Preikestolen – My Kingdom For Some Bug Spray – Preikestolen, Norway

Preikestolen – My Kingdom For Some Bug Spray
Preikestolen, Norway

I was only days into my six-month-long European odyssey when I caved in on my numerous, public declarations of doing absolutely no hiking during the trip. Not only was I generally not interest in hiking for the sake of hiking, but by my best estimate I was going to be walking hundreds of miles over the next six months as a means of basic transportation and what kind of deranged half-wit would voluntarily add a two hour, almost 2,000 foot hike straight up into the stratosphere onto that kind of burden?

Up, up and away!
Up, up and away!
Yet there I was, standing at the base of Preikestolen, 16 miles east of Stavanger, Norway. As if that severe departure from common sense weren’t bad enough, the karmatic forces of the universe decided to stick it to me in the form of a rain deluge as we were preparing to make the ascent. As I stood there glaring at my friend Inger who was responsible for egging me into taking the hike, I reflected on whether or not there was a God. I concluded that there was indeed a God and he was resolute to biblically screw me at the worst possible moments.

Preikestolen (“Priest’s Pulpit”) is so named due to the chair-like, or pulpit-like, shape of the cliff near its peak. People with the requisite cajones can crawl right up to the totally unprotected edge, hang their heads over the side and look straight down at the terrifying view into Lysefjord. Before starting our climb, I announced to everyone in earshot that there was no way in a troll’s butt that I was going to engage in this particular component of the hike. I have a fear of heights that is so acute that I need two shots of vodka and horse blinders just to climb a ladder and clean out my gutters, so it was safe to assume that the view from the edge of Preikestolen would probably make my head implode.

Mercifully, the rain abated after only 20 minutes, leaving us to face the wrath of the 837,950,271,354 newly riled up flies that live on and around Preikestolen. We started scaling the now-drenched and slippery moss-covered rocks while flailing away at the flies that attempted to invade every exposed orifice like flies are wont to do when you are trying to concentrate on not slipping and falling to your death.

When I wasn’t skirting near-death experiences I had to grudgingly admit that the views we were being treated to were spectacular. Actually, very little in Norway is less than fantastically scenic, but the same views from way up high were even more magnificent than usual. Mountains, valleys, waterfalls, fjords and breathtaking, rolling green and rocky landscapes were all around us. I took so many pictures on the way up that my camera battery was nearly dead by the time we reached the peak.

The going toggled from slick, uphill paths, completely enshrouded in foliage, to nearly vertical, slimy rock climbs that afforded an unwelcome view of all the boulders that you would brain yourself against on the way down if you weren’t careful. There were times when the course markings could have benefited from a little enrichment.

The Top!
The Top!
After a short rest, Inger and I got turned around and found ourselves totally alone and at a loss as to which direction to go. There were two well beaten paths leading off into the unknown and a few other options that had seen some action, but were probably not the path that we wanted. We shrugged and headed off into a direction that we eventually discovered was a well trodden mountain goat trail. Our first hint that we had gone astray was the path disintegrating into a marsh-like landscape that had just enough protruding rocks to allow us to continue, but not without some difficulty. After about 20 minutes of this we caught up to a herd of goats who, I couldn’t help but notice, were managing the path much better than we were. Sadly this was not the worst of it. It turns out that finding one’s way back over an unmarked and vague bog is no small challenge. We encountered enough goat poop to fertilize the gardens of Versailles and I personally slipped into enough ankle deep mud puddles to give my expensive, sparkling new Merrell hiking shoes that soiled, wringing wet look that is so chic in amateur, legally blind, inner-ear deficient outdoorsmen circles. After much random wandering we eventually found the correct path and agreed to keep our little detour a secret (oops).

At about the halfway point, we stopped at a beautifully picturesque rest area that much to my astonishment had several large, wooden picnic tables which could have only been placed there by a helicopter, or possibly a group of very stubborn, stoically determined Norwegians. We ate the snacks we had packed and examined the countless itchy, red welts on our bodies that we had acquired from the pissed off, unwavering flies that “don’t bite.” Despite being less than a week out from my former career as an inactive desk barnacle, I found that I wasn’t feeling nearly as rotten as I had anticipated. This of course was because I hadn’t yet had a full night’s sleep to allow every muscle from my butt to my toenails to seize up into knots, at which time I belatedly assessed that I was pathetically out of shape and promptly went back to sleep with the help of 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen.

Even with the diversion into the goat marsh, we managed to stagger up to the edge of Preikestolen in just over two hours. There were about 12 other people lingering at the peak at the time, including one lunatic who walked straight up to the edge of the cliff, sat down with his legs hanging over the side, opened a book and started reading. I nearly threw up just watching this. Despite this, the horrendous two hour climb had caused me to have a change of heart regarding the lure of crawling to and hanging my head over the edge. My feeling was that after all of the work I put into scaling Preikestolen, I wasn’t going to cheat myself out of the thrill of watching my own vomit fall nearly 2,000 feet.

The View
The View
I approached the cliff carefully, dropping to my hands and knees several yards from the brink and skootching the rest of the way on my stomach. I held my breath and peeked my head over the side up to eye level. The view was tremendous. I didn’t hurl. I didn’t get vertigo. I just quietly stared at the incredible, mind-bending expanse of the valley and Lysefjord. I saw several sailboats and a ferry floating up and down the fjord at what seemed like millimeters an hour. Judging from its shape, I guessed that the ferry was probably rather huge, carry cars, semis, etc, but from my vantage point it looked infinitesimal. Like a spec of dust. I couldn’t believe that my wiry little legs had carried me to such a stupefying height. It was a very rewarding feeling. I started to reconsider my sweeping “no hiking” clause.

Inger crept over next to me and informed me that Preikestolen was fast becoming a hot spot for base-jumpers and suicidal people. I considered the time and energy that I had just put into climbing to the top of Preikestolen and then tried to imagine making the same trek hauling a parachute or the notion of jumping to my death. I concluded that one would have to be a remarkably dedicated base-jumper or a horribly unhappy person to go through all the trouble of getting to the edge of Preikestolen to execute their intentions. Or maybe I was just being a wuss.

With a death grip on my brand new, expensive, digital camera, I took what would turn out to be several pathetically inadequate pictures before my battery died and I inched back to safety. As Inger and I rested on a boulder I reflected on how in the course of a week I had gone from manning a high pressure, network help desk in a windowless area in downtown Minneapolis, at times carrying a pager, cell phone and a laptop everywhere I went, to sitting exhausted and dumbfounded at the top of a mountain in Norway and I realized at that moment that maybe I wasn’t giving God enough credit.

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