Norway has a majestic rock overlooking a fjord that rewards trekkers with spectacular views. It could even be worthy of Thor.
PULPIT Rock (or preikestolen in the Norwegian language) impressed me so much when I saw an email picture of it (sent by a friend) that I immediately added it to my list of must-visit places.
However, I forgot about it totally when I was planning my trip to the Nordic countries, and it was only when my wife and I were already in Oslo that I suddenly remembered the Rock.
Referring to my travel guide book, I made some adjustments to our itinerary and on our fourth day in Norway, we boarded a train in Oslo Central for Stavanger, tucked in the south-western coast of Norway. The eight-hour train journey was very pleasant with beautiful scenery on the way, and the town itself certainly deserved a visit with or without the Rock.
At 9.30 the following morning, we boarded a ferry for Tau (northeast of Stavanger), which lies across Hidlefjord, a vast body of water from which radiates a number of fjords. Most of the passengers were going to Tau for the same purpose – trekking to Pulpit Rock. We befriended a young couple from Hong Kong and two female students from China. They were as excited as us about the challenges ahead.
Forty minutes later, we landed at Tau ferry terminal and crammed into a waiting bus that took us on a gentle but winding 25-minute climb to Preikestolhytta, a gathering place for visitors of the Rock that has a large car-park, a tourist information centre and a few other buildings.
It lies on a plateau overlooking a lake and a trail runs from the information centre all the way to Pulpit Rock, traversing a horizontal distance of 3.8km while gaining 334m in altitude.
We started our trek at about 11am. The initial level gravel path soon gave way to large loose boulders on an incline. This was followed by a very uneven stretch of sharp rocks through cedar woods.
Then we came to an exposed cliff top with a view of Preikestolhytta, which we had just left behind. The conditions of the path improved somewhat after that, with boulders neatly and tightly packed. Large rocks, however, intruded into our way every now and then. Slopes and shoulders alternated, so the climb was really not too strenuous, even for senior citizens like us.
As we gained altitude, the view improved and, at some points, we could even see the town of Stavanger. A boardwalk took us across a bog, followed by a long and steady climb that became quite steep later.
We began to catch glimpses of the narrow and deep Lysefjord. After going through dense woods and then a large, bare rock, we were greeted by a most charming pool of crystal clear water high up in the mountain.
Beyond that was a large open area with a sign indicating the directions of the Hill Road and the Cliff Road. Not knowing the difference between them (but believing that both led to Pulpit Rock), we decided to follow the crowd on the Cliff Road.
As its name implied, the Cliff Road actually took us close to cliff edges at places. Fortunately, we were not faint-hearted nor did we suffer from acrophobia. Braving the precarious walk, we were duly rewarded with spectacular views of Lysefjord and the distant mountains. When Pulpit Rock finally came into view, we were negotiating the edge of the cliff, and our excitement intensified. The sight turned out to be much more impressive than I had imagined. We walked slowly, not for fear of falling into the chasm, but to prolong the delightful cocktail of awe, amazement, fulfillment and satisfaction churning inside us.
It was a little past 1:30pm when we finally set foot on the Rock itself. We had taken a bit more time than the two hours indicated on maps and guide books to cover the distance, but what really mattered to us was that we had enjoyed the walk tremendously.
Pulpit Rock has a flat top of about 30m by 30m and beyond the edge, plunges 604m into the water of Lysefjord below. It juts out some 30m from the rest of the cliff, resembling a pulpit attached to a column or wall in a church, hence its name.
Geologists believe it was formed about 10,000 years ago, after the glacier that carved out Lysefjord had completely receded. Repeated freezing and thawing of frost in cracks over a prolonged period slowly enlarged the fault lines, and eventually resulted in chunks of rock falling away. What was left behind was a formation from which a preacher could, theoretically, deliver his sermon – hence Pulpit Rock.
When we were there, many people were having a good time on the Rock. The most daring, or foolhardy, ones sat right on the edge with their legs dangling in the air! There have been cases of people slipping and plunging to their deaths.
Those people who had earlier chosen to follow the Hill Road were now at a higher cliff overlooking the Rock, the fjord and beyond. They certainly commanded a far wider view than those of us on the Rock, but some of them wanted to touch the actual formation so badly that they tried to get down to our level by all means. A few of them even risked their lives by scaling down the almost-vertical cliff face.
People who are physically or psychologically incapable of undertaking the more-than-two-hour trek can have a fish-eye-view of the Rock from a cruise ship. It should be quite awesome to look up at a tower of rock 600m high set against sheer cliffs. Personally though, I prefer to stand on the actual thing itself and then look down 600m on what appear to be toy boats below.
The weather was kind to us that day. The beautiful sun emitted so much warmth that quite a number of people had come in their T-shirts and shorts. My wife and I ate our packed lunch at leisure while enjoying the views and the carefree mood in the air. We were reluctant to go, but we had to catch the last bus for Tau. Had we driven to Preikestolhytta, we would probably have joined some of the trekkers and stayed back for the sunset.