Thrills of the rocky edge

arundhati basu | Updated on January 19, 2018

No amount of photographs or videos can approximate the moments of sheer exhilaration, of drinking in the dreamy beauty of the fjord with hungry eyes Arundhati Basu

Clouds on thefingertip: Noamount ofphotographs orvideos canapproximate themoments ofsheerexhilaration, ofdrinking in thedreamy beautyof the fjord withhungry eyes.-- Arundhati Basu

Taut nerves may mess up one’s shot at bravery. Yet Pulpit Rock is a place that makes people lose their common sense

With my left foot dangling off the edge of the ledge, I took a peek down, and thus my right foot never got the chance to be as brave as its counterpart and sway 604 metres above a fjord. Perched upon the very fringe of a rocky outcrop in the heart of Rogaland county in Norway, my nerves were taut. As taut as they can get when they contemplate a tumble into the dark (and possibly hypothermia-inducing) fjord.

This is what transpired a few minutes before. “But I want to sit at the very edge,” I negotiated terms with a grim partner. He looked down at the glassy waters below, looked up and said simply, “And I want my wife.”

I was halfway on the road to bravery.

My right foot gave up on the cause.

The landscape was unlike any we had seen. Preikestolen or the Pulpit Rock is a steep cliff that, true to its name, juts out squarely like a pulpit, 82 by 82 feet to be precise, above a fjord called Lysefjord in south-western Norway.

Brave men and women walked right up to the edge, sat down and flashed toothy grins for their shutterbug friends. Then there was the category of the Very Brave — they stood at the edge and clicked a few dozen selfies.

All along I could not help thinking about that tiny wobble and then the long, long drop down thereafter.

The Nordic take on nature is invigorating. The Norwegian authorities refuse to be killjoy and fence the hiker from the wild tumble that the Pulpit Rock promises if a step goes awry.

Our base was the oil-boom town of Stavanger on Norway’s North Sea coast. The erstwhile fishing port dedicated to sardines and herrings is a pretty town made up of 18th-century wooden houses, cobbled lanes and an atmospheric harbour flanked by lively pubs housed in old warehouses.

On a sunny day, we cruised into Lysefjord on a boat. The rays of the sun were negated by the wicked wind that whipped the red, white and indigo blue Scandinavian cross of the Norwegian flag on a pole at the tail of the boat, and my hair, with great glee. Wads of clouds rolled into the sky as we puttered by tiny lighthouses, evergreens, and white and red wooden cottages scattered on green patches on the fjord. The real drama happened when we came upon the granite cliffs of Ryfylke, the light colour of which gives Lysefjord its name (meaning ‘light fjord’). Make no mistake. This was a wild fjord, 40-odd km in length, carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age. At one point, we looked up and spied the flat mouth of Preikestolen hanging out. Beneath what looked like a tiny slab of rock was a sheer fall into jagged cliffs. If you did fall, it would not be death by water at the first go.

We left the cruise at the village of Tau for the hike. Stavanger’s local iconic beer, Tou, was brewed at Tau in the mid-19th century, before the brewery moved to Stavanger in 1901. We even got a peep at the Riksvei 13 (National Road 13), a 280-mile-long tourist route that runs north-south through a few counties skirting fjords, islands and islets, farmlands and vertiginous cliffs.

The hike itself is arduous. It took us about two hours of walking, climbing boulders and gingerly making our way down them, tripping across brooks and slipping on the occasional slimy rock before we were anywhere near Pulpit Rock. When the legs start tiring out, it is worthwhile to make brief stops, turn around and take in the landscape of the fjord and islets looming mystically yonder. The way to Pulpit Rock is punctuated by emerald green lakes, light woods and trails that open into ravines. The British mother-son duo ahead of us kept up a steady banter. Imagine a teenage boy sprinting up. Tailing him, a hefty, ruddy-cheeked mother makes frequent stops to pant and ask him for a lift. He raises an eyebrow and points out: “But I thought you wanted a Norwegian holiday, mum?”

Suddenly we came upon the Pulpit Rock.

The local lore of Preikestolen prophesies that the rock shall fall off the mountain into the fjord the day seven brothers marry seven sisters from the area around it. I hedge my bets on geological reasons leading to the decimation of the rock.

Surrounded by young mothers with babies strapped onto them, wee boys with fathers, dogs panting alongside their masters, teenage hikers and gutsy old women and men armed with walking poles, I was finding it all surreal. My partner and I had almost decided against the trip with a woeful weather forecast of pouring rain — I am a fair-weather hiker, thank you. But we decided to wing it as the Nordic do. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes, they say.

Nothing prepares you for the thrill of Preikestolen. No amount of photographs or videos can approximate such moments of sheer exhilaration, of drinking in the dreamy beauty of the fjord with hungry eyes and the irrefutable fact that it is the kind of place that makes people lose their common sense.

(Arundhati Basu is a freelance writer based in Northampton, UK)

Published on January 08, 2016

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