Trollstigen might be the most famous stretch of road in Norway. Even if you don’t recognise the name, you may have seen photos at some point. It rises steeply from the Åndalsnes valley to high up in rugged mountains. It’s a gorgeous rocky landscape, split by rivers that cascade down in high waterfalls, and a serpentine road with thrilling hairpin curves. The climb from sea level is 870 meters, but the café and popular viewpoint are at 700m.

For me, that climb required some planning. My drivetrain was already well oiled after leaving the camping ground, but I had to make some very careful decisions at the grocery store. How long would I stay up the mountain? How many calories would that require? I tried to pick the most calorie dense food and chocolate bars I could find.

It still took me about five hours to climb up. That was alternating between cycling and pushing the bike, to try to use different muscles. With a lot of stops for rest and photography, of course. A number of drivers gave me thumbs ups and other gestures of encouragement, which genuinely does help to give a little extra energy every time.

I have to cycle up this road? I've made a huge mistake.
Wet and slippery hairpin curve.
The Åndalsnes valley far below.

The view from the top was well worth the effort of getting there. I was slightly late for the sunset, but what I really wanted was a night photo of car headlights painting the entire road in one long twisting streak. So I fired up a huge bowl of pasta and waited for darkness. To my surprise, no other photographers showed up, so I had the whole viewing platform to myself. Just me, the mountain, and the stars above.

Only a couple cars went up or down the road per hour during the night, so there weren’t many chances to take this photo. When I eventually figured I was finished at 3am, I found a place to camp up the road nearby.

The next day I checked the results in the café. It was disappointing. My lens at 24mm wasn’t wide enough to capture everything in one shot, so I had missed a tiny slice of the road. Also I had to split the bottom and top halves into separate photos and stitching them into one was clumsy. I scrapped the whole thing. But there would be enough time and food for another attempt the next night.

Night view of the cafe at Trollstigen.

Compared to the solitude during the night, daytime at this tourist attraction was quite a circus. Countless cars, caravans and busloads of guided tours were there at any given time. Hundreds of people were milling about the area. Twice in the men’s room I gestured to confused Chinese tourists how to operate a motion-activated water tap.

After dark I returned for the second round. This time I found a better vantage point where my lens could see everything in one shot. And instead of taking multiple 30 second exposures like the first time, I wanted to take in the whole scene with a single one hour exposure. To stop the lens from fogging up I tied a hand warmer packet underneath it.

The night was freezing and I had to dive into my sleeping bag while waiting despite several layers of warm clothing. After an hour I went to stop the exposure. The photo showed a nice view of the road, but it was dark. Not a single car had been through the whole time! There was no choice but to start over and return to the sleeping bag.

All in all, I probably went through more trouble for this photo than any I’ve taken before. While I felt a sense of achievement at the time, the more I look at it, the less I like it. The angle is wrong and causes parts of the road to not be visible. Plus even if I'll get it right, it’s just a photo that a bunch of other people have taken before me. Usually I tend to avoid “iconic” photos (ie. ones taken a million times by others already), so I’m unsure why this one felt so appealing.

Car headlights painting Trollstigen at night.

Afterwards I was looking for a time-lapse subject and saw something surprising. There was a green glow in the horizon above the lights of Åndalsnes - northern lights! I had said my goodbyes to them when leaving Inari, because I hadn’t expected to see any on this trip. After all, I had assumed I would’ve been much further south, perhaps in Denmark, by this point.

Gazing at auroras felt so good again, after several months of bright nights. And seeing them in Trollstigen, above the stupefyingly beautiful views, made it all the more special. The perfection of it made me both laugh out loud and tear up slightly.

All else aside, I'm very happy that I’ve done one at least thing right by setting off on this journey.

Northern lights over Trollstigen.
 

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