live slow, love nature, be adventurous

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Epic Views at Gullfjellet, Norway

One of the facets of my personality that doesn't get nearly enough recognition on my blog is my love for all things epic. I was always the kind of girl that preferred movies with grandiose landscapes and large battles, the kid that spent more time reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five books multiple times than playing outside and the teenager that developed a huge love for Middle Earth instead of going to house parties. 

It is no surprise for me, therefore, that places like Scotland, Cornwall and Norway have touched me in ways that I struggle to find the right words for. The rugged wilderness and the magical landscapes of all these places took me away from our world and captured my spirit and fantasy in ways that other places couldn't and for lack of a better description my soul felt welcomed back home.

There are tons of epic views and landscapes in Norway, but one particular experience that stood out to me in my year abroad was a hike to Gullfjellet - the highest mountain in the Bergen municipality - last April. At the time, it actually felt like the scariest experience of my life, but as time has gone by the great moments have remained while the bad ones have started to fade and now I mainly remember the joy of achieving something that I doubted I could do.

The day started harmless enough with a bus drive from Bergen that took us deeper inside the country and into the mountains. While we could see the snowy peaks of the mountainside from the road, it didn't really register with me that we would actually climb one of these icy giants and so I kept strutting on to keep up the pace and enjoyed the first rays of sunlight of spring. Had I known what I was about to embark on, I may just have turned around then and there.

The paved path soon gave way to the Norwegian nature and climbing over rocks, streams and the occasional field of snow we inevitably lost our way. Since hiking paths are a relatively loose concept in Norway anyway, though, we knew that we would find it again eventually and simply followed the few tracks that other people had left not too long ago until we reached the first proper incline of our hike.

Looking back now, I probably should have insisted to find the actual path before continuing on. I'm not sure it would have helped - probably not - but just looking up at the mountain and only seeing ski tracks should have been enough to tell me that I was about to be seriously challenged. Note: The picture doesn't quite convey just how steep the slope was. But before I even had the chance to realize that what we were about to do was a stupid idea, we were off and the next half-hour or so found me desperately trying to scramble up a mountain that seemed to be trying its hardest to get the better of me.

I did my best not to look back to where we had come from, but every time it did happen, my heart almost skipped a beat and with every step that took me further away from the safe ground, I felt panic swell up inside me. Even though I was wearing hiking boots, I kept on loosing my footing and in my mind I already saw myself taking a long tumble down the mountain. Had it not been for the support of my hiking companions - who were all much more sure-footed than me - I probably would never have made it to the top, but somehow they managed to convince me to keep on going, even when I felt almost paralyzed by fear.

Once I saw the view from the top of Gullfjellet, though, I was so happy that I hadn't given in to my fears and kept going instead. It's a very cliché thing to say, but for me the rush of euphoria upon overcoming what I thought are my personal boundaries always, always makes hiking mountains worth it - no matter how hard I struggle on the way to the top, there's nothing better than that feeling of accomplishment. We could see as far as the sea and the blue of the fjords stood in such a striking contrast with the pristinely white snow that I almost couldn't believe my own eyes. All thoughts of giving up had completely left my mind and I took in the beauty of Norway with a big smile on my face.

I'm sure I have mentioned it about twenty million times on my blog already, but one of the things that continues to blow me away about Norway is just how easy and quick you can get away from the rest of the world. I'm not sure I could find a place like that in Germany, even if I drove for many hours, and in Bergen - despite it being the second largest city in Norway - it only takes a bus ride to properly escape into the nature.

Looking over the snow-capped mountains genuinely made me feel like I had been catapulted into Middle Earth or Game of Thrones and I couldn't shake off the feeling of complete, unadulterated happiness for the remainder of our hike. At this moment, I felt so utterly grateful to be able to experience life in a place as beautiful as Norway and had I not been in love with the Norwegian mountains already, the view on Gullfjellet would definitely have stolen my heart.

We took a different path on the way back and it was easily the most scenic hike I have gone on in Norway: I really love the look of snow and seeing it in such large amounts and so untouched was an amazing experience. I'm pretty sure I annoyed my friends by exclaiming "This is the best thing ever!" every two minutes, but I just couldn't get over just how stunning the view was, no matter in which direction I looked.

After the terrifying ascent, the way down the mountain was a lot easier, but there were a couple of places where we just sled down on our jackets. Aside from a couple of skiers, the whole mountainside seemed to be almost deserted which - of course - only intensified the feeling of seclusion that I had come to love about hiking in Bergen's back country.

By the time we were home, I was absolutely spent. Once the high of the final hours of our hike had worn off, I started to feel the anxiety of our first climb again and so I was ready to hit the pillow uncharacteristically early. Hiking Gullfjellet in the snow was an amazing experience that pushed me to the brink, but if I have come to learn one thing through hiking in Norway it's that you're body is always capable of more than your mind thinks.


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