I had to do something. I was out of work and my mind was ready for the long hike, but my legs were not.
I had left my job for good to trek Norway from north to south, and the embarking day was due on 8 May. But for the last couple of months my legs had been troubling me, and even though they were improving, I still was in no condition to set out for a long walk with a heavy loaded backpack. Outside my window the trees were getting greener by the day, colouring the forests in lime, the dandelions were yellow-freckling the fields and the birds awakened me in the early hours of the morning. There was a sudden burst of warmth and sunshine, making up for the unusually cold and harsh early spring. The lawnmowers hummed cheerfully in the distant, happy to be let out again having spent the winter in a barn, and in the afternoons I could hear children gleefully laughing on the trampoline, or crying as they fell down. The teenagers were strolling the lanes, and I realised that the children from last summer had suddenly become youths.
On Facebook my friends were busy climbing mountains, having their first dip in the sea, running half marathons or cycling 50 miles per day. I felt like a wallflower watching everybody blooming, and I knew I would be very miserable if I did not break away for an adventure.
Evaluating my options, the situation turned out to be far better than I pictured. I could go for easy walks and my legs were improving, maybe not from day-to-day, and sometimes even not from week to week, but I was definitely better now than I was at Easter holiday. I had the impression that swimming was promoting the healing process, at least it greatly lifted my spirits, and I could paddle without any pain. And of course I could still live in a tent and prepare for the big hike, testing my satellite phone and food rations, and last but not least I could live as a hermit, and have a taste of the solitude that was waiting for me in the months to come.
I thought of pitching my tent outside a 50-meter pool and go swimming twice a day. But somehow that plan seemed a bit sad. There wasn`t much wilderness about it.
Then I came up with a much better idea: I would paddle Lysefjorden! That`s where the Pulpit Rock is, and Kjerag and Flørli and Lysebotn. And actually, it wasn`t too far from home. I could literally paddle from my own garden! And on the way, there were plenty of hiking opportunities, so I could test my legs and my satellite phone and get some training before the long hike.
Soon I was packing my handmade kayak. I think my dad can do pretty much everything; if my car breaks down, he knows how to fix it; he`s restored the cabin I live in; he knows how to repair a washing machine and he`s the one to call if a dental unit collapses. And 15 years ago he made three fiberglass kayaks, which I used a lot for a long time. But as time went by, I wanted a faster boat, and I think he was a little bit disappointed when I eventually bought a sit-on-top kayak.
But for this journey, stuffed with cargo, and it was time to give one of Dad`s kayaks a renaissance.
I left port (i.e. my garden) on a beautiful Saturday morning. The bay was full of pleasure boats, from small dinghies operated by eight-year-olds, to sailboats and cabin cruisers, none of which took much notice of a lonely paddler. I had to maneuver between the vessels and cross my fingers that I wasn`t hit by anyone, and that`s how I made it through the day.
Only the first 1,5 hours, along the foot of Lifjell, were familiar waters. That`s about the distance I usually paddle on a day trip, before I have to turn around and head home. But now I just kept on oaring, and the adventure was about to begin.
The coastline was dotted with cabins, some well-kept old wooden houses, surrounded by gardens of blooming apple trees and big rhododendrons; others architectural signature buildings with their own private jetty. And still others were medieval structures raised with no plan but plenty of charm, with people sitting on their verandas enjoying the summer-spring afternoon, waving at me as I passed by.
My goal for the night was Tingholmen, an uninhabited islet with free camping facilities. Of course, I wasn`t the only one with that intention; the pier was full of sailboats and their sailors, and at one of the fireplaces a family of young and elder gathered for a barbecue. At the waterfront children and their parents sought for shells and waded in the shallow water. One of the dads helped me dragging my kayak out of the water, and I hang my dry suit from a tree and put my oar up at a boulder. It was still warm, so I pulled out my sleeping mat under the half shadow of old pasture trees, ate chocolate and read my Kindle book.
When the sun set, the families had left but the sailboats were still docked. From a distance, I could hear somebody playing old songs from a local band, and all of a sudden I was 25 years back in time; a young girl on a boat trip with my boyfriend and his friends. Were we here? The islands were all similar to me then, we stealth camped at private properties and ragged around in the archipelago, and we might very well have been at this place too, even though I don`t remember having set my foot here before.
It was getting chilly, and on the other side of the islet, I found my own private beach where I pitched my tent.
The lesson I learned from the first night was that May is too early for a lightweight summer sleeping bag…
My breakfast the next morning was porridge with infant formula (because the shop was out of powdered milk). This is what I`ve packed in the resupply boxes for my NPL hike (about 120-day rations), and I could tell from the very first mouthful that this was not going to be a favourite of mine. But the morning coffee was delicious, and then I treated myself with a bit of chocolate. While I sat in the grass a couple of eiders drifted along on the flat sea, and not far away was the sound of sheep bells. It was Sunday morning, and I was not working tomorrow or the days after. Life wasn`t too bad.
But I had found no running water on the island so I couldn`t stay all day, and reluctantly I packed up my tent and sleeping bag, deflated my sleeping mat and stuffed my kayak.
You think you know your neighborhood where you`ve lived more or less your whole life, and then you realise there are entire communities just outside your doorstep that you never knew existed. Never did I imagine the margins of my district so pastoral. There were an abundance of cabins, but also homes and farms and commercial fishing boats. And even the places I knew beforehand, looked completely different from the seaside. My childhood friend had moved to a farm at Bersagel, and now I could see what a gem that place was. I passed the house we cousins rented three years ago, for our annual gathering, and I almost got a glimpse of the school where I`d worked as casual staff when I was 19. Wow, how young I was! I remember how full of energy the children were, how enthusiastic I was and how chaotic my classes were. But I don`t recall feeling insufficient or like a failure. I think those emotions weren`t to come until dental school.
At some point I had to cross the fjord to enter Lysefjorden, and as I approached the inevitable, my worries grew. The wind was rising and now the sea was unpredictably choppy. If I were paddling my sit-on-top kayak, the traverse would have been pretty straightforward; even if the si-on-top is more unstable, I`ve fallen out of it so many times that I know how to enter it, also in the rough ocean. But the problem with the handmade kayak is that the cockpit hole is very tiny, so it`s hard to slip into it. I`ve practiced it in smooth water, and even then it`s easier said than done. And I haven`t done it in wavy conditions with a heavy packed kayak. On top of everything, I didn`t think about bringing a pump. So falling out of the kayak could turn out to be a very critical situation.
2 km/ 1,5 miles away I could see the entrance of Lysefjorden. So near and yet so far.
I had a rest at Lauvvik, stretched my legs at the ferry slip and ate some chocolate. Then it was time to do some serious paddling.
Five minutes from the dock I was into white waters. Swells from the ferry came from the left, and the sea itself was erratically alive. Paddle, paddle, paddle! Now there was no turning back. I fixed my gaze at the shore on the other side and kept paddling, constantly moving while at the same time trying to relax and ride the rodeo horse underneath me. Paddle, paddle, paddle! First, it didn`t seem like I was getting anywhere. But I just kept on paddling, staring at my goal, and suddenly I was into a smoother water and glided into the land.
Now the weirdest thing happened – my lower jaw started moving back and forth uncontrollably. It wasn`t like I was going to cry or anything, and it wasn`t the cramps either, or teeth chattering, it just moved involuntarily. I went ashore and had to put both my hands on it to keep it still. Wow, that was a near escape! I could have taken the ferry, why on earth didn`t I do that?
I had decided to camp at Dørvika, another free campsite with basic camping facilities. The remaining few kilometers went super slow. The sea was calm and I followed the shore, but it was like all energy was drained away from me, and I felt like a zombie pulling through syrup. Finally, the beach was in sight, and I rolled out of the kayak and dragged it up on the sand.
On 5 May 2013, the police discovered a “wrapped object” in the fjord at 70 meters/230 feet deep just outside from here. The bundle was surfaced, and it turned out to be the missing 36 years old mother of two they had been searching since Easter. The following day the husband admitted having killed his wife and dumped her in the fjord. By that time he had been charged with murder since 28 April, but until now there had been no body. Later it was revealed that the police went through his Internet log, and found searches for “how to get rid of a dead body” and “how to dump a corpse in the sea”.
5 December the same year the husband was sentenced to 21 years in prison for rape and premeditated murder. He appealed the sentence, admitting killing his wife, but claiming they had planned it together.
Just as I lay down on the beach, a familiar silhouette strolled down the dirt road. It was Tore, my friend from the Tourist Association, carrying a rope and a chainsaw. “Tore, what a coincidence to bump into you here!” Tore is an eager mountain climber, and now he was going to prepare a route at the rock wall just behind me. “Anne, I`ve got an extra pair of climbing shoes and a harness in my car, go get them and I`ll hang out a top rope for you.” Just the thought of walking to the car seemed unbearable. So while Tore chainsawed, cleared the place and climbed, I lay on the beach on my sleeping mat and ate my dry food dinner and read.
A few hours later I was in my sleeping bag, listening to the steady ebb and flow of the waves. My body was rocking from the hours spent on the sea, and now when I laid down, I noticed how much my shoulders were aching from the exertions.
On the third day, I was well into my Lysefjorden experience. This is how the French writer Victor Hugo described the scenery in his novel, Toilers of the Sea, in 1866:
“Nowhere do these terrific forces appear more formidably conjoined than in the surprising strait known as the Lyse-Fiord. The Lyse-Fiord is the most terrible of all the gut rocks of the ocean. Their terrors are there complete. It is in the northern sea, near the inhospitable Gulf of Stavanger, and in the 59th degree of latitude. The water is black and heavy, and subject to intermitting storms. In this sea, and in the midst of this solitude, rises a great sombre street–a street for no human footsteps. None ever pass through there; no ship ever ventures in. It is a corridor ten leagues in length, between two rocky walls of three thousand feet in height. Such is the passage which presents an entrance to the sea. The defile has its elbows and angles like all these streets of the sea–never straight, having been formed by the irregular action of the water.”
Not much has changed since then; except the tourism and the boat traffic. I enjoyed the surroundings, slowly cruising underneath the tall, steep and lightly coloured granite rocks. Not far from Dørvika I spotted the Pulpit Rock on the other side of the fjord. If I didn`t know where to look for it, I would`ve easily surpassed it without noticing.
I arrived at Flørli at midday. Flørli is a road-less hamlet with three inhabitants and 13 houses. People have lived here since the 15th century, but today`s buildings are from 1913-18 when the hydropower station was built, and I would guess also from the 50`s or the 60`s. In 1916 119 workers, 28 women and 37 children lived at Flørli, where they had their own school, post office, and a grocery store.
Now there is a new spring in the small village. The houses are refurbished by Flørli 4444, who offers accommodation and runs a cafe and kiosk. There`s a total capacity of 63 guests, and you can stay in your own villa, rent an apartment or a room or just a single bed. Or you can pitch your tent on the flat ground close to the sea. From June to September the School-Pub is open on Fridays and Saturdays, and on Saturdays the big tub at the quay is warm.
As I pulled my kayak up the slipway, I was introduced to Oscar, who gave me a helping hand. Oscar is the cook and handyman at Flørli 4444, and he saw how cold and wet I was. “I`ll show you to the nearest apartment where you can have a warm shower and dry clothes, and I`ll fix a shoe dryer for your footwear.” Seldom was a warm shower more welcome! I wasn`t cold when I was paddling, but as soon as I stepped out of the kayak, I started freezing. I find it very strange that I tend to get wet inside my dry suit when I paddle. First I thought the suit was leaking, and I filled both legs with water and hang it up to dry. It turned out it was completely sealed. Then I discussed it with others, and they`d experienced the same thing and had a theory that we get wet because we sweat or because there`s water coming in between the hand collars and the wrists. But I`m not convinced, and the phenomena still remains a mystery to me.
I wanted to stay in the hot water forever, lifting my face to the sprinkle, but I was sharing the apartment with two others and couldn`t let the hot water run out.
Clean and warm and rested I went for a lazy walk. It was like coming into another time. I went to see the old Power Station, now Power Cafe. It was filled with a group of people who had a banquet in the large turbine hall, and through the tall windows I got a glimpse of the tables set with white cloths and decorated with flowering apple tree branches.
Beside the Power Station was the bottom of the longest staircase in the world made entirely out of wood, 4444 steps considered one of the world`s scariest stairs by CNN. I was far too tired tonight to climb them, but I decided I would come back in a few days for a hike.
Then I explored the old houses in the village. Some of them looked like they were from the early 20th century, built when WWI was ravaging in the outer world. Others were younger, maybe from the 30`s or 40`s, surrounded by huge beeches, birches and Mayday trees. I was shown around in the house where the engineers used to live. Now it is a Historic Hostel, in the process to be fully renovated. The restoration was beautifully done, conservative and minimal invasive with the skills of professionals. You could still see the wear and tear on the staircases, the doorsteps were concave from years of use, and the banisters bore the marks of bygone times, but now again smooth and comforting to slide your hands along.
A long, narrow path clung to the mountain walls. I followed it, and it led to a tiny cabin the size of a playhouse. Here I met Hessel, who runs Flørli 4444 together with Oscar. Hessel was busy converting the cabin from a barrack to a guesthouse just big enough for a double bed under the window. When the season starts in a two weeks time, its guest will have a full view of the bottom of Lysefjorden.
Home in the apartment I felt fulfilled and finished. How wonderful to sit down in a comfortable, vintage leather armchair, with my legs on the table, a cup of coffee in my hand and a Kindle book in my lap, and with the most gorgeous, magnificent window view. From here I could see far into the bottom of Lysefjorden, the big gray walls on both sides, wilder and wilder as the fjord narrowed, and with patches of lush green where the hillsides were not too steep. And right in front of me, on the other side of the fjord, there was a heart the size of a small lake, a natural bare ground in the mountainside. It reminded me of the hidden image you look for in a stereogram; first, you don`t notice it, but then it`s impossible to overlook.
The next morning I paddled to Lysebotn. I had an appointment in Sandnes on Wednesday for an MRI of my leg and would leave the kayak in Lysebotn and take the ferry to Lauvvik, where Mum was waiting for me in her car. It felt good to do just a short lap today, as I felt tired to my bones, and my shoulders, in particular, were hurting quite badly. The fjord was tranquil and I could see no others.
I had never paddled this stretch before, just seen it from the ferry. Now I kept close to the foot of the mountains, and it was like if I was on a hike but in a kayak. On my right was an old-growth forest with large trees and fallen dead trees, and trees hanging out in the sea; ferns and mossy stones. On the cliffs the oystercatchers gave out their loud, beeping calls, and in the sea guillemots; black birds with a white wing patch gaped red.
When I rounded a bluff, there was a sudden splash. And then another and then a series of load splashes – I`d inadvertently come upon the Lysefjorden seals. Now ten or fifteen of them slid down from the rocks. I stopped paddling. None of the animals were left on the bank, but black heads popped up in the sea around me. They reminded me of Labradors, circling my kayak, coming nearer and then simultaneously ducking under the water and the sea was all flat and empty again. But after a minute or so, they popped up from somewhere else. It was all very quiet, the only sounds were the occasional splash they sometimes made when they ducked under. This was life, here and now. And then I thought: “Why, why, why on earth did I put my camera in the trunk?”
I wouldn`t disturb them too much and paddled further.
Now there was no forest or green along the shoreline. Vertical mountain walls rose from the sea, and I had to tilt my head to see the outline of the mountain plateau far above me. This was Kjerag, 1,110-metre (3,640 ft) high, where the base jumpers fly from the cliffs and the daring tourists enter the Kjeragbolten. The bolt was barely visible from the sea, as a tiny marble wedged in a crevasse.
At Lysebotn there was a pebbled beach where I could easily go ashore. I emptied the kayak and lifted it upon safe ground, and then I carried all my stuff to the Lysefjorden Lodge. They were just about to open for the season, and their only guests were a Japanese film crew who had the facilities for themselves. The lodge manager was very helpful and let me put all my gear in their basement, where I would leave it for two days.
It was the time and place for a promenade; a warm and sunny noon, with only a soft breeze in the air, apple-trees in blossom and still a couple of hours left until I had to catch the ferry. Behind the lodge there was an avenue lined with birch trees and wooden houses and well-kept gardens, and further down the road I passed a red old barn and fields with snow-white sheep and playful lambs, bleating with young and frail voices.
The ferry was filled with power station workers in helmets and yellow clothes, and a few mountain climbers, but it was still too early for tourists. I leaned back in my seat and through the window I watched the long and narrow fjord I had paddled for the last two days.
Thursday morning I took the 06:05 am ferry from Lauvvik to Lysebotn. I couldn`t wait to get into the kayak and see the seals again.
They were at the exact same spot, perfectly blending in with the stonewall – brown, silvery white, tan, spotted and light and dark gray, blubbery but still athletic, lazily watching me and then smoothly dropping into the sea like the other day.
It was the best of times.
Then I crossed the fjord and debarked at Håheller. It could have been an Eden, but the house, once a mansion, was tragically collapsing. I could have cried. It was the worst of times.
I pitched my tent between the junipers, overlooking the fjord and with Flørli at sight in the distance.
It was still early, my legs were not in a too bad shape and there was a narrow path leading from behind the house up along the mountain side. I decided I`d rested my limbs long enough, and packed my backpack.
The trail turned into a trap. At first, it was unmistakable; hard trampled from hundreds of feet and years of hard labour. Here and there it was covered by yellow leaves from last autumn, and deer droppings told me it was still in use.
Then it split, first once, and I picked the wrong branch and had to turn back. Then again, and once more I thought I`d chosen the false path and reversed, but the other one was just as vague. I had a map, and I used my mobile as a GPS, and both told me I was more or less on the right course, but after a while, there were no signs of any human trace.
I came into a slide of rocks, but on my map I could see there was a round trip. It was still possible to move a bit further. I just had to be careful. Painstakingly slow I scrambled over rocks and between big boulders, and my heart jumped every time there was a movement underneath me. By all means, I would not trigger an avalanche!
The further I moved, the less I wanted to turn back and repeat my trials. It couldn`t be that far left. But it was. It was like the rocks never stopped, and I was about to give up when I noticed a cairn right in front of me. Finally! From that one, there was no sight of more, neither behind me or in front, but it gave me comfort and a boost to keep on. And not long after there was another one, and then another, and then there was a path again.
Now there was a short relief, but I could see from the map that the path crossed the river. And I could hear the sound of the river from the distance. No way that was fordable.
It wasn`t. Crossing it would be a hazard. But from where I was, comparing the map and the terrain, I didn`t see why I had to. It looked like it would be possible to climb the pass on this side of the river, just as well as on the other side.
And so I kept on rock scrambling. But compared to earlier, this was traversable.
Further up I reunited with the path. It was like meeting an old friend again.
Now I was pretty high up in the mountains. The route flattened and followed a lake, and in the end of the lake there were cabins and an old farmhouse. And even a road leading to the buildings. How weird to find a community up here in the middle of nowhere.
This was Fyljesdalen, where Trygve Fyljesdal lived until 1964 with his sheep, goats, and cattle. For the last 15 years, he was the only resident in the hamlet. Then he moved to the neighbouring county, but in 1969 he turned back to Lysefjorden, this time to Håheller, which he leased and where he lived for many more years.
By 1942, the Germans were close to developing an atomic bomb. But they lacked an essential component – heavy water. The source of the heavy water was the Norsk Hydro plant at Vemork in Norway, which had been occupied in 1940. When the British government learned of the German nuclear developments, it was decided that a raid would be launched to destroy the plant and deny the Germans the heavy water required to develop a nuclear weapon.
The heavy water plant was situated on a rock shelf 1,000 feet above a river requiring a precipitous climb and was unsuitable terrain for parachutists or gliders. It was decided a glider-borne landing would be attempted on a landing zone five hours marching distance away. The raiders would be guided by a ‘Rebecca-Eureka’ radio location device to the landing zone and then by Norwegian guides to the objective. Once the objective was destroyed, the group had to extract across the mountains to Sweden.
On the evening of 19 November 1942, two bomber planes taxied up to the tarmac outside the Scottish coastal town of Wick. Two gliders were connected to the bombers on long hawsers. In addition to the flight crews, the four aircraft contained 48 young engineers from the British Commonwealth. Many of them had written final letters home to their families, wives and girlfriends – one has written home that they should have Christmas dinner ready when he returns.
When the first plane neared the Norwegian coast its compass failed and it became difficult to navigate by charts. After making an attempt, the pilots decided they had no chance of finding the right valley to land in – Norway simply had too many of them and the weather had turned worse. The pilots decided to return to Scotland.
They had to fly high over the clouds and the tow line to the glider iced up. When they took the plane down below the cloud level to warmer air they ran into heavy turbulence. The hawser that pulled the glider full of soldiers snapped.
The troops were just north of Stavanger, and the glider crashed into a mountain in Fylgjesdalen. The Halifax, however, made it back to the airbase it had left earlier in the evening.
Both pilots and six of the soldiers died instantaneously when the glider crashed. But some of the soldiers survived, and they sought help from a local farmer in Fyljesdalen. He, in turn, feared reprisals and notified the local sheriff in Forsand, who subsequently got in touch with the security police.
Four of the men were doped with morphine and then killed by the Germans. Heavy rocks were attached to their bodies and they were tossed into the sea. One of the soldiers was shot from behind as he was descending some stairs. The others were strangled.
The second aircraft-glider commander crashed into a mountain at Helleland near Egersund; the aircrew and some airborne troops were killed outright, and those who survived were taken prisoner. None survived for very long, being executed as a result of Adolf Hitler’s Commando Order, which stated all Commando personnel was to be immediately executed upon capture.
At the end of the war, Wehrmacht personnel was tried and condemned to death for their part in the executions.
From Fyljesdalen there was another pass to climb before the descent, and the path was covered in knee-high, rotten snow. On the other side of the glen the downward slope was steep, and even with my GPS, I had great difficulties finding the track. When I reached Håheller several hours later, I shambled to my tent and fell asleep immediately, without any bedtime reading.
I woke up in the middle of the night from my legs hammering and aching, and with the swelled and stowed feeling that had become so well-known to me for the last couple of months. “Everything is destroyed,” I thought. Yesterday`s hike turned out to be far more arduous than I had ever imagined, and now I had only myself to blame for the stupidity of attempting such an exertion.
Outside there was a gale rising. The tent flapped and shook, and I was surrounded by a constant sound as loud as if a helicopter had just taken off. I couldn`t sleep. All I could think of was my legs.
In the morning the wind had dropped to a breeze, but the sea was still white. My plan had been to cross the fjord and do only a short paddle back to Flørli, rent a room in the apartment and sit at the cafe and treat myself with ice-cream and coffee and maybe cake if they had, read my Frozen-book and walk along in the hamlet, photographing and chatting with Oscar and Hessel. But I was not risking another dicey fjord-crossing and had to think out something else to do.
There is no quay at Håheller, so I couldn`t call the ferry to pick me up. Another long hike was out of the question, and just staying at Håheller the entire day seemed a bit dreary. I boiled water on the gas and had a long breakfast; porridge, now improved with Mum`s homemade raspberry jam and tasting deliciously, several cups of hot coffee and a bit of chocolate, and then I decided to paddle along the foot of the mountain to Songesand, a 10 km (6,4 miles) course that wouldn`t be too perilous.
I had the surf from the side and behind; lifting my kayak and sending it forward, and then ferociously crashing it down hard on the water. Salty waves slammed into my face, and at one point the kayak spun sideways and I had to use all my force to straighten it up again. And then there were sheltered coves where the sea was almost calm and I got a break for a moment and sighed, getting ready for the next lap.
Reaching Songesand I was high on adrenaline and excited to have made it. I dragged my kayak onto the grass and hung my dry-suit in a tree, and then I decided to hike very slowly and unprovocatively to Bakken. It might have been the adrenaline or the triumph from the paddle, but somehow my legs felt improved.
Among the many beautiful hikes along Lysefjorden, this is maybe the most graceful. From Songesand to Bakken there goes an old path through the hillside, here and there improved by dry stone walls or flat, broad, large slabs; now and then interrupted by a slide of rocks quite easily forded. The route first leads close by the fjord, then climbs 200 meters (660 feet) up to the old and now abandoned Bakken farm, all the while fluctuating between old oaks, pines, rowans, lindens and willows. And then there are the birches, some tall and white, other lichen-covered with black trunks and branches deformed from pollarding, bearing witness of another time when their fresh leaves were used for fodder to feed livestock.
On the ground the strawberry plants were flowering, and so were the violets and wood anemones. I was stepping on a blanket of pine cones and dry leaves, and all around me there was birdsong.
At Bakken I walked around and studied the huge dry stone walls; the old apple trees overgrown with lichen but still sprouting a few years more, I looked at the buildings and I read the stories on their walls:
Here was the childhood home of Pilt-Ola (1779 – 1858), the son of crofters and born into a life of penury, but with abilities and courage that gave him a life unlike any others, balancing between great prosperity and defeat, and leading him to adventures usually reserved for fairytales.
In the last years of the Napoleonic Wars, the country was in a deep crisis. Norway, then in a union with Denmark and thereby at war against Britain, suffered deeply from the British blockade, crop failures, and famine. But in 1808 the herring returned to the fjords, and Pilt-Ola caught the opportunity. He bought when the fish was in abundance, salted and stored, and sold with great profit when the herring was absent. Thus he became a rich man who bought trading houses and ships and farms and churches, but also a well-doer who donated seed for the poor farmers in the fjords.
But the rumours went that his herring was rotten, and now he suffered endless trials. When the verdict fell, its conclusion was that the herring was perfectly fit as human food, but by now Pilt-Ola had lost his fortune and stood on bare ground.
Yet Pilt-Ola rose to his feet, and found his next project: reindeer farming! He would herd reindeer in the mountain plateaus of Ryfylke and Sirdalen, and traveled to Finnmark where he bought the animals which he herded all the way home to his local mountains. Until this day all the wild reindeer in our region bear the genes of Pilt-Ola`s animals.
Pilt-Ola never married. His sister Johanna, one of his 11 siblings, lived close to Stavanger, and in the last years of his life, she was his comfort and friend. Throughout his whole life, he sought to help those who had little and saw how unfair it was that so many laboured for such a sparse income and that some few had so much. He built workshops and smithies and opened trading houses in the fjords, where the population grew rapidly and people needed work.
Footnote: The name Pilt-Ola is a nickname, his real name being Ole Olsen Songesang. “Pilt” is an old-fashioned Norwegian term for limping, and he got his label from an accident in his youth, falling down from the rig when he was keel hauling a ship. The injury made him forever faltering, but it didn`t keep him from walking home from Finnmark. I will be more like Pilt-Ola; see the opportunities and rise when I fall.
The last householders at Bakken were the siblings Gjertrud and Johannes Bakken. They were both unmarried, and Pilt-Ola was their great grandfather`s brother. Gjertrud died in 1962, and in 1973 Johannes left the breakfast table, his coffee cup still half-full, and walked down to Songesand. The same year he gave his farm as a gift to Forsand municipality.
Now the main house is worn down. Not as badly as Håheller, but it needs skillful renovation. The barn is better maintained, and it is possible to stay there for the night, but I wouldn`t recommend it because of the mice. My hope is that Bakken will be saved before it ends up like Håheller!
At Songesand I called the ferry, and 15 minutes later it took me on board and that`s how I crossed the fjord to Flørli. There was a room for me in the apartment, and here I met Silas, a nice young man from Germany, who spent his holiday-week in Norway.
The weather forecast for the day said winds near gale force, and from the big window in the living room, I could see white streaks on the black fjord. How good it was to sit inside and watch it! I had a long and lazy breakfast (porridge), and then I contemplated a bit over my legs. They weren`t too bad. Not 100 percent, but maybe 70-75. I thought that was acceptable, and decided to hike the world`s longest wooden staircase.
It was not my first time, I`d done it before for leisure and for pain, as in Tripp Trapp Triathlon when you come out of the water from 3 hours in the kayak, and then hastily climb the 4444 steps and 740 meters (2427 feet) ascendance, knowing that when you`re on the top, you`re about halfway in the race.
Today was a day for leisure. I walked slowly, listened to my audiobook and chatted with the only people I met; a family of three generations, celebrating their grandson`s birthday.
The staircase was built in 1918 in association with the cableway and penstock running from the reservoir lake up in the mountains down to the power station at the fjord. For the first 1000 steps or so the wind was just a light breeze, but the tread boards were wet and slippery, so I had to be careful. The wire running along them served as a handrail, and I thought about the navvy labourers who put up the staircase and the pipes and the cable-way and the heavy loads they carried up these steps.
For every 500 steps there was a sign telling me how far I had come, and just above step 2000 was the cable house and the winch used to pull the wagon with building materials for the pipeline and other materials for the hydropower development.
From here the stairs rose sharply, and now there were sections hanging a couple of meters above the ground. The wind blew harder as I climbed above the tree line, and for the last hundred or so meters I had to hook down to walk against the blow.
I couldn`t stay long at the top because of the strong wind, and as soon as I`d put on my mittens and my windproof jacket I followed the river and the bleak track down the mountain. Gradually the forest became thicker, I reached Flørlistølen and then the steep slope down to the village.
At the apartment, I lay down on the sofa and waited for Silas. He`d been out for a long time, and I was just about to get worried for him when he arrived, enthusiastic and happy, having extended the hike up towards Skåpet. Somewhere before Sauatjørna he had to turn though because the snow was getting too deep.
In the evening Oscar invited me for dinner in his 50`s style apartment above the school pub. Oscar is a trained cook, and I had my best meal of the tour!
Slow Sunday: This morning the sea was like a mirror. It was completely calm. Outside my bedroom window the sound of sheep bells woke me up, but it was a nice alarm clock and I lay in my bed and read a bit before I went down for breakfast. Silas was already up, eager to go for another long hike in the mountains. I though appreciated an indoor day, relishing the goods of civilisation. I lit the fireplace and curled into my favourite chair beside the window, with my Kindle book, coffee, and chocolate. Later on, I went down to the cafe and had another cup of coffee and read the newspapers.
In the afternoon I caught the ferry to Songesand, where my kayak lay waiting for me, and then I paddled for an hour or so in flat waters to Refså quay, where I pitched my tent and fell asleep the moment I lay my head on my pad.
The Pulpit Rock
It rained pretty hard during the night, but I was awakened by the sun converting my tent to a sauna. I was a beautiful day, perfect for a hike to the Pulpit Rock!
Tonight I was having dinner with my parents at the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge, and I would stay at the lodge for the night if there was room for me. I wondered whether it would be better to leave my tent pitched to dry or pack it in the kayak, but the campsite was remote and not easily accessed, so I decided on leaving it as it was.
From the sea, there were 200 metres (660 feet) rise up to Refsvatnet, the lake in front of the lodge. The hillside was already warm from the sun, everything was green and sprouting, the birds were singing and the bumblebees buzzing, and I didn`t see anybody else.
That was until I came to the lodge. Here the parking lot was crowded with tourist buses and cars, and the reception at the lodge was filled with Japanese, Frenchmen, and Americans. I was lucky and got their last room, lightened my backpack and changed into shorts and t-shirt.
Each year 300 000 people complete the nearly 8 km (5 miles) long hike, making it one of the most visited tourist attractions in Norway. They are rewarded with spectacular selfies from the famous rock formation and hopefully a nice hike too.
For almost all of my Lysefjorden adventure I had been alone in nature, but here the people were teeming, and I think I will describe a hike to the Pulpit Rock more of an anthropological than a wildlife experience.
Well at rest at the lodge I had a shower in my own private bathroom, floored with black slate and surrounded by frosted glass and wooden panel, and then I met my parents at the reception. We had a wonderful dinner and dessert, they decided on the apple cake and I chose the chocolate cake, and then they drove home and I retreated to my room.
Again was I awakened by the wind. I had left my window open, and now I could hear how the wind battered and tore the branches of the trees outside. The rain pattered against the window, and I suddenly remembered my tent was still raised. And not just my tent; I`d left my dry-suit hanging from a rock, and I`d put the oar up to the mountain wall. What if everything blew out on the sea?
I couldn`t sleep, I only thought about my tent and my gear. And it seemed that the wind just built up.
In the morning the restaurant was lined with a grand breakfast buffet. Homemade bread, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, blueberry jam, salami, ham, cheese, herring, pickles, eggs, honey. And a coffee machine. I could have stayed there for hours.
But the wind was still blowing strong, and I had to look after my belongings on the quay. I reserved my room for another night – kayaking today was unthinkable – and then I put on my rain gear and walked along the lake and down the steep slope.
Everything was there! My tent, my suit, my oar and my kayak! I packed the soaking wet tent in and dry-suit in the kayak and attached the oar to a tree, and then I climbed up the slope again and walked along the lake back to the lodge.
It took me three hours altogether, and when I arrived at the lodge, I was soaking wet. Obviously, my rain gear wasn`t waterproof.
Still being just noon, I decided there was time for another hike. There are so many nice hikes in the Preikestolen area, but only Preikestolen is crowded. All the other hikes are barely trodden. I chose Ulvaskog and Hatten, which would give me both old-growth forest and bare mountains, and put mittens and a beanie in the backpack.
Ulvaskog and Hatten
Before long I was into the woods. The ground was spongy, the trees old and twisted, and the dense foliage of green shortened my sight. I plodded through knee-high ferns and bilberry leaves. Nothing was flat; the ground undulated with tussocks and moss-grown rocks and rotting lichen-lid trunks, and the terrain rose and fell with hillocks and slopes and dips, and here and there were tiny lakes. And there was a scent of decay, intensified by the rain. This was Ulvaskog; Wolf-forest.
The path was marked with red T`s, but the paint had fainted and sometimes the marking was misleading. Trees of yesteryear now and then blocked the course, and I had to look down and watch my steps. Suddenly there was somebody right in front of me. I froze. Someone was breathing heavily.
It was a trail runner. Soaking wet with drenched hair plastered to his forehead, his thin wind-jacked clinging to the chest. Every step he took made a slurp.
There is a small cabin hidden amid the knolls and tightly knit trees. It is a replica of the former hut, used by the illegal resistance movement at the end of the war. Trained in the UK, four men, three of them local and one from Oslo, were dropped by parachute in the village of Bjerkreim in 1943. Their code name was Osprey and their missions were to set up radio connection with England and establish regional sabotage groups. These groups were trained by the Ospreys and learned how to handle weapons and explosives and master guerrilla war.
From September to December 1944 the Ospreys stayed in the shed in Ulvaskog. Here they had two-way radio contact with England and received airborne supply-missions.The group kept a low profile; if the locals knew about them, rumors would spread. The Nazis had their suspicions, but the labyrinthine forest hid its lodgers, also containing a Norwegian saboteur fleeing from the Germans, and the cabin was never found.
The forest opened up, the broad-leaved trees scattered and soon there were only bonsai pines left, not more than a meter high but yet aged and lichen-grown. I trod on smooth rock, for millennia eroded from glaciers. Strewn around were boulders the ice had left behind, and in the crevasses grass and heather and moss pushed their way up in the air.
From Hatten there is a great view of Lysefjorden, but today all I could see was fog. Looking at the big picture I almost didn`t notice I passed a Kjeragbolt…
It had been a big day with a lot of hiking, and when I sat down at the restaurant that night my calf muscles were frantically aching and throbbing. The pain had been there all the time since Håheller, but I just hiked through it, and now I was paid back. Tomorrow there would be only a short hike, and then I would give my legs a long rest.
17 May is our national day, but when I showed up for breakfast the next morning, I was surprised to find the restaurant almost empty. How peculiar. Yesterday all the tables were taken, but today we were only a handful of guests. I couldn`t think of a better place to wake up on a day like this and was bewildered to see that not many shared my opinion. Be that as it may; the breakfast buffet was superb, the reception decorated with flags and bilberry leaves and white roses, and I was in no hurry to leave.
When I departed, the rain had stopped and the flag fell to the pole. I walked the hour or so down to the quay and paddled to Lauvvik where I had my car. There I dragged the kayak up on the grass and left it there.
The following week I was back at Lauvvik. I still had a fjord to paddle; Frafjorden, Lysefjorden`s little brother. For three days more I was in my kayak; I glided under the mountain foot of Uburen, where people in ancient times pushed unwanted children and elder from the cliff; I saw Helle from the sea, where I had played at the bank as a child; I came close to a mink, who hid amid the rocks when I picked up my camera; I camped at Gilja, where a heron had its fishing spot and cried like a tormented cat in the night, and where two ducks were engaged in hefty courting; I enjoyed watching all the fabulous cabins once again and I spent a second night at Tingholmen, this time in a heavy downpour.
Approaching home the familiar surroundings looked different. They were not so limited anymore; the fjord outside my window was a road to exotic adventures. From my garden, I could travel around the world!
Postscript: At home, there was a letter from the radiologist in my mailbox. It was the results of my MRI: “Lateral in musculus soleus, close to the middle of the muscle, is an area of increased signal, which might be due to overuse/rupture. Relief and alternative exercise are recommended”.
I thought these were good news. Since Preikestolen I had only been swimming and kayaking, and my legs were almost healed, so I bought flight tickets to North Cape 8 June.
Home (Dyrnesvika) → Tingholmen (kayak)
Tingholmen → Dørvika (kayak)
Dørvika → Flørli (kayak)
Flørli → Lysebotn (kayak) + Lysebotn → Lauvvik (ferry) + Lauvvik → Sandnes (Mum picked me up at Lauvvik)
Sandnes → Lauvvik (I left my car at Lauvvik) + Lauvvik → Lysebotn (early morning ferry) + Lysebotn → Håheller (kayak) + Håheller → Fyljesdalen → Håheller (roundtrip, hiking)
Håheller → Songesand (kayak) + Songesand → Bakken → Songesand (hiking) + Songesand → Flørli (ferry)
Flørli → 4444 stairs → Flørli (roundtrip, hiking)
Flørli → Songesand (ferry) + Songesand → Refså kai (kayak)
Refså kai → Preikestolen Mountain Lodge → Pulpit Rock → Preikestolen Mountain Lodge (hiking)
Preikestolen Mountain Lodge → Hatten → Preikestolen Mountain Lodge (roundtrip, hiking)
Preikestolen Mountain Lodge → Refså kai (hiking) + Refså kai → Lauvvik (kayak) + Lauvvik → Sandnes (car)
Sandnes → Lauvvik (car) + Lauvvik →Frafjord → Gilja (kayak)
Gilja → Lauvvik → Høle → Tingholmen (kayak)
Tingholmen → Hommersåk → HOME! (kayak) (I cycled to Lauvvik a couple of days later and picked up my car)
You can easily switch the kayak legs with the ferry, and crisscross your way through Lysefjorden. If you like outdoor life and hiking, I would definitely recommend spending at least a week in the area. There is so much more to see and do in Lysefjorden than just the Pulpit Rock and Kjerag! My inside tips are to stay a night or two both at Flørli 4444 http://www.florli.no/ and at Preikestolen Mountain Lodge https://english.preikestolenfjellstue.no/. Hike the 4444 steps at Flørli, hike to the Pulpit Rock, but do another trip as well in the Preikestolen area. I didn`t see Kjerag this time because there was too much snow. Kjerag is considerably higher than the Pulpit Rock (1100 m/3600 ft versus 600 m/ 1900 ft), and there is usually snow until the end of May, and thereby no hiking conditions. Hiking season for Kjerag is June to October.
This is a helpful site for planning your trip.
How to get there? Here`s a link to transportation.
Nearest airport: Stavanger lufthavn, Sola
In my opinion, the only hike you can do without a map is the hike from the parking lot to the Pulpit Rock/Preikestolen. All the other hikes require a map and a compass, even those which are marked. It is so easy to lose the markings, and each year tourists are sought for by the local rescue service.
You can download free maps from Kartverket.no (If the site is all white, it means you`re probably in the North Sea, and you have to scroll down until you see the map).
And with this app, you`ll have a free GPS on your mobile phone. If you`re familiar with all that new technology, you might not raise your eyebrows, but I`m so thrilled and amazed about the app that I can`t stop checking the green marker that tells me with great accuracy exactly where I am!
And if you`re into multisport, Lysefjorden is an Eldorado: