Nordkapptrappa takes you to the top of the world
Stairway to heaven
It’s like standing close to heaven when you reach the last steps of the spectacular North Cape Staircase—Nordkapptrappa.
The Sherpa stairs can be seen as soon as you approach the Honningsvåg harbor in Nordkapp municipality by the sea. The stairs twist and turn up the Storfjellet mountain 1,011 feet above sea level, giving you a bird’s eye view of the town below.
High above Honningsvåg’s harbor, the Sherpa stairs are being built. When complete, they will consist of 1,000 steps—and provide good exercise for tourists and permanent residents alike.
The propellers are heard overhead every 15 minutes when the stones, weighing 882 to 2,205 pounds are fastened and flown into the mountain where Sherpas from Nepal are waiting. For them, the goal is 1,000 steps. This is not a difficult job for the Sherpas, who are used to guiding climbers up Mount Everest, but in Nordkapp municipality, there are other challenges.
A week before the last stones are flown in, work is halted because of seagulls. We contacted Heli-Team AS, the helicopter company that just took off with their heavy load from the soccer field in Nordvågen. They flew over the road in front of us, up into the mountain and five minutes later lowered the load at Storfjellet, where three Sherpas are waiting—a fascinating sight.
“This is a fun and fine job for us to be a part of, but it is really the Sherpas who deserve credit for this job. They are incredibly skilled and professional,” says Jonas Nymark, flight operations manager at the company hired for the task.
Nymark says that the stones were picked out by the Sherpas and prepared in the small fishing village of Nordvågen, with less than 400 inhabitants, just five minutes from Honningsvåg, which has 2,932 inhabitants.
How are the stone slabs attached and released from the line?
“The stones are strapped and hooked onto the longline that hangs from the helicopter by people on the ground, but we release them from the cockpit. We have good communication with the people on the mountain who indicate where the stones should be placed before we position a given stone in the right spot and release it.”
There are signs posted and guards in place on certain days to keep tourists away from the mountain while flight deliveries are in progress.
The project got its start because the hiking trail up the mountain was challenging for ordinary hikers. The company Stibyggjaren AS was commissioned to carry out preliminary studies. The company specializes in work related to historic roads, trails, old routes, and stone walls. For this work, they use Sherpas from Khunde in the Himalayas. They are considered the world’s strongest ethnic group, and they are very skilled with stonework. In the past, Norwegians had knowledge of how to do such work, while at the same time protecting nature, but now, the expertise is brought in from Nepal.
In Norway, Sherpas have carried out work ranging from the tourist attraction Preikestolen and the famous Trolltunga to a small Sherpa staircase outside Roald Amundsen’s house near Oslo. The stairs not only provide new hiking trails and make nature accessible to Norwegians and tourists, but the collaboration has also led to funding that has rebuilt an earthquake-stricken village in Nepal.
Construction of the stairs is carried out with both local and external funding. Local businesses and private individuals were challenged to “purchase” steps. Nordkapptrappa has received NOK 1 million from a new program under Finnmark Estate (a public entity that manages 95% of the land in Finnmark county) and NOK 100,000 from the North Cape Region Industrial Park. The energy group Repvåg Kraftlag has contributed a total of NOK 790,000, and, surprisingly, many private individuals have purchased a step for NOK 5,000.
Companies may also contribute with NOK 10,000 per step. The Hurtigruten Foundation has supported the project with NOK 100,000; it is one of several local projects that Hurtigruten supports. Nordkapptrappas Venner—Friends of the North Cape Steps (which include Visit Nordkapp, Honningsvåg Trade and Industry Association and North Cape Region Industrial Park)—initiated the campaign to fund Nordkapptrappa. The cost is estimated at over NOK 6 million.
“It is important for us to support the local communities along the coast where we sail. When I was in Honningsvåg in October and spoke to the tourism industry there, it was clear that Nordkapptrappa will mean a lot to the local population, the business community, and tourists. Nordkapp is already the most popular excursion among Hurtigruten’s travelers. This will only make the municipality and the region even more exciting to visit,” says Hedda Felin, managing director of Hurtigruten Norway in a press release.
While we are outside filming, it starts to rain heavily, and we can see the Sherpas silhouetted on top of the mountain in their almost luminescent jackets. The wind picks up and there is a chance they will have to end the work early. Soon the Sherpas are going home to Nepal.
“The weather can be challenging at times, but we don’t fly if the weather is so bad that it might compromise safety. Safety is always our highest priority. If the weather is too poor for flying on a given day, they use the day for something else, such as finding and preparing stones for transportation.”
On a quiet day with no helicopters, we put on sensible, sturdy shoes and start hiking up from Honningsvåg Church, up Elvedalen Valley, and after only 10 minutes, we are at Brochmannhaugen, where the stairs begin. We start counting: one, two, three ….
Translated by Ragnhild Hjeltnes
All photos by Tove Andersson
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.