We decided to take a different route back home from Lofoten. The highway is comfortable to drive and fast, but we were still hungry for adventure, and instead of going on highway E6, we jumped on the coastal road Fv17. The coastal road offers breathtaking views as it follows the shore, but it requires quite a few ferries to make it all the down to Ålesund from Bodø.
Our original idea was to check out the Svartisen glacier tongue Austerdalsisen, near Mo I Rana, but we didn’t think about the ferry schedule and got stuck in Jektvik 😀 Ups 😀 It’s hard to remember that the ferries might stop for the “night” when the sun never sets!
When he saw how disappointed I was because we would not make it to Austerdalsisen, my boyfriend started googling and found another glacier tongue quite close to where we were stuck. And so we decided to check out the Svartisen glacier tongue Engabreen instead 🙂
Svartisen is the second largest of Norway’s 2500+ glaciers, just after Jostedal Glacier. It is home to several mountains over 1,500 meters high. Centuries ago, the glaciers in this region stretched their tongues all the way to the seashore. The name Svartisen comes from the old Norwegian word “svartis”, which refers to the deep blue color of the ice in contrast to the white snow and newer ice on the glacial plateau.
Svartisen actually consists of two separate glaciers, Vestisen and Østisen, separated by the 1-kilometer long Vesterdalen valley. Engabreen is a northern outlet glacier from Vestisen. It currently stretches almost to the Holandsfjord. This branch of Svartisen is Europe’s lowest-lying glacier, with its lowest point located only a hundred meters above sea level.
How to get there
You can see the glacier from afar from a parking lot along the Fv17 route, but if you want to get a little closer, you need to take a boat to cross Holandsfjorden.
You can check the schedules here. The boat usually departs every hour, and the ticket costs around 250 NOK both ways (in 2020). We didn’t have any problem getting there, but on our way back, there were so many people that not everyone made it to this specific boat, and they had to wait another hour to go onto another one.
That being said, I can recommend making the earliest possible boat so you can rent a bike. There is a limited amount of them for rent, and having one makes it so much faster to reach closer to the glacier. You can also bring your own bike on the boat. How we wished we had one 😀 It takes around 1.4 km from the dock to Brestua café and 2 more km if you want to reach the trailhead to the glacier.
If you do not want to hike up the glacier, you can rest in the Brestua, a restaurant located in the foothills of the glacier, and stock up on drinks/snacks or have dinner. From there you can see the lake and the Engabreen tongue. Even though it does not seem very far, it is actually quite a distance away. So you should only hike further if you really have the time for it (we spend four hours hiking to the glacier and back) 🙂
Next to the Brestua, we found a place called Svartisen Moose, where you can see and “kiss” a moose. We paid for a ticket to get in, which also included some food provided by the staff, thinking we would walk in the forest and maybe spot a moose and feed it. Imagine our surprise when we saw the whole area was enclosed, and fairly small. Maybe it was due to the current Corona situation, but we were slightly disappointed. We fed the moose and took some pictures with it through the fence, but when the staff noticed that the moose was “not cooperating” after we had already taken a couple of pictures, they wanted to make it come back to us (guess they wanted to give us our money’s worth). We told them just to let the moose do whatever the moose wanted to do and leave it alone, but it left us with a sour taste in our mouths. It made us feel like it wasn’t much of a sanctuary for the animals but rather a show to exploit them for money. I would not recommend going there in its current state.
The trail to the glacier
From the Brestua, follow the gravel road for another 2 kilometers. If you have a bike, you will have to park it where the gravel roads end. Then it is around 1.5 km steady, well-graded uphill hike until you reach the glacier. There are stones with blue markings showing the trail, but even if you lose sight of one, it is a pretty straightforward hike. It is not demanding, but it will make you go up and down a lot, at least when you get lost a little like us 🙂
On the one hand, it was impressive seeing how the ice had managed to smoothen out the rocks and cliffs we were scaling to get to the glacier; on the other, it was heart-wrenching to see how much once-glacier-occupied rock was now exposed, as the ice had melted away. Global warming is a myth, huh?
We didn’t intend to get close to the ice at the beginning, we just wanted to hike up to get a little bit closer, but each time we stopped, I just wanted to be a little closer still 🙂 So we somehow ended up hiking the whole way until we stood face to face with the azure blue ice wall. It was the bluest ice I have ever seen in my life! For most of the hike, we thought we were pretty close to the glacier, but we finally realized the sheer size of the glacier when we stood next to it.
Remember, though; the glacier can be as unforgiving as it is magnificent. Always be careful when viewing one up close. The ice is always on the move, and the movement of the ice blocks is unpredictable. You never know when a piece of ice might break off, fall on you, or tumble in your direction. Never ever go on the glacier on your own; there are many deep crevasses you can fall into.
Many specialized companies offer guided tours. They have experienced guides and provide you with the right gear. If not for our unplanned visit, I would definitely have tried it!
We didn’t want to linger for too long beneath the glacier wall as it was dangerous; so we took a couple of pictures and started heading back.
Overall, I would recommend this hike to everyone. Seeing the beauty of deep-blue ice and the way it was shaping the surrounding mountainside was breathtaking. Visiting unexpected places like Engabreen is the reason I don’t really plan our trips. I am super glad my boyfriend found it <3 – I think he just started loving hiking 😀