Majestic mountains enthroned between vast plateaus and breathtaking fjords. The nature here is vast, rugged and beautiful. A fine network of first-class, single trails runs through this unique landscape. Mountain biking in Norway is always an adventure in nature. The trails along the Lyngen Fjord are rough and yet they flow smoothly. Northern Norway purity.
Wind, silence and the fjord panorama
We are sitting at the top of Gjøvarden hill, somewhere in the northern part of the Lyngenfjord. To the left, the high alpine peaks of the Lyngen alps line up in series. A steep, jagged and rugged mountain panorama. In front of us, single red wooden houses are scattered amongst the groups of Islands and peninsula showing signs of civilisation. To the right, the majestic Lyngen Fjord spreads out before us. Stretching outwards, it shapes the landscape like a river.
The fjord landscape is bordered by ancient mountains that reflect a glacial past. Behind them, the seemingly endless Fjell, a vast plateau, stretches from Sweden to Finland, through Murmansk and onto Russia.
The Lyngenfjord lies far, very far up in northern Norway. It invokes feelings of no-whereness, somewhere between the Arctic Circle and the end of the world. In wide natural scenery, mountains ranging in altitudes up to about 2000m, tower above the vast Lyngenfjord. Although the Lyngen Alps are a popular destination for ski tourers, mountain bikers and hikers rarely stray this far up into the north.
An old friend of Daniel invites us to come and join him on a trail hike, to enjoy the amazing landscapes between the fjord and high mountains. Georg was a dog sledge driver here in northern Norway and has led expeditions on both polar caps. He does not deny his soft spot for cold, polar regions. He is now active in regional tourism and tries to share his favourite sport, mountain biking, with like-minded people. Rene and Dominik join us, completing the group, and the pleasant 36-hour drive together from Germany sets an enjoyable tone for the single trails, which we hope will welcome us on the Lyngenfjord.
High Mountain Trails for Lazy Feet
The trail smacks and slurps under the load of our rubber tires. The curves are fast and wide and the knobs of our tyres dig deep into the damp, peaty soil. The trails here are rarely rocky or technical. Commonly thought of as flow trails, they take place at the feet of the spectacular mountains that surround them. Many small, round bends, peppered with small obstacles, invite experienced bikers to get creative, while not directly overtaxing those less experienced.
The good news: This mountain of northern Norway is only 300 metres high in terms of altitude difference. With no direct route, one has to meander, mostly through dense birch forest
for between 1000 to 1500 meters to get to the top The high alpine adventure begins with some very unique and interesting single trails. The not so good news: mountain bikes have to be pushed and carried almost all the way uphill.
Paths rarely, if ever, lead to the high alpine peaks. It’s a pity to all bikers that believe in alpinism (how we refer to our spiritual calling ). The reason why there are hardly any paths leading up to the mountains is simple: hiking and biking can be done to excess in the lower regions.
The locals find the paths here as unnecessary as hairpin bends on ski tours in the winter. Paths are taken only when absolutely necessary. Those who share our desire to reach high altitudes generally know what they are doing – the regional consensus being “We don’t need a path!”. Tourists who stay in Lyngen rarely go hiking. They prefer to drive around in motorhomes, leaving them only to refuel, observe a reindeer at the roadside or to take pictures of the Aurora Borealis. The region around Lyngenfjord is one of the world’s best places to see the light green night spectacle.
Despite the lack of summit enjoyment in travelling downhill, the whole group gathers satisfied at the bottom: The single trails here in Lyngen are probably one of the smoothest and most playful paths we have experienced in our biking life.
Often only washcloth wide and always varied, the trails wind their way through mossy and rocky landscapes all along the awe-inspiring high mountain terrain. The endpoint is almost always at a small car park close to the fjord.
Bike Centre and Industrial Romance
We sit in one of the few self-made mountain cabins and enjoy the majestic fjord view. Those who regularly come here from the little village of Storslett, three hundred metres below, have left behind an object to affirm their membership, a cup that hangs on the wall labeled with their name.
The wooden barracks is built on stable rock and offers only the most necessary protection from nature. The colourful, lovingly inscribed cups, a small wood-burning stove and one or two board games bring a spartan cosiness to the wooden hut.
The trail is pure flow with a view over the fjord. In the foreground, a picturesque runway of the local airport stretches out in front of grey industrial architecture.
The landscape, wide and wonderful, almost forces the infrastructure to be practical. Here above the Arctic Circle, there are no trophies to be won for ornate trimmings or artistic masterpieces.
Here beauty is nature. Man is only concerned with his own survival. For us tourists this translates to unspectacular villages and a car-centred infrastructure with excellent country roads which run along the fjord. The regional infrastructure manager’s influence is easily observed: formerly, ore mining was the main industry. Today, it is the oil and gas industry that leads.
The main attraction in the region is the village of Skibotn. Skibotn is the driest place in northern Norway. The typical northern Norwegian weather of rain – sun – wind, alternating every five minutes, is rare. The precipitous clouds mostly hang in the Lyngen Alps, further west of the fjord. The high and steep Alps usually catch all the bad weather, leaving the village of Skibotn relatively dry.
This is not only pleasing to the soft biker’s heart, but also to those who enjoy a more sensitive path in life. In particular, the many marshlands that can be found with only a few steps from wherever you are. In Skibotn there are only a few of these spots which are being gradually maintained by the small biker group here. This spares nature harm and pleases the mud-sensitive wellness biker in all of us.
Many Curves Through Nature’s Fireworks
Mannfjellaksla, Rottenvikfossen and Gjøvarden are mountain and trail names that are everything to us tourists, but amateur tongue twisters they are not. Phonetically, the mountain and often identical trail names may be complex, but as single trails, they inspire with their simplicity and playful nature.
Sometimes it goes fast into wide curves through open grass and marshland, then suddenly a fast curve intermezzo follows. At another stage, the trail meanders in such a way that one thinks the centrifugal forces may be sending one’s own hormones and nerve windings in their own little brain roller coaster.
At Lyngseidet village we surf along a path through a dark green birch forest in the constant rain. One’s mind wanders, thinking that it’s this constant freshwater that forms the soft peaty underground, creating a perfect mixture between slip and grip.
At Lundefjell mountain near Storslett village, the route is high alpine and yet harmonious, moderately sloping on the open plateau along small, picturesque lakes. The surrounding red and white aquatic plants become the icing on the cake of an already breathtaking view: The Fjell, fjord, alpine panorama and cream trail form such a harmonious quartet here, which is not often found anywhere else in the world. The path leads over non-slip slabs of rock, then over a challenging steep step and into fast curves, peppered with small roots.
The panoramic view at mount Gjøvarden, the even and gentle grass ridge of Mannfjellaksla, the wavy curves near Gorsa waterfall inviting you to bungee down or the speed at which you shoot through the vegetation zones at Fugltinden. Every day Georg shows us one or two trails, and every day again we agree, “Yes, this was really the best trail”.
Norwegians have the ‘Everyman’s Right’: Everyone is allowed to move freely in nature. The right to freedom here is both a lived right and a duty. Being considerate and prudent in nature is, at least, as important a duty as the right of public access, which allows the freedom to do what one wants.
“Carry your bike through swampy or soggy areas to avoid deep furrows.”, “Avoid unpaved trails after heavy rainfall.”, “Do not make the trail wider.” The rules of the game for bikers are different here in the far north than in the Alps. Acting responsibly and, in case of doubt, leaving nature better than one has found it, is generally expected. Refrain from building new trails by sticking to the path. Always showing consideration for hikers as well as avoiding areas with sensitive landscapes are both good manners for bikers to keep in mind when in Lyngenfjord.
This sense of responsibility towards nature and the environment goes back to the tradition of the Sami people. Today, 80,000 Sami still live these ancient cultures of the north. Scattered between Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia, they still maintain their traditions of weaving and reindeer husbandry. Apart from the fact that the reindeer herds are now kept in check by ski-doos instead of horses, this form of free, sustainable agriculture has hardly changed.
The culture here is usually only visible to the public in a few bilingual towns and the old weaving art can be found in the local museums. The connection with and respect for nature here is widespread and has remained strong.
Rough Nature, Rough People
Johann pulls the “summit book” out of the stone cairn, into which he enters his name and the date. In real life, he is a teacher at the local primary school. Today he Guides in place of Georg, leading us on his home trails as he explains what is trendy among the Skibotn mountain sportsmen. The small group of bikers and hikers enjoys competing with like-minded people, while at the same time they work together to look after the trail network.
Entry number 42 and Johann is currently leading, he thinks. Actually he knows, but he is not one to brag and gossip. A win there will gain one maximum recognition, the privilege of maintaining the path and maybe a free beer. The trail at the Sledo waterfall is his favourite trail for biking and hiking.
Being out in nature and sharing his hobby with others is more important to him. For two hours he has had to endure our excited, and typically German, cackling coffee group in his spare time. “I’m a teacher, that’s my job”, he grins back dryly and then pedals on.
At the top, the path winds along a rocky edge through the classic mossy landscape, a steep rocky section leads again into a firework’s display of curves. Hold on to the handlebars, pressure on the front wheel, enjoy the centrifugal forces. I almost feel a little bit sorry for Johann’s calm nature.
Our first attempt at a bit of angler’s luck is somewhat bumpy. We try our hand at the country’s preferred sport, attitude to life and main food source in one: fishing. Fish in, fish out, gut, pan – that’s the theory. We see a jetty suitable for fishing and ask the owner if we can use her jetty: “Nein”, she answers, “go fishing somewhere else”. Clear announcement instead of nice small talk.
A few meters of fishing line and a dozen baits poorer, we are one fish richer at the next available pier. Heidi, the good soul of our accommodation in Olderdalen Skicamp, inspects our meagre catch and bravely reaches into her fish freezer for these hapless fishing beginners. Her catch embraces both her forearms and finally, just about, fits in the oven. Now even a football team could be fed. In the next few days the other fishing spots turn out to be more productive and we are able to gather enough experience, to make the “Petri Heil” greeting a reliable part of the daily workload – just like the morning toilet.
Sceptically we arrive, first to be observed at the Stifestival. ‘Sti’ is Norwegian for the word ‘Bike’. The ‘family gathering’ in Skibotn is the only time during the year in which the one, or two dozen trail bikers from the fjord meet the city dwellers from Tromsö, who will have driven three hours by car to revel in the festivities.
Nobody here would try to bother somebody and text them with irrelevant small talk. Where at first silence, restraint and glances seem to be the only form of communication, alcohol and a romantic place by the open fire usually warms the spirits. Then, when we get dirty on the trail together with another group of local bikers and the car seats get sweaty, it becomes more personal and hearty. They joke and laugh like a southern European extended family at their Sunday feast.
The North Norwegians seem unfussed. Rough like the sea and yet so close to nature. But they are also direct and, at least, lovable once you have overcome the hard shell. Friendships are not easily found here, but if they are, they often last a lifetime.
A groan of relief goes through our group. Two hours we walked up Gjøvarden mountain, most of the time with the bikes on our shoulders, again. We have almost grown fond of the stabbing pain. Magnificent 360° fjord panorama at the summit and again the trail roller coaster down.
Our small group of bikers gathers after the tour on Georg’s new gem: a self-built wooden veranda. Through the majestic glass front, the view sweeps over expertly sealed wood to the Lynfenfjord, with the mighty Lyngen Alps standing behind in the colourful sunset light.
The traditional board game Hnefatafl and the rest of our smuggled wine and schnapps is a great way to think about things: a few obligatory social contacts, a lot of peace, quiet and daylight, some time to comfortably walk up a mountain, get a little dirty, get a trail firework display, hold a fishing rod in the water and enjoy hours of northern light sunset cinema. The hobby philosopher/ pleasure biker in us all will probably think back to these days for a long time.
Tour Dates 2020: August 15th – 22nd
All information about theMTB trip to northern Norway.
Disclosure: The production of the photographs used in this travel article was partly supported by product donations and the assumption of travel expenses. Text and image selection are unaffected by this.