Read Caption
The beginning of the 4,444 steps to the top of the mountain in Flørli, Norway (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Stairway to Heaven

I’m learning quickly that to be a good Norwegian, you must climb.

This is a land of very steep mountains. Already, I hear tales (tall tales?) from a century ago, when children who played outdoors were tied like dogs on a rope to the trees in order to keep them from tumbling down into the fjord below. And then there’s the one about the elderly man who got up from his deathbed and kindly walked himself down the mountainside so that he could pass away in the boat shed, saving his descendants the trouble of having to carry his body down such a steep and precarious slope.

At least these are the stories I hear.

I heard another tale of the longest wooden stairway on earth: 4,444 steps from the edge of Lysefjord to the top of the mountain in the barely-there village of Flørli.

“No, I’ve never counted them myself ,” admitted Frode Kallelid, a Flørli native who just returned to his hometown after a twenty-year career on a fishing boat in Alaska’s Dutch Harbor (of Deadliest Catch fame). As a boy he worked at the now-defunct hydro-electric power station that first put Flørli on the map. As a man, he has returned in hopes of buying the empty power station and turning it into his own akvavit plant.

Frode could not confirm that there were exactly 4,444 steps to the top. But he has climbed them all–up and down–more times than he can remember.

“Every Monday in summertime I climbed those stairs to the top of the mountains. My job was to measure the water levels in the lake up above.”

As a teenager, Frode could ascend “trappen” (“the stairs”) in 30 minutes, 18 seconds. That’s one mile of stairs plus a 740 m (2,427 foot) upward climb in a half an hour.

“I was probably 14 then–it’s a lot easier when you’re young. But a regular person,  like you, it would take them probably an hour and a half to climb.”

However regular a person I may be, I did not have three hours to climb to the top and back down again. Nor did I think I had the stamina.

Today, the most famous stairs in Norway make up part of the Tripp Trapp Triathlon, which includes running, biking and kayaking. The 4,444 stairs fall under the “running” section–one adult athlete that I met told me how during his last race, he climbed the stairs in around 34 minutes.

That’s very impressive. Still not as fast as a 14-year-old Frode but a whole lot faster than I would ever climb it.

“The view up top is fantastic!” promised Frode, laughing, but I only made it up a few hundred steps for a picture before turning back around.

“I’m sure it is,” I agreed.

Someday, I hope to return and climb the Stairway to Heaven in one go. I am sure it really is a magnificent climb and that the view up top is extraordinary. I am also fairly certain that the sheer height and gradient of this odd man-made wonder would be enough to wind even the best of athletes.

Thus I left the so-called Stairway to Heaven with a promise to myself to return someday (with proper shoes) and attempt the climb. Heaven itself is a somewhat elusive destination, but if the stairway that leads there happens to be in Norway, then I have no excuse not to climb them.

All 4,444 of them.

View Images
The town of Flørli is famous for its 4,444 steps "to heaven" (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)