Finding 'friluftsliv' in Norway
Fifteen miles and a world away is mainland Europe’s largest glacier. Ruben Briksdal’s family has lived in its cool shadow for 500 years – his surname is actually borrowed from one of the Jostedal’s icy fingers, Briksdalsbreen. His grandfather began guiding tourists and travellers across the crevasses in 1966, and at 22, Ruben has already been doing the same for almost a decade. “I could do something else,” he says, “but my grandmother would kill me.” Ruben captures the sense of friluftsliv, combining a young spirit with old traditions. He has got a boy-band haircut but chews tobacco. “One Monday in school,” he says, “our teacher asked us what we’d done at the weekend. One kid said he’d played a video game and got to level six. So I said I’d got to the top level, and pointed out the window to the highest mountain.” These days, Ruben’s pastime takes him to friluftsliv’s lunatic fringe: he spends his winters climbing frozen waterfalls, “hanging from an ice axe with one hand while you screw in an 18cm bolt with the other”.
Our original intention was to paddle a boat up to his namesake glacier, but Ruben has decided we can do better than that. He unlocks a shed and begins pulling out ropes and crampons. I ask him where we are going. “To the top level,” he says, and nods at a great toothpaste-blue tongue sticking down from the clouds behind us.
And so, three hours later, we are 1,400 metres up the Bødal glacier, surrounded by billowy ice hills and giant slitted ice caves like the frozen Eye of Sauron. Ruben spots an ice shelf he simply has to climb, and before setting off, he twists a screw into the glacier and leaves me tied to it, like a dog outside a shop. Frigid gusts flap my trousers. I feel cold, slightly daft and a little terrified. Then suddenly, the sun shoots through a blue porthole behind my head, and at once the horizon is thronged with rows of stupendous side-lit peaks, marching off to the end of the world. It barely looks real, more like one of Slartibartfast’s preparatory dioramas. Twenty-three years ago I beheld such scenes and wondered if I would ever find a more beautiful country. I am still wondering.
Tim Moore is an acclaimed travel author and regular contributor to Lonely Planet Magazine.