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Preikestolen | Pulpit Rock

The History of Norway’s Most Sought-after Natural Icon

Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), which is located just 1.5-hours outside of Stavanger, is a 25×25-meter (82×82-feet) granite monolith that protrudes 604 meters (1,982 feet) above the majestic Lysefjord. From atop its surface, visitors enjoy panoramic views of some of the most dramatic landscapes in all of Fjord Norway. It’s for these reasons that the location has become the most iconic natural landmark in Norway. Annually, approximately 300,000 visitors, hailing from all corners of the world, hike the 4-kilometer-long trail up to Preikestolen. In recent years, it has also garnered the attention of international media. In 2017, Preikestolen topped CNN’s list of the most “awe-inspiring natural wonders for your bucket list”.

How was Preikestolen Formed?

According to geologists, Preikestolen was most likely formed around 10,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. As the glaciers melted away, and the Lysefjord was formed, the now-famous cliffside was exposed.

Before the start of the Ice Ages, the area around the Lysefjord was a shallow mountain valley that had been created as rivers and creeks eroded the landscape. Through the many Ice Ages, which spanned a period of 1-2 million years, moving glaciers carved into the landscape, reforming it along the way. Toward the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago), as the glaciers retreated, debris was pushed downward and outward along the valley while the sea-level simultaneously began to rise. Over time, the debris accumulated into massive piles and walls, known as moraines. The seawater eventually broke over/through the valley’s end moraine, causing it to flood, at which point the fjord was formed. Though the floor of the Lysefjord is 457 meters (1,500 feet) below sea-level at its deepest point, the end moraine at the mouth of the fjord resulted in a depth of just 13 meters (43 feet).

Without the glaciers, which had served as a stabilizing force, the Lysefjord’s surrounding mountains became unstable. Successive cold winters caused frost damage to the granite bedrock, which eventually cracked. Once loose, whole sections of the mountainsides broke away, causing vast quantities of rock to tumble into the fjord below. The Preikestolen cliffside was formed when three massive cracks gave way, leaving it in its current form.

The Discovery of Preikestolen

According to historians, the first known person to visit Preikestolen was Thomas Peter Randulff, a bank manager from Stavanger. One day, as he cruised through the Lysefjord as a passenger aboard the steam boat Oscar II., Randulff noticed a striking rock formation that was jutting out from the granite cliffside high above the fjord’s northern shore. The captain of the vessel, who was familiar with the rock formation, explained that, because the locals thought it resembled the blade of a wood planer, it was known as Hyvlatånnå, or the planning tooth. Randulff, already an active member of the Norwegian Hiking Association, was very curious to see what it was like to stand atop Hyvlatånnå. Soon after he first set his eyes on it, Randdulff decided he wanted to try to become the first person to hike to the location.

In 1896, there were no roads in the area around Preikestolen, so Randdulff and his travel companion, Ole Hausken, started their hike at sea-level, on the shores of the Lysefjord. After hiking some time, the pair encountered Vatne Farm, which was located at what is now the modern-day trailhead. Neither the widow, who managed the farm, nor her children had ever heard of the rock formation known as Hyvlatånnå. Her two sons however, Elling and Guttom, were eager to help the gentlemen find it. Because he had a lot of knowledge of the area, they also enlisted their neighbour, Fredrik Bratteli, to join the expedition.

Tourist Traffic to Preikestolen

Once word got out about Hyvlatånnå, people from all over the region wanted to experience standing atop the massive plateau. The first tourists who visited what is now Preikestolen did so in the early 1900s. At the time, prior to roads being built to the area, it was not easily accessible, and therefore a long and difficult hike for those who wanted to visit. In the early 1920s, a marked trail to Preikestolen was established and two farms (Vatne and Torsnes) began offering overnight accommodation to visitors. Around that time, there were about 100 guests annually between the two farms. It wasn’t until 1961, four decades later, that a road was finally constructed between Jørpeland and Vatne farm. This development made it possible for people to visit Preikestolen in just one day, and the number of tourists to Preikestolen steadily increased with each passing year. By the 1990s, there were 50,000 visitors annually.

In 2004, the numbers had jumped to 75,000. After 2010, there has been an exponential increase in media attention, digital word-of-mouth, and visitors sharing their experiences on social media. This has resulted in Preikestolen becoming a year-round tourist attraction as well as the most visited natural attraction in Norway. In 2019, more than 300,000 people are expected to make their way to the iconic landmark. Preikestolen has not only become the number one hiking destination in Norway – it truly is an international icon, attracting visitors from all over the world. Preikestolen is frequently the subject of countless PR and media activities. Most recently, it was the filming site for the final action scenes in Mission: Impossible – Fallout (MI6).

What Does Preikestolen Mean?

The Norwegian name Preikestolen consists of two words: Preike and stolen. Preike means ‘to preach’, and stolen means ‘the chair’. Literally translated, Preikestolen means ‘the preacher’s chair’. The most common English name for Preikestolen, Pulpit Rock, stems from the Latin work pulpitim, which means platform. In English, a slightly altered version of the word, pulpit, is used to describe a raised church platform from which preacher’s preach.

Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) got its current name based on its appearance, when viewed from sea-level. The cliffside, which seems to hang high above the fjord, resembles the shape and height of a church’s pulpit.

When Will Preikestolen Fall Down?

While visiting Preikestolen, most people notice the wide, long crack that crosses the plateau’s surface. Some may wonder if the crack means that Preikestolen is unstable and worry that it may detach from the mountainside and fall into the fjord below. Since the 1990s, Geologists have taken regular measurements of the crack to check for signs that the mountain is shifting. Preikestolen consists of two very solid rock types, granite and gneiss, and measurements of the crack have shown that it doesn’t traverse deep into the plateau. In addition, the crack has not increased in width. A recent report titled ‘Stability Analysis of Preikestolen’ by Katrine Mo (2018, The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)), concluded that, for the foreseeable future, Preikestolen is not going to fall down. We can therefore assure visitors that it’s safe to walk atop Preikestolen – bearing in mind that everybody should take safety precautions when approaching the edge of the plateau.

That being said – nothing lasts forever. In the distant future, mighty Preikestolen will eventually surrender to erosion and the forces of gravity. Legend says that Preikestolen will fall into the sea on the day that seven brothers marry seven sisters, just as the wedding party rows through the fjord on their way to church.

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