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Norway: Home of the Giants

Norway's Jotunheimen National Park bristles with glacier-clad peaks amid northern Europe's highest mountains, but a five-star hut system makes it a place you can bring your kids. And mom.

Jotunheimen—which translates as “Home of the Giants”—contains the highest European mountains north of the Alps, starkly barren peaks rising to more than 8,000 feet and blanketed with thick, crack-riddled glaciers. Braided rivers meander down mostly treeless valleys, and reindeer roam wild. But best of all, a trek in Jotunheimen combines that pristine wilderness with Europe’s most luxurious huts, as well as flexible route options and side trips. It seemed perfect for a group like ours, with a wide range of ages and abilities.

One small wrinkle: Thanks to an unusually cold summer, much of the ground here remains snow-covered in late July. And rather than the average summer highs in the 50s, the forecast calls for days of rain, wind, and temperatures in the 30s.

Indeed, we had to implement Plan B on our trek’s first morning. At Gjendesheim, a hotel masquerading as a hut on the shore of Gjende, an 11-mile-long finger lake, we awoke to cold rain. My mom, kids, and Penny reached a quick consensus that the 30-minute ferry across Gjende to our next hut, Memurubu, looked like a fine alternative to battling the weather. Meanwhile, Jeff, Jasmine, and I put on our shells and set out to hike 10 miles to Memurubu via Besseggen Ridge.

Often called “the most famous hike in Norway,” Besseggen is one of those iconic places that’s sure to draw a crowd on a nice summer day. In blowing rain and snow, though, we saw almost no one. Amazingly, we still got to enjoy the famed scenery. Midday, the clouds lifted like a stage curtain, revealing snowy mountains rolling away to far horizons. Before us, Besseggen Ridge tilted sharply downward and narrowed to a gooseneck land bridge separating emerald Gjende from another lake, the hypnotically blue Bessvatnet. The seemingly improbable sculpturing of earth and water stirred the same awe I’ve felt in places like Patagonia and Iceland. For a moment, I wished my family were with me.

But only for a moment. As we scrambled down several hundred feet of exposed, rain-slick ledges, I had an anxious vision of trying to lead my family through this hairy stretch in these hypothermia-inducing conditions. The thought unsettled me. What if the rest of the week brought more of the same? They couldn’t take a shortcut every day.

I chose Jotunheimen looking for the wildest adventure I could do with my kids and mom—and have them like it. At the end of the first day, I was still confident they’d make it. But afterward, would they like me?

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