Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Norway or the Highway

When I was in Bergen three years ago with Caterina and Krish, we embarked on this 20 mile hike around Mt. Fløyen for a day, unbeknownst of the commitment we were about to make when we set out that morning. On this go around, after my futile attempt to set up a dog sledding trip, my friend Abby told me of a hike she was planning and swooned me with photos into joining her. She spent a summer in Stavanger, Norway 10 years ago, and there was one infamous hike that she never made it on, but always wanted to come back for it.

We spent a full day reading through blogs and emailing hostels before we left -- to not much avail. From what we had read, the hike is not always possible due to weather, and to get all the way to the trail head from Bergen was a plot ripe for my brother's show (Amazing Race). Of the trillions of travel websites for Norway, not a single one had the ferry schedule translated into English, so we got off the ship in the morning crossing our fingers and immersing ourselves in sanguine thoughts. I know from my own personal history of adventures, that sometimes the best ones come from plans that go awry. We knew we were setting out for a near impossible trek, but I will admit out loud that I've been trying to practice that "positive thinking" hooplah. Not so much that I've been sold on the idea, but more because I promised an unnamed friend that I would work on it.

As soon as the ship was cleared, we ran into Bergen to the ferry station. We had missed the first one to Stavanger by 10 minutes, but after speaking with the woman at the counter, Abby spied a pamphlet for fjord tours and found this listing for an organized hike to the infamous Kjerag. We were able to use a payphone to call the company and make two reservations for the hike, which solved our problem of not knowing how to get from the end of the ferry in Lysebotn to the trailhead, then we booked tickets for the afternoon ferry. I'm used to people usually mistaking me for an undergrad, but I have to say in this instance it was equally as disheartening to be initially denied a student discount for being over thirty. I charmed her though and saved the fifty bucks.

It should be said that while Norway has the highest standard of living in the world -- their government pays for everything from their birth till death, including childcare -- it is also one of the most expensive. With a coke ringing in at $5, we stocked up at the local market before heading out. Pretty much the exact same meal that I had three years ago in Norway from the exact same market: local cheese, salami, chocolate, apples and a giant loaf of wheat bread. It still cost almost $40, but in true backpacking style, got us through three days.

After 4.5 hours on the tourist ferry to Stavanger, we arrived into town and after following up with the hostel we had been trying to contact via email, figured out why there was no availability in the entire town for that night -- a beach volleyball tournament. It was a little chilly for a night of sleeping at the ferry terminal, so we were delighted when the HI hostel offered us a room for $160. They joked that it was the only room available in town and that we were lucky that someone canceled; after calling around we learned they were right. We walked right down the street, where the last number 4 bus immediately pulled up, and we made it to the HI Stavanger Vanderhjem right as they were closing at 2200. The room was nothing more than a dingy dorm room with twin beds, dirty white walls, florescent overheads, a bulletin board just in case we felt like making it home and tons of screaming children. I had set my alarm on my ipod to ensure that we would awake early enough to get back down to the ferry station, so I spent the whole night trying to figure out how to sleep without the ear buds falling out.

We wandered through town by foot and made it to the ferry station in plenty of time to pick up some OJ and pastries from the Spar and some cappuccino from the terminal vending machine; at 7 NOK ($1.40) it is the cheapest thing in all of Norway, and quite delicious. The "tour" to Kjerag, which included no tour guide and was nothing more than pre-arranged transportation, had only started June 21st, and with bad weather for the first part of the week, we were the first group of people to actually go on this thing. We were told to jump on a bus outside of the terminal at 0800. Which we did, but after 40 minutes of driving on a coach bus up a mountain, picking up a busload of spanish tourists who were not dressed for hiking and listening to a pre-recorded announcement track that kept highlighting points of interest for the "Norway in a Nutshell" we were worried that we somehow got on a tour. After having made fun of this ridiculous "nutshell" tour last time I was here, it seemed kinda appropriate and funny to end up stuck on massive coach all day after all of the time and effort put into this adventure. Positive thinking. Positive thinking. An hour later our bus drove onto a ferry en route to Lysebotn, and 2.5 hours later, we were picked up by another smaller bus (along with 12 others) and dropped off at the trailhead Øygardsstøl.

This tour-but-not reminded me of the time I showed up in Tel Aviv via Birthright Israel with no instructions on where to go once I got off the plane. The man driving the bus said there would be a taxi waiting for us at 1700 (it was 1200), and that was it. We expressed concern since we had read it was a 2.5 - 3 hour hike each way, but he chortled with a mysterious grin that we would have no problem." A woman just the other day made it back in no time wearing sandals." We knew he was lying since we knew this was the first day the tour had actually happened, but on the first part of the climb when we spotted a woman in her fifties wearing heels, the thought did cross my mind that maybe the guy hadn't been all that shifty.

The first mountain is about 200 meters above the trailhead and feels like a ninety degree angle. Within thirty minutes, I had sweat pouring off of my body like a sprinkler in 48 degree weather and had been using my hands as much as my feet. When we made it to the top of the first peak, I had a brief moment of asking myself whether or not I could make it through five more hours. Thankfully, the hike is a continuous series of ups and downs, and while it continued to kick my ass, the first part is indeed one of the most challenging. We saw goats along the way, crossed over rivers via planks of wood, trekked through snow, and tried our best to follow the pseudo trail that was marked with cairns and red "T's." I spent the last 45 minutes in complete solitude, with the sun shining down on my face and sparkling off the patches of snow.

I caught up with some British girls, and was worried that I would have to climb up to another peek when they yelled "there it is!" Just on the side of another snow patch, was the infamous kjerbolten. Abby had been waiting with some canadians when I made it there. They kindly offered to take photos for us so we could do a double shot. I was the first to climb out there. After the big climb, i was somewhat still in that zone of "it's just another rock," but I have to say, though I am not particularly afraid of heights, my legs were literally shaking when I stood up on that thing. When I had looked up at it from the fjord ferry, I figured what looked like a little speck would be massive at the top. But it is really only five feet wide, and rounded. So I decided to opt for a single, which Abby simultaneously agreed to as well as she hovered against the sidelines, waiting to inch her own way out there. Unfortunately, I did make the mistake of looking down, which made my hike off of it a little scary, but the photo really was worth it. And again, to reiterate, it is a small boulder lodged between two mountains, 3,228 feet above the lysefjorden with NOTHING below it!!

We had lunch at the top for about twenty minutes, then had to start heading back. I was nervous, that it would take just as long to get down due to the intensity. While I didn't miss the sensation of my heart pounding like a drug addict, I have to say the way down was arguably more intense. It is nearly impossible to catch a grip at times on those giant rock faces when going down. And with nothing to hold on to, for the most part, there were times when I had to slowly inch my way down on my ass. Which sadly, gave way to my favorite traveling pants which had seen me through three voyages. Rest in peace dear cargos, who were deposited in a trash can.

With my pants ripped and mud covering my feet, we finally made it to the parking lot at 5:10 pm. And much to our surprise, the tour operators really weren't kidding about the turnaround. The taxi was there and getting ready to leave. Had it taken us even 15 more minutes to get down, we would've been left behind. We had a few minutes to spare at the ferry terminal once the taxi dropped us off, so we had some beers with these base jumpers that own a pub there. Apparently, kjerag is one of the most popular sites in the world for BASE jumping. They showed us a video they shot a few years ago, where many of them were wearing these superhero outfits with wings that allow them to fly more like birds than skydivers. If you're reading this and curious, scan youtube to check out some footage.

Our little hut back at camping mosvangen was delightful, and for half the price was much nicer than our "suite" at the adjacent hostel. Yay for positive thinking. We stayed up playing uno, and eating apples that tasted like the shampoo on my camping towel that I had used to clean them with. I sure have a thing for ingesting soap lately. Maybe it is God warning me to pay more attention to what is coming out of my mouth.

My friend Britta has aptly pointed out that I seem to have a magnificent knack for missing things that happen right in front of my face -- I always seem to be looking the other direction at the exact same second. So it only seems appropriate that out of the five thousand days I have spent on this ship, the one time our sister ship was not only on the same side of the world but parked next to us (in Bergen), I managed to miss her! Thank god I actually got to see Halley's comet when my dad took me up to the mountains to see it as a child.


sf said...

i know your internet connection sucks, but have you seen this:
dancing 2008

also. you miss much.
our sister ship was parked next to us in brazil during carnival.


sf said...

ok, i made a mistake.
time 3:08
dancing 2006

Dave H. said...

That picture of you on the rock is fantastic!