Stories

What happens when heavy construction machinery, tourist coaches and personal cars have to share the same narrow roads in the Norwegian mountains?

We tried to transport the large construction components at times when tourist traffic was low.

Some 40,000 tourists made the trek to the spectacular Troll’s Tongue in Hardanger during the summer of 2014.

In the middle of the tourist season, Statkraft upgraded two power stations and one pumping station, using the same road as the tourists. An old, narrow road full of corners... 
 

The Troll's tongue tourist attraction

"This is the yes-bench," says Hans Henrik Haukaas, maintenance manager in Statkraft at Tyssedal.

We are standing in the middle of a hairpin corner, on the road up to Mågeli power plant. Far below us, the sun reflects off the Sørfjord fjord.

"This is where the boys would bring the girls to propose," says Haukaas, pointing to the bench. "It is difficult to say how far it is to the bottom of the gorge from the bench on the very tip of the cliff. The girl who rejected a would-be suitor here would have had nerves of steel. Not necessarily the case for all the tourists who slowly ease around the corners, hearts racing. There are several places where the road is too narrow for two cars to pass. And, I pity the poor tourist who meets a concrete truck. They might not dare to back up."

The path leading to the tourist attraction that is the Troll's Tongue starts at Mågeli power station in the Skjeggedal valley. Tourists need to either take a bus or drive from Tyssedal valley. The safety barrier is not much to speak of. In some places, all that separates the cars with an encounter with gravity is a row of sharp rocks. When Statkraft was preparing for the upgrade of the power plant, they also looked into how to avoid encounters on the road.

Included on Statkraft's agenda was re-wedging of a unit in Mågeli power station, replacing the unit switches and the control facility in Skjeggedal pumping station, as well as work on new cable culverts from Tysso 2 to a new open-air switching facility. At the same time, Odda Energi was scheduled to perform extensive maintenance of their facilities in the area, and constructing a new, large switching station. This would lead to significant traffic, right at the peak of tourist season.

Construction road

Coexistence

Mågeli power station

The main path to Troll's Tongue starts at the parking place by Mågeli power station. Statkraft has expanded the space and facilitated room for tourism in the area.

A well-kept secret

The Troll's Tongue is a rock outcropping, about 1,100 metres above sea level, and 700 meters above Lake Ringedals. This was a well-kept secret for a very long time, until some local residents received funding to market the attraction. In 2009, a few thousand tourists visited Troll's Tongue. They posted photos of it online, and in a few years, "Trolls Tongue" had surpassed "Hardanger" as the search item with most clicks.

During the summer of 2014, about 40,000 tourists walked out on the tongue, after a five-hour trek over steep terrain. The waiting time to walk out on the outcropping has been as much as one hour.

"Early in the preparations, we focused on how to organise the traffic," says Vidar Riber, head of Hardanger power station group. "Although we primarily have to make considerations for the task at hand, we don't want to cause too much inconvenience for tourists, cabin owners and locals who also use the road. So we tried to transport the large components at times when traffic was low."

To achieve this, they met regularly with representatives from the local bus company, the tourist industry, local residents and Odda Energi.

"The planning resulted in the installation of a road barrier, so we can close the road when we are moving heavy transports," Riber says.

Because of flexibility and good planning, the massive traffic spike on the narrow road went very smoothly.

The Ringedalsfossen falls were one of Norway’s largest tourist attractions for many years. The waterfalls were developed and regulated by tunnels during the construction of the Tysso 2 power station in 1967.

Re-wedging and rehabilitation  

Rehabilitation work

The Mågeli power plant, finished in 1956, is the oldest still in operation in Hardanger. It was renovated in 1978. After 35 years of operation, most components had to be replaced. Winders, mechanics, installers and work supervisors had plenty to do.

Traditions for tourism

Even in the 1800s, Odda and Tyssedal were two of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Adventure-seeking nobility and upper classes came from abroad, keen to experience the nerve-racking roads up to the edges of the Hardangervidda mountain plateau, in horse-drawn carriages.

In Skjeggedal valley, locals earned some extra money by rowing tourists to the impressive Ringedalsfossen waterfalls, with a free fall of 160 meters. From here, they could admire the Tyssestrengene falls, Europe's third largest waterfall with a free fall of 300 metres, twice the height of the Vøringsfossen falls.

Sam Eyde, the industrial pioneer and engineer, was behind the development of the Tyssdal power plant, Tyssso 1, in 1906. After a construction period of just a year and a half, the first high-pressure power plant in Norway was able to supply two factories in Odda with electricity, through seven kilometre long cables. One of them, The Sun Gas Company, was the largest carbide factory in the world. Norway's industrial venture had started.

However, the tourist attractions were down the pipes, and the Skjeggedal tourist hotel had to close. It was almost a century before tourists returned here. Now, tour operator Opplev Odda has a great relationship with its neighbour Statkraft.

"There is a lot of power history in this area; it is part of the experience," general manager Jostein Soldal says. "Tourists are very interested when we tell them about the industrial revolution that started here, which was a prerequisite for the Norwegian oil industry."

"We haven't noticed any additional traffic from Statkraft. All local parties have focused on making this work. Tourists usually go up early in the day, and when the parking lot is full around noon, they have to park down in the valley. At that time, we close the road, and transport tourists by minibus."

Soldal is happy that Statkraft has accommodated tourism by constructing a parking lot on their land. Sherpas from Nepal are now rehabilitating an old path up the mountainside to the Troll's Tongue, and Statkraft has airlifted rock and wood by helicopter.

There is a lot of power history in this area; it is part of the experience.

New challenges

"We've made some financial contributions and created available areas for the tourism industry, because we like the fact that Jostein Soldal and Opplev Odda have managed to bring back tourism and create new jobs here," Riber says.

"This is very good as long as we have a solid relationship and tourism does not interfere with our primary task."

In 2015, Tysso 2 is scheduled for rehabilitation. Most of the equipment has to be replaced, and due to the amount of heavy transport, the Skjeggedal road has to be closed at times. Riber is confident it will work well.

"People who have been hiking for 10 hours do not want to wait to drive down," he says. "We will do most of the transportation in the evening and late night."

However, not all changes will cause new challenges for tourists and locals. Next year, the high voltage cables zigzagging across the landscape will be placed in culverts, making the view even more stunning for the tourists, Statkraft employees and locals in the Skjeggedal valley.

Text: Ellen Stai
Photos: Shutterstock, Nils Lund, Finn Arve Berget and Knud Knudsen/Arkiv NVIM
Also published in Statkraft's magazine People & Power no. 3/2014