Location: Folgefonna

Folgefonna National Park in Hardanger spans 5 municipalities with a total area of 545.2 km². Folgefonna is the collective term for three glaciers named Nordre, Midtre and Søndre (Northern, Central and Southern) Folgefonn. The southern part is the third largest and one of the most southern glaciers located in mainland Norway. At the highest it’s 1662 meters above sea level and 400 at the lowest. The glacier is in some parts as thick as 500 meters. This would be my first visit to Folgefonna as part of a round trip in the region and prior to this adventure, the only glaciers I’ve seen have all been in Iceland. Before the trip I spent hours studying maps and searching online for information. As I had no plans on actually walking the glacier itself, the search was for locations around the glacier where I could get up close enough to get a decent impression of it and fortunately there were some great spots found, but I’ll get to that a bit later.

Getting to Folgefonna from any major Norwegian city via car or bus is easiest from Bergen, Haugesund and Stavanger. The drive from all 3 cities should take less than 3 hours if one uses the village of Rosendal or the industrial town of Odda as destination. The route from Bergen includes a ferry across the lovely Hardangerfjord. From Haugesund one could either drive directly to Odda on the eastern side of the glacier or cross the fjord from Skånevik or Leirvik by ferry. From Stavanger one can choose the ferry to Skudeneshavn or the quicker Mortavika – Arsvågen crossing and then follow the same route options as from Haugesund. An alternative is to drive the scenic Ryfylke road, which is one of the acclaimed national tourist roads via Tau, Røldal and then to Odda, but will take more time. Taking the trip from Oslo to Odda or Rosendal will take roughly 5 hours. All stretches regardless of city, will encounter toll roads and ferry crossings. Apart from the two free sub-sea tunnels to Rennesøy north of Stavanger, you can expect prices ranging from 20 to 100 kroner on toll roads and 100-200 on ferry crossings. Once again, I was accompanied by my best travel buddy and for this trip, he had converted his Caravelle into a camper. We used the weekend for final preparations and planning, though the plan was to set off on a Sunday, the weather was so dreadful we waited until Monday morning before catching the first ferry from Mekjavik to Skudeneshavn in bright sunshine. We were off to a very good start with a ferry full of commuters and arriving the picturesque village of Skudeneshavn on the island of Karmøy, even before the residents were awake. We then continued along the coast of Karmøy, stopping at different spots to add to my Rogaland beach project and ended up in Husnes before calling it a night. The next morning we woke up to pouring rain and didn’t know what to do, since all of our plans were more or less dependent on anything but rain.

Folgefonna South – Insta Mosevatnet & Botnane

That morning we drove all the way to Sunndal and nearly giving up the whole thing, before we decided to turn and head back and towards one of the locations from my research, but with which I only found scarce information. Most likely this is due to that it’s not a tourist or hiking hot spot like other places around the glacier. Judging by aerial photos, this would be where the glacier would have retracted the least meanwhile being accessible on foot. With a glacier lake below one of them and a river below the other, I figured this would be the ideal place(s) for my landscape photography and I was right, had it not been for the pouring rain. This location is situated at the southern tip of the southern glacier and due to the lack of info, I was not able to determine their proper names, but I believe the glacier arm next to the Insta Mosevatnet/Møsevatnet lake goes by the name Svelgabreen and the second arm located at Insta Botnane or just Botnane, is called Botnabreen. To get here, you will have to drive onto road 48 by Dimmelsvik village in the Hardangerfjord and head towards Orradalen. Before Orradalen you should take the mountain road (to the left) marked by signs to a ski resort, SKL Blåfalli IV (hydro-power) and Blådalen (if I remember right). You will get to the crossing after having climbed the valley and passed 3 buildings by a small lake. The road then continues onwards and upwards. The road itself is an adventure as you’ll drive passed and even on top of numerous hydro-power dams with that green glacier colored water and on thrilling steep, narrow and winding roads. The marketing slogan; Norway – Powered by nature, is clearly visible in all directions. After passing 2 narrow 1-car tunnels, you can park at the end of the main mountain road, right next to the SKL building/cave. From here you can start a 3 hour hike to Botnabreen (look for the signpost). The first climb is steep, but once you get passed this, you’ll be walking on relatively easy ground, following the glacier river until you reach the mouth of Botnabreen. Due to the rain and wind, we decided not to do the hike as planned, but instead drove the final super steep (25 degree) stretch to the top of the dam above and parked right next to it. From here you’ll be able to spot Svelgabreen at the distance, but it is relatively easy to get a better view with a short hike along the mountainside.

Folgefonna West – Bondhusbreen & Fonnabu

Because of the weather and the risk of ruining the equipment, we headed down from the glacier and towards Rosendal, where we took a quick shower and a look at Barony Rosendal, before continuing to Sunndal for the night. The plans for the next morning was made, but a good nights sleep proved worthless. The next morning was just as bad as the day before and instead of doing the hike, we drove back to Rosendal to buy waterproof pants, food and supplies. The rain only settled into drizzle in the afternoon and the best we could do was a hike to Bondhusvatnet lake at the bottom of the steep Bondhusbrea glacier arm. This hike is short and very well prepared. The path from the parking lot follows the powerful Bondhuselva river on a restored tractor road trough a narrow valley with towering mountains on both sides. Along the road we met cows and a small Fjording family blocking the path. Fjording is a Norwegian fjord horse characterized by its strength, pale color (dun) and short height. This is also the start of 3 possibile hikes, the shortest one which we were on, leads to the lake and the second path is an extension around the lake leading all the way up to the glacier. The third is known as Keiserstien or The Emperors Path, named after Emperor Wilhelm II who spent his summer holidays in this region. A toilet and information sign is placed where the path splits in two. The Emperors Path is a 5 hour hike to the top of the mountain and ends at Fonnabu cabins which is said to be one of the most scenic DNT cabin locations in the country. The other takes 5 minutes and leads you  straight to the lake with the glacier arm as a backdrop. This is a perfect rest area with tables and benches cut in stone. Because it started raining again, we hid under a huge rock and started cooking dinner. Any chance of shooting in these conditions proved to be a waste of time, but i did my best using my raincoat as a tent to avoid any water from hitting the lens. The results were not what I came for, but if I ever start shooting “fine art”, some of the resulting images would fit right in there. As for the hike itself, I would recommend anyone who passes by to do the detour from Sunndal into the valley and walk up to the lake. The condition of the path is excellent and if the weather is good the scenery will be too. It’s the easiest hike I have done to date and is suitable for families with children as well as seniors. We decided to spend the night here hoping for better weather the next morning, but it wasn’t really a surprise to wake up to yet another drizzly morning. I was very skeptical about doing the Fonnabu hike we came here to do, in this weather. With the risk of getting wet and cold as well as running into snow and slippery conditions in what appears as a steep straight up climb for 5 hours. A sneaking cold didn’t help much to motivate us, but when we actually read the sign description about the emperors path again and noticing it was tagged black, it didn’t take long until we started packing our stuff and started driving. Black is the hardest hike in a scale of 4 degrees, where green and blue are light and moderate, red being demanding and black labeled “for experts”. Either way, the adventure was over.

Folgefonna East – Buerbreen & Odda

On our way back we decided to drive via Odda and the only quick way to get there is to drive the Folgefonna tunnel which is over 11km long straight through the glacier. A distance that until the opening in 2001, took 4 hours now only takes 10 minutes. I can’t remember the exact price for passing, but I believe it was between 100 and 200 kroner and the autopass (RFID unites) wont do any good as the toll charge is collected manually during daytime. Odda is an industrial town with about 7000 residents and has grown up around smelters, which by itself doesn’t sound very interesting. But Odda and the surrounding area has a lot to offer. It’s locatation at the bottom of Sørfjorden, a long and narrow branch of the great Hardangerfjord is like much of western Norway, photographically interesting by itself. On its sides it has two national parks (Folgefonna on one side and Hardangervidda on the other). Behind it lies Oddadalen, a valley full of powerful waterfalls such as Låtefoss, a “must stop” if you’re driving by car trough the valley. The most accessible part of Folgefonna glacier from Odda is nearby Buerdalen valley, a place that was on the list, but got ditched because of the weather. Opposite, a short drive via Tyssedal to Ringdalsvatnet lake is the startingpoint for hikes to the well known Trolltunga, a spectacular cliff shaped as a tongue. It also opens up to hikes in the Hardangervidda, the largest mountain plateau in Europe and offers thrill-seekers to mountain climbing with the Tysso Via Ferrata project, and this is just scratching the surface. With Odda now on the UNESCO world heritage list, more people will be aware of the town and what it has to offer. Leaving Odda and entering back into Rogaland county, the sun started (ironically?) shining again, but we’d had enough for now. Knowing how unpredictable the weather in western Norway is, the best is just to work with what you got and even though the trip didn’t result in the types of images I was hoping to achieve, I now have a better idea for my next visit, which for more ideal conditions I’ll try to get done next spring/early summer. The trip itself was an experience worth sharing and I am hoping this report will be useful to other photographers.

Useful links: Visit Sunnhordland, DNT Bergen Turlaug (norwegian), Visit Odda, Folgefonna National Park Brochure (PDF in English).

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