PREIKESTOLEN (Norway), April 29 — To climb to the very edge of the world, look out at everything before us, and to know we can do anything if we set our hearts to it.
That, at least, is the promise of climbing up to Preikestolen in Norway, considered one of the most spectacular viewing points on the planet. Rising 604 metres above the waters of Lysefjord, Preikestolen is a challenging six-kilometre hike but far from an impossible one. (Despite it being one of the locations for the sixth Mission: Impossible film; you don’t need to be Tom Cruise-fit to attempt this.)
We take it slow. The hike up and down Preikestolen typically takes four hours on average but those who are more athletic and eager can make it under three hours. But why hurry? The hike itself is beautiful though our calves start to ache soon enough.
Mountain forests smelling of pine, the swamps and the well-worn boardwalks to cross them, deep pools, paths of tiny pebbles and paths of towering boulders — it all takes our breath quite away. (Possibly due to lack of regular exercise, also.)
The terrain is wild, yes, but there’s no fear of getting lost; our winding route is marked with signposts of red paint. Or piles of stones stacked up like “stupas” by other hikers.
There are enough people around for company yet it’s far from crowded; it’s not hard to get some time alone, should we choose to break away. Take time to smell the wildflowers or spot fungi on the forest floor: every step is an adventure.
For those hiking in summer, it’s a good opportunity to take part in Norway’s berry picking season. Wild berries ripen slower in the cool climate and are all the sweeter for it.
You can pick jordbær (strawberries) by late June. By July, the highly-prized molter (cloudberries), nicknamed “Artic Gold” due to their sun-kissed colour, appear. These only grow in the wild, which is why many Norwegians treat mountain climbs such as the Preikestolen hike as a cloudberry picking picnic too.
In August, tangy bringebær (raspberries) grow in abundance, the wild variety much smaller than their farmed cousins. On the wetter patches of forest as we continue our hike, it’s not hard to locate bushes of bjørnebær (blackberries). These berries have a long picking season that last till October.
You’d think we would be weary after hours of hiking but when we finally reach the top, to Pulpit Rock proper, the views bring life back to us, body and soul. (For those with acrophobia, the dizzying heights may well make them turn away in fear, alas.)
At approximately 25 by 25 metres, Prekistolen is a nearly flat mountain plateau shaped by the brutal, relentless course of ice more than ten thousand years ago. It’s Mother Nature at her most terrifying, her power and her splendour demonstrated by the sharp, nearly straight angles of the crevice.
As though it were carved by the blade of a cruel knife.
In truth, Preikestolen owes its shape to the freezing of water in mountain fissures and the dislodging of giant blocks of rock by an ancient glacier as it progressed. We imagine the ice melting over time and the mountain cracking open, as though to display the wrath of the old gods.
Today, fortunately for us, the mountain is still. No sound other than the excitement of other hikers and the song of the winds funnelled by the mountain ranges. Opposite us the Kjerag plateau in the south, below us the cerulean blue waters of Lysefjord wind this way and that like Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent.
Pulpit Rock was originally called Hyvlatånnå (“Planed Tooth”). It wasn’t till 1900 when the gymnast Thomas Peter Randulff, travelling by steamboat along Lysefjord, first saw the rock that the name was coined. Legend has it the captain of Randulff’s boat observed that it looked like a pulpit or preikestol.
Randulff couldn’t resist the challenge of the climb; he was the first of us. All of us who made the same climb in the years that followed.
And just like Randulff (or so we imagine), we have our time on the ledge. Taking turns, some of us gingerly shuffling closer while others hop up and down while precariously near the edge. It makes for a spectacular picture but it is also a perilous place.
A sheer drop here with absolutely no safety barriers. Incidences of folks falling off by accident or committing suicide by leaping, though rare, aren’t unheard of. There’s a bit of tragedy to mark all great beauty, apparently.
Sitting here, the strong breeze silencing the chatter of other visitors, can be a meditative experience, if only for a brief moment. I remember how, in the historical drama Vikings, the Norse warrior and Scandinavian king Ragnar Lothbrok sat atop Preikestolen, perhaps in this very same spot.
Journeying here, through swamps and gullies, climbing over rocks and scaling these great heights, crawling on all fours when need be, is worth it if only to connect to the past. As we look out at the fjords below us and the mountains beyond, we too are warriors. We, too, are kings.
The easiest way to get to Preikestolen is by renting a car and driving. Most hikers come directly from Stavanger, which is about 1.5 hours away by driving. From Stavanger, take the ferry to Tau. Drivers are advised to leave their parked vehicles while the ferry is moving and head up to the deck. After reaching Tau, continue driving to the Preikestolen parking lot, where the actual hike up to Pulpit Rock begins. The best months for hiking here are from April to October.