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Writer Bob Andre Engelsen

Bob André Engelsen

Author
4 mins read

Guided glacier hiking at Folgefonna: one for the bucket list

The wild and rugged landscape in Norway was once forged by the immense powers of glacial ice. Keep reading to learn why glacier hiking is one of the best ways to explore the great outdoors and the raw Norwegian nature.

According to NVE Norway has 2534 glaciers, covering an area of 2692 square kilometers (1039 sq mi). To put it in perspective, that's equivalent to 377,031 football fields covered with ice. 

The glaciers are evenly distributed throughout the country, so finding one to hike is an easy task. But don't run to the nearest glacier just yet - hiking one without proper gear and guidance is a dangerous game.

Long history with modern wrapping

The most southern glacier in Norway is called Folgefonna. 

The glacier, which is the third largest glacier in Norway, is located in the heart of the Norwegian fjord landscape only 2 hours from Bergen. It is made up from 3 glaciers and has attracted visitors and hikers for over 200 years. The early glacier tourists sailed from the United Kingdom to the Hardangerfjord and traveled over the glacier by horse led by local farmers. 

Today, Folgefonna is one of few glaciers in Norway that boasts a ski resort. The ski lift is bolted directly to the ice and heavy snowfall in the winter keeps the slopes open all summer. 

A new Visitor Centre boasting ski rentals and restaurants was completed in the summer of 2020.

Always on the move

Hiking on ice is not like your average walk in the park. At first glance, a glacier may look frozen in time. But don't let them fool you, the glaciers are constantly moving and changing form. The enormous pressure created by the weight of the ice makes the glaciers behave like a Snickers bar. The ice gets flexible at the bottom and cracks open at the top. 

The scary part is that even large crevasses can form hidden under a top layer of snow. Step into one of these, and you risk a free fall of 30 meters (98 ft).

Safeguard yourself on a guided tour 

This is why if you want to go on a glacier hike, you need to team up with an experienced guide.

Folgefonna offers guided hikes. They follow a route from the ski resort to the Juklavass Glacier, a branch of the 200 sq km (77 sq mi) glacier. The hike takes about 5 to 6 hours to complete. 

You set off, through frozen valleys and past conical towers of ice, in search of a fairy tale in blue. The first stage of the hike goes up the steep and icy ski slopes. It's a challenging climb starting at 1200 mas  (3937 ft),  but once you reach the summit at around 1400 mas (4593 ft) you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Hardangerfjord and the Rosendal Alps.

 

Seasonal variations

The glacier guides usually take a break at a vantage point where one can see the entire Juklavass glacier with its areas of flat ice and challenging crevasses. 

Early in the season, while there is still a lot of snow in the mountain, it's possible to go down to the front of the glacier and see the ice calving. As the glacier melts and moves, huge chunks of ice break off the edge. It's a powerful sight to look straight into the blue heart of the glacier.

Later in the season, when the top layer of fresh snow has melted, the glacier reveals its battled surface. Large crevasses form in the area where the Juklavass glacier bends over the edge of the mountain plateau. With the climate at Folgefonna, these crevasses can reach depths of up to 30 meters (98 ft). Later in the season is when you have best chance of spotting patches of the famous blue ice. 

A thrilling experience

Equipped with crampons, ice hack, harness and helmet you can feel safe in an alien world. Tied together into a single rope, you rely on your equipment and teamwork with your fellow hikers.

It's a painstaking and thrilling experience to go on a glacier hike. The sound of ice cracking under the spikes of your creampons as they bite into the ice, and the feeling of suspense when you balance on the edge of a deep crevasse is something everyone should experience at least once in their life.

To access Folgefonna, you have to pay attention to the conditions. The single road leading up the glacier gets covered by 10-12 meters (40 ft) of snow in the winter season. The 10 km (6 mi) long road is dug out by early spring, and stays open until the end of October/November.

Folgefonna facts:

  • Location: Hadanger region in Vestland County
     
  • Size: 207 km2 (80 sq mi)
     
  • Made up of 3 glaciers ( Northern, Southern and Central Folgefonna)
     
  • The melt-water from this glacier is bottled at source to form the grocery store sold bottled water named Isklar