Each trip has to have some bragging element - as in - yes Norway itself is worth bragging for sure, but doing something adventurous in Norway was a must for me. Well what better than planning the Trolltunga hike. Trolltunga - or Troll's Tongue as it is translated in English is one of the most famous treks of Norway along with the Pulpit Rock in Stavanger. A 22km to and fro hike with the most breathtaking view atop and yes a lifetime memory captured in a picture on the Troll's tongue. Even before I left India, I had read so much about this hike. Various hikers had written blogs about it, from torn shoes, to bad weather, queues for waiting your turn to get on the ledge to getting stuck in worse conditions and not making it to the ledge at all, the steep climbs and the deceiving flats - it all seemed overwhelming. Hiking is not something that I am new to, and given the kind of physical shape I was in, 22km shouldn't have been a worry at all, but given that it was the first international trip, cold European weather, unknown conditions and all these readings had made me anxious about the hike. Luckily, Pallavi had been to Trolltunga a week before I was supposed to leave for my trip and she had mentioned that it should be easily doable if you have the right pair of shoes. After a lot of debating with myself and finally going and getting a pair of hiking shoes - i thought I was all set for the hike.
After a pretty long day - I had retired a bit early in order to start for the hike early morning. Aniket had opted out of the hike, but had offered me a drop to the starting point of the trek - Skjeggedal and planned to pick me up in the afternoon. I woke up early morning around 5.30 and got ready for the hike. The weather seemed favorable for the hike. While having breakfast - I went over the overall route plan for the hike and while doing so - came across a news of a young tourist girl falling to her death from the Trolltunga. Not a very auspicious way to start your journey!
The Hardanger Hotel serves early breakfast for all its customers. They start at 5.30 am so as to ensure that all those who want to attempt the hike can leave early morning. They also allow you to pack sandwiches, fruits, yoghurts for your trek. This was a welcome situation for me. I had a light breakfast to get going and packed a couple of sandwiches for the journey. We got in the car and started towards the base of the trek which was around 10 km away from our hotel. En route we saw a couple of hikers trudging their way to the parking lot and offered them a lift. Michael and Susan from Croatia were doing their first hike in Norway. They also planned to go to Bergen the next day and we offered them to join us in case they had no other plans. Aniket left us at the parking lot to go back and get a few extra hours of sleep. He had agreed to pick me up at around 2 pm (giving me roughly 7 hours time for the hike).
Just before I started the hike with Michael and Susan- I had to make a choice for myself. Whether to race to the top and click pictures on the way back or to go easily and risk the chance of running into bad weather later on. Well, being on the Trolltunga mattered a lot more than the pictures and the decision was made. We started together towards the initial hike and I soon realized that Michael and Susan were gonna find it difficult to keep up. The initial 2 km of the hike is the trickiest and steepest part. Although there are huge stone steps in place the incline is too steep and most of the people struggle a lot. I had read enough stories of people who raced up the first two kms and did not make it through the next 9 in time so I was careful enough to conserve my energy on this patch. Soon the trees cleared and gave me the first views of the parking lot. Stopping in between for a few sips of water and continuing further I reached the first plains of the hike.
The clear crisp mountain air, the views of the glaciers on the surrounding mountains, wind blowing across the plains, a couple of streams flowing through it and the best part of it all - the squidgy terrain. Yea - the ground was so soft that you actually felt like walking on a springboard. I could see that a lot of hikers had already started early on and were way ahead of me. The next two kms climbed through boulders and a steep rocky surface. Here I met a group of Russians - crazy people. They had landed in Oslo the night before, driven overnight to reach Trolltunga and were climbing it with me, planned to get down the same day, drive down to Stavanger- do the Pulpit rock and then fly back to Russia two days later. For a moment I was stunned - one with their capacity to even plan something like this and secondly with the kind of risk involved in it. After a few more exchanges with them and leaving them to wait for a friend of theirs I continued forward. At the end of 4 km, there was a board - if it is already past 1 pm, please turn back and attempt the hike later. Luckily for me it was way before one and I continued on. (On my way back i did realize that a lot of people do ignore this warning and then get stuck for the night.)
The next 7 kms seemed like a cake walk - as I could make out that I was already at the highest point in the mountains and it looked like the road ahead would just be circling around the mountainside. Turned out that it was way more than that. They were the most tiring ever. The path went up and down through the hills, with boulders and streams in between. The wind came in sudden gusts to almost blow you away and the sun shone pretty steadily. So you could never make up your mind whether to keep your jacket on or take it off, the views tempted you to leave the path and venture towards the edge to get a few good pictures and the clouds in the distance reminded that you are racing against time to get a chance to get on the ledge.
There are a variety of hikers who come to the Trolltunga every year. There are tourists like me, who want to experience the adventure, there are the ones who want to get one of the most famous selfie, there are Norwegians who come out to see whats the fuss all about, then there are the racers - people who run up and down the trail with their dogs just to remain fit. Talk about Norwegian fitness levels. I met many such people who had covered the 9 km in around 2 hours and were still running the last two at top speed. It was here that I met Don - a Norwegian scuba diver in his late 40's who was on his first visit here. We both searched our way through the boulders in the last 2 km and finally reached the ledge quite ahead of the tourist pack. 3 hours was what it took to the top with the multiple photo stops and water breaks. There were hardly 10 - 15 people at the ledge and we got time to explore the ledge and take pictures of each other.
For a person like me who has a vertigo, to walk out on the ledge was akin to stepping into the fire. But it was too much of a chance to give up on. The first steps on the ledge were shaky, as I walked towards the edge, I realized that the ledge slopes upwards and hence there is a false sense of safety even on it. However wide it is, it is still a cantilever hanging in the middle of nowhere and with the wind blowing in gusts it made it all a bit scary and overwhelming. The two minutes that i spent on the ledge were few of the best moments that i have spent with myself. Being on that ledge all alone in the middle of nowhere - felt like living in a world of your own. I walked back and then went back for another chance with my camera and to click a picture of the view over the ledge. Even while going a second time, I did not have the courage to swing my legs over the edge and get a pic clicked like that.
Once back on the solid ground it was fun to see the other tourists trying to click get a unique picture clicked. Some jumped into the air, some swung over the ledge, some kissed, some did a handstand .. everyone did something to make the moment memorable. One thing that I should mention here is that although everyone is eager to go on the ledge and get their pictures clicked, and even though the ledge is wide enough to support multiple people at one time, all of the tourists wait their turns allowing each one their own two minutes on the ledge so as to not get in anybody else's picture.
Me and Don shared the sandwiches I had got and after spending an hour around the ledge started on our journey back, After the first two km of descent - I said goodbye to Don as I planned to take my time to click pictures and go down slowly and he planned on running all the way back. The way back seemed longer than usual, and the hard rock beneath the shoes started to hurt my feet. So as soon as I got to the plains, I removed my shoes and started walking barefoot on the squidgy terrain. Trust me, that was the best feeling of walking barefoot that i have ever had. Now I knew why Trolls loved roaming the countryside barefoot. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, a girl on her way up with her friend pointed at my feet and winked to her friend and said -See, there goes the Troll!! :)
I was down at the parking lot at 2 pm and Aniket was right there. I had met Michael and Susan on my way back and they mentioned not to wait up for them as they would take a lot time to get down. After freshening up and changing into a fresh set of clothes we had a packed lunch which Aniket had got from Odda while catching up with a cyclist from Denmark. He had taken a ferry to Bergen and planned to cycle for the next 14 days in Norway and then head back to Denmark. I love these European countries and the ease with which you can do these kind of crazy trips.
Since there was nothing much to do in Odda and since we were also out of options to stay we decided to go to Bergen a day early and started from Skjeggedal towards Voss and then to Bergen.
On our way to Voss, we saw a lot of fresh fruit stalls by the road side - cherries, peaches and apples. However we never saw anyone in those stalls and hence we didn't stop at any. Finally when we saw a stall having fresh cherries, we decided to give it a shot. We were in for a shock of our lives - The stall contained cherries packed in 0.5 kg boxes kept on a table. Pasted to the table was a price sheet for the cherry boxes and the apple boxes. And next to that was an open bowl containing a lot of money in notes and coins. There was no one manning the counter. The system was simple - pick up what you want, drop the amount as per the price list in the bowl and if you require change, take it out of the bowl and continue on your way. The system is very popular and works flawlessly in Norway. We picked a box of cherries, paid the amount and continued further.
While passing through Voss, we met Cristina - she was looking for a lift to Bergen and we we had space to spare. Cristina turned out to be the perfect travel companion - she is a travel photo blogger from Spain and was working at the tourist shop in Voss. We heard her stories about her experiences in Norway, her first experience of India, her plans of visiting Thailand and how she loved to party in the city of Bergen. You can read more of her stories here .
We reached Bergen in the evening around 5. It seemed like it was one of those days in the year where it didn't rain in Bergen. Cristina claimed that it was her lady luck that had brought this beautiful weather and we were happy to give her the credit for the same. We parted ways with her with a promise to keep in touch. This was the end of our tour of the wilderness in Norway and we were back in the city life. Little did we know though that we were in for many surprises.
Although the day didn't end here - Bergen deserves a diary of it's own - so will take that up in a separate blog. Till then enjoy the images of Trolltunga