My hands were shaking uncontrollably, but it wasn’t from the fear. I knew that below me was an almost 1km drop down to the bottom of the fjord. But the swirling mists hid the valley floor from view. Turns out it’s hard to imagine plummeting to your death if you can’t actually see the point of impact.
Yet my hands shook anyway. They shook from the bone-deep cold that had mastered my body. They were so numb that it was a strain to pull off each glove. But the gloves had to go.
I had flown halfway around the world and trekked several hours to reach this point. And it hadn’t been a pleasant hike either, oh no.
But if I wanted to climb onto Kjeragbolten – the famous little boulder suspended midair – to grab the glory shot everyone comes here for, I needed to get a grip.
I needed to get the blood back into my palms, the strength into my fingertips and the fear out of my head to make that final leap of faith onto a precarious rock dangling over a seemingly bottomless abyss…
Kjeragbolten. It’s a 5 cubic metre boulder wedged in a crevasse in the mountain Kjerag in a quiet corner of Norway. Alone, it’s hardly exceptional. But place yourself on top, with a view of the steep drop below, and you look pretty bad-arse.
Even if you’re not a bad-arse and you’d rather not risk your life for a photo, the views of Lysefjord from here are pretty damn stunning.
A guided hiking tour to Kjerag
Kjerag isn’t an easy hike. Nor is it close to town (it’s a 2-3 hour drive from Stavanger). For these two reasons, I opted to go there with an awesome tour company, Outdoorlife Norway, which runs regular hiking trips out to Kjerag.
I was there in July – peak season – yet we had just a small group of hikers: a Russian couple with virtually no hiking experience, a solo female Dutch traveller, and myself. Perfect.
After our pick up in Stavanger, we drove out through beautiful countryside – steep, round hills and gentle lakes. The shrubbery gradually disappeared, leaving nothing but terrestrials and moss. Then came the patches of snow and a thick mist that clung to the landscape.
The Kjerag car park seemed a bleak place, abandoned by hikers who had the sense to wait it out till the weather looked a little more optimistic. An American-Norwegian park official laughed at our chances of clear views and assured us that our clothes and boots were appropriate.
“You’ll be drenched through, no matter what,” he said.
The Kjerag hike is an 11-kilometre return trip over three progressively higher hills, with a total ascent of 800 metres. The first hill begins immediately, as if the mountainside has prepped its defences.
Our guide handed out walking sticks and encouraged their use wherever possible. But personally, I was pretty keen on using the guiding chains hammered into the steepest parts of the mountain. Don’t they just seem so much more adventurous and far less wanky than walking sticks?
Once we surmounted the first hill, a valley opened up before us, complete with a charming rocky path hand built by Nepalese sherpas. Rain spattered lightly, soaking our pants and shoes, but it passed quickly and we dried off.
And then we summitted the third hill, faced with a barren landscape and a bracing wind we had to lean into to keep moving.
New rains came down hard, slanting sideways as the strong wind whipped it across the plateau. There was no escaping it. Every drop stung my skin. We were all drenched to the core, the water dripping into our shoes to complete the job.
It meant that when we reached Kjeragbolten, hopping over thin patches of ice to get there, we were almost hypothermic with cold. Even the act of removing my lens cap and pressing the camera shutter button required intense concentration and effort – not that there was anything to photograph.
We stood there on the edge of the cliff, soaked through, and stared into a white abyss. Beyond, we were assured, was the steep drop down into the fjord. But while the rain had passed, a blank canvas of fog remained to fill the void.
The boulder too was surrounded by a haze that obscured everything but the faintest outline of its shape. Still, we had made it.
The Kjerag boulder is positioned at a rather awkward angle. To get to it, you have to manoeuvre yourself around another boulder, and all that’s offered for grip is one tiny metal ring.
I pumped my arms up and down to bring the blood flow back into my fingers; the sensation felt like little shocks of electricity.
I pulled my gloves off, fumbling with clumsiness. But I needed to get enough power over them to be able to cling to that tiny ring in the rock face. I put all my weight on those fingers and swung my body around to step, gingerly at first, onto the Kjeragbolten…
OK, the pictures are a little bit deceptive. In reality, there’s a sizeable space to get comfortable on the boulder.
But when my knees started to give out with the cold, when they began to shake uncontrollably with exhaustion, when I felt that slightest loss of control over them … well, then I got off the boulder bloody fast.
We lunched, trying to act unperturbed by the coldness that seemed to settle in our blood, there for the long haul. The mists cleared just a little and for a fraction of a second. We edged our toes to the edge of the cliff and saw traces of landscape. A tiny river snaking out into a fjord. An inconceivable drop.
And I thanked the weather gods for hiding that view from me until then.
Since sitting on wet rocks munching on food with stiff fingertips and a bucket of water in each shoes wasn’t the most enjoyable activity, we got moving again pretty quickly.
And you know what happened?
The rain stopped. Our clothes began to dry (the shoes would stay sodden for another night as they air dried beside a radiator).
Hell, the mists evaporated, replacing an indiscriminate white fuzz with the most marvellous views of rocky slopes, sharp cliffs, and dark blue water in fjords far below.
And while it wasn’t the “perfect tourist shot” everybody goes to Kjeragbolten for, we got our own little slice of heaven into the bargain too.
All the details you need to know
How to get to Kjerag
So I did a heck of a lot of research about Norway – and Kjerag in particular – before my trip. And it turns out Kjerag is one of the hardest mainstream hikes you can get to in Norway.
For a start, the mountain road is closed throughout winter, so Kjerag is basically inaccessible. It usually closes in October and reopens around late May.
If you’re travelling in a group, car hire is your best bet. Kjerag is a 2-3 hour drive from Stavanger, the closest big town to the hike.
Now this probably comes as no surprise, but car hire ain’t cheap in Scandinavia. If you’re a solo traveller, a better bet might be to catch public transport – in this case, Tide runs a bus service from Stavanger to the start of the hike for the summer months only. Of course, the service is severely limited, with one service running each way daily.
If you are hiking solo, there are good markers throughout the hike. That being said, on a crazy weather day like ours, visibility can get really low in the mists. I’m super happy I had a tour guide to follow through the storm.
I highly recommend a tour. Sure, you’re probably going to blow your daily budget (why you even bother with one in Norway is a mystery to me!). But trust me, it’s worth it.
What should I wear?
If you’re anything like me, your mind will easily find something to worry about. And my biggest concern on this trip once I’d booked the tour was that I didn’t have the right equipment.
Layers are the way to go on this hike and though it’s a cliche, make note: dress for all weather! Throw some gloves and a beanie in your backpack. On the nice days, the waits to get onto Kjeragbolten can be insane (up to an hour), so you’ll want to be cosy.
Bring a rain coat. If you suffer through any kind of crazy weather like we did, it’s going to do zip-all for you, but hey, it’s the thing to do.
My biggest worry was my shoes – all I own are lightweight Merrell trail runners. Given Norway’s inclination towards wet weather, I was paranoid my shoes just wouldn’t meet the challenge. They’re not the solid-looking, waterproof beasts every traveller seems to own.
My tour company, Outdoorlife Norway, does rent out the full getup. But to be honest, as long as your shoes have quality grip, you’re good. Like the park officer said, nothing will stop water getting into your shoes. But I saw plenty of people slipping and sliding on the slick rocky surface (I was not one of them, boo-ya Merrell!). So grip is what it’s all about.
That’s about all there is to it! The funny thing is that in some ways, the moment of wild weather turned out to be the highlight of the day. Sure we all hope and prey that we’re going to get those postcard perfect experiences.
But travel forces you out of your comfort zone – and right into the path of Mother Nature. At home, many of us live pretty cosy lives, far removed from nature’s temperament. But it felt oddly nice to be at one with everything the wilds has to offer, even if that means snaking trails of water running down your back and into your boots.
If you loved this story – or are looking for more inspiration to get you out there in the big wide world, be sure to check out some of my other travel adventures on the blog.