In June / July 2014, my travel buddies, Mo and Lynn, and I took an 8-day road trip around southern Norway. We made a loop from Oslo to Stavanger and back, spending a couple days in each city. We also stopped (often) along the way to check out stave churches, take some day hikes, and sample the local beers.
THE CLIMBING TRIFECTA
The initial inspiration for the trip was picture of Preikestolen (aka Pulpit Rock). The flat-topped cliff juts out (without safety railings) more than 600 meters over the winding inlet of Lysefjord, in southwestern Norway. Despite — or perhaps because of — my mixed feelings about heights, as soon as I saw it, I HAD to get up there. And as soon as I mentioned the trip to Mo and Lynn, they were on board.
Once we started planning, we realized Norway offers lots of opportunities to hike up to seductively terrifying drop-offs with “spectacular”-doesn’t-do-it-justice views and bucket-list-worthy photo ops. We also hiked up to Trolltunga and Kjeragbolton and dubbed our trip “The Climbing Trifecta.”
These three hikes are all accessible without a guide, and any reasonably fit person (even Midwestern flatlanders like us!) can do them in less than a day. All it takes is a little effort and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. However, if you’re from Norway, as we learned, you can (apparently) sprint up and back down in less than half the time it took us. And you need to wear only the most basic of tennis shoes.
Note that these places have become quite popular. So if you’re looking for something more raw and wild, you might want to head elsewhere. Fortunately for us, we were there relatively early in the season, so they weren’t too terribly crowded.
Mo graciously offered to guest-author this post, so I’ll let her take it from here. However, I couldn’t help myself from interjecting a few times. 🙂
MO LIKES HIKES
For me, the best part of Norway was all the hiking. This is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, and it was a great choice for our trip.
Jean is an itinerary master who worked and re-worked the vacation plan for the three of us as we Googled “fun things to do in Norway” and threw ideas her way. Given her extensive travel experience, she has great general travel knowledge, whether on rental cars, hotels, or trusting the local’s advice on the difficulty level of a climb or hike (LOL).
A word of advice: Norwegians have LOTS of very mountainous terrain to climb and pretty much rank most climbs as relatively easy. Be sure to adjust accordingly relative to your experience. We hiked three of the most popular sites in Norway over the course of the trip.
HIMMELSTIGEN VIA FERRATA
This climb was the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done, and that’s coming from an ice hockey player who does half marathons and century rides! Lynn and I chose the via ferrata climb while Jean chose the hike. Several hours later we met at the famed “Troll’s Tongue” cliff for an epic pic!
You’ll ascend using a via ferrata, which is basically iron bars fastened to cliff faces like a ladder. (Fun fact: “Himmelstigen” means something like “the sky ladder.”) The view was stunning every inch of the way as we started with a 7 km bike ride along a crystal clear blue lake and mountainous terrain. Next we had to traverse a field of boulders to reach the cliff face to start the climb. The last stage was the via ferrata climb and a short walk to the Trolltunga cliff. That last stage involves several points where you can rest on a flat surface, so it’s not a constant climb.
WORD TO THE WISE
If you’re afraid of heights, this is probably not for you. However, it’s not nearly as scary as it looks and is incredibly satisfying to complete! You’ll be accompanied by a guide on this hike who’ll teach you how to climb safely. You are harnessed and will use carabiners to safely fasten yourself to the rungs as you climb.
My advice for anyone wanting to attempt this (and you should!) — do lots of lunges and get your tendons nice and flexible. You’ll need that as the most challenging stage was the field of large landslide rocks we had to navigate at the start and end of the climb. Be sure to bring water, but as an extra bonus, you can fill your water bottles with real glacial water that’s clean and tasty.
This climb up and back took us a full day, and I would classify this as fairly difficult but do-able if you’re in decent shape. I won’t lie… we were very sore after this climb!
We stayed at the Tyssedal hotel near Odda for two nights, which allowed us to get a good night’s sleep both before and after the hike. The tour company we used was Opplev Odda, but now it’s called Trolltunga Active (scroll down to “Himmelstigen to Trolltunga”). The tours run from mid-June through the Autumn. Be sure to book at least 24 hours in advance.
HIKING TO TROLLTUNGA
Jean here. Initially, I planned to join Mo and Lynn on the via ferrata, but then I just… couldn’t. Though I’m not *exactly* afraid of heights, I’m definitely most comfortable with my own two feet firmly under me when I’m staring into the abyss.
As soon as we started the uphill bike ride, and I began picturing the insanity to follow (specifically, hanging off the side of a cliff), I decided to bail. I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I also don’t regret it.
Instead I opted for the 22 km (13.6 mile) round trip hike, and it was amazing.
The initial ascent is pretty steep, about 2 km up, following a rocky trail that runs alongside an old funicular track. Unless something has changed, I wouldn’t recommend walking on the track supports: 1) you’re not supposed to, 2) it looked pretty rickety, and 3) walking on a trail is much nicer than climbing stairs. (It was actually worse going down because the sandy path was a bit slippery at times.)
Once you get to the top, the trail levels off and it’s pretty smooth sailing the rest of the way to Trolltunga. In fact, though I covered more distance on foot, I actually made it to Trolltunga before Mo and Lynn.
The trail was clearly marked the whole way, taking me across gently rolling terrain. At the end of June, there were still a few snow fields to cross, so I followed in the footsteps of those before me, hoping I wouldn’t fall into some unseen chasm. Though I didn’t encounter many people, there were just enough to make me feel comfortable hiking alone. At one point, a man gave both his girlfriend and me a hand up a small slippery rise. I was grateful for the help as it would have been a bit tricky on my own without hiking poles.
This was definitely an ambitious hike for one day, but I’m so glad I chose this route over the via ferrata. That would have been awesome, too, I’m sure… for anyone but me. 🙂
This next section is a 50/50 collaboration between me and Mo, so I’m going to dispense with the italics for now.
For the next two hikes, we based ourselves out of the Myhregaarden Hotel in Stavanger. The hotel is centrally located and Stavanger is a nice little city to spend some time. The hotel also provided easy access to our favorite cafe Bøker og Børst. We loved the cozy atmosphere and their great selection of Norwegian craft brews. It was the perfect for a coffee or a beer and relaxing after a good hike.
PREIKESTOLEN (PULPIT ROCK)
This was the easiest hike of the three, yet it had the most stunning view from the top. We did this two days after the Trolltunga climb and it turned out to be a great recovery hike.
The hike takes about 2 hours on the way up, about 3.5 hours round trip. The trail to the top is steep at times, but relatively easy and clear. In fact parts of it were designed by Nepali Sherpas to make it easier to ascend. One you get to the top, with no railings, if you’re brave, you can go right up to the edge of the cliff. Show your bravery by dangling your legs over the edge 604-meter drop or climb up a bit higher for a view looking down on the Pulpit itself and down, down, down.
Mo comfortably perched herself at the edge and gave the victory signal so I could take her picture. However, I couldn’t look over the edge without lying on my stomach. I did enjoy the climb up to the higher overlook, though.
As you can see from the pictures it’s hard to get space on the actual pulpit rock free of other tourists, so if that’s what you desire, try to go early. Otherwise try to persuade 20 other people to move over so you can get an exclusive pic at the cliffs edge. 🙂 Either way, this is a must-see in Norway.
You can drive from Stavanger to the trailhead in about half an hour (with a ferry ride). However, it was just as easy (and possibly more fun) to get a ferry from Stavanger’s Fiskepiren to Tau and grab a bus to the trailhead from there. You can book a “cruise” ahead of time, which will get you a combination, round-trip ferry and bus ticket, or you can just show up and buy your tickets separately, which is what we did.
This was also a great climb full of spectacular views overlooking the local mountains. At times, we felt like we were at the top of the world. The destination is a huge boulder wedged between two cliffs with nothing but air and water nearly 1,000 meters below, offering the best photo op ever! (If you’re brave enough to step out onto the boulder.)
This climb looked rather intimidating in certain places, as we encountered drastic slopes along some of the ascension points. We spent much much of the climb up wondering (and sometimes fearing) how the trip back down would be, even as we watched the Norwegians dancing down it like it was nothing.
It turned out that coming down wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked. Rails and chains are embedded in the rock for stability at the steep slopes which aided in the climb up and made the descent relatively easy. And if you have good boots on, the surface of the rock grips your soles nicely. We didn’t quite dance down like the Norwegians, but once we learned to trust our boots, it was a lot more fun.
We agreed that this 6-hour (roundtrip) climb deserves a rating of moderate difficulty, but it was well worth it!
JEAN BAILS AGAIN
I’d give stepping out onto that rock an 11 out of 10 on scariness factors. After nearly slipping on some icy snow while taking pictures of my brave companions (no railings are the best and worst part of this!) I was feeling a little unsteady. To get onto the rock, you sort of have to step around a corner and there’s really nothing to hold onto. So, when it was my turn, I got really, really close… and just … couldn’t do it.
At the risk of protesting too much, I don’t regret bailing (again). As shaky as I was feeling, who knows what you might be reading right now! Still, I agree with Mo – this was a great hike, probably my favorite. The whole way up and down, the view was beyond amazing. Though at times it felt like we might actualy fall off the top of the world, the footing was solid and we could enjoy the effort while feeling confident in our steps.
There are several ways to get to Kjerag from Stavanger (check to make sure you have the most up-to-date info). We opted to drive the 2 hours from Stavanger, as the ferry + bus option wasn’t as convenient or flexible as the service for Preikestolen. However, it’s totally possible to do the trip without a car if you have time.
So, with the hike to Kjerag complete, the three of us split the café’s last can of Lervig, toasted ourselves, and headed back to Stavanger.
Our trip about 2/3 over at this point, the next day, we made the drive back to Oslo via Mandal (Norway’s southernmost town) and the Nøgne Ø brewery in Grimstad. Stay tuned for a recap of those stops and more road trip stories in upcoming posts!
Like this post? Read about my other 4 favorite trips: My Top Five Trips (So Far).
Want more Norway? Check out this story of our detour to Undredal.
Feel like taking a road trip? Let me help with your itinerary!
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