Hardangerfjord

Buarbreen hike (Hardangerfjord)

Our second hike in the Hardangerfjord region was to Buarbreen, or that was the goal, anyway. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the end. A raging vertical river (not to be confused with a waterfall) scared the living daylights out of me and I had to call off the mission.

Officially speaking, this is the third hike I’ve failed to complete. The first was Fitz Roy in Patagonia. The second was at Machu Picchu. And now this one. This one doesn’t hurt my pride like the other two though. The other two sting. Badly.

Terminology

This hike is referred to by many names with similar spellings. My understanding is as follows.

  • Buer = the municipality where the trailhead is located
  • Buardalen = the valley where the trailhead is located
  • Buarbreen = a glacier arm of Folgefonna glacier and the namesake of the hike

Getting there

Similar to our hike to Lake Bondhusvanet, this hike was on the other side of the fjord from our hotel near Folgefonna National Park. This meant that we had to take the Jondal-Tørvikbygd ferry back and forth.

Each ferry journey cost 90.90 NOK ($10 USD).

The roundtrip drive from Norheimsund to Buarbreen was about three-and-a-half hours and took us through the town of Odda and up a one-lane hillside road with adorable hairy cows that impeded the flow of traffic and gave zero Fs.

Parking and trailhead amenities

After what felt like a thousand years of driving, we arrived at the parking lot. This parking lot was the most modern of the three hikes but it was undersized for the popularity of the hike.

There were only a few parking spaces available when we arrived. If you are driving a camper van, consider yourself warned. This parking lot is going to put your driving and parking skills to the test.

The parking lot was paved and had a secure entrance/exit with a credit card payment machine at the exit (185 NOK).

Note: The current exchange rate between NOK and USD is about 10:1, so, 185 NOK is about $18 USD.

I assume payment via VIPPS (Norway’s mobile payment app) was permitted but I cannot be certain. I do not remember seeing a way to pay with cash and there was no parking attendant onsite.

Though this parking lot was the most modern, there were no toilets!

Buer, the area where the parking lot and trailhead are located, is a big construction site. A beautiful lodge/restaurant is being built in the valley.

Recommended gear

For this hike, I recommend proper hiking shoes and hiking poles. This hike could be done in trainers/athletic shoes but I wouldn’t recommend it because the rocks and mud can be very slippery.

Additionally, I recommend bringing a dry pair of socks and shoes to change into after the hike. Depending on the time of year and rate of glacial melt, you may have to cross a raging vertical river.

Food

I recommend bringing a small lunch or hearty snacks on this hike. The hike isn’t long (distance or time) but it is physically enduring.

We were very hungry (and unprepared) by the time we got back to the trailhead after hiking for two hours. I inhaled a Snickers bar and, contrary to its claim to fame, it did not satisfy my hunger.

The hike

We made a couple of mistakes with this hike. The first one was that we chose to do it in the afternoon, beginning around 1pm. It’d already been a long day by the time we stepped on the trail.

The trail begins by walking toward the restaurant/lodge in the valley. Behind the lodge is a campground. There were no signs to the trailhead so we followed two hikers up a hill and into the woods.

Then we second-guessed our decision because we noticed two other hikers walking through the campground and toward the gravel road running alongside the river.

There was a purpose-built boulder wall on the edge of the river and there were dozens of river rocks stacked neatly into tiny balanced towers.

We descended the hill that we’d just walked up and walked across the campground to the gravel road by the river. We followed it upstream and were immediately faced with our first wall of rocks.

This type of terrain is my least favorite. It’s like someone, presumably, Mother Nature, stood at the top of the mountain and threw rocks and said, “Have fun with this!”

At the top of the rocks, the trail joined the original trail we’d briefly walked on before crossing to the gravel road. I love it when things like that happen.

We were only one wall of rocks up and I wished that I had brought my hiking poles. In my opinion, hiking poles turn humans into mountain goats.

We continued hiking up walls and walls of rocks. It was non-stop.

100% incline. 100% rocks. 100% exhausting.

Most of the terrain was rocky as represented in the photo above but there were sections of the trail filled with large boulders.

In these scenarios, ropes had been installed to help get over the boulders.

It was after the first big boulder/rope area when the mighty glacier came into our view but it seemed a million miles away!

As we ascended, we started coming across waterfalls. With a little help from mankind, these were easy enough to cross with carefully placed rocks and purpose-built bridges.

At about the one hour mark, we came upon a raging “vertical river”. This thing looked mean as hell.

What’s not shown in the video above and the photo below is the area at the bottom of the bridge’s ramp. From the vantage point of where I was standing, a tree was obstructing my view.

It was not a case where the bottom of the ramp connected to the bank of the river. No. That would have been too easy.

There was a 10-foot section of the river between the bottom of the ramp and the bank of the river that needed to be crossed. There weren’t any support systems like ropes or chains in place to help cross this section.

You just had to “frogger” across it by stepping on rocks or going down on all fours and using your hands for balance (again, hiking poles would have been helpful).

The risk of slipping was high and it was guaranteed that our socks and shoes would be soaking wet after crossing the river.

Peter crossed the river from below the bridge by stepping horizontally and vertically, eventually landing on the ramp. I attempted to do the same but got two steps in and froze. The rushing water scared me.

It took me a couple of minutes to unfreeze and I retreated to the river bank.

Peter crossed back to the river bank. Then crossed the river to the ramp again, I suppose, to show me which rocks to step on, etc.

I made a second attempt but just couldn’t bring myself to cross the river.

And that was the end of our journey to Buarbreen. We began our descent back to the parking lot.

Difficulty

This hike, at least the two-thirds we slayed, gets a difficulty rating of 5/10.

Hiking poles would have helped tremendously but, at the end of the day, scrambling up uneven rocks and boulders is physically and mentally exhausting.

In total, we hiked for one hour and 40 minutes. As far as we understand, we turned around at the two-thirds point (“vertical river”). It took us one hour to hike to the two-thirds point and 40 minutes to hike back to the parking lot.

We spent about 20 minutes at the vertical river turnaround point waiting for me to get my shit together and cross the river. This time is not included in the 1h 40m hike time as I’d paused and removed my watch so as to not bust it on the rocks if I fell.

What we’d do differently

What would we do differently if we were to do our hike over again?

Well, some hikes are better done in late summer or even in Autumn and this is one of those hikes. Hiking it two or three weeks later than when we did when the glacial runoff was slower/lower would have simplified matters.

Additionally:

1) I would have used hiking poles (we forgot to bring them on this hike).

2) I would have filled the water bladder versus a water bottle. The water bladder is a convenience thing and also omits the weight of a stainless steel water bottle.

Resources

Below is a list of resources we used to prep for the hike.

ResourceLink
Hardangerfjord tourismLink
Folgefonna National ParkLink
Norway’s weather forecasting systemLink
AllTrails – BuarbreenLink
Folgefonna National Park – BuarbreenLink

Next: our hike to Vikedalsnebbet (aka Little Trolltunga).

1 comment on “Buarbreen hike (Hardangerfjord)

  1. If those hairy cows had a pony they’d probably see they were on the road and move! OMG – that hike looks insane!

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