After years of fears that a nearby mountain may come crashing down, geologists and state highway officials have turned their attention to one of Norway’s most well-known highways. “Trollstigen” now appears far more vulnerable to land-and rockslides than earlier thought.
“The risk of slides exceeds acceptable risk,” according to a new report delivered to the state highway authority Statens vegvesen and obtained by Norwegian Broadasting (NRK). The highway authority thus wants to launch special monitoring of the mountain as soon as possible.
Trollstigen, which evolved from a mountain pass dating back to the 1700s, is full of switchbacks and hairpin turns that allow motorists to drive up and down the steep mountainside between Sunnmøre and Romsdalen. Officially part of Møre og Romsdal’s County Road 63, it climbs from the valley south of Åndalsnes up to what’s now a spectacular vista point that’s part of Norway’s chain of especially scenic “National Tourist” roads designated around the country.
Neighbour to Mannen
Not far away is the unstable mountain known as Mannen, which geologists constantly monitor for fear it will literally crash down to the valley below. Residents of the valley have been routinely evacuated for years, several times just in the past few months.
NRK reported Thursday that now concerns have arisen over Trollstigen. “A boulder breaking loose can pose a much greater danger than we want to have along our network of roads,” Hallgeir Dahle, an engineer and geologist for Statens vegvesen, told NRK.
He’s among the authors of the report that has evaluated the natural dangers in the areas. They used drones to photograph the mountainside, but Dahle noted that”as of today, we have no means of monitoring any movement in the mountain. We’re only using our eyes. That’s why we now want radar surveillance, like the system at Mannen.”
Local politicians are uneasy after reading the report and hope the state will help the county finance surveillance and measures to secure the mountainside. Some work was carried out in 2000 and 2001, using netting along one stretch, but more work is needed, not least to ensure the safety of the thousands of tourists driving up and down the road when it’s open during the summer season. The road set a new traffic record this past summer, with an average of 1,400 vehicles every day.
“We have buses and cars lined up along the road, folks are out taking photos,” Kristin Sørheim, who leads the local transport commission for the Center Party, told NRK. “There could be major and serious consequences if there’s a slide.”
The simplest thing to do would be to close the road, but that would be unpopular with locals and tourists alike. Unusually mild weather allowed the road to open again just this past week, much to the delight of visitors who happened to be in the area and then could enjoy it almost to themselves.
No one wants to scare tourists away from the road, not least Edmund Meyer who runs visitors services at Trollstigen. He’s not surprised by the risks revealed in the new report: “This is an area with frost, rain, snow and melting ice. It’s not surprising that the mountain shifts, and that rocks can loosen, but we have to do something.”