Hiking in Norway - Sylan
Two to three days on the Norwegian Swedish border, easily accessible wild country.
Norway – why would you?
Trolls, mountains, sea, ice climbing at Rjukan, yes, but lets face it, its too expensive – isn’t it?
Well not once you take into account that Norwegian air and Scandinavian air (SAS) are good budget airlines, and that there are very cheap deals at the moment from the UK to Oslo. Alcohol is eye-wateringly expensive, accommodation quite so, but for a short haul destination offering the wildness of Norway, a long weekend here is definitely attractive.
Aim to avoid the tourist hotspots and find places to wild camp
Short duration means the expensive accommodation is only used for a short while and you can buy duty free at the airport so it all starts looking much more doable. Other ways to make it possible are to come outside the Norwegian summer season, aim to avoid the tourist hotspots and wild camp – which is one of the reasons we found ourselves in Trondheim this August. The other reason is that I had just come back from Africa and had a couple of weeks before Viv would be back from Nepal – we are both International Mountain Leaders and usually spend July leading youth expeditions abroad. I drove our van out to Norway with the dog, and Viv flew out to meet me in Trondheim. We had a month to spare before our next work in Nordland, so we decided to spend it getting to know part of Norway away from the more tourist ridden western Fjordland. The order of the day was short trips into the mountains, short so that we could cover more areas.
The Norwegians are very well organised with huts
The Norwegians are very well organised with huts – the DNT is a national organisation of the 500 mountain huts ranging from emergency shelters to luxurious Fjellstasjons, and the local office in Trondheim has very helpful staff. While DNT is the national organisation, it is administered locally by Trondhjems Turistfening which manages the areas of Trondelag, Sylan and Trollheim. We chatted about maps, and the lady in the office suggested Sylan, a standalone mountain massif on the Norwegian-Swedish border a couple of hours south East of Trondheim. DNT and TT have price lists for huts on their websites, including the cost of provisions bought in the huts to cook yourself. Like youth hostels, DNT charge a membership fee which provides for a discount in the huts (and a guarantee of a bed over non-members if you happen to be over 50!). If you’re on a very short trip then membership won’t be a significant enough reduction to offset the membership fee, which equates to about the saving gained on three nights’ stay – if you are going to be in huts for longer than this in a year it is definitely worth it. As an aside the Sylan huts are administered jointly with the Swedish hostel association, and they accept Hostelling International membership cards for a discount.
Van camp spots, allemannesretten and a fell race
We drove a couple of hours down to Stugudalen the next day, turned left onto a gravel road and followed it nearly to its end at Nedalshytte. I say nearly, as we were in our VW camper and so we weren’t actually heading for the hut, but looking for a van camping spot. There are numerous laybys in the birch woods by the road, and thanks to the Norwegian law of “allemannsretten” so long as you are more than 150m away from a building or other structure, you have the right to camp there, which also applies to cars and campers. We were luck in that we found a spot to back the van into which opened onto a lovely little glade in the trees next to a stream, the perfect base camp.
Next day we weren’t up spectacularly early – one of the benefits of long summer days, and although this was mid August we knew it would be light at least until after 21:00. The hut car park was rammed with cars and it turned out this was the weekend of the hut to summit fell race, so for the first couple of hours going North we were on the route with runners panting past until we carried on north where they turned off East and uphill. From that point on it was just us and the rolling Norwegian countryside, dotted with mountains, dominated by the bulk of Sylan to our right.
We were walking the circuit clockwise, as cloud was predicted and we figured to stay as low as possible for this day. What we hadn’t predicted, but got plenty of, was reindeer. This being the end of the summer the Spring allegiances had already been made in the herds, rutting was well over and it was time for the reindeer to fill up on the last of the summer forage for the winter head. This meant that the herds were large, and the reindeer not in the least nervous of us. It was interesting watching them move about, with a fussy shuffling gait and a strange head up posture as though led on by the nose. Reindeer are remarkably rectangular – I always thought this was a simplification for cave paintings, but they really are a gift to naïve painting traditions. They have corners.
We saw no one thoughout the rest of the day, walking easily over turf, rock, and boardwalks over bogs. The bulk of Sylan lowered over us East and then South as we turned in towards the Sylarnas Fjellstation. The similarly lowering clouds eventually brought light rain, though we were sheltered from the worst of the South Westerly winds. We made camp away from the Fjellstation and settled in for a rainy night.
Border hopping between Norway and Sweden
By this point we were in Sweden, the only sign of the border being a series of yellow post-markers.
Although we had excellent dehydrated rations (I had reindeer soup, Real Turmat from Drytech in Tromso https://realoutdoorfood.com/products/) I went up to the hut for a nosey and to get the weather forecast for the next day, posted from the excellent https://www.yr.no/weather website. The hut comprises a number of buildings, having been rebuilt after a fire some years ago – and you can see that they have taken the opportunity of upgrading. The reception areas is surprisingly modern, featuring a bar (cheaper than in Norway!) as well as a lounge and sauna. Accommodation in the main cabin is in two and four bed rooms with an extra spacesaver bed. In the annex there is a four bed room you can share with your dog, and eight bed room, and a dormitory with 20 beds, in total 120. There are cooking facilities, though they will prepare and serve a meal for groups of 10-20 that pre-book. The Allesmannsretten rules ask that you camp no closer than 150m (Some huts enforce 1km), so we found a sheltered spot further up the valley - by morning there were six or seven tents around our little hollow.
Summit versus lower level walk
In the morning the weather hadn’t improved much with low cloud and persistent drizzle. Although the cloud was predicted to clear later on we had a day in hand to get to a summit, so we opted for the luxury of a lower walk to complete the circuit while walkers who only had the weekend headed off uphill. It is possible to traverse the main summit of Sylan back to Nedalshytte, but we completed the circuit by walking South to the head of a valley and then West back to the hut. The first part of this was a slog in the rain up to the lip of a shallow glacial bowl, as snowfields emerged from the gloom on our right, but the weather steadily improved and after three hours we reached the saddle which opened up magnificent views of lakes, moorland and mountains to the South. I felt a bit smug about the cap of cloud stubbornly sitting on Sylan, but then into each life…
The wind had picked up and despite the bright August sunshine it was chilly, so having descended the lip of the cirque we sheltered in an emergency hut for lunch. This was a typically well built, and quite new shelter – it had a small entrance hall to keep the warmth in, two bed platforms either side of a built in table, and a wood burner. Two long drop toilets were in a separate hut fifty metres away. It had everything you would need, and in a storm would be a proper haven. This type of hut is left open, and etiquette demands that the stove is left fuelled with tinder sticks ready to go and matches poking out of a box for cold fingers to spark a fire in an emergency.
Above us on our right was the southern peak of Sylan Storsola
The weather had improved markedly by this point, the warm sector with low cloud had passed while we had lunch in the hut, the cold front passing with a heavy shower and crisp clean air followed it. We walked uphill for about 20 minute to the head of the valley, then down, crossed the border back into Norway (a reindeer proof fence and a stile this time) and continued West towards Nedalshytte. Above us on our right was the southern peak of Sylan, Storsola, and the direct ascent path to that follows the border fence on the Norwegian side uphill for a couple of hours, before a rocky plateau and false summit give way to a fine rock ridge and the true summit at 1728m. It is possible to traverse the ridge from Storsola to Sylan’s twin summits, adding to the traverse possibilities between Nedalshytte and Sylan Fjellstasjon. We did this the following day as an extra top and had fine clear and bright weather for the whole day.
We were there in August, and had typical low pressure passage of a depression – similar to a mountain day in the UK during early Spring. Changeable, cold in places, but also with bright sunshine. It can briefly become hot in midsummer, with the added advantage that you are close to the Arctic circle. This brings very long days, though for the midnight sun you would have to travel north of Bodø.
On the whole of our walk (apart from the fell runners, long since gone when we returned) we saw only four other people. Reindeer outnumbered other walkers at least by ten times. The solitude, magnificent scenery, crisp air and easy walking made it a relaxing trip. We called in at Nedalshytte for coffee and waffles on the way past – rude not to. Being on a budget trip we didn’t stay in the huts, and wild camping was fine for us. If you were making a special effort to visit then I think I would be more inclined to spend on the huts. As with most accommodation and food in Norway, it is two to three times the cost of the UK equivalent but the other side of this is that the quality (and quantity) is usually better than you would expect.
Norway makes sense
Stopping in huts for a 3-4 day hike and making a long weekend of it is a great lightweight way to see this amazing country along with only being a few short hours away on a plane, Norway definitely makes sense.
Nedalshytte can be located on Google maps by entering the following digital coordinates: 63.046166, 12.066198