Out of breath and time, Alessio and I sprinted towards the bus on the other side of the road. That is to say that I, with what can only be a rather Indian obliviousness to zebra crossings, cut across the middle of the road, while Alessio patiently waited for vehicles to pass by.
A hurried transaction of two tickets followed at the steps of the bus (they didn’t accept cards, contrary to the Stavanger Tourist Information guide’s confident insistence from the day before). Fortunately, we had just enough crowns (what a lovely name for a currency!) between us and we hurried in.
There were about thirty people seated inside – ranging from slightly to significantly older than the two of us. I noticed a group of Chinese people to one side, containing a coat-adorned man who looked like his business trip had been changed to a hiking one at the last minute.
As the bus started, I found myself wondering how he planned to climb Kjerag in those patent leathers.
“Once we reach Øygardsstøl,” the bus driver’s voice declared over the PA system, “I will give you more details about the hike.”
I looked out of the window at the snow (wasn’t it nearly the end of June?!). We should be pretty close to our destination; it had been nearly three hours since we started.
As I looked up from my watch, I paused. Everything had suddenly gone white. I could barely see the side of the road; how were we still driving? But the driver said nothing. He probably has the road memorised, I convinced myself.
The bus rolled on with the fog for a little longer, then suddenly came to a halt. The speakers crackled back to life. “We have reached the drop-off point. I will be back here at four forty-five to pick you up, if you are here. As you can see, the weather is quite bad and I will not recommend the climb today as it can be quite dangerous. But I will let you decide. The weather may get better soon – sometimes in Norway, we experience all four seasons on the same day.”
The mountain side, whatever little we could see of it in the fog, loomed ahead of us.
It didn’t look all that dangerous.
We had climbed Preikestolen the day before, partly in preparation for the much harder Kjerag hike. Preikestolen (which is a far more popular tourist destination – you can tell by the large amount of people and the fact that there is a bus every hour, whereas Kjerag only has the sound of your own breathing for company and a solitary bus) is fairly straightforward to climb. It is a little steep in places, but they have steps hewn out of the rock for the most part.
Kjerag, on the other hand, is known to be a lot steeper and harder (though the hike isn’t much longer).
Thanks to the exorbitant sum we’d paid for the bus ride, Alessio and I decided to give it a shot, fog be damned. However, we were soon quite alone: some people were using the toilet (does anyone know what WC stands for?), others debating whether or not to go, while the daring ones had stridden off without a look back.
Remember that part about Kjerag being steep? We had barely started when a flat rock adorned with chains confronted us. I heroically tried to not use the chains at first (this is actually possible in certain areas), but the damp ground, and my last few dregs of self-preservation soon put an end to that.
It’s a marked trail, which means you have to look around for a red ‘T’ that indicates the right track. Thanks to the fog, we found ourselves hunting in patches of mud for footprints instead.
We gathered up a Polish lady on the way – she had a bright red jacket and seeemd to know where she was going. We also came across some Norwegian kids and their father. The kids literally stormed down the mountainside and up the next in the entire time it took us to cross a stream. I marvelled at this feat to their father who showed us where on the trail we were, and later apologised because he’d gotten it wrong.
The sun! All of a sudden, it was out! I exulted in a manner reminiscent of James Hetfield in The Unforgiven II, though for starkly dissimilar reasons. The photos will be good after all, I thought, watching the vain mist disappear.
Innocently suspended between two crevasses, just like in all the brochures, there it was. It was another matter that I couldn’t figure out how to get to it (I’d left Alessio and the Polish lady behind in my excitement). I was atop a ridge with the boulder to my right. A strip of snow that disappeared under the rock separated me from the people sitting on the side from where they could climb onto it. Shouting out to them ascertained that the wind was strong enough to carry sound in the wrong direction. Displaying an inclination towards leaping across the ridge further ascertained that this would be a very bad idea, judging by the shocked looks on everyone’s faces. I didn’t really fancy sliding into the fjord just yet, so I set about finding the right way.
Grabbing on to a little nail stuck in the stone, I inched towards the boulder that was fascinatingly stuck between two mountains. I stepped over the ledge and onto the slightly round surface.
When I planned this trip sitting in my room far away in Trondheim, pictures of people standing on a rock suspended nearly a thousand metres above the sea had made my legs feel funny. I tried not to look down.
Standing on the rock just once wasn’t enough though, and I ended up doing it five or six more times (the photos!). After the first time (when my legs reacted to thoughts of exactly how not-huge the rock was), it was actually pretty fun. I tried very hard to drag Alessio onto it, but to no avail.
We had taken almost exactly two and a half hours to get there, which meant that if we wanted to catch that dratted bus at four forty-five, we’d have to leave soon. I ate some chocolate, took a few photos (I fancy that I gave some people minor heart attacks by stepping extremely close to the edge of the mountain) and went off on our way back.
A couple of hours later, yours truly was back at the parking lot, delightedly declaiming to the very stoic bus driver that we had indeed made it.
PS: When I was initially planning this trip, I wanted to find out exactly how demanding the Kjeragbolten hike was – I’m not even remotely close to a seasoned hiker, and used to have asthma until a few years ago to boot. It’s actually not that hard, though if you go to Preikestolen and find that very difficult, Kjerag might be a bit too much. Also, be prepared for post-trip body aches!
PPS: Shoutout to Alessio, without whom I couldn’t have made this trip!
PPPS: This post took way too long to write.