Surrounded by mountains and fjords, Voss in Norway is a winter resort popular with skiers and adventure sports enthusiasts. But my husband and I traveled there in the summer. It was an easy train trip from Bergen, and we were attracted by the promise of some mountain hiking. We planned to take the cable car to the ski station, follow a marked walk, and enjoy the views and a picnic before the return trip down the mountain.
On Top Of The World
Shortly after we arrived, we noticed that the town was more geared toward winter tourists than summer visitors. Finding places to eat was difficult, since most restaurants seemed to have closed their doors until the snow -- and the skiers -- returned. However, the tourist information office was open, and we were assured that there were easy hiking trails. We picked up a map and packed a picnic for the next day.
It started off well. We took the cable car to Hangur, noting the latest return time. Along with several others, we found the boardwalk and set off to enjoy the walk and the summer sunshine. We noticed one hiker in particular -- a young Dutch student who waved cheerfully each time we saw her.
The view from the top was spectacular. We could see the lake far below, with forests and small settlements around it. Behind the lake rose tall mountains, their peaks still covered with snow even at the height of summer. It was a bit like Scotland, but on a larger scale. We sat on a rock and ate our picnic, enjoying the solitude and the sense of being on top of the world.
The Plan Falls Apart
The walk was not as easy as I had anticipated. When we left the cable car station, we saw a huge sign with a map and other information. We were unable to read it, however, because it was several feet above the ground, designed to be read when standing on a thick layer of snow. This was another hint that this was strictly a winter playground: Summer hikers were welcome but would have to find their own way.
The next problem was the path. I had visualized gentle alpine paths with marked trails, but this was a Norwegian ski resort in its fallow summer months. The winter snows had receded to leave a boggy surface interspersed with boulders and the occasional section of neglected boardwalk. We didn’t have the right shoes for the terrain but, reassuring ourselves that it was only a short walk, we took our chances anyway.
It was only after we had eaten our lunch that we realized we were lost. The path had disappeared, it had been some time since we had seen anyone else, and our hand-drawn map was of no assistance.
Lost On The Mountain
We were walking downhill but, with no obvious landmarks to guide us, we had no idea where we were heading. Without a clear path to follow, our unsuitable footwear became apparent, and more than once we stumbled into the mud. Even if we could find the way back to the cable car station, we knew that we wouldn’t get there before it closed at 5 p.m.
At this point, all sorts of thoughts started to run through my mind. What if we reached the bottom and found ourselves in an isolated spot with no way out but up again? What if one of us fell and broke a leg? Could we survive a night on the mountain if necessary? The answer to the last question was probably yes; it was the end of June, and it would barely get dark, but I really didn’t want to sleep out there if I could avoid it!
This was 2008, and our mobile phones didn’t have international roaming, so we couldn’t call for help. However, even today, there is no guarantee of a phone signal in such remote places.
A Stroke Of Luck
What happened next is what I can only describe as a series of fortunate events.
The first was the appearance of a forest track. It was a pretty rough track, but clearly one that was used by vehicles. Vehicles meant roads, and roads meant houses. We followed the track as it zigzagged downhill for what seemed like miles and made our plans. Perhaps we could hitch a ride or knock on a door and ask for help in calling a taxi.
But as we passed the first houses and rounded the last bend, we saw something entirely unexpected. The Dutch student we had last seen on top of the mountain was sitting on a wall, studying a map. “Are you lost, too?” she asked in her impeccable English. We sat on the wall beside her, glad for the rest, and chatted. She told us she had been here before on family holidays.
“It’s about 15 kilometers to Voss from here,” she said. “But,” she added brightly, “I think I know where we can get a bus.”
Back At Last
The Dutch student led us around the corner where, as she predicted, there was an isolated bus stop. A rather faded -- and seemingly out of date -- timetable indicated that buses did run to Voss from here, even if only once every 2 hours. But the next one was due in 5 minutes. As we debated the accuracy of the timetable, a green bus appeared at the end of the road, ready to transport us -- and our mud-logged feet -- back to Voss and the comfort of our hotel.
Later, when we had showered off the mud and the stress of the day, we sat in the bar with a stiff drink. We had been very lucky, but the adventure already seemed like a distant memory.
Looking back, I am very grateful for those strokes of luck, particularly the assistance of the student (whom I now think of, fancifully, as our guardian angel).
But we certainly learned several lessons. The first was to treat the mountains with respect. Even at home, in the relatively safe environment of the United Kingdom, there are basic precautions you must take if you are going hiking. At the very least, we should have had our walking boots, a compass, and a detailed map.
I also learned that we should have planned better. Back in 2008, we couldn’t access the internet while traveling, but we could have done some basic research before leaving home.
The final lesson was that help can appear unexpectedly and that you should always be prepared to accept it.
But, however problematic, our trip was an adventure, and I’ll never forget that Norwegian mountain!