A Solo Adventure through Norway

How one man’s quest to beat the crowds takes him on a solo mission to the furthest reaches of northern civilization
December 15, 2015Words by HB MertzPhotos by HB Mertz

When I first told people that my next travels would take me to a few pretty remote places, one of them being Norway, I got a lot of incredulous responses.

“Norway, why would you ever go there? Is there actually anything to see?”

“Seriously? Norway? I thought that place was pretty much just snow and ice.”

I like quiet. I like remote. And I most certainly like places off the beaten path.

But after spending the entire summer hitting every national park between Phoenix and Alberta during peak tourist season, "just snow and ice" — and everything else that Norway had to offer — sounded pretty appealing. Trying to find my way through it all was exhausting, and more importantly, it was hard to feel like there was legitimately room for me at most of these places. That seems like a contradictory statement considering how big the land we’ve designated for our national parks is, but try finding a campsite in Yosemite on a holiday weekend, and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I hate being in crowds. I hate having tourists get in the way of my shots, especially when their main concern is making sure their selfie stick is working correctly and not taking in the surrounding landscape. I like quiet. I like remote. And I most certainly like places off the beaten path.

So fast forward a few weeks. As soon as I left the Oslo airport and drove west, I immediately knew that I had come to the right place.

Norway, which is three times the size of California from top to bottom, has a population of just under five million people, making it the second least densely populated country in Europe. Do the math and that’s a pretty small amount of people living in an enormous country, especially when most Norwegians live in the few big cities.

As I pulled the car into an empty spot, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. I was the only person there.

The drive through the Norwegian countryside at the peak of fall was nothing short of breathtaking. (I might catch some flack for this, but I swear this drive rivals that of the Icefields Parkway in Alberta.) The feeling of solitude was slowly starting to sink in as I barely passed any other cars on the road, and the faintest sight of large populations quickly faded behind me the further I got from Oslo. I headed to the small town of Skare for the night, and the next morning, I drove to the enormous parking lot designated for people starting the hike to Trolltunga. As I pulled the car into an empty spot, I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. I looked around and it appeared I was the only person there to hike that day. No complaints here.

I had never felt so alone in my life — but there was something about it that made me feel absolutely alive.

The hike to Trolltunga is a grueling 23-kilometer trek that takes you up steep elevation gain and over some epic fjords, where wind gusts are enough to push you backwards. Just a few kilometers in, I began to take note of everything around me. Pristine lakes, enormous snow-capped fjords, and glaciers in the distance were just some of the indicators that I had definitely found what I came for.

The further along I hiked, an eerie feeling set in. I was all by myself, without cell service, and certainly without a way to get to civilization quickly if I needed to. I had never felt so alone in my life — but there was something about it that made me feel absolutely alive.

I’ve heard crazy stories about how packed this hike gets during peak tourist season; think hour-long waits at the end just to get your picture taken. After all, this is a bucket-list destination for any slightly serious hiker around the globe. I laughed to myself as I compared the vast difference of my hike (in every way possible) to when I was taking in the packed sunset at Horseshoe Bend, in Page, Arizona, just a few months ago.

After just a few hours alone with my thoughts, I made it to the Troll’s Tongue. My jaw dropped when I saw the view laid out before my eyes. I made my way down to the tongue, standing out hundreds and hundreds of feet above the water below. I legitimately felt on top of the world, and I was in disbelief that I had this spot all to myself.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt one with nature and the elements around me. I felt small.

I spent some significant time on this rock, knowing this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt one with nature and the elements around me. I felt small. I had never felt so much joy from being outdoors. It was exactly what I came for, but I never knew I would find it like this. I eventually pried myself away, knowing I had a long hike back.

While the most remote experience I had in Norway was found at Trolltunga, the rest of my time there was incredible. I tackled another epic hike to Preikestolen, otherwise known as Pulpit Rock, as well as Hardangervidda National Park, both of which I had all to myself.

With waterfalls in every direction and the peak fall colors in the countryside, I was falling in love with Norway. Even more, I was falling in love with the solitude I had found during my travels here. Never had I experienced this feeling of having such an amazing place to what felt like myself. Aside from the few people I interacted with at gas stations or restaurants, I barely ran into anyone.

But like all good things, my time in Norway had to come to an end. I snapped my last picture, and got in the car, ready to leave, knowing I had just experienced something truly special. And as I slept on the floor of the Oslo airport that night to catch my flight early the next morning, I was already planning my next trip back. [H]

HB Mertz is a freelance photographer and adventurer. He enjoys solo road trips, hiking mountains, and doing anything to get the shot. He’s probably thinking about where his next adventure will lead him right now.

 

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