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Hike: the hidden charms of Setesdal and the southern most reindeer herd in Norway

Delving into the annals of Norwegian history often reveals a tapestry lying just beneath the surface. In this instance, I am specifically alluding to a history where distinct regions remained markedly isolated from each other. Whether due to geographical barriers, considerable distances, or a combination of both, the result birthed unique identities within many valleys and secluded locales. This distinctiveness is notably preserved in dialects to this day. Although I've grown fairly proficient in Norwegian, I confess that when I sometimes venture into new territories, about 15% of the words remain an enigma.

A reindeer herd in Norway

Setesdal in Norway stands as one such region, boasting an entirely distinctive character. Stretching from the wooded haven of Evje to the winter wonderland of Hovden, this elongated valley is nestled between two mountain plateaus: Setesdal Vesthei and Setesdal Østhei. It exudes a sense of fascination with its ensemble of small villages predominantly centered around agriculture and forestry. Tradition weaves itself deeply into the fabric of this land. Notably deviating from the norm, the variations in Norwegian folk attire (Bunad) here are among the most exquisite. Additionally, the music that emanates from this realm bears an unparalleled uniqueness. The idea of dedicating an entire blog post to this realm feels tantalizingly justified. Perhaps that endeavor shall come to fruition in due time.

My inaugural encounter with Setesdal occurred in 2016. Chosen primarily for its proximity to Kristiansand and its accessibility, it served as the perfect backdrop for a small weekend expedition, complete with numerous peaks surpassing the 1000-meter mark. The treeline sits approximately between 600 and 800 meters, thus etching the number 1000 in my mind as a symbol of the awe-inspiring mountainous panoramas that await.

Allow me to introduce you to a particular trail that I hold dear within Setesdal. This trail beckons to both travelers with and without an automobile.

Upon journeying through the valley, you'll eventually arrive at a place called Valle (Harstadberg bus stop). Here, a narrow bridge spans the gap. Just beyond this bridge, a sinuous mountain road takes you through eight sharp hairpin bends, leading to a parking area. If you're arriving by car, this is your designated haven. A bit further along the route, however, a small fee is levied for the maintenance of the road, as it falls under private care. So you can drive in a little further if you please, once the fee is paid.

The inception of the hiking trail commences at the bend of the aforementioned gravel road. In the event of recent rain, anticipate a slightly muddy and damp initiation. The trail is well-maintained, sporting intermittent wooden planks to aid in keeping your feet dry. Yet, I must stress the imperative of stout hiking boots, impervious to immediate soaking even in the face of the first puddle. If you're in the market for hiking footwear, do take a quick three-minute read of my piece detailing my cherished hiking boots I bought a few years ago.

The initial stage ascends steadily, weaving through a low birch forest. Particularly during early autumn (from August to late September), the scenery transforms into a spectacle of unparalleled beauty. Midway through, a modest climb presents itself, offering terrain slightly steeper in incline. Even for those less accustomed to hiking, this ascent poses no significant challenge. Beyond this ascent, you'll walk alongside a lengthy lake, experiencing, for the first time, a profound connection with the mesmerizing mountain landscape. On either side, mountain ridges soar to heights surpassing 1000 meters. During my initial visit, a veil of mist hung in the air, imparting an almost intimidating aura. The journey from the gravel road to the first resting point takes around 2.5 hours. Here, a small cabin stands, originally built in 1920 as temporary shelter for local shepherds. Today, it's managed by the Norwegian Tourist Association, offering overnight accommodations when necessary. I once found myself stranded there overnight due to an intense storm. The cacophony of wind battering everything in its path meant sleep eluded me that night. Still, it remains a remarkable experience in hindsight.

Embarking from Stavskar, a three-hour trek leads to Bossbu. This recently refurbished trekker's hut, also overseen by DNT (Norwegian Trekking Association), is reached via a journey that leaves one breathless. Especially upon reaching the apex from Stavskar, gazing out across the highlands, the landscape unfolds in breathtaking fashion. Sparkling lakes and rivers catch the sunlight, while in the distance, a majestic mountain ridge with snow-clad sections beckons. I've mentioned it earlier, but it's worth reiterating that this is among the most southern mountainous regions of the country. My last visit likely took place in autumn, probably around the beginning of October. A touch of frost had already graced the land, and daytime temperatures hovered around 4 degrees Celsius. The highest peaks of the mountains had already embraced a blanket of snow. That day marked my introduction to a herd of reindeer. It took a while for me to spot them, their gray-white coats blending almost seamlessly with the partially frozen mountains behind them. The sight left me utterly elated. It was a late afternoon, the sun had descended considerably, and the cold air tingled in my nose. Immense rocks cast long shadows, creating a scene too beautiful to be real.

A few pointers to bear in mind before embarking on your journey: Study the map meticulously, and do not underestimate time constraints. What might take me, a seasoned hiker, five hours could easily demand a few additional hours from you. The website offers a comprehensive guide to all marked hiking trails the country boasts.

Electricity is scarce (or virtually absent). Thus, packing a power bank is a necessity. While certain huts might feature solar panels allowing for half an hour of charging, it's wise not to rely on this as a primary source.

If you're venturing alone, make sure someone is aware of your plans. Share your destination and estimated duration, enhancing your traceability in the event of an unforeseen mishap.

Err on the side of excess rather than scarcity when packing provisions. Ensure they are securely packaged, using dry bags, a concept I previously discussed.

Water is plentiful along the way. Do make sure to tap from fast running water, preferrably above the treeline.

One principle prevalent in Norwegian outdoor pursuits is, 'There is no shame in turning back.' This implies that when weariness sets in or the weather abruptly shifts, persevering at all costs is not the main goal. Your personal safety is the most important thing to take care of.

When utilizing DNT huts, acquaint yourself thoroughly with the specific hut's protocols. Reservation requirements or the ongoing hunting season (September-October) might necessitate extra preparation. **Getting there: it is most likely you'll arrive from Kristiansand. There are busses driving through the valley, but they do not run very frequently. Thus it is most wise to reserve a car in advance. Since Norway has one of the best fast-charging networks in the world, I would advise you to rent an electric car. Better for the environment, cheaper to charge and it gets you everywhere. Check here for availability.


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