Three sides to every story

"The earth never tires.
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible, at first:
Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first.
Be not discouraged, keep on,
there are divine things well envelop'd
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell."

-- Walt Whitman



HOW DID YOU SLEEP THE NIGHT BEFORE IN THE PARKING LOT?

Michelle (me):  I slept restlessly in the rental car in the parking lot of Preikestolen Vandrerhjem a.k.a. Preikestolen Hostel.  My mind was too preoccupied by the fact that our Honda was the only vehicle that remained there past 22:00, making it an easy target to rob or investigate for trespassing.  At 06:30 my alarm clock woke me up.  Mom & I initially planned on setting off pre-dawn to watch the sunrise at Preikestolen but the receptionist at the guesthouse dissuaded us, claiming the view would be anti-climactic.  The sun had been on the rise since 04:30, but who could tell given the permeating sidewalk gray haze?  We debated postponing the trip due to the unfortunate weather conditions.
Stephanie (Mom): I slept terrible because I kept waiting for someone to tell us to move. I figured every person or car that came by was a security guard.  Plus, the windows of the car were steaming up so it was a giveaway we were inside.  But I was okay [with the decision to] sleep in the parking lot & save money.  Also, I didn't get a good night's sleep because someone set her stupid alarm clock for the buttcrack of dawn so we could beat the tour busses. Still, I understood the reasoning behind Michelle's plan. 

Truth:  Once a visitor has entered the parking lot of Preikestolen Vandrerhjem & Fjellstue a.k.a. lodge, he/she must pay $20 USD to exit, however, guests of the hotel are given a voucher.  Having realized there was really nowhere else to sleep, but in the car (except a campsite some kilometers away, back down Lysefjord) the duo had no other options except to pay the parking toll... almost.  Since the guesthouse reservation was for the next day, Stephanie & Michelle slept in the gravel lot and eventually got their parking ticket validated for free.


DO YOU RECALL THE INITIAL SCENERY OR FEELINGS?

Michelle/truth:  Of course!  Preikestolen Vandrerhjem was only a third of the way into Lysefjord, but it still was a chilly morning, probably around 13º C a.k.a. 55º F.  Not knowing the forecast  I donned my Cypres t-shirt (how appropriate), sweater, snowboarding jacket, winter accessories and two layers on my lower body.  As we set off past the trailhead, the path immediately and abruptly climbed.  Stephanie & I were sweating profusely and shed almost every article of clothing put on less than an hour ago.  Aside from this early morning activity, I felt excited.  I was ready to get moving and beat the crowd to our final destination: Preikestolen a.k.a. Pulpit Rock, a granite terrace overlooking the fjord.
Stephanie:  I was kind of disappointed because someone (Michelle) kept bitching at me that I wasn't getting ready fast enough.  Plus, it was overcast & foggy outside.

At first everything was fine, it was just like hiking. Toward the beginning we saw a sign that showed three crests & I thought "oh that doesn't look so bad."   There were some tough places to climb and I grew hot, but then it started to drizzle, so I had to put on my plastic poncho which made me even hotter.   Yet, I told myself "okay, only three hard places. I can do this."


TELL THE READERS WHAT TRANSPIRED AFTER EMBARKING.

Stephanie:  It was hard to see the small red marks on the trail & we had to keep stopping to search for them, asking "do you see another one?"  I was basically following Michelle, whom I often referred to as "my fearless leader." 

I want to talk about that wood walkway. That was really pretty and I thought "Wow, that was awesome! All that climb was worth it." It was so serene.  In retrospect, I wish we could've slowed down a bit. You were pushing me so fast.  I kind of regret that we didn't stop to observe the birch trees, we just kept going.

Michelle:
  I was surprised by the steepness of the journey from the start.  Not that I expected a pleasant, smooth trail, but I also didn't think I'd be exuding so much energy from the onset. 

I also remember my apprehension.  Everywhere I looked was fog & more fog.  Frequently, throughout the entire journey, I surveyed the field of rocks, searching for the red T's sporadically painted on them that indicated the way to Pulpit Rock.  I desperately wanted conditions to clear so I could behold that breath-taking view of Lysefjord from above, but in the back of my mind, I acknowledged the journey could be a bust.  The weather that plagued our adventure however, also created a brilliant ambiance.  The fog showed just enough of the mountaintops to keep me curious... well, at first.

I guessed whether this was the highest elevation or if more crags laid beyond.  Further, at one of the very few flat areas, Mom & I stepped onto a boardwalk that wove through a misty taiga a.k.a marshy forest.  The photo I captured was a favorite of both Mom's and mine.  The scene was so visceral: the complementary colors; the whole view in shades of brown and green; the outline of pointed, leafy trees breaking up the monotonous fog; and in the middle of it all, like the Yellow Brick Road, laid the natural planks swerving off into the jagged horizon. 
Truth:  Michelle was a bit of a slave-driver toward Stephanie.  However, Stephanie also started to severely lag during the hike.  As a motivational tool and way to keep pace, Michelle compromised by resting every 10 steps up the bakke a.k.a. hill.  Stephanie obliged but broke stride after 7 steps.  Soon thereafter she tried to get away with stopping every four steps, and that was when Michelle really became irritated.


AT WHAT POINT DID THE TRAIL & YOUR FEELINGS START TO CHANGE?

Stephanie/truth:  I ate a gross turkey sandwich (that I purchased the night before for breakfast) but much to my chagrin it was full of globs of thick butter.  When I unknowingly took a large bite, it was like eating straight butter.  It was lardy and made my stomach upset.

I remember thinking about how it seemed like such a long time since we began.  Also, I kept focusing on the diagram we saw.  The climb -- or should I say mountain goat climb -- was definitely challenging, but I kept saying "Okay, okay this is the second big haul. I can do this. There's only one more after this. I can do this."  My feet didn't hurt yet; I was still physically well. I mean there were sections where it was tough on the knees, and you know, your body temperature increased.

Michelle/truth:
  Not far from the parking lot the leisurely trail ended & was replaced with rocks, which made choosing good footing vital. After the boardwalk was the worst uphill scramble!  It was brutal & never-ending!  Having viewed the diagram earlier on the trail that showed three major crests, I assumed we were getting closer, but I was soooo wrong!  Each plateau revealed a newer, higher ridge and we kept climbing higher into the widespread fog.  By now, Mom began whining and gratefully relinquished the backpack for me to carry.  We struggled onward and constantly paused to catch our breath.  In an effort to keep Mom going, I kept yelling back to her, "It [Preikestolen] is probably after this steep part" -- and I truthfully thought it would be.


WHEN DID EVENTS TAKE A TURN FOR THE WORST?

Michelle:  The old, buttery sandwich turned Mom's stomach, but we only stopped walking for a few minutes because gnat-like bugs hounded us.  Through the fog we passed more alpine lakes, but saw no wildlife.  After some time Mom felt abject, stating she couldn't even lift her legs. She was enraged that I brought her on this hike and her eyes welled with tears.  Although I halfheartedly laughed, I was also exhausted & pitied her. If I could have carried my mama, I would have.
I knew things were getting worse for Stephanie when she refrained from complaining.  Remember how I kept calling below, hoping to inspire her that Preikestolen was over the next ridge?  Well, I stopped all that.  Mom & I wearily trudged on in silence.  I was losing my damn mind too and thought if I spoke one more fallacy Mom would stop hiking entirely and I would scream. I considered myself in decent physical shape, but even I was ready to collapse.  It felt like we were blazing a trail to outer space through the same, endless scenery.  Upon summiting a mountaintop that used to be in the distance, more repeatedly materialized above us. 

The map posted near the start of the trail conveyed one more steep ascension so we pressed on, but inclement weather rolled in.  Mom & I cinched our rain gear and frantically looked for shelter, but we were on top of a fjell a.k.a. mountain with no protection.  Because boulders were strewn about, we split up to find an upright slab to block the elements at Mom's suggestion.  I wedged myself into a corner which hardly helped.   Through the strong wind, sideways rain and dense mist, I watched Mom do the same, but lost all sight of the red markers.  In fact, I could not see more than 20 feet ahead.  I was worried that the journey to Preikestolen was rapidly becoming a real-life episode of Man Versus Wild.

Stephanie:  {growls}  Do you remember the tour bus people started passing us? I know you weren't happy about that but I was trying to go as fast as I could.  Plus, I was carrying all the heavy weight in the backpack except for the camera.  I just kept climbing over the loose rock.  I went up the fourth mountain & thought "That was longer than 45 minutes." I was pissed that the map was misleading.  The terrain turned from rubble to granite slabs so I could tell we were getting higher.

However, we were lost in the fog up on that mountaintop. We were like Dumb & Dumber because we couldn't see the trail.  We argued because neither of us knew which way to go and I was getting pretty tired by that point.  Then, of course, it started to pour so we looked for cover and my big ass tried to squeeze in between two rocks but I didn't fit.  I was sweaty because of the raincoat, and that butter was making me sick. I needed that apple... Thank God for that apple. You actually let me sit down [Michelle], you Nazi, and eat that apple.  That was the first time we really rested.  

Truth:  Stephanie recalled that Michelle made her haul the backpack up until the storm, but such was not the case.  However, whilst crouching between tall rocks to avoid the rain, both ladies thought it an opportune time to snack.  Michelle ate the tastiest vanilla yogurt in her life & Stephanie devoured a red eple a.k.a. apple.


WHAT WERE YOUR REACTIONS UPON FINALLY BEHOLDING PREIKESTOLEN?

Stephanie: You [Michelle] took me over a monolith and down, rather than going around the damn thing. You took me 5,000 feet out of the way!  However, I was surprised that there were so many people there already.  I wondered how did all those people get past us, undetected?

Furthermore, we couldn't see the panoramic view. I remember saying "This is it? We climbed all the way for this?"  The fog made the experience disappointing at first.  Still, I was happy to be at our destination.
Michelle:  I didn't immediately know we had arrived at Pulpit Rock since I was focusing on the technical climb down the boulders (and trying to help you too Steph).   One wrong step equaled death.  I could only slightly discern the outline thanks to the permeating fog.  I admit I was somewhat crest-fallen.
I was puzzled too.  How were there already 20 people when we left so freaking early in the morning and no more than six passed us on the trail?!

Truth:  Somewhere during the hike the trail split, but this was unbeknownst to the duo because it was never mentioned in the guidebooks.  It was not indicated on the picture kart a.k.a. map at the start of Preikestolen nor posted on the actual trail (unless somehow in the fog, it was overlooked).  Michelle did not lead Stephanie "5,000 feet" out of the way, but it certainly was a higher, more technical route.

Michelle:  Within a half hour the fog marginally lifted and allowed us to see the fjord below but cut off the sky.  I remember I ate a snack since we were prepared to stay there for hours if need be.  The sky lightened to a crisp white which I assumed was from the rising sun.  My eyes played tricks on me because it seemed like the fog was dissipating.
Truth:  The fog actually was burning off, however Michelle believed it was her wishful thinking.

Stephanie:  And then the fog lifted & we really did get a great view! It was prettier than I ever expected. Oh my gosh, it was beautiful.  Going to the edge was creepy, but I got further than you did, however it was a little frightening.  I wanted to rest, but ohhhh nooooo, someone had to take a billion pictures.  So I retraced my steps halfway across the spanse and waited for your ass to shimmy across the opposite rock shelf because you were afraid you'd fall.  Then, we waited for all the tourists to get out of the way so we could take the shot.  I was trying  to be nice. I don't think I was bitchy about it, I just went along with the program even though my feet hurt.
Michelle:  Oh my God, that was divine intervention! Preikestolen was awesome beyond words!  The water in Lysefjord's a.k.a. light fjord vein was a creamy, Robin's Egg blue and disappeared at the horizon.  You could see tons of wrinkles in the rock faces and patches of green shrubs. It was sort of like being atop the world, looking down on it.  Honestly, I loved it.  The time we first spent there, watching the scene change & without the masses, was quite cathartic to me.  I never knew the definition of a fjord or how it differed from, say, a ravine or a mountainous river, but once I glimpsed Lysefjord I just understood what a fjord was.

Ha!  The way I captured that great, panoramic video was by laying on my belly, army-crawling to the edge and dangling the Canon over it, remember Steph?  Seriously though, my vertigo was awful.  When I tried to cross onto a detached precipice my legs felt so wobbly.  I probably wasn't but my body felt like it was swaying and I feared if I stood near the edge much longer I'd fall off due to my unsteadiness. Suddenly that crack that everyone else had been casually stepping over looked like a three foot crevice! I refused to jump it because I imagined myself slipping on the wet rock and tumbling to my death.  I knew I could get some great shots from that other cliff though so I scooted on my bum.  I did feel like an oddball moving at a tortoise's pace in front of everyone who walked around fine, but I was queasy from the heights.  Mom was a lot braver than me.
Stephanie: Then, you let me rest there and we hung around, snacking. It was really unsettling to watch what other tourists did.  I kept thinking "You dumb fucker! You're going to fall off." Do you remember that guy standing on one foot on the edge? Dumb tourists.  It sure became crowded, and I know you have to share it but it was annoying.
Michelle:  Yeah! I was certain we'd witness at least one fatality that afternoon.  I was so paranoid about tripping or being bumped by an oblivious tourist that I kept a 5 foot radius from people at all times {laughs}.
Truth:  At the time Michelle & Stephanie visited Pulpit Rock, surprisingly, a fatal incident had never been recorded.


WHAT DID YOU EXPERIENCE ON THE RETURN HIKE?

Stephanie:  I saw the same damn rocks that I saw on the way up.  There were a lot more people to dodge.  It was not a smooth, straight, quick descent.  Everyone thinks going down is easy but it jars your knees because you're dropping down from crags over 18 inches tall. You were really kind of jumping down in a lot of places, it's not just walking.  The wetness didn't help either because it made the rock slick.  All I remember going down was staring at my feet & the people going by. I don't recall anything breath-taking about it.

Michelle:  Well, we were content with, but tired from, our trip and left Pulpit Rock because it rapidly became overcrowded as the Norway In A Nutshell tours swarmed it.  Like it was impossible to find a decent picture or picnic spot without hordes of loiterers.  Instantly my knees ached. Descending was onerous too, but still better than going uphill. The clouds had mostly evaporated and daylight brought more landscape into view that we previously missed -- like a hobbit house (wish I would have had that during the storm) & a post-card worthy lake.
As Mom & I headed back toward civilization, a variety of people flowed toward Preikestolen: Russians, Brits, Dutch, dog-walkers, women toting purses, backpackers, babies being carried, old people with walking sticks and families.  At a particularly long, steep and vexing scramble upward everyone paused, panting.  I wanted to warn them, especially the elderly couple: "You think that was bad? Just wait... it only gets worse!"


WHY DID STEPHANIE CONTINUE TO CRY?

Stephanie:  I only cried once on the way up, but I cried a lot on the way down . My feet hurt. My feet. Hurt. So bad. I already had pain in my arches from the ascent, but going down that 45 degree angle made my feet slide forward in my shoe, smashing my toes. Plus, the boots were a little tight to begin with.  I'd readjust them but within 3 steps my toes were crunched up at the front again.  I mean pain.  Horrible horrible pain. Birth pain. Like my toes were giving birth. And as I kept going that pain just kept getting worse. Remember I fell twice? The makeshift slab steps were so far apart, so I half fell/sat on my butt while everyone watched.  Later, I stumbled and almost fell flat on my face, but you yelled at me.  At least you took the backpack on the way down. I saw people going down barefoot & when I asked them why it was because their shoes were hurting them.

[And I cried again because] I was so happy to almost be done when the parking lot came into view. It was like "Yay! Thank you God I made it." I just couldn't make my feet move anymore, it was so excruciating {heavy sigh}.

Michelle:   Ohhhhh Stephanie.  First, she slipped and abruptly sat down.  She was alright but her hand was cut & promptly bruised.  I sympathized with her, but maybe I did not express that.  However, after the taiga boardwalk she moved at such a cumbersome pace.  Step by step -- literally -- her heel aligned with the tip of her previous footstep. By now, I didn't mind waiting on her, but knew it was only prolonging her anguish.  Stephanie simultaneously whined, laughed and cried when the parking lot materialized below us.  She's usually the one who helps me keep it together while traveling. I've rarely seen her cry (outside of sappy movies) so I was shocked by her outpouring of emotion.  In fact, only one other occasion comes to mind where she was mentally and physically broken to the point of tears and that was when I was 10 years old.  I'll spare readers the details {grins}.

DID EITHER OF YOU CONSIDER TURNING BACK AT ANY POINT?

Michelle:  For me, the only two options were #1 start the trip to Pulpit Rock and finish or #2 don't leave the parking lot.  I didn't specifically weigh turning back, that was never an option, but during the deluge I thought "What did we get ourselves into?" and how we certainly bit off more than we could chew this time.  Mercifully, the rain let up after only 20 minutes.  Mom and I decided we had better continue while we still could -- physically and given the weather conditions.  Although as we set off again, a couple passed us returning from Pulpit Rock.  They mentioned not being able to see the rock, only fog.  My spirits really sank then.  Again, Mom & I agreed to forge ahead and -- even if it was a wash -- rest, eat or nap at our final destination because we had come so far!  I had no idea we were still so far away {shakes head in disbelief}.

Stephanie:  
No, never.  It's that stubborn quality in me. When the mist (of the storm?) dissipated a bit, we found a red blaze on that wet, smooth granite high up on the cliff.  We were all alone, but you took me up that route.  That fourth mountain was the one that did me in.  I think that right after that when I had my first cry because there was a fifth mountain to ascend & I couldn't climb again.  We should've been there already because the stupid brochure said 45 minutes but we were 2 hours and 45 minutes in!  My feet hurt; my knees ached.  I kept thinking "It's just over that ridge" but that constant disappointment destroyed me.  And Michelle tried to be positive by saying "It's got to be just ahead Mom" but every time it wasn't, I was heart-broken.

Truth:
 The most updated edition of Lonely Planet read "The two-hour, 3.8 kilometer trail to Preikestolen...begins along a steep but well-marked route, then climbs past a series of steep and alternating boggy sections to the final climb across granite slabs and along some windy and exposed cliffs... The steepest sections are at the beginning and in the middle parts of the trail and can be challenging for the unfit."

Stephanie:
 That was a misleading article because it implied there were only 3 sections but I distinctly remember 5.  {angry} There were 3 more climbs. And the steepest are all over!  BULLSHIT,  it was steep the whole way there.  And it was four hours not two.  3.8 kms has never been sooooooo lonnnnnng.  Good God that was forever.  I'm never ever letting you pick [activities] anymore!

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