It’s just a two-hour hike to the top on the main trail, which was partly hewn by Nepalese Sherpas, but it’s like entering another realm. We pick our way through high moors fringed by shaggy woodlands before clambering over granite slabs to a ridge that teeters along exposed cliffs to the plateau. Then, suddenly, there it is: a massive wedge of rock that appears to drop to infinity, its contours smudged by the mist swirling ethereally around its summit. Pulpit Rock emerges.
You can see it in photos and on postcards but nothing compares to the reality of actually standing on the 604m rock and feeling a giddy mix of vertigo and exhilaration wash over you. Sure, there are higher cliffs, but few are as heart-stoppingly sheer as this one. We inch our way slowly to the edge. On clear days, apparently, the views reach for miles – you can see the Lysefjord scything its way through the rippling mountains. Admire its wondrous blues. Today, peering over the edge reveals infinite grey nothingness. It’s as though all the colour has been sucked out of the world. A few masochistic hikers are dangling limbs over the edge, but we keep a cautious metre distance between us and what with one misjudged footstep would result in sudden death. As we retrace our steps, wispy threads of mist peel back from the fjord to reveal flickers of electric blue – just enough to make you realise how astonishing this must look when the sun does shine. We promise ourselves we’ll come back – and next time to tackle the more challenging, 28km version of the walk, which takes seven to eight hours.
In the fjord-riven region of Rogaland in southwestern Norway, Stavanger makes a terrific base for several other memorable day hikes. Way up there with Pulpit Rock in terms of drama, but less crowded and twice as high, is Kjerag, to the east. A hairpin-riddled road corkscrews to Øygardstøl where the trail begins. Heading up and over slick granite, the 10km hike to the top (allow six hours return) is steep in places and secured by a steel cable in part. While the precipice itself is striking enough and the view of Lysefjord nothing short of remarkable, it’s the boulder that sticks in people’s memories.
A five-cubic-metre chunk of rock jammed into a crack between the cliffs, it looks as though it will drop like a pinball any minute. It doesn’t of course: no matter how many hikers climb onto it, arms outstretched in that edge-of-the-world moment, it stands the test of time. Kjerag doubles as one of the world’s foremost launch pads for base-jumping, thanks to its 1,100m of vertical, and it is quite something to see these intrepid souls free fall from the summit, opening their parachutes Bond-style just before they touch down.
West of Kjerag is one of the region’s other top-ranking walks: Flørli. Except it is not a trail as such, rather one of the world’s longest wooden staircases, which follows the water pipelines that supply the region with hydropower. There are a whopping 4,444 steps to puff and puff up in around three hours. The steps ease you in gently, but the higher you climb, the steeper they get, though they are still a doddle when you consider workers used to haul loads of up to 80kg up here. The halfway house at step 2,000 gives you a taste of the view to come. After this step aerobics of sorts, you reach the lookout at 740m, where the panorama sweeps over the blue sparkle of Lysefjord and the jagged mountains of the Preikestolen massif. Alternative routes head back to the trailhead.