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Lofty Daredevil Feats and Sedater Pleasures in Norway's Fjordlands: A Nutter in Norway on the Looney Front - Part 2

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Lysefjord in southwest Norway might not have the official cachet that inclusion on UNESCO's World Heritage List bestows on Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord, further north, but it is the proud owner of some of the most iconic images and daredevil feats - or dumb-arse antics, depending on your persuasion - that this praeternaturally endowed country affords.

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Perhaps the most iconic of all is Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock, whence valiant hikers stare boldly out from a minuscule table top projecting from the cliff face, no more than 82 feet by 82 feet square, with no guard rails and a sheer drop of 1,982 feet to Lysefjord's deep green waters far below. Up to 250,000 tourists hike it a year.

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Well, Yours Truly is not about to make it 250,001. It's not the climb that worries me. I can just about manage that in my ninth decade, though doubtless with mighty puffings, mighty complainings and mighty cursings.

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No, it's the vertigo, that crescendo of panic, that tingling in the thighs, that cowering back balanced with the contradictory urge to inch forward. After all, I'm not an 'It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman' person. Far from a soaring eagle, a worm's eye view from down here will do very nicely, thank you very much.

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Atop Pulpit's Rock - tourist brochure

Besides, three years ago a Spanish tourist became the first to fall to his death. He was about to leave the tabletop when he said he was just going to take a few more photos. The next thing his companions heard was a blood-curdling scream as he disappeared over the edge. His smashed body was found the following day.

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I'm surprised there haven't been many more fatalities. Of course, there's that jokester who in 2011 produced the YouTube 'Myles falls off Preikestolen and dies,' showing the prancing idiot mincing up and down and waving his arms as if afflicted with third stage syphilis, then disappearing to a cry of 'shit shit' as the camera pans down the rock face.

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That valiant feat elicited such comments as 'his "oh shit!shit!" ....It could have been more convincing.' 'WHAT a load of crap!' And 'Theres one site where its only going 1 m down but its still dangerous cause if you slide away from that Meter area youre death.'

So when nearly everybody alights from the boat from Stavanger to make the four-hour hike up and back - young, old, babes in arms, a group of Spanish women past middle age, even a dog - I'm quite comfortable in my cowardice.

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After all I recall that disastrous effort decades ago in Australia to climb Ayers Rock when it was still called that and scaling it was permitted. I got 12 feet off the ground, that's all, a mere 12 feet, when I became completely catatonic. I couldn't take a step either up or down. I was rooted to the rock like an outcropping. It took an eternity for me to finally crab my way back down.

Then there was the time we climbed up the Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza. Well, I got up alright, but then I couldn't get back down again. Our kids, of course, were up and down like the mountain goats that they are, and Rivka wisely stayed put on terra firma. But I just whimpered at the top like a whiney little bitch, cowering, unable to move. After several eternities I managed to side crab-scuttle and bum my way back down.

So, on this gloriously sunny mid-June day I'm quite happy to gaze 1,982 feet upwards to the projecting rectangle with the clean cut lines so exquisitely carved out by Nature.

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The fjord is magnificent, its light grey precipices splendid with trees sprouting out of cracks in the rock and waterfalls tumbling down. Even Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" reaching a crashing crescendo from the ship's loudspeaker at a spot called Vagabonds' Rock, though corny, is not offensively so.

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Pulpit's Rock is only a quarter of the way up the fjord and it's possible to take a bus tour from Stavanger to Lysebotn at its very end and return by regular ferry. So here I am sitting in splendid isolation on a 47-seater tourist bus. Such is the beauty of off-season, or in this case pre-peak, travel.

Today is the first day of the bus tour season, running from June 11 to August 31 only. With just one customer the guide buggers off and leaves me to the mercy of the driver, who speaks good English and is a great guy.

It's gloriously sunny and the countryside is, again, spectacular. The first stop is Byrkjedalstunet, a little village with turf-roofed houses built in the style of 100 years ago. Goats are clambering over sheds.

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As we pass through Sirdalen valley, successive waves of mountains, forested, lichen-covered or bare grey, recede in folds to the horizon, enveloping green V- and U-shaped valleys, farmland, plunging waterfalls, tranquil lakes and rushing rivers.

A swathe of rocky destruction down a wooded mountainside bears witness to a landslide that closed the road for two days last week. We climb above the tree line to a boulder-strewn plateau with wide patches of snow and precipitous ravines.

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At Øygardstøl, the Eagle's Nest, we're literally overhanging Lysebotn, a precipitous 2,700 feet below us. The panorama is stunning; the fjord threads its way between sheer cliffs while a green valley stretches out in the opposite direction, narrowing to massive crag walls. I'm OK here because there are high railings as I gingerly look down.

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But another thing I will not be doing is hiking 800 feet further up a humongous boulder, where even now I can see ant-like humans pressing onwards and upwards to the Kjerag sheer-drop plateau. It necessitates six hours there and back, serves as a launch pad for base jumpers - those parachuting and wingsuit-flying idiots who think they're superman - and would doubtless work wonders for my vertigo.

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I don't think anybody's yet fallen off there, but you do of course have a YouTube post, titled 'FATAL visit to Kjerag' in which an idiot wearing a ghastly black and white decorated sweater fakes it. It elicited the following comment: 'If you wear a sweater like that, you deserve to die.'

A third thing I will not be doing is roller-skiing 2,700 feet up the 27 hairpin bends of the road from Lysebotn to Øygardstøl, as a new group of idiots are doing, using enormous amounts of elbow grease as they frantically pole away.

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Instead, I progress royally down it in my bus-chariot through a dozen mountain tunnels. One, a single lane over a mile long with a few laybys for oncoming cars, twists 180 degrees.

A fourth thing I won't be doing, assuming that by some divinely-inspired injection of foolhardiness I did venture up Kjerag, is perch-posing atop Kjeragbolten, a boulder wedged in a mountain crevice above a 3,228-feet void, atop which more idiots dance and prance for the camera.

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From the tourist brochure

If a cruise ship is in Stavanger this daredevil wait can stretch to an hour or more. I'm more than satisfied just looking up at it from the fjord, once more a worm.

From the worm's perspective
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And a fifth thing I will not do is climbing up the 4,444 wooden steps at Flørli, where the ferry is now stopping, celebrated as the longest wooden stairway in the world.

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The driver says it buggers up your knees on the way back down. It was built by workers constructing one of the many hydroelectric plants that give Norway 90 percent of its power, many of them buried deep inside mountains.

All in all, sedate perhaps, but most enjoyable.

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[Upcoming blog next Sunday: Norway's iconic Lofoten islands]

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By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.