Sunday, September 10, 2017

Swallowed up by clouds at Gaustatoppen, the highest mountain in Telemark

Gaustatoppen, Norway - this name has been lingering in my head ever since we had our Norwegian winter camping adventures in Notodden and our local friend Mariann told us with praising words and wild fire in her eyes about this darling mountain. With an evergrowing passion for conquering mountain tops and seeing that Gaustatoppen is only a few hours away from Oslo, it was just a question of time when I would return. One year later in August it happened and I found myself swallowed up by clouds at the top of this impressive elevation. Along with me was Jimmy from Malaysia, substituting my sister as she was busy harvesting barley in the Danish summer fields.
Gaustatoppen (1883 moh) is the highest mountain in the county Telemark and towers a few hundred meters higher than the surrounding mountain range, thus rewarding its guests with an impressive view of one sixth of Norway's mainland. Running inside the mountain is the military-built Gaustabanen, a combined tramway and funicular, taking passengers to the top.
The weekend started pretty rough with us being curled up in our jackets during a long night in the waiting hall of Oslo airport. Early morning when the public wheels started running we headed on to Rjukan, an industrial town nestled deep in a narrow valley below Gaustatoppen and which together with Notodden has been listed as a UNESCO World Industrial Heritage Site. Passing into Rjukan we were told how the 104 m tall Rjukanfossen waterfall and the local power plant has shaped the building and development of the town. Many of the town houses had been built for the early industry workers and even a cable car, Krossobanen, was build to whisk the town’s sun-deprived workers up to the sunny mountain top during winter.

Being battered from our travels we decided to skip the historical tour of Rjukan. We even skipped a ride with Krossobanen bringing you to the local gateway of the largest mountain plateau in Europe, Hardangervidden - yet another destination I am dying to explore. Instead we went to Gaustablikk Høyfjellshotell where we sipped coffee on the sun-kissed porch and had an outstanding vista of Gaustatoppen. Ah, it felt good to be back in Norways dramatic landscape of dark forests, river valleys and mountains.
Just look at this remarkable view of the grand Gaustatoppen seen from the porch of Gaustablikk Høyfjellshotell
The summit of Gaustatoppen can be reached in multiple ways all depending on your level of fitness and your hunger for challenge. Seeing that Jimmy was taking his first steps into active holiday, we had chosen the trail from Stavsro - the most recommended trail summing up a 4 km long path with a 700 m elevation. The weather was grim and drizzly as the public bus Fjellbussen dropped us off at our starting point. In front of us stood green hilltops and black-white dappled slopes, and somewhere out there was our final destination. We followed the wandering masses through a stone gate and then it was simply tailing the crowds, and following the red T-signs and cairns guiding one to Gaustatoppen summit. The majority of the trail is well-laid and wide, so there is no need for clownish scrambling unless you decide to stray from the main path and take shortcuts.
Start of the 4km long trail going from Stavsro to Gaustatoppen summit
The weather seemed to brighten up as we moved uphill Gaustaråen mountain; leaving Stavsro and the beautiful Heddersvatn lake further and further behind. A rainbow painted itself across the sky and we were two happy mountaineers delightfully pleased by the great views across the slopes. As we turned left on Gaustaråen moving on to Gaustatoppen mountain itself, vegetation became scarce and the surface was primarily strewn with boulders and scree. We could suddenly eye the radio tower on Gaustatoppen and for the novice mountaineer it became clear how far a distance we still had to cover. Jimmy's voice turned mute and it was now time to focus on every single step. The struggle became real - and as he told me later on: This was more mentally, than physically challenging.
All smiling faces and cheers but soon after this the struggle got real for one part of this duo.
Eyeing the radio tower in the distance. Our final destination.
The whole scenery pulled on a monochromatic look as the clouds started to drastically thicken the closer we came to the top. We were left with less and less panoramic wonderness to endulge, however, with the narrowed visibility and heavy-hanging clouds I started to pay more attention to Gaustaråen and Gaustatoppen themselves - suddenly realising the sublime wideness and firmness of these mountains. Zig-zagging our way through boulders upon boulders we finally arrived to the radio tower. From here an additional 1km along a more narrow ridge of large stones had to be traversed to reach the actual Gaustatoppen summit. Since the sky had turned into a white canvas, we decided to play it safe and went instead to the one hundred year old stone cabin Gaustatoppen Turisthytten (Gaustatoppen Tourist Cabin) to warm ourselves with well-deserved waffles and coffee.
Almost at the top, we turned around and saw this spectacular view of the wide mountain area of Gaustaråen and Gaustatoppen.
Light drizzle was falling from the sky when we descended Gastatoppen using the historical Gaustabanen, operating 850 m within the massive mountain. Leaving a white canvas behind on the top of the mountain, we were now introduced to a pitch dark canvas inside of the mountain. While sitting in the tram, gracefully bringing us down, colourful pictures started painting themselves in my mind. Having seen how beautiful the view was from the first part of our ascent, I could only start dreaming of how grand and phenomenal the view can be from the summit on a clear day. Despite the lacking photos from the summit, the hike was still an absolute success as I returned home with a transformed traveler whos thirst for photography and hiking had been sparked.
Useful links
↠ Information about Telemark -
Information about Gaustatoppen - Subsite of the official tourism board of Rjukan
Gaustatoppen Turisthytten - Subsite of the The Norwegian Trekking Association (English)