Norway Stories and Tips

Flooded glacial valleys and rugged mountain tops

The whole point of the 12 day Hurtigruten experience is to look at the spectacular scenery of Norway's West coast where the sea has invaded the valleys between seemingly endless mountain ranges. Most of the time, Hurtigruten travelers see the rugged, mountainous west coast of Norway to the east and rugged, mountainous islands to the west. At its most prosaic, the whole point of the trip is to look at mountain tops and water. For most of the voyage, the mountains are Alpine in nature-- steep, rocky, and often with pointed mountain peaks. Once on trip to Jackson Hole, WY, we took a single engine sightseeing plane ride through the Teton Range. As long as you did not look down, this airplane ride provided the same views of mountains as does the Hurtigruten cruise-- looking out or up at the spectacular tops of mountains

Although we have only take the Hurtigruten trip once, based on where we live, I'm going to assert with confidence that there is one day of the year when you should book your trip, and that day is April 14. Being more generous, any day between April 1 and April 14 will suffice. Here's why. Fro the last 15 years, we have lived in the Rocky Mountains Our house is about 6,000 ft above sea level, overlooking a mountain valley with a mountain wall across the valley rising 6,000 ft above our house. Such mountain setting have three seasons a year: green, brown, and white. Ours is dry climate. That's why we have three seasons. Mountains in a wet climate, like the Alps or Norway have two seasons, green and white, and of this there is no doubt, no possible doubt whatever: mountains are at their best when covered with snow. Ergo, the best time to travel Hurtigruten is when the mountains are covered with snow, and that time is the early spring, for you four season dwellers.

A bit more on snow and maintains for the flat landers. Snow capped mountains do not happen overnight. Our mountains get snow 12 months a year, but it quickly melts until average temperatures got low enough for the snow to not melt at high noon. That happens sometime between late October and mid-November. From then until the end of March or early April, the snow covering the mountains gets deeper and deeper. Typically, the ski resort where ski has its greatest depth on snow covering the ground when the resort shuts down in mid-April. So, if you want to see a lot of snow on mountains, and that is when you want to see mountains, go in the early spring, not in winter.

The latitude of Norway is another consideration in planning your trip For days, the Hurtigruten steams north of Pt Barrow, Alaska, the most northern part of the North American continent These latitudes play tricks with daylight, the land of the sunless winters and midnight sun in the summer. You need light to see the scenery, so there is trade off-- the most daylight comes on June 21, the least on Dec 21, but the December date is irrelevant At these latitudes, night last nearly 24 hours a day for a month or so-- lots of snow, but no way to see it.

We departed Bergen on our Hurtigruten trip on April 11. Once we passed the Arctic Circle, there were several days where daylight increased by 15 minutes a day or more. For several days, sunrise was around 4:00 AM and enough light to see the sights until nearly 10:00 PM.

Weather is also a factor. Norwegian tourist propaganda stresses that the temperature in the Lofoten Islands, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, rarely falls below freezing (what they don't tell you that it rarely gets above freezing in winter). This is due to the Gulf Stream, which comes barreling into Europe off the west coast of Norway. Because of the Gulf Stream, temperatures in Norther Norway-- north of Alaska-- never drop as low as Alaska's temperatures in winter. The predicted daily high temperatures we encountered ranged from 30 degrees F at Kirkenes to 54 degrees F in Bergen.

The final consideration in asserting that early April is the optimum time to travel the Hurtigruten that fares take a big jump up on April 15. So, there are three factors to consider in when to travel the Hurtigruten: 1] lots of snow, 2] lots of daylight, 3] minimal chances of rain, and 4] lower prices, and the solution is the first two weeks of April, which is when we went.

Why did we then pick April 9 as the date to sail? Because Condo Nast Traveler Magazine's reader's poll had picked Hurtigruten Nordnorge as one of the top 10 best small cruise ships in the world, and April 9 was the last sailing of the Nordnorge before the April 15 price hike.

There are two other geographic factors that affect the view along the Hurtigruten route, the tree line and the snow line. Where we live, the tree line is at 9,600 ft. That is, trees cannot grow at an altitude higher than 9,600 ft. A few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, the tree line reaches sea level. The tree line marks the latitude where the great northern forest ends and the tundra starts.
In America's mountains, the snow line is the altitude where the winter snow field ends and snow free land begins. Like the tree line, the snow line is also affected by latitude as well as by altitude On our April Hurtigruten cruise, the snow line extended to sea level well south of the Arctic Circle, meaning that we saw snow capped mountains that were covered in snow from the coast to the mountain summits.

George Orwell's classic critique of Communism, "Animal Farm", contains the memorable line "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". So it is with scenery of Norway's west coast-- all the scenery is great, but some places are greater than others.
The best scenery is on the southbound trip between Honninsvag and Trondheim, especially in the Vesteralen and Lofoten Islands, and the approach to Molde.

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