A trip to Norway’s least accessible farm
From hell to heaven in an hour and a half
Hiking up to the mountain farm Kjeåsen is scary, exhausting, and very rewarding.
I’m not an extremely fit person, and it’s been a while since I did any sort of serious exercise. So I don’t know why I woke up one day and decided to climb up the steepest path I could think of. But suddenly I just felt like it.
The mountain farm Kjeåsen in Eidfjord, Hardanger, is famous for its beautiful setting and infamous for the tough path leading there. The hillside farm is situated above Simadalen, 1,739 feet above sea level, and has been featured in books, TV shows, radio, and magazines worldwide as “the least accessible farm in Norway.”
I arrive in Simadalen by car and park outside the entrance to the power station. The first few hundred meters of the path are nice and flat, following the fjord. Once the road takes a turn right, the struggle begins. Today it’s suddenly warm, after an extremely cold spring. Lots of melting water from the mountaintops is coming down all at once, creating a small river that completely floods the path. It’s generally not recommended to cross a river, but this time, no harm done, except for getting my feet wet. This was also the last I would see of water until I reach the top, so I made sure to fill up my water bottle.
I walk, sometimes climb. It’s extremely warm. After 15 to 20 minutes, I meet a young man. He says he’s sorry to inform me that I’m still far from the goal. I smile and put on a brave face. I’m in no rush, but the warm weather is not making this trip any easier. I grab a rope to pull myself up to next level, gasping for air.
Then I realize I have to cross an open area across a tilted rock face. In the rock there are ropes and a beam to hold on to. To my left is the rock; to my right is the abyss. I shudder, and once I’ve passed, I regret starting this silly trip. However, if I turn back now, I have to redo that dreadful crossing immediately. I decide I’m better off trying to go on. Now the road is so steep that there are also ladders to climb. Ropes and ladders and stone steps are keywords for how I spend the next hour. But also stopping to look at the view. For every yard climbed, you get a better view of the beautiful emerald green fjord and the snow-clad mountains surrounding it.
I pause for a moment. This extreme path used to be the farmer’s children’s route to school every day. And they didn’t even have ropes and ladders. At most, there were 13 children living here at one time. This revelation puts my struggle in perspective. I can do this for fun in my spare time on a sunny day, but this used to be the harsh reality of everyday life at Kjeåsen.
So why did they live here? In the TV show Der ingen skulle tru at nokon kunne bu (“No one would believe that anyone could live here”) it’s explained that despite the tough road, life at Kjeåsen was good, with nature’s rich resources just outside the doorstep. They had fishing and hunting in the mountains, and since they were so high up, a lot of sun all year round. The plateaus were relatively flat and fertile.
Every piece of material used for the buildings had to be carried up on your back. It’s said that one of the houses here took 30 years to build. They had to carry up one plank at a time. The heaviest object that ever was carried up there was a grinding stone weighing 198 pounds.
My light backpack includes only a chocolate bar and some water, so I feel almost light when pushing myself up the last steps. I meet some young people telling me I’m nearly there. Hooray! When I finally step over the edge, and I’m suddenly in a different world. I’m surrounded by a flat landscape (flat by western Norwegian standards!) with plains and a few small farmhouses. I see sheep grazing and several people walking around. Kjeåsen is a popular tourist spot.
I turn around and see the stunning view of the fjord below me. I find a nice spot to have some lunch and then go looking for fresh water. I meet several more people. “They have very strange clothes for a hiking trip,” I’m thinking. “And they don’t look sweaty and exhausted at all!” I meet a woman who tells me she owns the place and lives here in the summer. I realize only later that the woman is Bjørg Wiik, who ran the farm from 1967 until 2011 and is quite a legendary person. I asked her only one question, and that was where I could find some water. She says there’s water up by the road.
“The road?” I’m thinking to myself. But I walk toward the direction she pointed. I meet more people. With motorcycle helmets. And large picnic coolers. And when I find the water, I also find the road. The road that was built by the power station company back in the ’70s, the road that lets you drive all the way from the valley, up through the mountains, making life on Kjeåsen a lot easier than it was so many years ago.
But why make things easy when you can make them complicated? At least I got a very good workout!
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.