“It’s 9:20 already,” I hear someone say. “They should’ve let us off 20 minutes ago.”
I, along with a few other eager American passengers, are standing at the gangway exit of the Independence of the Seas. A ramp leading down to the concrete dock has been connected to a large opening on the ship’s starboard side. Past the ship’s massive shadow, I can see the charming, brightly colored buildings that flank the quaint harbor of Stavanger, Norway. We’re all eager to get off the ship for a reason- we have a ferry to catch at 9:30. Specifically, a ferry that will take us to a bus, which will take us to a trailhead, where we will begin our hike up to Preikestolen, otherwise known as the Pulpit Rock.
When my mom and I were doing research on Stavanger, we discovered that a popular attraction was this flat-topped cliff about 2,000 feet above the picturesque Lysefjord. We soon learned that there was no parking lot directly behind the cliff, that instead reaching the Pulpit Rock would require a 2.5 mile hike, as well as several other modes of transportation. So we abandoned the idea at first, thinking that we would be cutting it close with the ship docking at 9 and leaving at 4. But eventually we caved- this opportunity was too good to miss.
Finally a crew member permits us to step off the boat, and it’s time to track down that ferry. Prior research has told me that there are two possible locations for the ferry to dock: right in front of the cruise ship on the same dock, or on the other side of the small town. I’m hoping that the former proves to be correct- of course, it doesn’t.
It’s around 9:25 now, the sun is shining unobstructed by the clouds, and we have absolutely no idea how to get to the dock across town. So, in true ‘Amazing Race’ fashion, we break into a sprint.
Now, let me get one thing straight: I highly, highly, highly dislike running. But the fact that I was actually trying to get somewhere urgently made the exercise a lot less painful and a lot more exciting.
We cross a lovely looking outdoor promenade, which has been set up with a small farmer’s market. We then enter a maze of serpentine cobblestone streets, lined with shops and restaurants that aren’t quite ready to open this early in the day.
We emerge on the other side of a small peninsula, and I can see several large ferries lined up along the water. Panting, I quickly ask a group of women walking along the water, “WHERE IS THE FERRY TO TAU?” Miraculously (or maybe not, because they’re probably locals), they point toward the ferry closest to me. I motion to the rest of the group, all of whom have split up, to follow me.
The ferry’s gate is closing, and I arrive just in time to yell, “WAIT FOR US!” to the man operating it. He agrees, lifting the gate back up again. The rest of our group stumbles onboard, unexpectedly followed by a bus-full of the cruise ship’s crew, all of whom had signed up for a crew-only excursion to the Pulpit Rock. We’ve all made it- past the first barrier, at least.
Our 40-minute ride on the ferry gives us time to rest from our escapade and to stare out at the glistening bay that surrounds Stavanger. Soon, we reach Tau, a tiny town northeast of Stavanger, where a bus is waiting to shuttle people to the Preikestolen trail. This, at least, goes just as planned.
The bus takes around twenty minutes along the eastern shore of the bay to drop us off at Preikestolen Fjellstue, a small lodge and gift shop for hikers. Now begins the moderately challenging hike up to our final destination. We clamber over boulders, climb switchbacks, cross over bogs on wooded bridges, walk the crests of small hills surrounded by lakes, and edge around 50+ foot drops protected only by small metal railings. It’s not terribly difficult- Norwegians bring their babies and their dogs along for the trek- but it’s certainly not a cake walk either. All in all, we scale over 1000 feet of elevation and almost 2.5 miles of length.
Each direction on the trail is meant to take around 2 hours. Maybe it’s eagerness to reach the top or maybe it’s nervousness that we might miss the ship if we’re too slow, but we finish it in an hour and 10 minutes.
After hours of trekking, I finally step onto the magnificent Pulpit Rock. The sun is still shining and the temperature is in the mid seventies; it feels like an American beach in Ft. Lauderdale or Long Island with all the sunbathers laying back on the flat, gray rock. There’s not a ton of people here, but the slight crowdedness is a little shocking, considering how hard it was for us to get here.
I turn my face southeast to gaze at the Lysefjord. Silvery peaks rise on either side of a narrow slice of deep blue water, occasionally clad with patches of green forests and shining lakes. On all sides, it seems, the view is spectacular. Standing atop a 2,000 foot cliff, a gentle breeze in your face, and warm sunlight on your shoulders, it’s impossible to replicate with a picture. But I’ll do my best…
We have a small lunch at the top (this would definitely be the best place for a picnic) and get ready to begin the journey in reverse. It’s smooth and seamless, and we even catch an earlier bus and ferry back to the ship, after purchasing a $7 bottle of water and a t-shirt at the gift-shop. There are two and a half hours until the ship is scheduled to sail away, and we’re already wearing plush bathrobes, lounging in the sun by the pool.
As crazy and exhausting as it was, I scaled Preikestolen. So can you.
If you’re ever in or near Stavanger (even on a cruise), I would definitely recommend a trip to Preikestolen- it’s doable, yet incredibly rewarding. For information on ferry and bus times, visit this website.