There are no roads leading to the tiny hamlet of Florli; it is accessible either from the water of the Lysefjord via boat or from the mountains of the Lysefjord via a good pair of hiking shoes. Florli’s few homes are nestled into the mountainside just above the fjord’s shoreline. As testimony to Florli’s hydropower history, the old power station stands majestically at the hamlet’s base with a fabulously flowing waterfall as its backdrop. A new hydropower station was built inside (yes inside) the mountain during 1999. The old station houses a small museum and cafe, neither was open during our pre-summer season visit. Leading from the old station to the top of the mountain is the longest wooden stairway in the world. The wooden stairway leads up alongside the power station’s old pipestock. This pipestock would have enabled water from the lake atop the mountain to drop directly down from the lake to the power station. Think, for a moment, about a direct drop down a mountainside. These steps are dizzily steep and they ascend 740m of elevation. Just how many steps does it take to climb 740m? The grand total is 4,444 steps! And we didn’t miss a single one!
We began slow and steady, step…step…step…hands on the railing for reassurance. During our first pause to catch our breath this seemed to be going well. We took a snapshot of Detour docked below and feeling fresh continued up at a nice pace. A pause again after 500 steps to marvel at our accomplishment, “Woah, 500! We’re nearly there!” And then, this pleasant little step exercise (to cool down from the previous day’s nearly 17-mile round trip hike to Kjerag’s 1084m summit) took a not entirely unexpected turn UP! I turned for a peek over my shoulder of the remarkable view of the Lysefjord and noticed that the steps and pipestock dropped completely from view behind me! Over the mountain like a roller-coaster, the steps and pipestock just dropped. My grip tightened on the railing. I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes very tightly and when I opened my eyes again they were facing forward and down and I said, “Brian, I don’t think I can go back down this.” Brian was not phased by this. He reminded me of the previous day’s hike and how strenuous and cold it was, how slippery the footing was, how we’d made it to the top and been so proud! He said, “These are just steps and we have a railing this is easy compared to the hiking you’ve done!” The steps were not the problem, I can step it up with the best of ’em! In fact, after the 1,500 step break I stepped up so quickly Brian was struggling to keep pace. I warned him. At that break I said, “I really don’t like this.” I was breathing rapidly, tears streaming down my cheeks as panic brewed from my last peek at the view. I was feeling unsteady, nauseous, and had to pry my hand from the railing to step aside for a moment and sit at a picnic table perched nearby. Ahead the steps and pipeline curved uphill, then rounded over-top a ledge. At this new-found anxiety, Brian was slightly phased. He began to encourage me, told me how happy I’d be at the top, and asked if I was OK. “Let’s just go.” And that began the eyes down, near sprint to the top. When the stairs ended, I’d bopped past the other milestones including the “official” 4,444 marker, we walked across snow to the lake at the top of Florli. I did not once look back at the wooden stairway or the pipestock. The summit was 825m. I looked at the lake, caught my breath, and said, “We did it! I’ll wait while you fetch me a helicopter.”
Thank goodness there was a trail back down to Florli! We had suspected this, but were not entirely sure until we’d reached the summit and found trail signs indicating the path to Florli. The trail was beautiful, a welcome end to the treacherous wooden stairway.