Hiking Preikestolen

Acrophobia is not a “fear of heights”, like everyone says.

Acrophobia comes from the Greek root ἄκρον (akron) which means: the farthest bounds or uttermost parts, the end, the extreme—the edge.

I am a true acrophobe—I am not afraid of heights; I am afraid of the edge.

The very extreme edge of Preikestolen looks hand-chiseled, a right-angled granite cube suspended 1,800 ft (604 meters) over Lysefjord. When I reach the top, my primate instincts take over, freezing my boots to the rock. In my mind, I scold the the happy fools who sit along the edge, dangling their feet over the unforgiving cliff, absorbing the dizzy view of cold water a thousand feet below.

Preikestolen is Norway’s travel poster moment. This country has no Coliseum or Eiffel tower—no, Norway’s greatest monument is made by nature: an ice-cracked stone that carved out the near-perfect block of rock, offering a heavenly perch for anyone daring enough to stand on top. Which I did . . . .

From the bottom of Lysefjord to the top of Preikestolen  is not a difficult hike. In my opinion, anyone who can walk up a flight of stairs can hike up Preikestolen. It takes about two hours, during which there are only two real “climbs”—the rest is fairly level.

And it’s beautiful. Hiking Preikestolen sure beats huffing it out on a stairstepper at the gym while browsing reruns on Reality TV. This is what I love about Norway: the endless outdoors and how active a place this is.

Preikestolen means preacher’s chair in Norwegian, but is normally translated as “Pulpit Rock”. This barely makes sense until you see one of the suspended pulpits in the older Norwegian churches. These cathedral-style pulpit literally hung from the walls of the church, an ornate perch from where the preacher could pronounce his sermon on the congregation.

(Like this one, from Stavanger Cathedral, built in 1125):

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The "Preikestolen" at Stavanger Cathedral. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

The fjord-side Preikestolen is a tad higher than the one in the cathedral and there is no medieval carved railing. In fact, there is no railing at all. There is only the extraordinary view of Norway’s fjords that seem to go on forever.

Acrophobe that I am, I still hiked to the top of Preikestolen and marched straight out to the edge. I did not dangle my legs as some of you suggested I should (that’s not in my contract). Nor did I take a picture of myself jumping in the air at the edge of such a precarious precipice. I will risk a lot for a good shot, but on the day I was there, the lighting was all wrong for such deadly stunts.

No, I merely hiked to the edge, which is a mighty feat for an acrophobe like me. Was it worth all that heart-jumping adrenalin? Totally. In fact, I don’t see how anyone can come to the Norwegian fjords and NOT choose to hike to the top of Preikestolen.

This is what the fjords are all about: ice and stone, nature’s raw beauty and getting a little closer to God in the process.

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