The people around me are packed so close together I could lift my feet off the ground and remain wedged between them. People are shouting, waving papers. Our group of six is trying to work through the crowd of bodies pressing in. Groups of 3 people 2 people and 4 people are selected by the woman and shuffle on the bus. I can hear one of our group yelling for the drivers attention, but to no avail.
At this moment I know for certain we’re not going to make it. The careful lattice work of timing we painstakingly arranged is falling apart before my eyes. My stomach feels hollow knowing all the bus and ferry tickets we’ve arranged are expensive and non-refundable.
How did we get here? It started yesterday, with a train ride, and our aspiration to see an amazing place.
Today consists entirely of traveling. Taking one train from our air bnb to Oslo’s central train station, then getting on another train for 8 hours.
We’re riding from Oslo to Stavanger two cities on opposite sides of Norway. 8 hours of train time pass slowly. Mostly we just sit and sleep and plan out tomorrow’s adventure.
Cheating the System
Our ferry is scheduled to leave early this morning therefore we pack up our tents and
dive into a breakfast of cold granola bars before the sun rises. A sign on the camp office door indicates that they don’t open till later. Because we arrived after the office closed last night and today we’ll be leaving before they open I guess we get to spend one night in Norway free of charge.
An excited anticipation whirrs between us as we dawn our packs and set out back to town and toward the harbor.
Over the Fjord and Through the Woods
We tramp backward across streets passed in darkness the night before. Gray light is blooming in the misty sky as the lake at the center of town comes into view. We store our backpacks in rented lockers at the bus station and continue on through the cobble encrusted streets of this quiet town.
We are headed to the most photographed place in Norway: Pulpit Rock, or as the Norwegians call it Preikestolvegen. A huge, gorgeous rock overlooking a beautiful fjord!
The ferry is large, its nose lifts up to allow 20 cars to drive on its lower deck. Passengers line up beside the cars and file up the stairs to the seating area. It’s still early, and the rocking of the boat edges me toward sleep. I curl up on a bench seat and doze.
There are buses waiting by the arrival dock. We, and almost all the ferry passengers, file onto those buses. It is now readily apparent that we are not the only ones with the bright idea to see this beautiful place.
Standing between rows of crowded seats we watch a small town roll by through the windows then we are engulfed in forest and then we arrive.
Stairway to Heaven
The bus drops us in a parking lot near the public bathrooms. Collecting ourselves, and taking a deep, excited breath we steer ourselves up the road and toward the trail head.
The two mile trek to the rock is about 20% switchbacks, 30% rock hopping, 50% precarious stairs and astonishingly beautiful.
Hopping on rocks and boardwalks over high mountain bogs blanketed with fog and humming with brisk birdsong. Climbing challenging stairways of carefully placed rocks molded into the mountainside. Traversing switchbacks with curving sides that look out over vast forest views. Even though the hike is rougher than I expected it to be it is hard to be negative when I’m frolicking amidst these pristine natural landscapes.
The trail is also excellently maintained. It’s wide enough for people to move in both directions without having to pull to the side, and well marked.
I’m having so much fun eating up the trail and the cool temperatures and the snippets of conversation I hear while passing people. The trail zooms by and I top a rocky staircase to find myself on a bulbous granite pluton. Early morning mist fills a vast space beyond the rocky landscape and the Kilometer marker tells me I’m getting close.
With a rock wall on my right I turn a corner and suddenly the rock field that was previously on my left is gone, replaced by a sharp edge and a blanket of mist. Ahead of me I can see Pulpit rock.
It’s one of those places where you don’t need to know what you’re looking for to know when you’ve found it.
The rock wall on my left builds to 30 ft above the trail. Blessedly the trail is still wide enough for people to walk both directions without anyone being too close to the drop off. I climb a few meters up the rock wall and seat myself on a warm ledge to take in the view.
The aptly named Pulpit rock juts out ostensibly from the cliff. It is striking, like the mountain is sticking its chin up in defiance of geologic erosion.
Though it is evident that we are high up the bowl shape, formed by a ring of distant mountains, is filled to the brim with thick creamy fog. The sun is now centered in the eastern sky and for the next hour I watch the mist and sun contend with each other for possession of the valley. Inevitably, the air warms and the sun gains territory revealing a deep blue fjord miles below our proud rock.
After the hike up we spend over an hour relaxing in the sunshine. Feasting our hungry eyes on the beauty. We sit down to have lunch and I notice other clusters of people doing the same.
There are a lot of people on the rock. Some are relaxing, taking pictures, or chatting and enjoying the view. I would guess about 200 people are with us on the rock and based on what I saw on the trail it seems 200 more may be joining us in due time. That’s at least 400 people in one day taking in this amazing spectacle.
My sincerest hope is that they all enjoy the rock. Perhaps, just maybe, they can form a connection with the outdoors, which in turn might inspire them to advocate for conservation. Maybe they’ll be encouraged to visit another park, maybe they’ll donate money to the park, maybe they’ll grow a garden at home, maybe they’ll re-use grocery bags. Maybe, just maybe we on this rock can care a whole lot.
Being Cheated by the System
There are less people on the trail as we descend back to the parking lot. Next bus to the ferry dock will arrive in 40 minutes. We peruse the gift shop and the cafe. Soon a line begins forming in the parking lot and we hop in line to wait for the bus.
As the line in the parking lot grows people begin whispering. The capacity of the arriving bus is coming into question. Some are confident two buses will pick us up, others are skeptical. Tensions begin to rise.
Finally, the long awaited bus arrives in the parking lot and things heat up rapidly.
The bus stops at the other side of the parking lot and the people in line mob towards it. Then the bus moves around the parking lot to where the line was and the throng of people follow. Rushing to the bus doors everyone packs together and begins a hunger games style battle for the bus drivers attention.
The bus, leaves without us and so does our hope for executing our plans. The tension dissipates as we watch the bus drive away. I am suddenly aware of how tired I am. The group becomes lethargic as the thought of finding new accommodations overwhelms us.
As the group sits for a moment I find a young woman by the bathrooms. She’s in a reflective vest and seems to be giving people directions.
I ask her about the bus situation and she is understanding. Apparently our case is not uncommon. Then I ask about other methods of travel.
The road is too far to walk and all the other buses are full, but the woman says taxi’s are not out of the question. She excuses herself for a moment to search for a taxi company. Then she’s speaking norwegian into her cell phone. She asks me how many people, then she asks if I can wait 15 minutes. I agree, and she confirms the order.
10 minutes later our group is speeding away our lively driver whipping around curves as the harbor comes into view bellow. We are back on track!
A Parade of Ferries and Buses
Arriving at the Stavanger docks we disembark and hoof it to the bus station in the center of town. Our bags and our evening bus to Bergin await us there.
A conveniently located 7/11 allows us to fill up water bottles and buy a quick dinner. In short order we are settled into our seats ready to resume motion induced hibernation.
This particular trip up the west coast of Norway requires two trips on ferries. A testament to Norway’s abundance of fjords. It is a peaceful trip, the movements of the bus and the ferries rocking us along the way.
It’s past midnight when we arrive in Bergin and haltingly find our way the YMCA hostel. We pick up the keys from a lockbox out front and are greeted by a symphony of snores as we enter the dormitory.
Until next time.