Sarah Baker writes: When someone says “let’s go for a hike,” I immediately think of big Kathmandu boots and hours of breathlessness in a mountainous environment where you definitely can’t get iPhone reception.
Being a city girl, I can’t say I’ve hiked much in my day, more like ‘extended walks’ during childhood trips to the Blue Mountains, Dandenong Ranges and Mt Kosciuszko. However, there really isn’t anything like escaping the city sounds of trains, car alarms and ambulances and replacing it with the echoes of birds, mountain winds and your own footsteps as you concentrate on taking one step after the other.
On a recent trip to Norway, I had the chance to re visit my theory of hiking. Travelling on a six hour road trip from Kristiansand to Stavanger, the western side of Norway, I knew little about the adventure to come, only that I was going to see a famous Norwegian rock called Preikestolen and that any pain my legs would soon endure would be worth it.
The scenic drive was a highlight in itself, weaving through the Nordic coast line where the roads were windy, the cliffs were steep and houses were painted a compulsory white. I encountered a multitude of quaint villages, luscious green hills and rocky shores. Road signs read “give way to moose” and “slippery when snow.” And the mountains were like passing sheep, just one after another.
Once I arrived at Preikestolen, my mind turned to the task at hand. With a backpack full of bottled water and cameras, I started the climb that would lead me to one of the most spectacular and profound natural rock formations in Norway, if not the world.
The hike takes about two hours by foot each way and it’s a close debate as to which is harder, going up or back down again. With the steep vertical gains and uneven rocky paths, the walk is at times challenging as you listen to your breathing get heavier and the back of your shirt start to sweat. In the distance I could hear the sound of bells clanging as mountain goats came out of hiding and the natural trickle of water as it flowed down from the mountain peak. I stared blankly at the signpost with the arrow pointing in the direction to the rock and a chart showing I still have another 1.5 kilometres to go.
Around 100,000 tourists visit the Pulpit Rock or Preikestolen every year. It’s amazing to see how many different ages and nationalities were represented throughout this climb, everything from young kids to young at heart 70-year olds, French tourists to Japanese. And they all come to this remote location for one reason: to see and climb the Pulpit Rock.
As I take my final stumbled steps to the top, battling to stay upright from the force of the wind, my eyes are presented with a commanding view of the Lysefjord below. It almost seems like an untouched watercolour painting. Stretching 42 kilometres with rocky walls falling nearly 1,000 metres vertically into the water, it’s a breathtaking sight.
But what people really hike all this way for, is to sit on the edge of the Preikestolen cliff with the breeze in your hair, a hint of fear in your heart and the feeling that you are sitting on top of the world-literally.
I’m determined to get as far as I can to the edge, nearing closer and closer with every tiny step until the strength of the wind forces me to crawl on my hands on knees til only my eyes peer over the edge. Only a tiny flint of fear rushes through my body as I see the 600 metre vertical drop to the rocks and sea below and hopefully not death. I somehow manage to sit upright and with only adrenaline in my veins and a daring mind, I allow my legs to dangle off the edge. My heart was beating too fast to be normal. ‘Look no hands!’ Was I crazy or just adventurous?
It’s easy to see why Norway’s western fjords have been rated amongst the most beautiful travel destinations in the world. Despite being the 46th most visited country in the world, this largely undiscovered Scandinavian country had always been on my bucket list of places to visit, and why not, for the eighth year running Norway has topped the United Nation’s global list as the best country to live in.
But in the meantime, what goes up must come down. I have the return hike to look forward and I’m in need of a famous Norwegian ‘CB’ beer. I think I’ve earnt one.
Sarah Baker blogs at Eyes Wide Open.