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Besseggen, Preikestolen and the Fimmvörðuháls with a fear of heights

Besseggen, Preikestolen and the Fimmvörðuháls with a fear of heights

Old Aug 26th, 2013, 05:55 AM
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Besseggen, Preikestolen and the Fimmvörðuháls with a fear of heights

Ten dollars to the first person who has any idea what that title means.

I have always shied away from writing trip reports on the Europe Forum. They disappear so quickly and frankly don’t seem worth the effort. So I have hit upon a new theory that probably won’t work – write the trip report in a way that will show up in google searches and help people dear to my heart – people with a fear of heights who nonetheless persist in hiking challenging trails.

I first wrote about hiking and fear of heights in our trip report about the Inca Trail. This year we decided to visit Scandinavia. I (as the organizer) was particularly interested in hiking the Besseggen, one of Norway’s most popular hikes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Besseggen

If we were going to visit Norway we might as well also do the Preikestolen:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preikestolen

And since we were flying Icelandair from Ottawa Canada to Scandinavia we got to stop in Iceland for a few days at no extra cost. We settled on the hike between Porsmork and Skogar so that we could visit the volcano that blew in 2010:

http://www.mountainguides.is/overnig...k-skógar/

We are a family of five – parents age 57 and 53, daughter (20) joining us from a stint in Tunisia and sons age 18 and 14. With us were the same two couples that we did the Inca Trail with. One of these couples announced they were splitting shortly before the trip. But they still wanted to come on the trip.

While this report will focus on the hiking I want to include a few other stories either because they struck me as humorous or because they might help someone with the high cost of visiting these countries.

Arrival – Stockholm August 6 – A couple of years ago we had looked at visiting Stockholm. At the time the cost of getting from the airport to the city approached our annual income. That was the end of that idea. But this year the Arlanda Express airport train had a deal on. The four of us traveling from Ottawa (daughter was already in Stockholm having arrived from Tunisia) could take the train to the city for a mere 380 SEKs, or $62 Canadian. So that is what we did. The plan was to then take the subway one stop to somewhere near our hotel in Gamla stan, Stockholm’s historic old town.

We arrived at Stockholm Central Station, found a money machine and then a store where we could load a transit card with 400 SEK worth of transit rides for the next three days. I do a lot of research before trips and had settled on this approach to paying for transit. Despite this research the Stockholm system threw a couple of unexpected curves at us over the next three days. Transit systems can be very difficult for tourists to understand IMO.

In 2006 we were in New York City and purchased a prepaid pass of some kind that was supposed to give us a specific number of subway rides. The fellow in Grand Central Station told us that it was his last day working at that location. He seemed a bit chatty, wanting to know if we had been to NYC before. Long story short after using the card (or whatever it was) once, the card expired. He had sold us a cheaper pass at a higher price. I immediately complained to the station attendant who told me to phone the Metropolitan Transit Authority and complain. I did and they told me to send in a complaint with the details and they might help me someday. I didn’t bother despite being very irritated.

This is only relevant because of the following. In Stockholm if you have a prepaid card you approach an attendant who subtracts the cost of the ride from the card. After we passed through the turnstile I looked at the receipt I was given. It was in Swedish and seemed to indicate our opening balance was 350 SEK and not the 400 SEK we had paid for. The missing credit was worth less that $10 but visions of the Grand Central Station crook were dancing in my head. We were not going to be cheated twice.

I returned to the turnstile. The attendant we had dealt with had left, reinforcing my belief that we had been swindled. The new attendant tried to figure out where our 50 SEK was but couldn’t. She told us to visit the transit authority office located back in the train station somewhere. So I left my wife and two sons on the subway platform and raced to the transit office. At this point I was looking somewhat nutty to the family but too bad. Fool me once and all that.

The nice woman at the transit office told me she couldn’t figure out what had happened as the new pass was so recently issued that the information was not available in her system. She told me to return the next day when they could figure out where my 50 SEK was. I think she thought I was somewhat deranged. Are Canadians this cheap? This was no way to begin a vacation she told me.

I said to her that if I returned and told anyone but her what had happened they might think I was the swindler. Yes she said, that was indeed possible. So she suggested I return two days later when she was working and she would figure it all out. That is what I did and whatdoyaknow she gave me my 50 SEK back. I thought of kissing her. The holiday was already a success.
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 06:00 AM
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Looking forward to more .
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 06:04 AM
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Hi Hetismij. Sorry that last link didn't work. Maybe this one will:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fimmv%C...3%B0uh%C3%A1ls
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 06:11 AM
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Yep that one works .
This one too http://www.mountainguides.is/overnig...trekking-tours then I can click on the tour. I worked that out earlier, should have said.
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 07:34 AM
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Thanks Hetismij.

In Stockholm we stayed at the Old Town Lodge:

http://oldtownlodge.se/

It is more of a hostel than a hotel. The upsides were fantastic location just a few hundred meters from the royal palace and reasonable cost. We paid about $900 Canadian (Canadian $ worth just slightly less than $US) for two rooms for three nights. The downside was the room for the parents – in the basement and about seven feet by nine feet. No window. A fan in the corner to generate minimal air movement. We now know what it will feel like to be buried near each other.

Breakfast was make and serve yourself in a small kitchen. There were too many people in the kitchen for the available space. Fortunately we don’t really care where we stay. There were lots of bathrooms and showers available. The other guests seemed nice.

The highlight of our short visit to Stockholm was the Vasa museum:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasa_(ship)

In Canada if a ship were to sail a mile on its maiden voyage and then sink we would spend the next 400 years mumbling apologies about it. Someone might write a song. I seriously doubt we would raise the ship and then build a museum around it. But the Swedes have turned the Vasa into a symbol of their historic power. All very interesting. We got there early and by the time we left the lineup at the ticket office was around the block.

The lowlight of the Stockholm visit was a trip to the world’s largest Ikea. Yes I know. You’re thinking how dumb can a family be. Visiting an Ikea. And you’d be right. But we live very close to a large Ikea in Ottawa. We wanted to see how much larger they could make them. And besides there is an Ikea bus that runs from the Stockholm central station to the suburbs where Ikea is located. The trip would not take long. And it would give us a chance to see what Stockholm suburbia looks like.

I must say we were lucky to ever get out of the place. We followed those floor arrows for what seemed like ten miles. From the moment we got in the only objective was to find our way out. It was all good for much laughter.

After three days of mostly walking around we took the subway one stop back to the central station and boarded a train for Oslo. We had purchased the tickets 90 days in advance at a cost of only about $30 a person. Something happened on the train that was a first for me. I lost our train tickets. Despite holding them in my hand on the platform prior to boarding, once on the train I could not find them. The ticket guy said don’t worry about it. He said he knew who we were. I could have kissed him too.
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 09:18 AM
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good start, cold! when i saw your title, i KNEW that it had to be you.

you really are going for broke on this trip, aren't you? altercations with ticket sellers, a trip to Ikea - you canadians really know how to have a good time.

i can't wait to find out what you get up to next!
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 10:27 AM
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Ann I have incalculable respect for anyone who can drive 400 kilometres in Iceland in a single day. And spell the names of places they visited. Try as we might we could never repeat the name of any place or person we were given, no matter how many times the name was offered.

Arriving in Oslo and another transit story. Our hotel was only about 1.5 kilometers from the train station. But we had decided that my wife and daughter would take a taxi given the heavy suitcase our daughter had. The three males would take the subway a couple of stops and then walk through the Royal Palace grounds to our hotel. But first we had to buy our tickets.

Now someone living in Oslo will likely think I am an idiot but I have never met more frustrating ticket machines than the ones we met in Oslo. You could only buy one ticket at a time. You had to use coins or a credit card. The machine would stop the Visa payment process for no apparent reason. There was no definition of how old a child must be. People were trying to help us but they couldn’t get the three machines we tried to work either. The last thing I remember is my Visa card flying across the subway entrance followed by some choice words from me. Apparently Oslo residents understand colourful English.

To get away from their embarrassment of a father, the two boys had retreated to a nearby store to ask for coins for the ticket machine. The man there said he could not spare the change but he could sell them three metro tickets. Ah, there’s a solution. We took the subway two stops and then began our walk through the palace grounds. Palace closed. Jesus H Christ. Fit number 37 from Dad. Is this a plot against us? So we stuck to the road and eventually found our hotel just past the Canadian embassy.

I had spent hours looking for accommodations for five that would not cost more than our house is worth. Finally we found http://www.cochspensjonat.no/. In Oslo this place represented a real steal. All five of us were in one room. No bathroom. But a nice place and a fabulous location. Nothing is too far from anywhere in Oslo but this place was near to everywhere we wanted to see.

We started by visiting the National Gallery so that we could see The Scream. We know close to zero about art despite being in museums around the world. But even we could tell Edvard Munch was an interesting guy. One of the four versions of the painting was sold for $120M US$, yet it looks like something your kid would bring home from school. Sometimes brilliance passes right over our heads.

From there we walked to a nearby hotel where our divorcing friends were arriving from Ottawa (in Stockholm it had only been the five of us plus the stable couple). Our friends arrived with what else but a transit story. They had done their usual amount of travel research – none. At the Oslo airport they hopped into a cab after hearing, they thought, that the ride would cost about 100 kroner. They were thinking this was an incredible deal as the ride went on and on for the 30 miles or so into Oslo. Upon arrival they were informed they owed over 800 kroner, or more than $140. They thought the driver was kidding. The driver thought our friends were trying to cheat him. An ugly scene ensued.

Our friends were so upset by the experience that they insisted on sitting in their hotel bar with us and paying for drinks all around. Bless them as with four of us now of drinking age in our family and given the price of beer in Oslo, we were more than happy to let someone else pay.
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 11:12 AM
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glad to hear that you liked the Vasa - we enjoyed it, too!

Looking forward to the rest of the story...
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 11:43 AM
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Ann I have incalculable respect for anyone who can drive 400 kilometres in Iceland in a single day. And spell the names of places they visited. Try as we might we could never repeat the name of any place or person we were given, no matter how many times the name was offered.>>

lol, cold, learning to pronounce the names gave us something to do on those interminable journeys!

<<They had done their usual amount of travel research – none.>>

cause or effect of the marital breakdown?
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Old Aug 26th, 2013, 01:38 PM
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Hi Surfmom – we had learned from your report, as you will see below. Interesting question Ann. I may have to answer in the Lounge, given the open nature of this forum.

Saturday August 10 was our only full day in Oslo. We headed down to the dock to take the ferry to the Viking Ship Museum. While waiting to buy more of the dreaded transit tickets we struck up a conversation with a cyclist who was taking the ferry out to do some cycling on an island. I asked him if he had ever hiked the Besseggen. He said yes, and that it was very beautiful. Of course, he added, if one had a fear of heights the hike could be a bit frightening. Oh goodie. In the end he gave up trying to buy a ferry ticket as the people in front of us were having trouble operating the ticket machine. He wished us luck and added that “probably no one will get hurt at Besseggen”.

The Viking Ship Museum was interesting with excellent explanations of what we were looking at. But the highlight was when a group of local seniors (I am guessing here) started singing what sounded like German beer songs from the museum balcony. The contrast was a bit striking. Viking boats and German beer songs. Once again the cultural nuances were lost on us. We also visited the Opera House and then strolled through downtown. Oslo is a very pleasant city.

But the major effort of the day was finding rain pants for our hikes. In Peru we had relied on quick-drying hiking pants to get us through the rain. But in Stockholm it had rained very hard one night, demonstrating to us that our hiking pants could stay wet for several hours. We could not risk a heavy rain in either Norway or Iceland. Fortunately we found a North Face store just up from our hotel. And even more fortunately they had a 40% off sale running. And they had all of our sizes. $800 later we were out of there. We thought we were fortunate at the time to find what we needed but we had no idea how fortunate we really were.

My wife returned to the hotel to pack for our next day departure. I went out to have a beer with the 18 and 20 year old. It is odd having children old enough to drink with. We noticed many of the nearby apartments were full of partying young adults. We asked the waitress about it. She said that alcohol is so expensive that most students drink in their rooms and only venture out very late to have one of two drinks in a bar. Of course this happens everywhere, but at $15 a beer it makes even more sense in Oslo.

Sunday was rental car pick-up day. I had been watching rental car prices for months. We finally settled on a Ford Mondeo from Hertz. The pick-up office was just down the street from our hotel. When we arrived they told us that they only had an Audi 3. I went down into the garage to see if the five of us and our luggage could fit into an Audi 3. Not quite. Perhaps four people and two suitcases. In that case said the Hertz woman she would give us a Volvo 70 at no extra charge. At the next counter were four people from the Netherlands. They had had an accident and were having trouble getting a replacement car. Which reminded us that we were relying on our Visa card for insurance purposes. Going from memory Visa sets a limitation of $60k on the value of any car they will insure. I asked the Hertz woman what the value of the Volvo was. Neither she nor her partner knew but “doubted” it was more than $60k.

We concluded that if we totalled the car that we would likely be totalled as well. So we took the chance and left with the Volvo. We had printed out Google map directions to help lead us out of the city. I had scouted the most complex set of roundabouts on foot earlier that morning so I recognized the one place where the Google instructions were wrong. All in all it was fairly easy to get out of Oslo and be on our way to Besseggen.
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 12:17 AM
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Folllowing!
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 02:35 AM
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I'm too damn lazy to hike, and I use my fear of heights as an excuse. But I think I will enjoy this report.

I found Scandinavian prices triggered my acrophobia - higher than I was comfortable with.
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 04:57 AM
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And even more fortunately they had a 40% off sale running. And they had all of our sizes. $800 later we were out of there. We thought we were fortunate at the time to find what we needed but we had no idea how fortunate we really were.>>

even with the 40% off that seems quite "steep" to me!

Annhig's caveat - moving Scandanavia towards the bottom of my "to do" list.
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 05:20 AM
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I don't have a fear of heights but looking at photos of Preikestolen triggered my fear of falling and I'm hoping the spiffy new rain gear was not necessary for this hike.
That rock could get awfully slippery when wet....
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 05:21 AM
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Hi Finecheapboxofwine - we gave your adopted country only a cursory look. Next time. To Padraig and Ann - yes we figured with the high Scandinavian prices, the 40% off only brought the prices down into barely tolerable range.

Our four friends (stable couple plus divorcing couple) had jointly rented a BMW. I am not into BMWs but I believe it was a 5 series. Or maybe a 7. It was huge. And they had a helpful GPS meaning they did not have to pre-scout routes or scan for road signs. They just listened to the nice English lady talking at them.

We did not leave Oslo at the same time. Indeed I thought we were a couple of hours behind them. But by coincidence we ran into each other at a roadside stop. One of the guys – the driver and official renter of the vehicle - was looking a tad upset. He believed they had been caught in a photo radar trap going about 110 kph in an 80 zone. We tried to suppress our laughter as we had seen the photo radar and wondered how anyone could be going more than 70. The E-16 highway, despite being the major highway between Oslo and Bergen, was two lanes, narrow, curving with plenty of side streets entering, tractors etc. This is not a criticism as the Norwegian topography is challenging. But the highway did not look like a major highway. In any event the BMW managed to get up to 110 in about the only spot where Norwegian traffic authorities figured someone might get up to 110. We await news of the ticket arriving in Canada.

After four hours of driving we arrived at Beitostolen, the ski town we would be staying in for three nights. We had rented a four bedroom cottage for the nine of us. I had mentioned in a Lounge posting that the nine of us would only have one bathroom in this place. This brought quite a reaction from Lounge posters, many of whom apparently require their own bathroom. It turns out there were 1.5 bathrooms in our cottage. This was not a problem as for most of our 2.5 days there we were too tired to shower. In all other respects the cottage was extremely nice and very cheap - $200 a night for the nine of us.

We quickly hit the local supermarket to load up on beer. It is important to carbohydrate load before a difficult hike. Most of the beers were locked up in a glass cabinet but there were a few lying around. When we got to the cash the fellow informed us that he could not sell us beer on Sunday. Excuse me sir but we are desperate. We’re drinkers. But he wouldn’t give in.

We thought this was humorous, at least until the next night when we raced back from the Besseggen hike to try and buy a few celebratory beer before the supermarket closed at 9 pm. This time the fellow told us he could not sell us beer after 8 pm. No particular reason it seemed. Maybe to keep the local teenagers from loading up on beer in the evening? If we were staying in town much longer we would have asked for the precise days and times that he could sell us beer, though we suspected that he would tell us that he was not allowed to sell beer to Canadians.

We had planned to spend two full days in the Besseggen area to give us a better chance of having one day of good hiking weather. You don’t want to hike rocky terrain in rain. It looked like our best chance of good weather would be the next day – Monday August 12. We headed out for some of those needed carbs at the local pizza place. The waiter, from Denmark, was a local ski instructor. He knew the area well. When he heard we were hiking the Besseggen, he repeated what the bike rider in Oslo had said. It was a beautiful hike. But then he said “I guess none of you has a fear of heights?” Gulp. When informed that indeed a couple of us were nervous with heights he backtracked a bit and offered “I guess it never gets much narrower than, um, a few feet. You’ll be fine. There are worse places.”

With that pleasant thought it was time for bed. I had spent eight months reading and watching everything I could find on the Besseggen. I thought I knew the trail but was starting to wonder if I had miscalculated. But too late for second guessing now.
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 06:30 AM
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“Ten dollars to the first person who has any idea what that title means.”
C’mon, cold….give us some credit

Thanks for taking the time to write this. I am one of your intended audiences, afraid of heights and wanting to go on every high point for the view. We looked into a trip to Norway a few years back, but the high cost of everything made us think twice, and we decided against it. We are not really thinking that things will get any cheaper there in the future, but that we will more financially inclined to spend that kind of money. We’re not there yet…still waiting.

Keep this coming, I’m really enjoying it.
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Old Aug 27th, 2013, 06:55 AM
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Most of the beers were locked up in a glass cabinet but there were a few lying around. When we got to the cash the fellow informed us that he could not sell us beer on Sunday. Excuse me sir but we are desperate. We’re drinkers. But he wouldn’t give in.

We thought this was humorous, at least until the next night when we raced back from the Besseggen hike to try and buy a few celebratory beer before the supermarket closed at 9 pm. This time the fellow told us he could not sell us beer after 8 pm. >>

cold, LOL is an overworked phrase but in this case, it truly applies. Perhaps it explains what we saw in Iceland when we were flying to the Westerman isles at the same time as a load of older teens for the annual festival there. so far as we could tell, they were each taking at least their own weight in beer and then some.
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Old Aug 28th, 2013, 04:44 AM
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I first became aware of the Besseggen after returning from Peru and the Inca Trail. The nine of us had all enjoyed that experience. Besseggen would show up occasionally on lists of the world’s greatest hikes. Of course these things are all subjective. But to us the Besseggen had a lot of things in its favour. It is in a part of the world we wanted to visit. It is visually stunning. It is a one day hike, leaving lots of time for other activities. It is challenging but not technical.

But there was one part of the trail I knew I would have problems with. The entire trail is about 18 kilometers long. At one point in the middle of the trail the path narrows to perhaps 10 feet for about 100 meters. On one side is a lake. On the other side is another lake – 1200 straight feet down. I keep reading that people with a fear of heights might have problems with the trail and I associated this warning with this one short section of trail between the lakes. And I concluded that if that indeed was the dangerous part of the trail, it would not be an issue. Ten feet is pretty wide, even for a chicken like me. I only figured out much later that this fear of heights warning related not to this brief narrow section but to the “ridge” section that came right after it.

The trail runs east-west, with a parking lot at the east end. You have two choices. Start hiking west from the parking lot and when finished take a ferry back to the parking lot. Or take the ferry down the lake to Memurubu and then hike back to the parking lot. Most people take the ferry and then hike back, for two reasons. Doing it this way means you don’t have to worry about finishing in time to catch the last ferry of the day back to the parking lot. And you hike up the steepest section of the trail – the Ridge – rather than down it. This was reportedly easier for people with a fear of heights, as long as they didn’t turn around and look behind them. I was sold. We would take the ferry and hike back to the parking lot (if I sound like a dictator it is only because no one else does any research. They more or less follow along).

This fellow has provided some nice pictures and a good description of that part of the trail that is a nerve-wracking:

http://joannastravelblog.com/?p=1124

We had wanted to catch the 8:15 ferry down the lake but due to road construction we missed it. The roads in the area are in pretty good shape though a bit narrow in places. The land is beautiful but barren. We joked the next person we might see would be Santa Claus. You are pretty far north in this area and there are not a lot of people around.

There were about 25 people on the 9:30 ferry. The ride down the lake takes about 20 minutes. Everyone had the same plan – take the ferry and hike back. All along the right side of the boat is the rather large set of hills/mountains you will be hiking. It is an imposing sight.

The first part of the trail is straight uphill. I have read so many descriptions of the trail with differing details about how high the climb is, how long various sections are etc. I am guessing the first climb is about 1500 feet. It went pretty smoothly. We felt downright prepared and quick compared to a couple of groups that did not have rainwear or backpacks with food and water. After the initial climb the route flattens out. We had incredible views of Lake Gjende to our right.

The first sign of trouble was a rather technical section that brought us down to the 100 meter narrow section between the lakes. Nothing too difficult but very rocky. And by this time we had a bird’s eye view of the “ridge”, the climb that comes right after the short narrow section. It is one thing to see pictures and watch videos of this ridge. It is another to see it in front of you. In fact it was a little difficult to believe we were supposed to climb the ridge. It is very steep and very narrow. There is nothing on the right side except a 1200 foot freefall. The left side is fine to start with as the other lake is right beside you. But as you start to climb the left side becomes a challenge as well.

As we would stood at the bottom ready to start up the ridge a woman was completing her descent of the ridge (she was coming the other way). She stopped right in front of us and said “I am not going to say one damn word about that section”, and then she moved on. Others coming down towards us were shaking their heads.

The link I posted above suggests that the ridge is about 900 meters long with about 800 feet of vertical climb. That sounds about right to me. I was preoccupied with the fall off on the right side and must have said “stay away from the right side” about ten times to our two sons. The younger son is particular has no danger gene. He would think nothing of leaning out over the edge and taking a few pictures. I had to issue these instructions early in the climb as the two boys were faster climbers than the rest of us. Sure enough they were soon out of sight, though still only about 75 yards ahead of us. The boulders were so big that it was hard to see any distance in front.

If I had found this video before the trip I doubt we would have done the hike. It is the best video I have seen about climbing the ridge. It is quite long but the section between 2:00 – 6:30 shows what the ridge climb is like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CHOEQ1_55E

For those of you with data limitations here is a shorter video. There were not this many people hiking the day we were there:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNzWL3QCbxg

To make a long story short we all made it to the top but it was not a pleasant experience. I think people were surprised I had recommended such a scary climb. At one point I yelled up at the 18 year old “how much further to the top”. He yelled back “About 100 meters, and it is fu**ing terrifying”. That was not like him. My wife was having a hard time lifting herself up on to some of the rocks. We caught up to a woman hiking by herself. She said she had to get ahead of her husband and daughter as she couldn’t stand to see her daughter in such a dangerous situation (interesting approach).

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, it started to rain just as we reached the top. If it had started to rain 30 minutes earlier the climb up the ridge would have been even more unpleasant. As it was the remaining 7-8 kilometers was not much fun, as the rainwater gathers on the trail and makes the rocks very slippery. So we had a long, slippery descent on polished rock, something that my wife and one other woman find very difficult. We finished the trail after 8.5 hours, including one section of hanging on to a chain to assist with a descent. It was over.


The consensus was that we were happy we did it, and we would never do it again. And my reputation as a travel researcher had taken a hit. I had really put people out of their comfort zone.
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Old Aug 28th, 2013, 04:46 AM
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xyz - you'll love the high points of view.
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Old Aug 28th, 2013, 05:36 AM
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Great hike description, with some good videos. Thanks, it was really helpful, this hike is now absolutely OFF my list

I agree, the views look wonderful though.
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