My first day in Stavanger included a planned day trip to Preikestolen. It is a jaw-dropping natural outcrop of rock overlooking a quintessential Norwegian fjord called Lysefjord.
To get there involved a ferry trip from Stavanger, east to Tau and then a bus to the Preikestolen car park, where you faced a one hour walk to the rock itself. The ferry terminal was 500 metres from the Myregaarden Hotel where I was staying and they had a desk out the front selling return tickets for the whole journey. Nice.
I’d seen plenty of pictures of Preikestolen and it did look amazing, but my expectation was tempered by experiences in the past where things didn’t quite measure up or disappointed for one reason or another. The weather was another factor, it could be really crap in Norway, especially on the west coast and it’s not like summer lingers long in Norway. Lucky for me, the entire week was looking sunny and mild! Yes!
The ferry took aboard its passengers, cars, trucks and buses. Driving onto ferries is a way of life in Norway, there are islands everywhere. We arrived in Tau and hopped onto the waiting Preikestolen bus. After about 20 minutes, we arrived at the Preikestolen car park, but now began the more difficult part of the journey. Preikestolen itself, was a one hour walk from the car park.
As a cyclist, I’ve become a reasonable judge of gradient and also, thankfully, a reasonable hiker when things go uphill. The opening few hundred metres of the gravel path to Preikestolen quickly settled into what I judged was a 15% grade. I wondered immediately how some of the older people on my bus were going to fare with this kind of terrain.
The path and the terrain changed many times throughout the journey, from gravel, to huge boulders, to rock steps, to wooden slatted walkways over marshes, to smooth, massive rock faces. There was a steady stream of people both coming and going and I wondered how busy it would be on the rock itself when I got there. A pretty useless thought really, but the mind wanders doesn’t it.
Sometimes the path became very indistinct, especially over the large rock surfaces but there was a red ‘T’ painted regularly along the way so you could always find one if you were at a loss for the right way to go.
I noticed that there were signs every so often explaining that the path to Preikestolen had been upgraded by Nepalese sherpas in 2013/14. Now that seemed a little odd. Why Nepalese sherpas? Evidently they were used because of their expertise in mountain path building. And because their labour was cheap.
This walk was very hard. At times you were rock hopping like a mountain goat up extremely steep sections. People were sitting and resting everywhere. Rest was not an option for me, I wanted to see this famous rock!
I’m glad I didn’t know that I was finally climbing up the last steep section of rock that would bring me to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Lysefjord. It came as a surprise and as the view unfolded before me, I slowed and took it all in. The sheer scale and beauty of this place and the feelings that swept over me was something I will never ever forget. It was so astonishingly beautiful. There was just the gentlest of breezes, the distant chirping of tiny birds, the warm sun on my face and this view. And this wasn’t even Preikestolen itself.
I turned towards the people waking up the path to my right and I saw it, about 100 metres away and unmistakeable. Preikestolen. There are hundreds of rocky outcrops and ledges along the Lysefjord and any of them would be worthy of being photographed and made a fuss over, but this rock was so utterly majestic that you instinctively knew it had no equal.
I walked onto it and found a spot near the far edge to sit down. There were people sitting down here and there eating their lunch after the long walk and not a word was being spoken. It was so quiet. A young chap sitting nearby smiled at me as we acknowledged each other. “Unbelievable” I said and he just smiled again and nodded his head. I looked out across the fjord and saw a few small farms on habitable sections of the opposite bank. It looked like one of those 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzles you do up at the snow when it’s raining outside and you can’t ski. I leaned a little closer to the edge and craned my neck over to see what sort of landing you could expect if you fell. Daaaaaaaamn that was a long way down, and it wasn’t water directly underneath, it was rocks. Not that it would matter from this height, either way you were toast
The odd boat or ferry would cruise along the fjord leaving a white trail against the deep blue of the water. From this height, even a ferry was just a dark speck on the fjord.
I studied the composition of the rock and found it to be acceptably solid. I guess engineers had been here and had given it the thumbs up for structure and safety. Reassured by the thought, I reclined on Preikestolen and breathed in many deep and satisfying breaths. After a good long while I decided it was time to take some selfies and given that there was nobody here to worry about me, hang my legs over the edge, which I duly did.
Preikestolen was far from being the highest point above the Lysefjord. There were higher cliffs directly behind and to the right of it which no doubt offered some great viewpoints. A small number of people were to be found scattered around these upper cliffs and I made my way up there. The path led up to a flat area with a beautiful little pond. Was there no end the photographic opportunities? I walked up to a high area behind Preikestolen and looked down towards it. The two outer corners were for all intents and purposes, perfect ninety degree angles and each side cut back to the adjoining cliff in parallel. You’d swear if you didn’t already know, that it had been made by humans. It was truly, staggeringly beautiful.
I walked further over to the right and up the adjoining cliffs and took many more photos, subconsciously trying to capture Preikestolen in digital form, there to replay and re-experience for myself and others time and time again from my home on the other side of the earth. A futile pursuit of course but when it’s the best you can do, you do what you can. The thought occurred to me that I didn’t want to leave. I just wanted to stay there. So I plonked myself down and soaked up the scene for a bit longer.
There has been a person fall from Preikestolen. A Spanish man in 2013, who stepped out on the rock to take a few last photos. Camera pressed to his face, he took one step too many. A quick search on google yielded another disturbing story complete with a photo of a family who placed a baby near the edge and then all stepped away so the mother could photograph it alone on the edge. Who were these people?
There have been many debates amongst authorities about fencing Preikestolen and thankfully they have to this point, refused to do it. A fence would completely destroy the natural beauty of this place. When you are on the edge of a 600m high cliff, you have to take care. It’s a simple as that.
At some point later, I thought I should check the bus timetable that I had cleverly photographed (I copied some Chinese ladies actually…) when I got off the bus to see when it returned to Tau. 2:45pm and then not till 4:45pm. After blissing out for the last few hours, I bid Preikestolen goodbye and took off at a brisk walk back to the car park. I wanted to catch that 2:45 bus. I had to cover the 3.5km that had taken me over an hour on the way out, in 45 minutes.
I skilfully overtook slower walkers and skipped down the rocky faces as I kept a rough calculation on whether I was actually going to make the bus. It was going to be tight and I was going to be sweaty and red-faced if I did make it. I hate that. It’s undignified running for a bus, especially over difficult terrain and it’s very undignified getting onto a bus full of people, dripping with sweat and panting heavily.
With about one minute to spare, the path stopped and dropped me onto the road. I didn’t remember this bit… It was a gravel path all the way from the car park on the way out. I didn’t remember seeing any forks in the path anywhere, how could I end up here? Crap, I’d screwed up somewhere. Well, the bus had to come along this road, I’ll just stand in front of it and wave it down. I didn’t even know which way the car park was, such was my disorientation. I heard a bus engine start and made towards it. It idled while I walked towards it and I motioned to the driver to open the door which she did and in I hopped. Sweaty, red-faced, undignified but relieved. I needed to get back to Stavanger in time to organise some details for tomorrow’s adventure to Lysebotn, the small village at the very end of Lysefjord. If all went to plan, tomorrow morning, I would be sitting on a ferry, shooting along the fjord I looked down upon with such wonder today.