Hiking Buarbreen: A Journey to the Glaciers
Norway is home to some of the best hikes, and Buarbreen is no exception. During our three days in Odda, a municipality in the fjords of western Norway, we discovered this hike that leads up to the Folgefonna glacier field. Although we were unable to reach the actual glaciers because we didn’t have the proper gear to traverse a knee-deep ice-cold river, we had a lot of fun with this hike and found it to be a good balance of challenging and fun, with lush greenery and breathtaking views of the mountain and creeks throughout. We would recommend this hike to anyone who’s reasonably in shape, with the exception of young children, for reasons we’ll explain below. Here’s our experience hiking Buarbreen: a journey to the glaciers.
To reach Buarbreen, we drove down Route 13 toward Røldal from the Odda city centre. Route 13 is the main road that runs through Odda, so if you stay on the main road, it’s difficult to get lost. Follow the signs to Buer, and you’ll eventually reach a single lane dirt road that leads up to a large parking lot at the base of the hike. From there, the hike up to the glacier and back takes about three hours. The trail is marked along the way, and you will encounter some steep ascents throughout the hike, especially as you get closer to the glacier. The ascent is a combination of walking, stepping upwards, and at times climbing on all fours. For this reason, I would not recommend this hike for those with young children, as it will be difficult for younger children to get past the steeper parts, and it can be quite dangerous for them in poor weather conditions.
As we entered the park to begin the hike, we saw a sign with a dinosaur on it. We weren’t sure what to make of this and whether we should be on the lookout for dinosaurs as we hike to the glacier since the sign was not written in English. We ultimately did not encounter any dinosaurs, or any animals for that matter.
The first stretch is relatively flat and soon leads into a large, open field with rocks lined along the river. We saw many cairns along the edge of the river, which appeared to be built by passing hikers. While some avid hikers detest the building of cairns where it’s not done intentionally to mark the path, in this case I did not find any possibility that the cairns would mislead hikers to head in the wrong direction, so I did not see a problem with hikers wanting to stack some rocks near the water. One tip is that the water that runs through the river here (and any running water you find throughout this hike) is perfectly clean and safe for drinking, so all you need to bring for this three hour hike is one water bottle, and you’ll have many opportunities to fill it up along the way.
Once we passed through this open stretch, the terrain became more mountainous, and we found ourselves jumping over rocks and using our hands to balance ourselves against tree branches and occasionally push ourselves up the path on all fours. At some of the steeper inclines, you’ll find a rope running down the side of the incline that you can use to steady yourself and pull yourself up. The ropes are especially helpful in inclement weather. For instance, the constant downpour the day we were there made the inclines extremely muddy and slippery, and we would have slid down many mud ramps had the ropes not been there. The ropes were also helpful for maneuvering around large rocks where a footpath was not easily discoverable.
In addition to the ropes, there were also some man-made bridges to help us get across small creeks running down the mountain. Some of the bridges were made from a sturdy metal material whereas others appeared to be a mere plank of wood. We weren’t sure how sturdy these planks were, so we tried to cross quickly, without stopping to take too many photos like these.
While much of the earlier part of the hike took us through dense forestry, once we reached a clearing and had an open view of the mountain, we were blown away by the beautiful landscape. The rain and fog that day provided a dramatic effect for the views of the mountain. We stood there for a while soaking up the views in the rain.
At this point, we had a decent view of the glaciers. However, we were still a distance from reaching the top and contemplated whether it would be worth it to complete the hike in the rain. The terrain seemed to be getting more and more treacherous, especially in the rain, and I was mostly concerned with my camera equipment, which I was carrying without a case in my backpack (bad idea), which is water resistant but not waterproof. I wasn’t sure that completing the hike would be worth destroying expensive camera equipment that we would need for the remainder of our trip in Norway.
Around that time, a family of three appeared from higher on the mountain and advised us that they had made it to the top but were unable to reach the glaciers due to a knee-deep ice-cold river that separated them from the glacier field. As they were not prepared with adequate equipment to traverse this river, they turned around and hurriedly hiked back down the mountain to try and get out of the downpour. Since we learned it would be impossible for us to reach the glacier field anyway, we decided to turn back around at that point as well. We felt that we had seen enough of the mountain and were more than content with the breathtaking views we caught on our hike.
In order to actually walk on the glacier field, you’ll need to complete the hike with a guide. There are a variety of tours you can book through Folgefonna, including glacier climbs and even kayaking excursions through the glaciers. As we did not go with a tour group, we cannot speak to these tours, but we would definitely be interested in experiencing a glacier climb or glacier kayak trip with a tour guide should we return to Buarbreen in the future.
Our biggest tip for anyone interested in hiking Buarbreen is to be careful and stay safe! Weather in that region of Norway is extremely unpredictable, even in the summer months. We were there at the end of June, and we still had to wear several layers for this hike, and the rain, which completely soaked through our clothes, only made us colder. The rain also creates a lot of mud slides and makes some of the rocks and boulders extremely slippery. You should always be careful while walking over large rocks and test that they are not slippery before you walk across.
In terms of what to pack, we’d recommend bringing a waterproof backpack with a water bottle, camera, extra wool socks, some snacks if you think you’ll get hungry, and perhaps a dry shirt in case your shirt gets soaked through on the hike. We would recommend wearing a waterproof jacket and bringing waterproof pants as well. Hiking shoes would be ideal for this hike, although we hiked in regular leather boots and sneakers and were fine too.
Buarbreen is an excellent half day hike that is a lot of fun due to the rocky terrain and offers breathtaking views. It’s doable for anyone who’s reasonably in shape and does not require special training beforehand. We hiked Buarbreen the day before our big hike to Trolltunga, and if you’ve heard that Trolltunga is the most physically demanding hike that many people have been on, rest assured that Buarbreen is much less intense than that.
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