Once again we were stunned by a gorgeous view when we threw open the curtains this morning. After traveling through the spacious Nordfjord, the captain had sailed about seventy kilometers down the narrow Geiranger Fjord during the night bringing us well into the interior of the country. We were so close to the end that we could almost reach out and touch it from our balcony. The town of Geiranger with 300 full-time residents is there to welcome the 700,000 visitors that come here every year, 99.9% in the summer. Once again we were here with two other cruise ships, but we were the only one at the dock. The others had to queue up to tender ashore, but we just walked right off onto a tour bus.
This time we had a great Norwegian guide who lives in the area and told us one interesting story after another as we wound our way out of the fjord to a mountain top, through a few tunnels to another mountainous area. The road is closed in the winter and we could see why. The switchbacks were so tight, the coach placed its front tires in one lane while the back tires remained in another. Other coaches had a protocol for giving way to each other, but some of the car drivers just didn’t get it. We also saw more RV’s and campgrounds in this area than we have seen so far. Most were local and the trailers looked like they were here for the season with huge attached tented porches doubling their living space.
Soon we were above the tree line and passed a series of little wooden sheds by the side of the road. The guide said they used to contain soil, which they spread on the snow covering the road when they hoped winter was over. The dark color would melt some of the snow, making removal of the remainder a bit less taxing. Nevertheless it can be well into June before the road is passable. Even now the very end of summer we could see snow patches, cascading waterfalls and sparkling Alpine lakes. Depending on the snowfall, people can downhill ski here year round.
Our ultimate goal was Briksdal Glacier, part of Jostedalsbreen National Park. From the parking lot it’s a steep 45 minute climb to the glacier, but our tour included Troll Cars, large ATV’s that hauled us past the sweating, panting hikers to the top. Even then we had to hike up more before we came to the glacier peaking out from the low hanging clouds. As we stood on the shores of the lake below, we both had a feeling of deja vu. We had been here before in 1982 when the glacier reached all the way to the lake. At that time we could just walk right up to it; now it was hundreds of feet above our heads. We had passed signs marking the glacier’s retreat and it is clear that if we wait too long to return here again, the glacier will have retreated out of sight over the mountain top. Our ship alone had sent six busloads of us here. The infrastructure was well done and there was room for us all to get a sit down lunch, shop and just generally enjoy this spot. We ate with folks who said how impressed they were; this was the first glacier they ever saw. We glad to see it again, but it made us feel a little sad. We have lived so long we have witnessed some of the predicted climate change results with our own eyes. We wonder what will happened to all this if the glacier disappears and there will no longer be a reason to bring the hordes here. And some still say there is no climate change.
As we retraced out steps to Geiranger, the guide talked about how difficult life is here. Wherever there was a semi-flat spot, someone had built a house and was trying to farm. Many of the houses are roofed with grass. Wood is hard to come by at high altitudes, sod is readily available and provides good insulation and will not burn if your cooking gets out of control. Although Norway participates enthusiastically with many aspects of the European Union, it has declined to join after two referendums. A major factor in this decision is their desire to protect the local farmers who could not compete with their colleagues in more temperate countries that are not raising crops on 30% steep slopes with limited growing seasons.
We were awake for the sail back out of Geiranger Fjord. The sides are so steep and every so often were punctuated by yet another waterfall. This was a day when we were extra glad to have a balcony cabin.