The hike I am going to talk about does not promise staggering heights as say the Himalayas but it does end on a note of staggering beauty. The kind of beauty that is all natural. Not fenced in since the Norwegians are not paranoid about safety. They leave the environment to itself, being wholly dedicated to preserving the pristine nature of it.
Adi had first seen a shot of Preikestolen in a coffee table book. This was as far back as his teens.
One evening, we were seated in a hotel room in Berlin trying to find tickets for a bank holiday weekend. As it happened, there were tickets to nowhere available, except Stavanger. That is how some trips are meant to be. The universe does conspire to make them happen.
For our hike to Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), our base was the oil-boom town of Stavanger, right on the North Sea. An erstwhile fishing port dedicated to sardines and herrings, its cobbled lanes strung with 18th-century wooden houses and the atmospheric harbour lined with old warehouses-turned-pubs. Stavanger is lively too. Friday-night party-goers add the necessary va-va-voom to weekend evenings there.
The town itself is split into two pretty quarters. The eastern part of the harbour houses a colourful street, Øvre Holmegate, which boggles the senses. The harbour meanwhile with its crew of sailing boats and ferries creates a busy picture. Often a hunkering cruise ship rolls into town. The day we left Stavanger, the Caribbean Princess arrived at Vågen, standing athwart the city’s skyline like a mighty giant surveying its kingdom. You could see the cruise ship from everywhere in town.
The oldest part in town is Gamle Stavanger. At any time only a handful of tourists can be found to saunter through its cobbled alleys because it is residential. This means that those neat rows of idyllic white wooden cottages, old properties with rose-trellised doors, baskets of black petunias, pretty hydrangeas and weeping willows, are enveloped in solitude. My favourite find among the winding lanes of this quarter was an Old English Sheepdog, and a small canning museum, where you can stroll at leisure, studying the fishing heritage of this old town.
On a sunny day, we cruised into Lysefjord on a boat. Wads of clouds rolled into the sky and we puttered by the occasional tiny lighthouse on a boulder, with tiny wooden cottages in the distance popping up amongst tall evergreens. The wind was wicked and icy as it whipped through us and the red, white and indigo cross of the Norwegian flag flying at the helm of the boat. The real drama picked up when we came upon the granite cliffs of Ryfylke. They tower 3,000 feet above the fjord and glow in the sun’s rays like liquid gold. Yet at times when the sun was obliterated for minutes by clouds scudding across the sky, a brooding air came upon this seemingly serene fjord carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. Only two sparsely populated villages lay along its 40-km length.
At one point, we looked up and spied the flat mouth of Preikestolen hanging out. It looked like a tiny slab of rock and beneath it was a sheer fall into jagged cliffs.
So, if you did fall, it would not be death by water.
We were dropped off at the village of Tau, where the local iconic beer Tou was brewed in the mid-19th century. Later, the brewery was moved to Stavanger. A bus took us to the starting point. The hike was arduous. It took us about two hours of walking, climbing up boulders and gingerly making our way down them, tripping across brooks, and slipping on the occasional slimy rock before we were anywhere near Pulpit Rock. When the legs started to shake with exhaustion, it was worth our while to turn back and survey the landscape of misty fjord and islets, punctuated by scenic lakes, trails that opened into ravines and evergreen forests. It was in sync with the Norwegian motto ‘Ut på tur, aldri sur’ (‘Out on a hike, never gripe’).
Surrounded by young mothers with babies strapped onto them, young boys with fathers, dogs panting alongside their masters, teenage hikers, and gutsy old women and men armed with walking poles, I was finding it all rather surreal. That we were indeed on the way to Pulpit Rock. My partner and I had almost decided against the trip, you see. The weather forecast for the weekend was pouring rain. And, I am a fair weather hiker, thank you.
Yet we decided to do as the Nordic do: wing it. They say that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.
Ahead of us a scene played out that could have made it to Fifty Ways to Kill Your Mammy (an adventure series on British telly about the experiences of a 70-year-old Irish mother and her intrepid son). A portly woman trudged ahead of us, puffing out questions to her teenage son, which ran along the lines of ‘Where is the lift?’ This cheeky boy replied calmly, ‘You asked for Norway. So This is It, mum!’ This mother-and-son team duo in tow, we suddenly came upon Pulpit Rock. The one prize that had us all in its grips.
Local lore presages that the rock shall fall off the mountain into the fjord the day seven brothers marry seven sisters from the area around it.
When we finally arrived at Pulpit Rock, we were faced by a steep cliff that true to its name jutted out squarely, like a pulpit, above the fjord. Around me, Brave men and women – trust me on this – walked right up to the edge of the rock, sat down and flashed toothy grins for their shutterbug friends. Then there was the category of the Very Brave – they stood at the edge and clicked a few dozen selfies.
The occasion demanded an attempt at bravery. Adrenalin pumping, I walked right up to the edge. Stopped. Sat down. My left foot dangling off the edge of the ledge, I took a peek down, and my right foot never got the chance to be as brave as its counterpart. Perched upon that rocky outcrop in the heart of Norway’s Rogaland county, my nerves were taut with the possibility of a tumble into the dark waters of the fjord, unless the rocky cliffs met me first.
This is what had transpired a few minutes before.
“But I want to sit at the edge like I would at the dining table,” I negotiated terms with my grim partner, who in turn looked down at the glassy waters of the fjord below, looked up, and said, “And I want my wife. Tough.”
I was halfway on the road to bravery.
Blame it all on the right foot.
Nothing, and I shall have to insist on it, nothing prepares you for the thrill of Preikestolen. No amount of photographs/videos approximate those moments of sheer exhilaration, of having made it to the flat outcrop scoured by glacial erosion. You just drink in the dreamy beauty of the fjord with hungry eyes, because let’s face it, it is the kind of place that makes people lose their common sense.