Veitastrond Journal: Trekking Cabins Near Norwegian Glacier

Distant view of cabins at Tungestølen with mountains (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

by Ron Bernthal

Situated in the western part of Norway on a small plateau overlooking the beautiful Jostedalsbreen Glacier, Tungestølen is the name of a group of new, pentagonal-shaped cabins designed by the Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta for a local branch of the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT).

Some of the uniquely shaped cabins at Tungestølen (designed by Snøhetta_photo by Jan M. Lillebø)

Designed for the changing weather conditions of this mountainous site, the four new Tungestølen cabins opened in June, 2020, offering visitors a comfortable and design-friendly overnight shelter every year from about late-June to to mid-October.

On Christmas Day, 2011, the original Tungestølen cabin, which had served as an important destination for glacier hikers for more than a century, was destroyed by the cyclone Dagmar that swept over Norway and neighboring countries. Determined to replace the old cabin, Luster Turlag, the local branch of the Norwegian Trekking Association, along with the small village of Veitastrond, located three miles from the original cabin, raised enough funds for the first phase of constructions, and iniated an international architectural competition among design firms with experience working in rural areas. In 2015 Snøhetta won the competition and the first four cabins are now open to the public. An additional five cabins will be constructed when the second fund-raising drive is completed.

Village of Veitastrond in western Norway (photo VisitNorway)

In the meantime, the four new Snøhetta-designed cabins use pentagonal and oblique construction, made with wooden gluelam framing, covered by sheets of cross laminated timber, and covered in ore pine. The outward-facing walls of the cabins have been given a beak-like shape to slow down the strong winds that sweep up from the valley floor. Inside, the shape of the cabins frame the mountains and valleys outside through angular and panoramic windows, adding views and light to the spaces.

Window frame with view (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

The main cabin at Tungestølen offers a space well-suited for group meals around large, wooden tables. At its highest, the main cabin ceiling measures 14 feet, creating a social meeting spot with panoramic views overlooking the surrounding landscape. The main cabin also contains a lounge with a large stone fireplace, offering a cozy retreat from the sometimes chilly summer days outside.

The remaining cabins consist of a dormitory and smaller private units. Once all nine cabins are completed in the next construction phase, Tungestølen will have enough capacity to accommodate up to 50 visitors.

Surrounded by a dramatic landscape with steep mountains on all sides, Tungestølen serves as a perfect starting point for experienced hikers who wish to explore the local glaciers in guided groups, but also for families with small children who prefer to take shorter and less advanced hikes in the surrounding area. The nearest town, Veitastrond, is surrounded on three sides by Jostedalsbreen National Park, and sits at the northern end of an isolated valley. The town is just ten minutes from Tungestølen by car, or a pleasant one-hour walk along the pretty Storelvi river. If driving from Bergen, expect a five-hour trip (about 165 miles) through spectacular scenery, including a fjord-crossing car-ferry.

Scenery along the Storelvi river near near Veitastrond and Tungestølen (photo VisitNorway)

Smaller cabins designed by Snøhetta (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

Norway is home to the largest public trekking hut system in the world, a way of life for many Norwegians, and becoming more popular with international visitors as well. The Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT) oversees more than 500 cabins across the country, often located throughout Norway’s National Parks as well as in other areas of natural beauty. While many of the huts are spare and rustic, others are more generous in size and offer restaurant-style dining areas and lovely bedrooms. Opening and closing times for the hwing

Dining room table with window view at Tungestølen (photo Jan M. Lillebø)

There are three categories of huts/cabins – staffed lodges, self-service, and no-service cabins. Access to self-service and no-service cabins require a DNT master key available only to DNT members. DNT staffed lodges are open to members and non-members alike, but DNT members are offered a discounted rate for accommodations and food.

A “lodge” is the correct term for the most developed, staffed trekking cabins, with prepared meals, electricity, and hot showers available. They are located in higher use areas, may have longer open dates, and receive see a large amount of visitors during summer. Sleeping arrangements are mostly in one and two-bunk private rooms, and one of the highlights is the family-style three-course meals made from local ingredients and with bountiful portions.

Small, traditional mountain cabin in Sisli (photo Mette Martinsen)

While most huts are quite rustic, often built in the traditional, Norwegian country-style look, Norway is presently undergoing a surge in designing innovative urban and rural structures, from office buildings to mountain huts, always using local materials and colors that blend seemlessly into the environment.

As an example, visitors to Norway’s Skjervsfossen waterfall can watch the Storelvi river rush by through a glazed floor panel in the restrooms of a nearby service building, which is built from local stone to accentuate its connection with the surrounding landscape. Bergen-based architecture studio Fortunen designed the small service building containing two restrooms and a technical room at the site of the waterfall in Norway’s Granvin region. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration and National Tourist Routes in Norway had asked Fortunen to create striking, but low-key restrooms that would complement the rugged riverside site and make the most of the views towards the adjacent cliffs and valley.Tall, narrow windows and glass panels set into the concrete restroom floors provide views of the river, forest and mountainside that ascends steeply upwards in front of the building.

Norway’s popular Scenic Routes have attracted many other significant architectural commissions in recent yeas, including a mining museum on stilts by Peter Zumthor, and Reiulf Ramstad’s visitor center and path network that zigzags across a rugged mountain landscape.

Snøhetta, headquartered in Oslo, has received design commissions for the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo and the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion at the World Trade Center in New York City, among many others. Other recently completed works in North America include Calgary’s new Central Library, the reconstruction of Times Square in New York City, and the expansion to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.