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Bodø: On the Sherpa trail

The hike to the Keiservarden plateau may not reach the dizzying heights of some Norwegian peaks, but its fascinating backstory and stupendous views more than make up for it

Bodø: On the Sherpa trail
Keiservarden plateau, Norway. Image: Nicola Trup

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I walk through the deserted suburban streets of Bodø, wondering if I’m really heading the right way for a hike. Lamp posts, zebra crossings and neatly kept homes don’t really scream the great outdoors, but I decide to keep faith in my map reading skills.

Eventually the pavement disappears and the road starts to wind steeply upwards. I spot a narrow, rough track leading through the undergrowth off to the left, the direction of the official trailhead. Feeling impatient, I take it, and immediately find myself tiptoeing across streams of ants and batting flies away from my face. Ah, nature.

I first heard about the hike up to Keiservarden from a local crewmember on my Northern Norway cruise who told me it was one of his favourites. And that’s in a region rich in great hill walking. Bodø municipality has 120 peaks that are over 3,000ft, and while the Keiservarden plateau is just 1,273ft, what it lacks in height it makes up for in scenery and stories.

Reaching the end of my off-road diversion, I come across a handmade shelter: branches and foliage lashed together with incongruously blue rope and the remains of a campfire. It’s hard to tell whether someone actually went full Ray Mears overnight — it’s only a short walk from town, after all — or if it was just kids messing around, but it’s a pretty impressive structure. A few metres away is the trailhead car park and I set off, passing a series of lakes where families are sitting around on picnic blankets and the bold are paddling in the water which, though clear, sits on a base of mud.

The Keiserstein trail fluctuates between dirt track and precisely laid stone steps. Reopened in 2016 by Norway’s Queen Sonja, it was rebuilt by a team of Sherpas brought over from Nepal. For the past decade, Sherpas have been using their mountain expertise to improve Norway’s hiking routes. So far they’ve finished 200, and there are several more to come. This July they were awarded the Norwegian Trekking Association’s Mountain Goat of the Year award for ‘getting more people outdoors and on hikes in a nature-friendly manner’.

I climb the Sherpas’ steps up to a mini-plateau and look back in the direction I’ve come from. Beyond the lakes, past the trees and the town, is Vestfjord, where mountain-topped islands such as Landegode rise out of the water.

From here the path gets steeper and more challenging. At points I have to scramble over rocks, and I wonder how the people with young children and slip-on shoes passing me on their descent ever reached the top. When I get there, sweaty and thirsty from the scorching sun I spot a cairn, which may or may not be the same one that gave this place its name back in 1891. When German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II climbed up a mound, it was constructed in his honour.

A wooden gapahuk (a three-sided shelter) stands empty as I join the handful of others already up here, sitting back to the rocks and surveying the scene. From here the glistening fjord stretches as far as the eye can see. The Sherpas took just six months to complete the path up to this spot, and now I understand why — they were as desperate as me to clap their eyes on this view.

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