The Town of Stavanger is a stunningly attractive and friendly place but the real draw of the tourism trade is the sights to be seen in the surrounding countryside.
For those of you that didn’t catch part one, I booked this trip as for a long time it’s been an ambition of mine to hike up to Preikestolen (Translated as Pulpit Rock in English) and to see what the Lonely Planet Travel Guides describe as; “A remarkable place, a vantage point unrivalled anywhere in the world.”
Preikestolen is a huge chunk of Granite rock that juts out of the cliff face 604m above the Lysefjord (Fjord of light). Something else you won’t know if you didn’t read part one (hint hint – Please read part one, in fact why not read my other posts too) is that this trip took place 6 weeks after fracturing my left ankle and I had only been walking unaided for a few days.
I wasn’t convinced that I was going to achieve my dream when we first flew out, I knew I would get up there through sheer determination but getting down was going to be a very different story. I’d completely misjudged the weather and although we didn’t get any rain or heavy snow It was definitely still winter there. Our guides were fantastic and assured me there would get me there and back safely.
Before I go on about the trek itself I need to express just how impressed I was with Outdoor Life Norway . They only offer the Preikestolen hike in the Winter months as they firmly believe that all of the crowds during the summer months ruin the experience. They also offer guided hikes to some of the more difficult to get to locations.
The tour group was small but to enhance the experience further we were split into two smaller groups, each with their own guide and the groups went off separately. If you do decide to take a trip with them I recommend pre-paying for the photography service, not only does it save you carrying your own equipment but the guides are excellent photographers and know how to get all the best shots along the route.
With were picked up at our hotel at 8:45 on the dot meaning that we didn’t need to getup particularly early and within half an hour we were on the ferry for the 45-minute trip to Tao.
The ferries are probably the cheapest thing in Norway and that’s because the government subsidises them so people can afford to live outside the cities and commute to work. This will be coming to an end in the next few years as the Norwegians are building a tunnel under the water from Tao to Stavanger. The most amazing thing about the tunnel is that due to the geological composition they cannot use GPS so getting the two tunnels to meet up is a huge challenge. The rock itself cannot be drilled so they are having to blast each section. It’s fair to say that that the challenges and costs faced in this construction project would make it prohibitive in most other Countries, especially when they have a perfectly good ferry service in operation. Talking about ferries, if you want to see the physical definition of precision they have it all. Each ferry can take 50+ vehicles plus foot passengers and they always leave on time. I’ve never seen a ferry boarded and departed so quickly and smoothly.
Our arrival at Tao was a smooth and efficient as our departure and we were soon back on the minibus for the short drive to the start if the hiking trail. The drive itself was scenic, passing through several small hamlets along the coastline before climbing into the forested mountains. There is a great view as you start your descent to the car park but keep your eyes on the road as it winds its way down and it can be icy.
The car park has plenty of room although our guides told us it soon fills up in the Summer months. There’s a great visitor centre with a café and you can even hire or buy technical equipment like crampons and walking poles from the gift shop. There are toilets both in the car park and in the visitor centre. If you don’t have poles hire some, even in the summer they will make all the difference on the first few sections. When used properly they will take half the strain off your knees and legs as you head up the steeper sections.
The trail starts just over the road and is clearly marked with a Map of the area. No matter what the weather, your level of fitness or mountain experience I recommend you warm up before you start, have a quick jog or jump around to open your lungs up. You will thank me for this as the first part of the trail is steep and long. It’s also a good idea to start in as few layers as possible as you are soon going to warm up on that first hill. I don’t care how fit you are you will work up a sweat by the time you reach the first piece of flat land. You can always add layers each time you stop or as needed but there is nothing worse than layering up, running up a hill and then having the sweat freeze once you stop for a rest.
The trail is well marked and I can’t imagine a guide is necessary during the Summer months but I would recommend taking a guided tour in the Winter months. The trail contains on the flight for about half an hour before another shorter but equally as steep section with some uneven steps. Once you reach the top you have done all the hard work and you start to get some lovely views back over the coastline towards the car park.
The next section is across the rocky plateau and there are some very photogenic pools and small lakes to see, they make a great place for a picnic and you can even camp here. The pathway begins to slowly wind upwards throughout the rocks and as you reach the pass to the other side of the mountain there is a steep uneven set of steps hewn from the rock to navigate.
In winter this is where you are going to want your crampons on as the rocks start to resemble stepping stones amidst the Ice. It’s fair to say that it feels more like you are climbing a cascading waterfall than a stone staircase in parts. Once you reach the top you are treated to your first views of the Fjords on the other side of the mountain.
From now on its plain sailing right up to the final ascent which is up a steep rocky slope which emerges out onto the rocky ledges above the Fjords.
There are no barriers or pathways here despite the sheer drops but there have only been 2 deaths in the last hundred years and the cliffside is made from hard granite so you feel surprisingly secure. From here it’s just a few minutes to the rocky outcropping that is Preikestolen. During busy periods, there are few places to relax up here and if it’s windy as it often is in the winter you can feel a bit exposed.
The view is as spectacular as they say and despite being so high up the outcropping itself does not feel so high, that is until you shuffle your way to the edge and peer down to the waters far below.
The path down is via the same route which means you could face a few hold up on some of the narrow cliff traverses and certainly on the stairways. Going down is much quicker, unless you are recovering from a fractured ankle then its slow and painful but whatever you state when you reach the bottom you will be grateful of a rest and a drink in the visitor’s centre.
If heights aren’t your thing you can take a boat trip along the Lysefjord and see Preikestolen from below. Bring along some binoculars as its barely a pin prick and easy to miss. If you’re lucky enough to have the time to do both I would recommend hiking first and the cruise second, you will be astounded by how high up the rock looks from the Fjord and it may increase the jitters if you see that before making the trek.
To sum our trip up I can only agree with the statement in the Lonely Planet Guide book;
“Preikestolen is a view unrivelled anywhere in the world”