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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.

By early afternoon on our sixth day, we’re descending a snow-free valley, with just a few more hours of dry, easy hiking to our last hut, Spiterstulen. Frothing streams gray with glacial flour crash into an emerald river. Pyramidal peaks vault skyward. At one point, we count seven glaciers within view. Under a clear sky, the temperature leaps above 50°F, a veritable heat wave. For the first time all week, I change into shorts and a T-shirt. Jeff and Jasmine proclaim this “the most idyllic day of hiking” they’ve ever had.

But was this glorious day worth the week’s challenges for my mom? I walk with her, away from the others, and confess, “I feel badly for dragging you out here. I didn’t think it was going to be this hard.”

“I like being out here,” she responds without hesitation. “I like the walking.” Then she ticks off what for her were the hard parts—the stream crossings, the harsh weather, the need to keep moving. Of course, those are the rigors of many multiday treks.

We both understand that she may have crossed a threshold. Will we look back on this week as our last big wilderness trek together? We know that day will come at some point, and neither one of us looks forward to it. But the real tragedy would have been if we never started hiking together in the first place.

Back in my 20s, I just thought it was cool that my mom hiked to all these rugged, beautiful places with me something no other mom I knew did. But now that I’m a parent, taking outdoor adventures with my own kids, I understand what she had the perspective to know a quarter-century ago: Mountain views aren’t the most important reward for the effort of hiking together; the real value lies in the moments we share and the memories we create.

Moments like arriving at our last hut, Spiterstulen, where everyone basks in the well-deserved glow of a goal achieved.

Well, there’s one more goal for three of us. Just before 9 a.m. the next morning, under another brilliantly blue sky, Penny, Jeff, and I embark on one of the side hikes that make a trek in Jotunheimen perfect for a mixed group. While we climb 5,000 feet to the summit of Galdhøpiggen, the highest peak in Norway at 8,100 feet, the others will take a short hike from the hut to see waterfalls and glaciers. (Then we’ll spend a second night at the hut before returning to Oslo.)

We ascend a steep, treeless mountainside, past cascades and domestic sheep grazing a meadow. Cliffs to either side fall away hundreds of feet to glaciers. In the cool breeze and bright alpine sun, we hardly break a sweat en route to a summit with expansive vistas of the mountains and glaciers of Jotunheimen.

The view is stunning, but doesn’t take my mind off my mom in the valley below. But rather than dwelling on whether this is really our last big trek together, I find myself thinking about one of our first. We climbed to the top of Mt. Washington’s Boott Spur almost 30 years ago. A picture from that hike hangs in my parents’ house, on the wall next to high-school portraits of their five kids. The photo shows me with one arm around my mom’s shoulders and the other arm raised in victory. She’s grinning with an expression of amusement and disbelief—the same look she would later have atop Half Dome—as if she can’t quite fathom having made it there.

I got a similar shot of us hiking from Olavsbu to Leirvassbu, a little while after the big stream crossing. Snow-covered mountains, tundra, and a long lake spread out behind us. Our faces look older, but The World’s Toughest Grandma still looks amazed to find herself so far from home.
My expression shows no disbelief, however. I always knew she would make it. •

Northwest Editor Michael Lanza’s latest book is Before They’re Gone—A Family’s Year-Long Quest to Explore America’s Most Endangered National Parks.

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