We could be heroes – Tales of Telemark
Rjukan is a Norwegian town where the sun is never seen during winter time. It’s situated in the narrow valley of Vestfjord, surrounded by the Southern gateway to Hardangervidda, and by the foot of a majestic mountain: Gaustatoppen. This stunning setting is also the reason why the nearly 3300 inhabitants of Rjukan don’t even get a glimpse of a sunbeam during winter. Norwegians are tough folks though and therefore casually handle the isssue with the old motto ‘Ain’t such a thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’.
They do love the sun, so occasionally they’ll climb the surrounding mountains to see it. It was in 1928, during a very wealthy period of Rjukans history, when they built the first cable car in Northern Europe here. And since then, the sun is a little closer at hand for the people of Rjukan.
The real reason why Rjukan is known in the world, is not because of the cable car – it is because of Kirk Douglas. Yes, Mr Spartacus himself has been to this small town and several women still claim that they were the one he had an affair with while shooting the movie “The Heroes of Telemark” here in 1965. Rjukan’s true heroes, however, were the insurgents who sabotaged the hydroelectric power plant just outside Rjukan, used by the Nazis to make a nuclear bomb during World War 2.
If you want to explore Rjukan there are several things to do. What I did was first take the Gaustabanen, a really cool funicular railway right inside mountain Gaustatoppen. Yes, INSIDE. That’s not the path with the best view, but it’s the easiest way to get to the top, where you can see a sixth of Norway – that is if you have clear sight. We saw was this:
So we decided to try our luck at the other side of the valley. Not only would we find he famous cable car here, we also found the sun.
This was also where we first met Tor Nicolaysen, our guide for the next few hours. They call him the master of the mountains but I still think he looks like the master of fairy tale mountain folk who fight against giants and celebrates the first sunbeams in spring with a playful festival with fairies and trolls.
But for now he was my hero, leading us up the mountain on a small path built from Nepalese Sherpa, which made this hiking thing much easier. On the way up, he stopped now and then and took some small sticks from the side. I asked him if we will need them later as a hiking stick but he just laughed and told me to walk on.
When we reached the top, he started a small fire in between a circle of stones and when he grabbed some sausages out of his bag I knew why we needed the sticks. We were up for a BBQ on top of a Norwegian mountain! And maybe it was the Schnapps we were drinking or the relieved feeling that from now on we’d only be going downhill, but I somehow could not shake that heroic feeling when I held my sausage on a stick into the flames, trying not to get blinded by the smoke burning in my eyes.
Once you’ve conquered your way to the top, have grilled your sausage like a man, have withstood the thin air and the physical strain, when you’ll stand on top of that mountain, look around yourself, feel the wind in your hair and the sun in your eyes, with the clouds finally melting away to offer a spectecular view over the beautiful and lush green landscape of Telemark – then surely, you too, will feel like a hero.