeping bag, and I still kept waking up to the chills throughout the night. In the morning, everything was covered in thick frost and the temperature was still below zero. Note to self: it's cold in the mountains!
Galdhøpiggen hike info
- Destination: Jotunheimen National Park, Lom, Norway
- Distance: 13 km (elevation gain 1,500 m) from Spiterstulen
- Difficulty: physically demanding but quite easy
- When to go: from June to August for a summer hike
- Duration: a daytrip, 7-9 hours
- Where to stay: camping with or without facilities, or at Spiterstulen Tourist Lodge
Equipment for Galdhøpiggen hike
Good shoes: hiking boots etc. (if you don’t want to get snow in your sneakers)
Sunglasses (apply sunscreen before you go)
Warm beanie and mittens
Windproof and water-resistant outerwear (jacket and pants)
Change clothes (set of long underwear, merino wool shirt, socks etc., enough warm clothes)
Trekking poles (really helpful climbing the snow)
Food & water (no water sources after the small stream)
First aid kit