It was a great plan on paper: Participating in Lysefjorden Hiking Festival - a festival that promotes hiking in the Lysefjorden area near Stavanger, where Preikestolen and Kjerag are situated - and instead of following the masses to the once off-beat but now crowded Flørli 4444 trail, exploring the valley of Lyse with a local.
After all, I try my best to write about Northern European destinations on this blog, that are off-the-beaten-track and unheard of by many. However, there's off-the-beaten-track and then there's "why the hell did I sign up for this" - and judging by the title of this blog, you've probably already guessed that my experience at Lysefjorden Hiking Festival falls into the latter category.
But let's start at the very beginning of the day, shall we?!
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Lysefjorden Hiking Festival takes place in early September each year and after having lived in Stavanger for 4 weeks at that time, it seemed like a great opportunity to finally explore the famous fjord and at least get a glimpse of Preikestolen and Kjerag from the boat.
There was a fjord hop-on/hop off boat first going from Stavanger to Lysefjord, and then going back and forth between the different little villages at the fjord, before returning to Stavanger in the evening.
It only cost around 100 NOK, which compared to what a fjord cruise in Stavanger usually costs (500 NOK), it seemed like an absolute bargain. We were first considering to head to Flørli - a tiny village that was once used for hydropower and now stands more or less abandoned, but is open for tourists in the summer - to hike the famous 4444 stairs, the longest wooden staircase in the world.
However, a closer look as to how steep the trail actually is, and adding in how many extra tourists there probably would be that day, we tried to find an alternative - a guided hike around Lyse valley with a local!
It felt like a win-win situation: Skipping the crowds at Flørli, heading all the way to the end of the fjord at Lysebotn (that way seeing the entire length of the fjord on the trip) and gaining insider knowledge from a local - what could possibly go wrong?
So we boarded the boat early on a Saturday morning in the best kind of weather - blue skies and sunshine - which in Stavanger only means one thing: the rain clouds are on their way. The fjord cruise itself was absolutely lovely - the landscapes we saw were stunning, and Preikestolen and Kjerag both looked incredibly tiny seen from the boat!
Of course, we were right about Flørli! Pretty much everyone disembarked the boat there, which seemed to worry the staff onboard as they were asking if we really didn't want to get off here and where we had planned to spend the day. It seemed like Lysebotn really was the off-the-beaten-track choice that day, but we didn't mind one bit!
Our plan was to wander around Lysebotn before heading to Hauane B&B, where our guided hike would depart. Of course, I had only briefly looked at the map the day before, to check where the B&B was situated. While it looked like a fair amount of walking, it didn't look like the 2,5 km we actually did end up walking just to get there from the pier - and of course, that one time you don't need sunshine, it felt scorching hot!
Lesson #1 of the biggest mistakes you could make when going for a hike in Norway: Underestimating the distance!
A country that stretches over 1600 km and that consists of wilderness pretty much everywhere you go, underestimating distances in Norway is no joke! Obviously, I have no problem walking 2,5 km but it's what was left to come what nearly killed me.
Figuratively speaking, of course.
At Hauane B&B , we were greeted by the owners Kjell Jostein Lyse and Aud Eli Lyse, who are running the family business together in an old farmhouse and barn, right in the heart of Lyse Valley. You might have guessed it by the family name, but Kjell Jostein - our guide for the hike - seems to know Lyse Valley best, having grown up in the farmhouse himself.
As we were a bit early, we were shown how to make the speciality of the region: rennekake - really thin pancakes, which we were to enjoy after our hike and, as it turned out later, I would need desperately.
Our guided hike was supposed to lead us to Kongesteinen (the King's stone) and Kaldahålå (the cold cave) with a little detour into Lyse Valley itself. It looked like such an easy hike on paper - just 2 hours, that's more than doable, right? After all, if I can climb mountains in Svalbard, I should be able to do this.
Well, I would love to show you more pictures of the terrain but I barely have any. There's some shaky video content that Simon filmed in my vlog, but overall, we had to put the cameras back into our bags because the terrain was not for the faint-hearted!
It was much steeper than I had expected, especially the trail up to the cave and the stone, and it didn't help that I was the only non-Norwegian in the group.
Lesson #2 for hiking in Norway: Just because Norwegians say it's easy, doesn't mean it's easy.
As you might know, Norwegian children grow up hiking and skiing, and as grown-ups, most locals like to spend their weekends outdoors. However, if you come from a country without mountains, you might struggle with their suggestions of "easy" hiking trails. I certainly had trouble keeping up with the 3 older gentlemen that were on our tour besides Simon.
As in, I literally had them wait for me at one point because they were basically running up the mountain and I was so out of breath, I just couldn't do it! But of course, as if that wasn't embarrassing enough - a 26-year old being in worse shape than 3 older gentlemen - I also slipped on a wet piece of wood and fell face first on the ground.
Which brings us back to the terrain.
If you're going for a hike in Norway, doesn't really matter where, you need to keep in mind that the terrain will be uneven at best - lesson #3 for going hiking in Norway!
Our trail was full of rocks - and I'm not referring to any small stones lying in the way - I'm talking about rocks that we needed to climb to pass. At one point I found myself having to slide down a wet rock on my bottom cause it would have been too dangerous to walk down. My shoes just didn't have a good enough grip on the wet stone.
Lesson #4, people: You cannot go for a hike in Norway with your sneakers! I was wearing proper hiking boots and still struggled!
So yeah, basically, I was a huge embarrassment to our tour group and myself. I do think though, that the combo of walking 2,5 km before even starting the hike and a way too fast speed of our group was the culprit. Not that I didn't enjoy my time in Lyse at the festival, though - quite the contrary!
It was so fascinating to hear more about the local history and explore off-beat gems that not many people have visited before! The cold cave I told you we visited, is an actual cold cave hidden in the mountain, that has been used by the locals for food storage back in the day.
From there, we made our way up to the King's stone, which is a massive rock that, or so the locals say, has been used by a Viking king as a pit stop on his travels towards Oslo - and which served as our rest stop at the end of our hike as well.
The Lyse family was so nice as to set up a bonfire underneath the rock and we got to eat those delicious rennekake we learnt all about earlier that day.
Apparently, in the post-war years when people in the rural areas of Western Norway were still quite poor, rennekake was all they had to eat as it didn't require many ingredients. We had the luxury of eating them with jam, though, and they were sooo good!
From the King's stone it was also just a stone's throw to Tangakjelen - a gorgeous waterfall, well one of many really, with a stunning view. However, by the time we got there, the typical west coast weather really had set in and as it was pouring rain, the path back to Lysebotn on slippery rocks wasn't exactly a walk in the park.
On the bright side, however: I didn't fall again, so I guess that's progress!
Regardless of how fit (or not fit) you are, Lysefjorden Hiking Festival was created to promote hiking in the area for all ages and fitness levels, and if you happen to visit Stavanger in September, you shouldn't miss out as it's a great alternative to the usual trips to Preikestolen and Kjerag - which even though they surely have their own charms, tend to be quite crowded!
Here's all you need to know about Lysebotn and the hiking festival in detail:
What's so special about Lysebotn?
Lysebotn means "at the bottom of Lysefjorden" and this village really is situated at the very end of the fjord. It's accessible by boat year-round or by a road in summer that's called Lysebotnvegen, and that has 27 hairpin curves and goes up a steep mountain to 900 metres above sea level. Most people living there are either farmers, work in the tourism business, or at the local hydropower station.
In my opinion, it's a fascinating place to visit - the very end of a fjord - and there are loads of waterfalls, mountains and views to admire.
As you'll also pass Preikestolen and Kjerag on the way here (if going by boat), it makes a great destination for a day trip from Stavanger if you're afraid of heights or not quite up for the 5-8 hour hike to Preikestolen or Kjerag.
Where can I go for a hike in the area?
There are quite a few easy to medium difficult hikes in Lysebotn and Lyse Valley, so here's a quick overview:
Osen - a very quick and easy hike where the fjord turns into a river. You can go for a swim here or take a picnic
Length: 1 km / Duration: Under an hour
Lyse Chapel - there's a trail going up the mountain past the chapel, next to the hydropower station. You can go up here for the view and then follow the road back into the village, or you can continue to the King's stone and Tangakjelen from here. We used the trail to get back to Lysebotn and although it's a stunning one, I wouldn't recommend it when the ground is wet as most of the trail consists of solid rock.
Length: 1,5-3km / Duration: 1-1,5 hours
Kongesteinen & Kaldahålå - the King's stone and the cold cave. You can start the hike from Hauane B&B.
Length: ca. 2 km / Length: 1-2 hours
Lyse Valley - you can follow the river in the valley. Make sure to stick to the right side of the river as the left side (which we hiked) is very rocky and quite dangerous if you're not hiking in proper footwear.
Length: 1-1,5km / Duration: 1 hour
Jenefjell - Jene Mountain is over 800 metres high, so this is a more difficult hike which would take half a day at least.
Length: 4-5km / Duration: 4-6 hours
All of the trails are clearly marked but you can get a hiking map of the area on either the boat to Lysebotn or in the village itself. The local Turistforeningen hostel is a good place to drop by and ask for information.
Where can I stay in Lysebotn?
Lysebotn welcomes over 100,000 visitors each year, most of them during the summer. There are several hostels and B&B's to choose from, however, many of them close down for the winter. Here are a few suggestions:
Hauane B&B - Even though we haven't stayed here, I know that I would enjoy a stay at the B&B. The owners Kjell Jostein and Aud Eli are so lovely and the old farmhouse is situated in absolutely stunning surroundings - perfect for going hiking in the area.
You can find more information about their place here.
Lysefjorden Turisthytte (also known as Lysefjorden Tourist Lodge) - the local hiker's (Turistforeningen) hostel. They have a really nice common room with a fireplace, sofas and board games for a relaxed evening after the hike. Accommodation is relatively cheap but prices for food are rather steep.
You can find more information about the lodge here.
Lysefjorden Camping - the local campsite with space for caravans and tents. They also offer cabins and bedrooms in their hostel.
You can find more information about the campsite here.
Where can I find more information about Lysefjorden Hiking Festival?
You can also check out the local tourist information Visit Lysefjorden.
How should I dress when going for a hike in the area in September?
Bring high-quality hiking boots that have a good grip even on wet surfaces, a rain jacket, hiking pants, a hat and fleece jacket to stay warm, and a waterproof daypack for your belongings. I also always wear a sports bra and a sweat-absorbing shirt when going for a hike to stay dry and warm.
You can bring a water bottle and drink from the river if you run out. If you're not used to rocky terrain, you might want to consider bringing a hiking stick for the steeper parts.
This list of items* contains everything I had on me on our trip to Lysebotn, so I hope it gives you a better idea of what to bring yourself.
Do you have any embarassing hiking/travel stories to share?
Tell me in a comment below!