Alone in the Dark

Part II: Lost & Found

“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Click here for Part I of Alone in the Dark

It’s getting lighter now, and the trail is starting to open up. The mountainous landscape around me is as breathtaking as the climb itself. Tree-covered mountains as far as I can see, lakes scattered carelessly throughout. I desperately want to stop and set up my tripod, but the guided groups can’t be far behind, and I’m determined to get there first. It’s easier going here, and I’m moving quickly. Another length of chain separates the trail from a very long drop. It’s heavily adorned with small padlocks, presumably left by passing hikers.

I catch my first glimpse of the Lysefjord. A vast expanse of blue water on a backdrop of dark green trees. A tiny blob of colour in the water. A freight ship. It only makes the fjord seem even bigger and emptier. The only sound here is my footsteps and laboured breathing. I round a corner and there it is: Pulpit Rock. A 25-by-25-metre plateau towering 604 metres above the fjord. It’s 3.40 AM, and there’s no one here. The wind is stronger up here, out in the open, and I’m not walking anymore. I’m happy to have two extra layers to put on, and gloves to shield my hands from the cold metal of the tripod. I fear my photos will not do this place justice, there’s just too much to take in.

I’m still alone here, so I get out the drone, hoping that video will be better able to convey the experience. If a picture says a thousand words, imagine what you can say at 24 fps! I shoot a few quick photos of myself on the famous rock (not big on selfies, but hey, how often am I going to be here?) and then send the drone up higher. There’s a taller cliff just to the right of Pulpit Rock. I fly the drone slowly up and over it, revealing a spectacular view of the Lysefjord beyond it. Beautiful, cinematic footage, probably worthy of narration by Sir David Attenborough. I push the control stick forward gently, easing the drone further over the rugged terrain.

The controller beeps. I look down. Connection lost, the small screen reads. No no no no no! My heart is in my throat. We bought the drone for our trip. A DJI Mavic 2 Pro. It wasn’t cheap. Anne will murder me if I’ve lost it. Why wasn’t there a warning? I’ve had connection issues before, where the controller will beep and tell me the connection is weak, all with plenty of time to get it back in range. It slowly dawns on me. Radio waves don’t travel through mountains. The connection was perfect until it was gone entirely. It should be fine; the Mavic has GPS and will fly back to me automatically if the connection is lost. It won’t though; I switched off the return-to-home function when flying in the woods recently, to prevent it from crashing into trees on the way back. It’s now set to hover in place, just out of reach. The controller won’t stop beeping—a loud and unwavering reminder that I’ve lost our drone. The first guided group is starting to trickle in, their long and exhausting hike up rewarded not by the quiet beauty of the fjord but by the frantic screeching of my failure. I switch off the controller. The DJI app on my phone has a map with a small red arrow indicating the drone’s last known location. It’s not far, but a 604-metre drop into the Lysefjord separates that cliff from mine. There is a way around it, but it’s well off the trail, and I have no idea if I can even get there on foot. The drone is worth more than I make in a few hours, so I might as well see how far I can get.

The trail up to Pulpit Rock branches off before the top, becoming the Cliff Route and the Hill Route. The Cliff Route goes up along the edge of the cliff. Most people go up this way, as it is a bit easier going. The Hill Route veers off to the right about a kilometre before the top. I hadn’t even noticed it in the dark on my way up. It crosses a lot more open ground with broader views and emerges on a cliff just above Pulpit Rock. I might be able to get to the other cliff that way. My heart is still pounding as I hurry past the newly arrived selfie sticks and scramble up the rocks. As I disappear around the corner, a familiar hum suddenly fills the air. Could it be? I fumble to switch the controller back on. Connected.

The drone has an automatic return function for when the battery is low. I don’t think it can be disabled. I forgot all about it in my initial panic. I exhale relieved. My relief is cut short by the shrill, two-tone low battery warning coming from the controller. It wouldn’t usually matter; it has enough battery to make it back to the launch point and auto-land. The rock I launched it from is now filling up though. The last thing I want is my drone knocking someone off the cliff and causing the second accidental death on record for Pulpit Rock. The alarm screams at me. It already makes me nervous when the drone is hovering three metres above a grassy meadow. It’s now hovering well over 600 metres somewhere above a fjord, and I’m flying blind. I push up on the control stick while I race to reconnect my phone. Map update available. Would you like to update now? The urgency of the low battery warning is not lost on me. I choose not to update. The camera view comes back online. I aim the drone in my general direction and start flying it back. Nothing ever looks the same going back, especially from above. I can see it now, a steadily growing grey blob against the early morning sky. The battery warning increases in urgency. I didn’t know it did that. Only a few metres to go now. Landing, the controller notifies me. Not until you’re safely above ground you don’t. I override the low battery auto-land sequence and bring it in. I’m always careful to select a nice flat spot when landing, as the rotors are close to the ground and can easily snag on anything sticking out of the ground. No time for that now. I land it with the finesse of a meteor impact. The front left rotor rattles to a stop on a rock like a wheel of fortune. I’ll probably have to replace it, but everything else looks to be intact. It’s going to be a beautiful day after all.

I pack in the drone. I have two full batteries left, but somehow, I just don’t feel like flying anymore. Besides, there are people all over the rock now, and I know how annoying the sound of a drone can be when it’s not yours. I head back down to the main plateau for a few more pictures and then make my way up to the Hill Route. The view is better from up here, as it includes Pulpit Rock. Two tents are pitched up here, with rocks holding down the ropes. Sunset and sunrise with one hike. We should get rid of more stuff and go tent camping all over Europe. I take my time to find the best angle and dial in my exposure. People down below are taking turns walking up to the edge for their friends to snap a picture. I would have liked to get a picture of Anne or the dogs standing here, but I’ll have to keep that in mind for another trip, with different dogs. Random strangers will do for today. The soft, early morning sun is shining now. A bright red jacket steps up for the winning shot. Outdoor clothing really is handy sometimes. I could stay up here all day. I can’t, though. Checkout time at the campsite is 11:00, and we don’t plan on staying another night.

The hike down should only take me a little over an hour. I take the Hill Route back, as it should have better views of the surrounding areas. The light is as incredible as the views, and an hour has passed before my camera and I make it down the first kilometre. It’s not all the camera’s fault. The Hill Route is not as clearly marked, and I had to backtrack a few times to find the next marker. Not as many open views once I’m back on the main trail, and I’m making good time again. It’s 7:00 now, and the path is getting busier. My long legs and gravity make the return hike almost effortless, and the warm sun has me in a good mood. I greet each hiker I meet cheerfully. They seem less cheerful, for the most part. Very red, though, and very out of breath. Some of them can only manage a grunt in acknowledgement. I make a few more stops along the way for photography.

It’s 7:50 by the time I get back to the parking lot. I push my bike up the initial steep climb, the rest is up to gravity. A 4-km descent back down to the campsite. I don’t have a speedometer, but it feels fast. The cold rush of wind on my face is a welcome relief after the climb from the parking lot. Cars are coming up the road now, carrying hikers to the starting point. It will be well past 10:00 before they get to the top. They have no idea they’ve missed the best part already. I’ve seen pictures of Pulpit Rock later in the day, and it really has very little to do with nature by then. I hope my brakes don’t overheat. The campsite looms up ahead. The dogs don’t even notice me until I’m inside the camper again. Anne is just finished converting our bedroom back into a living room. Plenty of time for breakfast and a shower, and maybe a quick nap before we head off again.

Click here for Part I of Alone in the Dark.

It’s getting lighter now, and the trail is starting to open up. The mountainous landscape around me is as breathtaking as the climb itself. Tree-covered mountains as far as I can see, lakes scattered carelessly throughout. I desperately want to stop and set up my tripod, but the guided groups can’t be far behind, and I’m determined to get there first. It’s easier going here, and I’m moving quickly. Another length of chain separates the trail from a very long drop. It’s heavily adorned with small padlocks, presumably left by passing hikers.

I catch my first glimpse of the Lysefjord. A vast expanse of blue water on a backdrop of dark green trees. A tiny blob of colour in the water. A freight ship. It only makes the fjord seem even bigger and emptier. The only sound here is my footsteps and laboured breathing. I round a corner and there it is: Pulpit Rock. A 25-by-25-metre plateau towering 604 metres above the fjord. It’s 3.40 AM, and there’s no one here. The wind is stronger up here, out in the open, and I’m not walking anymore. I’m happy to have two extra layers to put on, and gloves to shield my hands from the cold metal of the tripod. I fear my photos will not do this place justice, there’s just too much to take in.

I’m still alone here, so I get out the drone, hoping that video will be better able to convey the experience. If a picture says a thousand words, imagine what you can say at 24 fps! I shoot a few quick photos of myself on the famous rock (not big on selfies, but hey, how often am I going to be here?) and then send the drone up higher. There’s a taller cliff just to the right of Pulpit Rock. I fly the drone slowly up and over it, revealing a spectacular view of the Lysefjord beyond it. Beautiful, cinematic footage, probably worthy of narration by Sir David Attenborough. I push the control stick forward gently, easing the drone further over the rugged terrain.

The controller beeps. I look down. Connection lost, the small screen reads. No no no no no! My heart is in my throat. We bought the drone for our trip. A DJI Mavic 2 Pro. It wasn’t cheap. Anne will murder me if I’ve lost it. Why wasn’t there a warning? I’ve had connection issues before, where the controller will beep and tell me the connection is weak, all with plenty of time to get it back in range. It slowly dawns on me. Radio waves don’t travel through mountains. The connection was perfect until it was gone entirely. It should be fine; the Mavic has GPS and will fly back to me automatically if the connection is lost. It won’t though; I switched off the return-to-home function when flying in the woods recently, to prevent it from crashing into trees on the way back. It’s now set to hover in place, just out of reach. The controller won’t stop beeping—a loud and unwavering reminder that I’ve lost our drone. The first guided group is starting to trickle in, their long and exhausting hike up rewarded not by the quiet beauty of the fjord but by the frantic screeching of my failure. I switch off the controller. The DJI app on my phone has a map with a small red arrow indicating the drone’s last known location. It’s not far, but a 604-metre drop into the Lysefjord separates that cliff from mine. There is a way around it, but it’s well off the trail, and I have no idea if I can even get there on foot. The drone is worth more than I make in a few hours, so I might as well see how far I can get.

The trail up to Pulpit Rock branches off before the top, becoming the Cliff Route and the Hill Route. The Cliff Route goes up along the edge of the cliff. Most people go up this way, as it is a bit easier going. The Hill Route veers off to the right about a kilometre before the top. I hadn’t even noticed it in the dark on my way up. It crosses a lot more open ground with broader views and emerges on a cliff just above Pulpit Rock. I might be able to get to the other cliff that way. My heart is still pounding as I hurry past the newly arrived selfie sticks and scramble up the rocks. As I disappear around the corner, a familiar hum suddenly fills the air. Could it be? I fumble to switch the controller back on. Connected.

The drone has an automatic return function for when the battery is low. I don’t think it can be disabled. I forgot all about it in my initial panic. I exhale relieved. My relief is cut short by the shrill, two-tone low battery warning coming from the controller. It wouldn’t usually matter; it has enough battery to make it back to the launch point and auto-land. The rock I launched it from is now filling up though. The last thing I want is my drone knocking someone off the cliff and causing the second accidental death on record for Pulpit Rock. The alarm screams at me. It already makes me nervous when the drone is hovering three metres above a grassy meadow. It’s now hovering well over 600 metres somewhere above a fjord, and I’m flying blind. I push up on the control stick while I race to reconnect my phone. Map update available. Would you like to update now? The urgency of the low battery warning is not lost on me. I choose not to update. The camera view comes back online. I aim the drone in my general direction and start flying it back. Nothing ever looks the same going back, especially from above. I can see it now, a steadily growing grey blob against the early morning sky. The battery warning increases in urgency. I didn’t know it did that. Only a few metres to go now. Landing, the controller notifies me. Not until you’re safely above ground you don’t. I override the low battery auto-land sequence and bring it in. I’m always careful to select a nice flat spot when landing, as the rotors are close to the ground and can easily snag on anything sticking out of the ground. No time for that now. I land it with the finesse of a meteor impact. The front left rotor rattles to a stop on a rock like a wheel of fortune. I’ll probably have to replace it, but everything else looks to be intact. It’s going to be a beautiful day after all.

I pack in the drone. I have two full batteries left, but somehow, I just don’t feel like flying anymore. Besides, there are people all over the rock now, and I know how annoying the sound of a drone can be when it’s not yours. I head back down to the main plateau for a few more pictures and then make my way up to the Hill Route. The view is better from up here, as it includes Pulpit Rock. Two tents are pitched up here, with rocks holding down the ropes. Sunset and sunrise with one hike. We should get rid of more stuff and go tent camping all over Europe. I take my time to find the best angle and dial in my exposure. People down below are taking turns walking up to the edge for their friends to snap a picture. I would have liked to get a picture of Anne or the dogs standing here, but I’ll have to keep that in mind for another trip, with different dogs. Random strangers will do for today. The soft, early morning sun is shining now. A bright red jacket steps up for the winning shot. Outdoor clothing really is handy sometimes. I could stay up here all day. I can’t, though. Checkout time at the campsite is 11:00, and we don’t plan on staying another night.

The hike down should only take me a little over an hour. I take the Hill Route back, as it should have better views of the surrounding areas. The light is as incredible as the views, and an hour has passed before my camera and I make it down the first kilometre. It’s not all the camera’s fault. The Hill Route is not as clearly marked, and I had to backtrack a few times to find the next marker. Not as many open views once I’m back on the main trail, and I’m making good time again. It’s 7:00 now, and the path is getting busier. My long legs and gravity make the return hike almost effortless, and the warm sun has me in a good mood. I greet each hiker I meet cheerfully. They seem less cheerful, for the most part. Very red, though, and very out of breath. Some of them can only manage a grunt in acknowledgement. I make a few more stops along the way for photography.

It’s 7:50 by the time I get back to the parking lot. I push my bike up the initial steep climb, the rest is up to gravity. A 4-km descent back down to the campsite. I don’t have a speedometer, but it feels fast. The cold rush of wind on my face is a welcome relief after the climb from the parking lot. Cars are coming up the road now, carrying hikers to the starting point. It will be well past 10:00 before they get to the top. They have no idea they’ve missed the best part already. I’ve seen pictures of Pulpit Rock later in the day, and it really has very little to do with nature by then. I hope my brakes don’t overheat. The campsite looms up ahead. The dogs don’t even notice me until I’m inside the camper again. Anne is just finished converting our bedroom back into a living room. Plenty of time for breakfast and a shower, and maybe a quick nap before we head off again.

5 Comments

  1. Sinead

    On the edge of my seat… well written 🙂 great to follow your adventures!

    Reply
    • Anne

      Thanks! Good to hear you’re enjoying it 🙂

      Reply
  2. Anita

    Soms is een beetje geluk alles wat je nodig hebt…. Fijn dat het uiteindelijk een mooie tocht was met goede afloop (op die ene rotor na dan misschien). Prachtige foto’s, echt genieten!

    Reply
  3. Marion

    Ik zat bijna hardop mee te leven: “o nee!!” en “Gelukkig, de drone is weer terug!”
    Maar dan verklap ik het eind en Duncan heeft het nog niet gelezen. 😄

    Reply
  4. Peter

    Just catching up on the blogs. This one was well worth the 2-part installment :))

    Reply

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