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Riding Trollstigen, Norway

By Dave O'Byrne -

Touring & travel

 27 December 2012 17:26

A very motorbike-friendly mountain road with many sharp hairpins and exhilarating scenery, Trollstigen is literally carved into the cliff face, dramatically crossing the Stigfossen waterfall and elevating the traveller from the valley floor into the dark and ominous clouds above.

We arrived at Trollstigen on the way from The Atlantic Road at Kristiansund to Geiranger, travelling south along Norwegian National Road 63, which connects Soggeberget in Rauma and Valldal in Norddal.

Trollstigen is closed during the autumn and winter months, and a normal opening season stretches from mid-May to October, which changes according to weather conditions. One look at this road, and you can understand why they close it...

Flanked on our left side by the Massif Trolltindene and Europe's steepest mountain, Trollveggen (Troll Wall), we stopped at the foot of Trollstigen, to get an idea of what we were about to experience.

Within seconds, we could feel the wet mist from the waterfall slowly covering us in a film of water and as we followed the line of the road upwards, we could trace the contours of the rugged mountains surrounding us, first disappearing into the mist and then into the clouds.

One thing that quickly caught our attention was the number of articulated trucks negotiating this remote and winding pass.

Apparently, vehicles over 12 metres long are prohibited from driving the road, but that didn’t seem to deter the driver of one of the larger trucks we saw, carrying a JCB digger on the back, snaking upwards along the side of the mountain, passing tourist buses and camper vans at the hairpin turns.

Anyway, enough sightseeing, it was time to see if the remaining tread on my rear tyre would be enough to keep the motorbike on the road, or if I would become one of the many trolls rumoured to reside beneath the waterfall.

We didn’t actually see any trolls this time, which, according to Norwegian folklore, change to stone when the morning sunlight hits them, only regaining their earthly form in the evening as the sun goes down. We still had a few hours before then.

As we crossed over the narrow bridge under the waterfall, the cold spray intensified, to the point where everything was suddenly wet... inside the visor, sunglasses, mirrors, hands, but after a chaotic fit of grappling, I managed to get the visor up, and drag the glasses down, so I could see over the top of them.

Further up the hill, lines of jagged stones resembling a row of shark’s teeth lined the side of the road, as if to remind the motorcyclist not to get too close to the sheer 300-metre drop only 2 meters to the side of their front wheel - a good deterrent.

As the jagged teeth and sheer rock faces drifted by and the road ahead disappeared into the clouds, you got the feeling you were leaving one world, and moving into another.

Here, everything else fell away, and there was only one thing left to focus on - the next 10 metres ahead, because that was all that was visible.

View from the balcony
When we got to the top and had broken through the clouds, we parked the bikes at the newly-constructed visitor centre and walked around the rim of the cliff face then downwards to a gravity-defying, iron viewing balcony which leans precariously over the edge, overlooking the road, the valley and the Stigfossen waterfall.

Cascading 320 metres down the mountain side, and breaking on the rocks below, the waterfall whispers to you as you stand there, telling you not to fall in as it’s a rough ride downwards.

A great place to conquer your fear of heights, if you have one, or a great place to get one, if you don’t.

By the time we had eaten some food and taken in the view, the traffic from earlier had cleared considerably, so we decided to take the road a couple of times in each direction.

As we arrived at the base for the fourth time and turned one of the bends, we were confronted by a local man in the middle of the road, arms flailing wildly, as if he were on fire... “Stop! Stop!”

As we stopped the bikes a small herd of wild-eyed mountain goats burst out from the undergrowth and ran across the road, displaying a blatant disregard for the ‘Green Cross Code’.

Even though I was using the gears to brake on the way down, I was still hit by the pungent smell of the burning brakes.

The brake discs were scorching to the touch, and steaming as the raindrops hit them.

That evening we set up camp down in the valley, near Trollstigen Gjestegård in the shelter of the Trolltildane mountain range and as the sun set behind the massive stone wall and the light disappeared from the valley, we could see distant headlights of cars and motorbikes, winding upwards and downwards along Trollstigen like some kind of Pagan ritual torchlight procession, celebrating the summer solstice.

After a day like that, with all the new impressions, we had a great night’s sleep, and got up early the next morning so we could do Trollstigen a couple more times before continuing south over the hills to Geiranger.