live slow, love nature, be adventurous

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NORWAY | Conquering Trolltunga

We had barely been hiking for fifteen minutes, when I started questioning the sanity of our undertaking. With over twenty more kilometers to go - up the mountain, over rocks and through the mud - I just couldn't fathom any way how this could possibly end well for me. My legs were already burning, my back hurt and I felt chilled to the bone, but I tried to keep a brave face and kept on walking, because failure was just not an option.

Despite of what it may look like on this blog, I'm really not a fit person. The treadmill and me are in an uncommitted love-hate-relationship - I know I have to improve my stamina if I ever do want to go trekking in the Himalaya or the Andes and I do love the feeling of sheer exhaustion after a good workout. But realizing that most people in the Gym can run much faster and longer than me and still retain some kind of elegance while my face starts to resemble a tomato does make the weight room look like a much nicer place.

But I do love being outdoors and I'll be damned if I let my lack of physical fitness come between me and great encounters with nature and that's how I found myself on the way to Trolltunga one cold and rainy September morning last year.

Interest in Trolltunga seems to have absolutely exploded on the internet over the last couple of months. Barely a week goes by now without me seeing a picture somewhere on Social Media. What seemed to be a niche thing for hiking freaks and (crazy) study abroadees, has suddenly become a point of interest for the masses. I don't think there's anything wrong with that as Trolltunga is just too far out of the way to ever be as overrun by people as the Preikestolen, but I do think it says a lot about our society that one of the main reasons to go to Trolltunga these days seems to be to take some pictures for Facebook. I'll save the rant for some other time.

Trolltunga is about a three hours' car ride away from Bergen and located at the edge of the Hardangervidda, a high plateau in Central Norway. The landscape is rough, wild and magical and the sense of remoteness that was like none I had ever encountered before was only amplified by the wafts of mist that crept through the valleys.

The path to Trolltunga is just over 11 kilometers long (keeping in mind that you have to walk the same distance back) and it's only recommended to go on from Mid-June to Mid-September. We went on one of the last weekends when the path is still open and definitely noticed that the weather conditions weren't ideal anymore: Having to fight my way through rain, wind and mud definitely didn't make it any easier for me. And can you imagine what my hiking boots and pants looked like when I returned to Bergen?

The first part of the hike is also the hardest. Trolltunga lies about 700 meters higher than the starting point of the hike and you have to overcome the majority of this height difference during the first four kilometers. It was a at parts cruel ascent and breath-taking in the truest sense of the word: I had barely walked for a kilometer when I desperately wanted to sit down to catch my breath again. There used to be a cable car service up the steepest part of the mountain, but it closed in the early 2000s. These days, people often walk on the train tracks, but it's not supposed to be safe and just looking at them makes me glad that we opted for the path next to the tracks instead.

After the first two kilometers, we reached a plateau and not walking on an incline thankfully gave my heart the opportunity to lower its rate and me the chance to catch up with my friends. While I was relieved that the very steepest part of the hike was likely behind me, I tried to not pay too much thought to what was still come. If I had, I may have turned around right then and there. But the further we walked, the more resolved I felt to not let this hike break my spirit. My body would be stronger than my mind! Besides, what was the alternative? Sitting down and waiting to magically transport myself back into my bed probably wasn't going to happen.

The second ascent wasn't quite as harsh as the first one, if only because I knew that it was the last one, and led us quite literally across one giant rock. I felt elated because I figured the worst would be behind me now - surely, this would get easier now, wouldn't it? And in some ways it did. Since there weren't any other long ascents anymore, the only thing standing between us and Trolltunga was distance. To put the whole thing into perspective: The path starts at the very end of the lake in the picture above that was taken about three-quarters into the hike. Yeah, that's a whole lot of walking.

And while the path wasn't terribly challenging at this point, walking through barely changing landscape  - taunted by signs after every kilometer that not only let you know how much farther you have to go to Trolltunga, but also just how much more you'll have to go to get back to the parking lot - quickly became exhausting in its own way. I packed my camera away when the rain became to strong and focused my mind on the task on hand: One foot in front of the other. For all intents and purposes, I became a robot for an hour or two: Not taking breaks (stopping for rest, water or food would have meant freezing), not thinking, barely even talking. Just one foot in front of the other.

I barely remember being at Trolltunga. I was so exhausted at this point that the only thing that was really crossing my mind was relief that half of the hike was over. I somehow managed to hand my camera to a friend and wait in line to go on Trolltunga and then stood on this impressive rock formation rising 700 meters over the ground. The one thing that I do remember about Trolltunga is that it is much bigger in person than on pictures. What looks like a very narrow tip on photographs is actually quite solid rock, if memory serves me right. And my memory may be wrong, because I was seriously fried at this moment. So fried, that I didn't really care about anything anymore.

Not even about the fact that my red leather gloves had started to bleed because of the rain and I somehow transferred the color to my face making me look - as a friend so charmingly put it - like I had met and devoured a lamb somewhere on the path. Well, didn't you know I was a Cullen? I'm glad no one has a picture of me looking this way, but I have to admit that I'm secrectly sad that no one thought to document what must have been my most beautiful face ever.

The hike back to the parking lot was quiet - I think at this point, even the fittest of us were kind of longing to be back at the car again. It helped my morale that I now knew just how to gauge the distance and that there was a certain time constraint over our heads: If we wanted to be down the mountain before the darkness fell and on the last ferry, we better not take it slowly.

We lost each other somewhere along the way - making for a lot of solitude during the first descent that led me back across the giant rock through fog through which I could barely see the Red T's that mark hiking trails everywhere in Norway - but ran into each other again for the very last descent. If you have ever done any serious hiking before than you know that often times the hardest part is not going up - it's going down. And we all later agreed that the last part of the hike down the steepest incline was the hardest and potentially the most dangerous.

So, why would anyone in their right minds go hiking? I sometimes ask myself this question, especially when I'm on a hike that I really feel I'm not strong enough to finish. It's not for Facebook pictures, that's for certain. But there's nothing like the feeling of realizing that you are stronger than you thought you were. That your body is capable of so much more than you give it credit for.

After Trolltunga, I couldn't walk for two days, but the feeling of euphoria after overcoming a challenge just cannot be replaced. To this day, Trolltunga is my proudest physical accomplishment. There are obviously many people who have done much harder things than I have. But for little me, that hated Gym class and was almost always picked last, this was a very proud moment.

What other hikes should I put on my bucket list? 


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