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Sånn er det i naturen (That’s how it is in nature)

27 May 2011

UPDATE (4 JUNE 2011): Yesterday I read the very sad news that yet another tourist has slipped to her death at Vøringsfossen. The 61-year-old Austrian native was traveling around Norway with her husband. She was posing for a photograph when she stumbled, lost her balance and fell over the edge. Photos of the site and story (in Norwegian) can be found here. Despite the fact that nature is dangerous and tourists need to be reminded of this, two deaths have occurred at this spot in less than one year. A balance must be struck between safety and natural beauty.

This is the second post in a new series on Norway entitled Sånn er det. For the first post in the series, including a definition of the phrase “sånn er det,” click here.

For three years in a row Norway’s fjord region has been ranked as the most beautiful destination in the world by the National Geographic Society’s Center for Sustainable Destination. The judges mentioned the amazing scenery throughout Norway, but also how well-preserved and respected nature is in Norway.

In Fjord Norway you will find no guard rails, high fences, or paved sidewalks. You are encouraged – even dared – to experience nature as it is.

Preikestolen ("Pulpit Rock) near Stavanger invites visitors to walk right up to the edge and peer down 1982 ft. to the fjord below. (Photo by Richyblack. Used with permission from Wikipedia.)

Vøringfossen (Photo by Kenny Louie. Used with permission from Wikipedia.)

For even more photos of daring hikers at this site, click here and scroll down.

This is the special charm of Norway, but it is also its special problem. A record 6.6. million tourists visited Norway in 2010, a number larger than the entire population of Norway (which is around 4.8 million). Unfortunately, not all of these tourists seem to understand that the absence of fences and guard rails does not mean that cliff edges are safe. In 2009 a Russian tour-bus driver slipped off the edge of the outlook to Vøringsfossen, one of the most visited waterfalls in Norway, just a few hours’ drive from Bergen.

Surprisingly enough, it was the first time anyone could remember that someone had fallen over the 600 foot drop. In the days after the tragic accident Norwegians were quick to point out that nature is dangerous, and that while they may be taught to understand this from a young age, not all foreign tourists are.

Voringfossen

At the edge of Vøringsfossen -- a long way down! (Photo by Jack Brauer. Used with permission.)

The problem, you see, was not that Norwegians had erred in not making their natural sites safe enough for tourists – Sånn er det i naturen! (That’s how it is in nature!) – but that people did not know enough about nature to be careful in it.

One Norwegian posted the following comment to the news report of the death: “The problem with Norwegian nature is that tourists who come here think that they have come to Disneyland . . .  Norwegian nature is dangerous, and this information should be given in all tourist brochures so that they know what they are coming to.”

Not everyone agrees, however, and Norway is trying to come to terms with how to make their sites of natural beauty safer for tourists while at the same time maintaining the sense of wild beauty that everyone comes to see. One proposal for Vøringsfossen is to build a viewing terrace like the one envisioned below.

Proposed safety enclosure at Vøringsfossen. (Drawing by C-V Hølmebakk Architects.)

I know I am supposed to be wow-ed by the way this building has been designed in harmony with the landscape, or marvel at the large glass windows that enable viewers to feel like they are really “out there in nature,” while safely tucked away, but this building stuck on the side of the rocky cliff takes away from all that I have come to associate with Norway. I feel unwilling to pen up a waterfall behind glass enclosures for the sakes of the few who lack common sense. I want to shout with Norwegians: sånn er det i naturen! Yes — its dangerous, so view it with respect and caution! I also believe such an enclosure would be a disappointment to at least some of those 6.6 million tourists whose breaths are taken away as they feel the awe of nature that has not be altered to accommodate humans.

At the same time, my human nature prevents me from shrugging and saying sånn er det to the man who wanted get a better view of nature’s awe and slipped off the rocks that were wet from the rain.

Trollveggen

Thrills at Trollveggen: a 6000 ft. vertical drop awaits. Photographer Jack Brauer described the view from the top as "utterly awesome" in his blog. (Photo used with permission.)

(Many thanks to professional photographer and mountain climber Jack Brauer for his permission to use some of his photos here. To see more of his amazing talent for capturing Norwegian nature as it is you are welcomed to visit his online gallery at http://www.widerange.org/gallery/norway/. I would also like add that my use of his photos here is in no way meant to suggest that he is one of the foreign tourists who has not used common sense in his hikes, but rather to show how truly un-fenced nature is in Norway!)

Fishing village in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway. (Photo by Jack Brauer. Used with permission.)

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 31 May 2011 09:26

    I have often wondered if anyone has accidentally fallen off these various places.
    I desperately want to visit Stavanger. Particularly Kjerag bolten. I fantasize about being brave enough to have my picture taken in some tranquil yoga pose while sitting upon this rock wedged between a crack in the mountain 1000 meters above sea level. I will chicken out, it´s the kind a girl I am. But still it is a dream…without kids!!!! Thanks for sharing this well written and informative post! Mr. Brauer´s photos are beautiful!!!!!
    Kimberly

    • jenaconti permalink
      5 June 2011 21:04

      photoshop? 😉 it IS safer!

      • 6 June 2011 08:33

        Hahahaha! I never thought of that!

        Last year, a girlfriend visiting from home had me in a sleepless tizzy over this pic. Fortunately, it was too early in the year and the trails were not open due to snow, so we went to Stockholm shopping instead. With Photoshop in mind, I may consider re planning our original trip.

        I am always open to new ideas! Keep em coming!
        Kimberly Mengshoel

  2. RHR permalink
    3 June 2011 21:46

    It seems another person died there (vøringsfossen) now http://www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/article4139348.ece

    • jenaconti permalink
      4 June 2011 15:07

      Yes, I read this too. This is very sad indeed and really underlines the fact that fences or enclosures of some sort need to be put in place there.

  3. 4 June 2011 18:53

    Very sad to hear about another person falling at Vøringsfosen but whilst I agree with the point you make that nature demands respect, I can’t help but feel that some sort of comprimise is possible.
    Norway generates substantial income from the tourist trade and has a duty of care to those who respond to the marketing from the Norwegian tourist board. I totally agree that information is crucial as Norway has such extremes, from the cold, to the remote, from towering mountains to wild animals. Many tourists from more urbanised areas are often not raised with the same respect for nature that those born here are.
    When I first came to Norway, it was winter and I remember being inundated with ‘tips’ and rules that were imperative to follow to be safe in the Norwegian nature.
    What worries me is that when such a tragedy occurs, we see a massive overreaction in trying to address the safety issues. monstrosities are proposed and the entire point of interaction is irrevocably altered beyond recognition, defeating the point.
    Surely a combination of information, communication, guides and some minimalistic less intrusive safet rails could be combined to produce a result that does not take away from the experience that a country as beautiful as Norway can offer.

    • jenaconti permalink
      5 June 2011 21:04

      True! I was thinking, though, that maybe some of the more visited sites like Vøringfossen should be enclosed in some mammoth structure (as ugly as I think the proposed one is) and let the more serious mountaineers and adventurers experience the rest of Norway un-fenced.

      But, I also think that there is a disconnect between what Norwegians think are easy/safe trails and I what I would have thought was an easy/safe trail when we first moved here! So maybe the information needs to be a bit more explicit! i.e. along the lines of “two people have died here! Do not go within 1 foot of the edge!” … but then again, not even fences keep some people away. One reader just posted this link: http://www.adressa.no/nyheter/moreromsdal/article1643054.ece

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