From this high up, the sea is a silky blue, flat surface. I stand on the edge of the abyss. A soft, frigid wind reminds me that the panorama below is, in fact, dangerously close. But what brings out the adrenaline most is the sound of water crashing down the rockface, with no clearly discernible sound of it ever reaching a destination. Directly underneath me, almost a kilometer away, I see the southern shore of Lysefjord. Across the gray sand, scattered wet rocks await the eventual arrival of yet more chunks belonging to the same cliff I’m standing on. I just hope it doesn’t decide to crack now…
I woke up at 4:30, shortly after sunrise, eager to take full advantage of the sunny start of the day, which came as a good omen after two days of almost non-stop rain. My wife Crina and me were in Valle, a small village where we had decided to pause our exploration of Norway on account of the bad weather. We hit the road at 5:30, with the destination Øygardstølen, a parking, restaurant and tourist information center. From there, our intention was to climb the Kjerag mountain. We wanted to see, and stand upon the famous Kjeragbolten, a 5-cubic-meter boulder wedged in the mountain’s crevasse.
We needed to drive roughly 80 kilometers, most of these on a road that is closed six months of the year due to snow (today was the 1st of June). Traffic was light, to say the least. During the first hour of driving, we met a grand total of around three other cars. The first kilometers went fast, as the road had one lane per direction and I pushed the speed limits a bit. Things changed very soon though. The road narrowed when we started towards Lysebotn, the small village located at the base of Kjerag mountain, at the end of the Lysefjord. Two cars could barely fit on the strip of asphalt, but every now and then the road would widen up for a couple of meters to allow larger vehicles to pass each other.
One of the advantages of having an early start is that we weren’t exactly disturbing the traffic, so we could stop to take pictures whenever we wanted. Other than the road and the electricity transport network seen not far away from it, there were no signs of human activity for dozens of kilometers.
A few dwellings started to show up – cottages with earthy roofs, allowing moss and grass to flourish upon them. At one point, we went through a small village where all the buildings made use of this type of roofing. Later on, a low-altitude cloud worried me that, despite the clear sky forecast, we might have another rainy day on our hands.
There was more and more snow as we were approaching our destination. At times, the road was going through small valleys, sinking into neatly cut layers of snow more than a meter high. As I noticed during one photo break, the snow was all iced up and hard as rock.
Throughout the two-hour trip, the barren and lonely mountain range gave us a feeling of exploring an alien planet. While traversing this landscape we came across a large, dark-gray dam, seemingly made up only of crushed rock shards. It looked like a mega-structure left behind by a long-gone civilization.
At around 7:30, we arrived at Øygardstølen. There was but a single other vehicle in the parking lot, a trailer whose occupants were, like us, preparing for the climb. We paid for the parking and took a quick look at the tourist information panel regarding the upcoming journey. I hadn’t documented myself too thoroughly about this hike, but I reassured my wife that the path is relatively easy; she will be fine with her running shoes and I’ll be fine with my city shoes.
The weather was clear and sunny, around 4 Celsius. We dressed warm, took our jackets on, packed some water and energy snacks alongside the small tripod that we intended to use to take a photo of ourselves standing atop Kjeragbolten, and off we went!
You know you’re in for some jaw-dropping views when, barely a few steps into your hike your eyes are already popping out and you’re finding it hard to put the camera away. You also know you probably underestimated the difficulty of the journey when your shoe slips for the first time because of the slope, which is what happened to my wife barely ten minutes into the trip. But I reassured her this is a simple hike.
We were soon high enough to see down to the bottom of the valley that, somewhere further on, would become the fjord. We couldn’t see the fjord’s water nor village of Lysebotn from where, later on, we were supposed to board a ferry. Silver sparks were coming from the Lyseelvi river, which flows into the fjord’s salty waters after passing through Lysebotn.
Crina’s shoe slipped again. Fortunately, her balance is good so she was only slipping, not falling. She started to exhibit a certain frustration at my estimations regarding the hike’s difficulty. As we were climbing, the slope had increased enough to warrant the apparition of supportive chains, threaded through thick metal rods firmly drilled into the rock. I assured my wife that this is probably the only really difficult part. And then she slipped again.
We briefly considered going back, but decided to continue, as I was still convinced things were going to get easier. I was the first to reach what I thought and hoped was the top of the “difficult climb”, only to see yet more thick metal chains and rods, accompanied by the same merciless slope. In places, it was perhaps more than 45 degrees; that’s half of going straight up (90 degrees). When Crina saw what I saw, she was not happy. I have a picture of her priceless expression while pointing ahead, but I don’t think she’d appreciate sharing it publicly.
Needless to say, the physical exercise got us to gradually shed our warm clothes. Finally, we reached the top and the path was much easier. We were overtaken by a couple we had previously met down in the parking lot. I was surprised it took the two fit Germans so long to catch up to poor panting us.
I asked them if the rest of the hike will be as difficult. Crina didn’t like their answers. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled either. Apparently, we had barely covered about a quarter of the difficult portion (which I would have already known had I more carefully examined the description of the hike). We were now about to descend towards the first of two valleys that separated us from the Kjerag plateau. This meant that we had two climbs left.
The two Germans also mentioned a rather difficult snowy portion somewhere. We looked at their shoes. They had a solid pair of climbing boots, equipped with metal inserts as well. We had the equivalent of beach sandals given the task at hand. But I guess that made us all the more badass, or just plain nuts. We forged ahead.
Amazing landscapes continued to get our feet moving after every frustrated outburst of Crina’s. Eventually we both wised up and stopped complaining. We focused on our footsteps, became friends with the mountain and gave it our respect and attention. I believe this mindset is sometimes more important than the equipment one wears.
And it is exactly this mindset that got us through the first of two extremely dangerous and discouraging portions (given our shoes). We had reached a steep climb where the path was covered by hardened, ice-snow. There was a sliver of rock exposed on the side, but it wasn’t a good path to climb on. And guess what: no supportive chains to help a tourist out. In the snow, we could make out several sets of climbing boots footprints. I started climbing and for the first time, my shoe slipped. Losing balance here would have probably meant falling over Crina and crashing down at least a hundred meters over steep, sharp rocks. We were this close to giving up and turning back. But we didn’t.
After a short snack, one more valley and one more climb followed. Here, we came to the second mind-breaking moment of our journey. It waited for us at the end of a section where the path took us through an almost vertical climb, attacking a heavily eroded wall. The metal chain was jumping from one smashed rockface to the next, as if put there by some sadistic architect. We were almost at the top. The third climb was almost over. However, all of a sudden, our vital support for climbing, the omnipresent chain was… gone. We were left to struggle with a 30 to 40 degrees slope having no support whatsoever.
By now, we had been overtaken by several other groups. There were a few other well-equipped tourists in the area. They were all taking different paths to the top, which confused us even more. But what was definitely mind-breaking was also decidedly not soul-breaking. We advanced, slowly but surely, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling. Behind us was a deadly fall. Only a few other times in my life I felt so close to death and I only remember one other time now: when I was on the fifth floor of an old building during a rather serious earthquake.
We felt emotionally and physically drained by this last portion. At least the emotional batteries were quickly recharged when, after a few more steps, we enjoyed our first glimpse of the majestic fjord.
One thought was barking and gnawing at my foot somewhere in the back of my mind. We don’t have parachutes, so doing BASE jumping from Kjerag down to Lysebotn wasn’t an option: we were going to have to come back the same way. I just hoped it would be easier on the return trip.
We traversed the Kjerag plateau feeling like we’ve just taken over the world. And in a way, we had. After all, the world belongs to those who see it.
Due to the increased wind and decreased physical effort, we had to get dressed again while traversing the plateau. It took another thirty minutes to reach Kjeragbolten, but when we did… gosh were we mind-blown.
The view of the fjord was and still is one of the most amazing landscapes I’ve ever seen. No, let me take that back. It is THE most amazing sight I’ve ever seen. 7 years and plenty of traveling later, it still hasn’t been dethroned.
Then, I have my first look at Kjeragbolten, the massive boulder stuck in the mountain’s crevasse. It’s looking back at me behind thousands of years spent wedged between the two rock walls. It seems to say it doesn’t like people stepping on it and it’s dead-serious. I approach the edge to assess the situation. Fear says “hi”. I can’t see any easy way to board the boulder. The only path is a very and I do mean very narrow indentation in the rockface, where one could only put one foot at a time in order to slowly turn the corner towards the boulder. Finally, one would have to take a rather large step to get onto Kjeragbolten.
There were about ten other tourists relaxing and taking in the view, close to the edge of the cliff. Some people were looking towards me. I assumed that everybody had already climbed onto the boulder, but I just couldn’t muster the courage to do it. I went back to Crina who was busy shooting the hell out of the panorama. For as long as I’ve known her, she has had fear of heights, with fluctuating intensity. She seemed to be doing quite well here though. We approached the edge of the cliff and looked at the sea below. A small mountain stream of snowmelt was flowing down the crevasse, never to be heard of again. Just like a wrong step on Kjeragbolten could become.
However, up to 2016, nobody had been recorded^ to have died due to falling from the boulder. Around ten people died when doing BASE jumping from the same mountain. I walked back to Kjeragbolten, determined to stand on it. This time, I stepped onto the ledge leading to it. As I was turning the corner towards the boulder, I realized that the rock beneath my feet is smoother than usual for this mountain. A couple of centimeters away from the sole of my shoe was a kilometer-deep drop. But alas, after one more step I was face-2-face with one of the most fearsome rocks on Earth. And again, I went back. The combination of gentle crispy wind and water rolling off the cliff was telling my animal brain that this is not where I should be right now.
But then I remembered one of my all-time favorite quotes.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
– Frank Herbert (Dune)
If it wasn’t for the deadly fall beneath, I could have probably stepped onto Kjeragbolten with my eyes closed while tipsy. It really isn’t a difficult move to execute, physically-speaking. It’s the psychological aspect that gets you. But the fact that we had just been through a grueling 3-and-a-half-hour climb, littered with risky moments, got me in the right state of mind.
I took off my backpack, told a tourist that if I die Crina gets the food and went straight for it. I turned the corner and without a second thought, stepped onto Kjeragbolten. My brain was going “are you mad?” but my body felt safe and sure of itself. I had that exact feeling of being very close to death, just like a couple of other times in my life. It’s an interesting sensation. It punctuates life, puts things into perspective. I stood on Kjeragbolten for a couple of minutes while Crina took some shots. To my surprise, other tourists were also taking pictures. When I returned I found that actually less than half of them had actually dared to make the large step (not even a jump). To encourage Crina, I went again, and this time I sat on it. She went to have a look as well, and returned with a rather pale face. A group of tourists arrived; one of them went there but turned around quickly, another climbed on the rock using the risky method of sitting and using his hands. Then, I went for a third time, to make a video and take some pictures from there.
We befriended a couple of Dutch tourists. She was very afraid to make the step and asked me how come I went for it three times. I explained exactly what I realized: that once you quiet the primal part of the brain, it’s all very easy. The boulder had been there for thousands of years probably. It endured all the fury of the elements during all this time. It’s not like it’s going to crack in two because some skeletons step on it.
I was still explaining when, to my absolute amazement, I saw Crina head towards Kjeragbolten. Wasn’t she afraid of heights? Yes, she was, but nonetheless, she turned the corner towards the boulder and took the most dangerous way of getting on it: sitting down and going hands first. To me, that felt extremely unsafe and risky. Humans aren’t used to move with their hands. I asked our newly found Dutch friend to grab the camera from my backpack and then waited behind her with my heart pumping wildly.
And there we were. The two ill-equipped husband and wife, standing, respectfully, upon the fascinating Kjeragbolten. My right foot was on a rather angled part of the boulder, but the stone was rugged, so I felt quite safe. Our Dutch friends, as well as a few others, took pictures of us. It was an exhilarating experience to be there alongside my wife. I was and still am so proud of her for defeating her fear of heights in such a magnificent way. Actually, to me, her fear of heights died that day, or at least became nothing more than an occasional mood to be removed anytime is needed.
When we returned, the Dutch couple was debating intensely. Before we knew it, they went for the boulder and… Kjeragbolten felt the second couple stand on it during the same day. It was lovely. Frankly, I think that turning that tricky corner towards the boulder is riskier than taking the actual step onto it (due to the smooth rock of the ledge).
The way back was surprisingly easy. We had no major issues even with the two previously very risky areas. The only problem was that my shoe was a bit sweaty inside and this sometimes made my foot unstable. I warned Crina that, because we were quite tired, the potential for mistakes increases and that we should be extra careful going down. That, we were, and we made it safely back to Øygardstølen. And yes, I carried the tripod all the way for no use at all.
Lysebotn was a short drive away, on a very abrupt road featuring many tight curves. Down at the ferry, we met our Dutch friends again and talked while we were waiting for the boat. The price was rather outrageous (roughly 80 Euro for a 2-hour trip), but we weren’t about to swim to Forsand^.
Just as the ferryboat was leaving, a helicopter landed on a helipad. In the ship’s speakers we heard the guide announcing that the BASE jumping season had just begun. So, for our 80 Euro ticket, we could at least hear a thing or two about the fjord as we were traversing the 42 kilometers to Forsand.
Soon after departure, we experienced the view of Kjeragbolten from below. Just a few hours ago, we had been standing there. There aren’t many days in my life when I traveled (let alone experience) as much as on this day. The sight of the boulder from below is somewhat even more improbable than being next to it. A tiny crumble of rock, caught between two walls, just as it was about to roll toward the sea who knows how long ago? Or? What if some smart ancient Norwegians rolled it into place, foreseeing the profits that it’ll generate from tourism?
We saw plenty of waterfalls while the ferry was making its way towards Forsand where our plan was to go to another camping. After having been lucky with excellent weather all through the day, now, the skies darkened.
These were the first wild seals I ever saw, a reward for enduring the wind and increasingly cold weather outside, especially on the ferry’s deck. Most of the tourists had went inside and were only coming when the guide announced something important.
Among the important things was this splendid waterfall. The boat came close enough to it for us to feel the water spray. There was also a rather boring cave that they said had some connection to some pirates in the past. We also saw Preikestolen^ from below, which is more famous than Kjeragbolten^. Our plan was to go there the next day, but the upcoming rain and clouds dashed that future.
Soon, the ferry floated below the Lysefjord bridge, signaling the end of our trip. We reached a nice camping by the sea soon enough. It was raining again so we didn’t bother to install our large tent for just one night. We slept in a rather smelly rented trailer that belonged to the camping. Given how tired we were, we could have slept anywhere. They probably could’ve bombed the coast and we still wouldn’t have woken up. The trailer was overpriced, just like everything else around here. So, a word of warning: purchase food in shops and try to cook it yourself. I think Norway is a country to be enjoyed from a motorhome.
There is no other place on Earth about which I can say I’m sure to return to more than about Norway. We only spent a handful of days there, and most of them in Oslo. But it was enough to understand that we barely scratched the surface of what this amazing country has to offer. With its dramatic coastlines and pristine nature, this land is a global must-see destination.
Norway, we shall meet again!
Most pictures made by Crina^, unless otherwise stated.
My proposed soundtrack for reading this text:
The reason this soundtrack is here at the bottom (supposedly after the reader finished the text) is because one can’t really focus on music anyway while reading a new text. Hopefully the story was entertaining enough to ask for a second read, this time with some music in the background.