Up the mountain with a waterfall
A more than 100-year-old “gondola” is still in use above Odda
My father lets go of a lever. A hatch closes, and water comes tumbling down a chute, into the turbine wheel that starts to spin. Five hundred meters below us, my mother has just struck three blows on the wire, the signal to set everything in motion, and now our luggage is on its way up the mountainside. The family company is on its way to the mountain cabin.
“This is like a gondola?”
“Yes, it is the same principle,” says my father, Harald Jordal.
Built for tourism
The Håvås støl mountain cabin belongs to a farm and was traditionally used to care for animals on pasture. It is located on the south side of Rossnos Mountain in Odda and belongs to the farms Vasstun, Mannsåker, and Hjøllo. Since the 1890s, these støler have had their own cable. At that time, tourism in Odda was booming. The cable was built to transport fresh milk from the støler down to the tourists who stayed at hotels in the summer. And with the help of the river, the budeier, girls who worked at the støler received the empty buckets back up afterward. The waterfalls pulled the whole load.
“When there is lots of water, you can lift 150 kilos here. It’s nice to not have to carry it up the hill.”
Our cabin was built in 1948 and is one of the private cabins that has been built on the Håvås property cooperative. As long as I can remember, we have carried light backpacks when going to the mountains. The road to the cabin is either quite long or very steep, but the wire has hoisted up everything we need of canned food, paint, materials, children’s cots, beer, candy, and tar. Among other things.
Nothing of what’s left today is from the 19th century, but the principle is exactly the same as it was back then. The little house with the turbine and supports is in the same place. Lowering is done by gravity and ballast. Hydropower pulls the load up.
Today, we are bringing up clothes and food for three days, some boiled linseed oil and five liters of Swedish wood tar to weatherize the cabin wall. The first thing we do when we lower the rope is to release the brake and push the “carriage” down the support, so that it is sent down to the base at Sandvins Lake. There the rest of the family is ready, loading up bags and buckets and everything that is going up. When they are finished, they strike the wire with a metal rod three times. We stand with our ears next to the top support, and the blows are clearly heard.
“All clear, time to pull up!”
My father runs to the turbine house and lets in the water that cascades down the chute and into the turbine. The pull wire tightens, and the luggage is on its way up.
Even though the cable is built to carry materials and luggage, there are those who have taken shortcuts. The story goes that there was a man who built a cabin here in the ’40s but didn’t have any nails. He was lowered down by the cable to get some.
“At that time, it was total insanity. In the past, the wire would fall down every other year, or there about. Now it never happens,” my father says.
The Håvås co-op owns the cable, but everyone who has cabins up here has the right to use it, and they participate in maintenance and dugnad, the Norwegian tradition of getting together to complete a job.
When my father was 14 or 15 years old, sometime in the ’60s, they undertook a huge project to upgrade the cable. The old wire was in poor condition, and it was decided that if a new wire were to be put up, it had to be one that would hold properly. Everything was transported up without the help of a helicopter, but with a lot of effort and quite certainly inadequate health, safety, and environmental regulations.
The wire is about 800 meters long and weighs several hundred kilos. Wise minds and an above-average volunteer-spirit were needed to make it happen. All the men from the Vasstun, Mannsåker, and Hjøllo joined in. The wire had been given to someone free of charge by Tyssefaldene A/S; it was a discarded wire from the trolley track in Skjeggedal.
To get the new support wire up, a temporary pull wire was hauled up. The existing one was not strong enough to pull up the new one. When the main wire was to come up, it was with the help of splicing, several snatch blocks and a truck filled with rock, which was pulling down from the highway.
The entire project took a whole summer, with work on holidays and weekends.
“There were many competent people with practical skills, and there were mechanics and welders among us. I was mostly involved as a helper; I ran with messages and such. There were no mobile phones at that time,” my father says.
”What did it cost?” I ask.
“I think very little. Equipment was donated or lent to us. Costs were time and labor. My mother complained that my father was never home that summer. But what I remember is that people enjoyed working there. It was quite exiting; no one knew for sure if it would work,” he says.
Worked it did. Later, we have had volunteers to haul up new iron supports, turbine houses, masonry for a dam in the river to secure enough water, and a new water chute. Setting up the support that sits all the way out on the cliff was not work fit for everyone. It goes straight down from there.
“If the wire were to fall down now, I’m afraid it would never come back up. People can’t take this kind of hard labor anymore,” father says.
On the other hand, there are many Odda residents who are eager for another cable car for tourists these days. A few kilometers from where we are waiting for our luggage is Rossnos. Debates about a gondola lift to Rossnos has reached a boiling point in Odda. Most landowners are strongly opposed to the plans.
“It’s the same principle as our cable, only a little bigger,” I ask.
“Not a little, a lot bigger,” he replies.
After 12 to 14 minutes, the heavy bags have traversed up the entire mountain side, and what is left is just the last easy leg up to the cabin. My father thinks this is the only water-powered cable in Norway.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this. But if anyone knows of one, I would love to hear about it!”
Translated by Ragnhild Hjeltnes.
All photos by Ingerid Jordal.
This article originally appeared in the July 8, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.