Hardly any other place in Western Norway can offer the contrasting landscapes that characterise Eidfjord. The reason is the ice that ruled the ground approximately 10,000 years ago. When it disappeared, it left landforms of infinitely rich variations ranging from the vast mountain plateau called Hardangervidda, to the steep narrow valleys like Simadalen, Måbødalen, and Hjølmodalen.
Since ancient times Eidfjord has had a close connection with the eastern parts of Norway. The three valleys mentioned above have all served as points of departure for trails crossing the Hardangervidda, it being the largest mountain plateau in Europe. Måbødalen, with its impressive Vøringsfossen waterfall, now features an open-air museum of man made landscapes, which focuses on roads from the year 1500 to the present day.
Reindeers and trappers made the first tracks on the plateau, maybe as early as 8500 years ago. Although Hardangervidda was probably used for animal drives as far back as 1050. Proper paths did not appear till the 17th and18th century. Since the establishment of rural communities around the plateau, cow paths have existed from each little community to the highland pastures. Up on the plateau, these paths often merged into larger tracks, linking the various villages of the western part of the country to the east.
It would appear that the highland summer pastures were more essential to Eidfjord than to other rural communities. The Eidfjord District covers vast, grassy hills, and most farms normally had more then one highland shielding cabins. The ones just up the hill from the farm were used in the spring; mainly for daytime milking. In the summer, the livestock was herded further onto the plateau and cabins were built to house the dairymaids for the summer.
Since the late 19th century tourists have frequented the plateau, so even though the cabins are no longer in use, the cow paths have survived.
The oldest track from Eidfjord going up to the plateau is probably the one that goes through the Simadalen valley. However, the track most frequently used by people crossing the plateau went via the Hjømodalen valley. This track was part of the main trail between the western and eastern parts of Norway. The various tracks in the Måbødalen valley were basically used by the locals when travelling to neighbouring villages or highland pastures. Måbødalen appears to have been uninhabited until 1600. Before that time there was no reasons for people to travel through these inaccessible regions.
Nowadays there are few other Norwegian valleys with as many roads and tracks as Måbødalen. Traces of the ancient tracks can still be seen, and probably the most impressive of them all is the “Staircase” that winds its way up the Måbøberget rock. However, this is a relative “newcomer” as the “Staircase” is not yet 200 years old!
The 19th century brought tourists and scientists to the spectacular Måbødalen valley. In the latter part of the 18th century, bridges were built over the river (using compulsory community labour) providing the valley not only with new pastures, but also with an easily accessible view of the Vøringsfossen waterfall. On the initiative of the Norwegian Tourist Association, a proper tourist path was built between 1870-72. At that time the surfacing materials had to be carried up in rucksacks. The materials for the bridge below the waterfall had to be carried by boat from Granvin to Eidfjord and then by horse to the Eidfjordvatnet Lake. The materials were then floated across the lake to Tveito were they were partly carried and partly dragged along the river to the construction site. The actual costs of construction far exceeded the budget so the tourist path was turned into the first Norwegian toll road to cover the deficit.
The early 20th century brought the motorcar to Eidfjord, and with it came the need for a motor road. In 1916 the road up Måbødalen to Garen was constructed. In 1928 the road reached Haugastøl, but it wasn’t until 1939 that it extended to Geilo and met the road coming up from the east making it possible for motorists to at last drive all the way across the plateau.
The first motor road up the Måbødalen valley was largely built by hand. Neither drilling nor blasting was allowed during construction. The incredible stonewalls that seem to cling to the face of the rock weren’t built without the loss of lives. Most of the road workers came from the nearby villages, and they were all aware of the dangers involved.
The old motor road is now bicycle track. Long gone are the days of shivering feet on brakes and caravans stuck on the bends. However, the landscape seen by today’s motorists while crossing the Hardangervidda plateau does varies little from the landscape seen by the very first motorists who made the trip. In fact, it differs little from the landscape seen by the trappers, farmers, soldiers and officials who, on foot or horseback, passed through these regions many centuries before them.