By Alv Straumstøyl.
The year is 1968. A two-way stream of cars flows into and out of the tunnel mouths, racing eastward and westward. The cars hasten along the wide, asphalt-surfaced road which, like a dark band, winds its way up steep inclines, threads around ridges, crags and hillocks, and straightens out to cross long, gently undulating upland plains and heights. In good conditions it takes less than an hour from Røldal to Haukeligrend, even in winter.
This year, 1968, marked the beginning of a new era when the changing seasons would no longer close the road from east to west over Haukelifjell. Long tunnels through the most exposed sections provided a safe route through the mountains. The old pack road, post road and kings highway Haukelivegen could at last remain open all year round and was now classified as a European Highway.
But what happened previously on this road? Well, thats a long story, stretching back several centuries At Christmas 1155, a procession makes its way westward (north of the mountains) over Haukelifjell. The nobleman Gregorius Dagsson is bound for Etne, to seek protection from Erling Skakke. Around 40 years later, we encounter the chiefs son, Sigurd Erlingsson Skakke, fleeing eastward via the same route. In the door frame of the old stave church at Vinje, he carved a runic inscription stating that King Sverre was in pursuit of him. These two named historical figures can be said to represent all the travellers who crossed the mountains between Telemark and Røldal, on foot or on horseback, over the ages, right back to the days before written records began. Family sagas and folk verse give us an occasional glimpse of times past.
It is a long haul over Haukelifjell, and in the old days it used to be a long days march from Haukeligrend to Røldal. Sometimes the remains of a settlement probably an inn where travellers could stay overnight.
In his book on the old mountain roads of Ryfylke, Johan Veka writes that pilgrims from the east bound for Røldal church used to spend the night there. Pilgrims accounted for many of the travellers crossing the mountains. Røldal church was probably built in the 1370s.
Some time later, someone donated a crucifix to the church, which sweated every year on the feast of St John the Baptist (24 June). The drops of sweat were said to have healing powers. Before and even after the Reformation, mass was celebrated in the church every Midsummer, and pilgrims flocked to the church from far and wide. Legend has it that many of them were sick or crippled and, after daubing themselves with drops from the crucifix, returned home healed.
The pilgrimages continued for centuries after the Reformation, but after 1835 they ceased entirely. As traffic increased and horse-drawn vehicles improved, the old pack roads were rebuilt to take vehicles.
Haukelivegen was no exception. Indeed, the desire for a carriageway over Haukelifjell had been expressed as long ago as 1704, when the Assessor General, J. E. Ernst, submitted an application to the King for such a road to improve mail transport between east and west.
However, another 150 years were to pass before work started. The section of road between Brunkeberg and Gugarden in Haukeli was built in 183743. In 1866, work began to extend the road westward from Gugarden. By 1876, the road had reached the boundary of Bratsberg county (modern Telemark) at Ulevåbotn. From here, the line of route continued over the Dyrskard pass (the highest point on the road, 1,148 metres above sea level), descending to Røldal and Håra, then climbing again over Seljestadfjellet to Odda. In 1889, the road over Haukelifjell was completed, with a carriageway width of 2.5 metres throughout.
Dyrskard, Norways oldest tunnel It soon became apparent that the ascent to Dyrskard from the east was vulnerable to snow and avalanches. As early as 1891, the sum of NOK 14,700 was made available for construction of a short tunnel. Work started straight away, and the tunnel opened in 1900. This was one of the first road tunnels in Norway and is the oldest one still in existence; another tunnel built around the same time in Brattlandsdalen was demolished in the course of road improvements.
The problems did not end there. After construction of the tunnel, large rocks regularly fell on the road where it emerged from the tunnel to begin its descent.
Everyone agreed that this was no place for a road, and it was decided to build a new road on the opposite side of the valley.
Parliament made funding available,the new section of road, 2.1 km in length, opened in 1919 after five years work.
Most modern-day travellers over Haukelifjell rarely stop to consider the history of the road they are following. For anyone with an interest in transport history, Dyrskard is worth a stop. Coming from the east or west, instead of entering the Haukeli tunnel, take the old road towards Dyrskard summit. Following the old road eastward, past the preserved navvies quarters, you will reach the old tunnel and will see the two newer roads beneath you: the E134 in its concrete tunnel and the road built in 1919.
The wintertime closure of the road was a major disadvantage. The mountain weather conditions made it impossible to keep the road passable; indeed, some years it was open for little more than four months.
Heavy snowfall and large snowdrifts, particularly around Dyrskard, called for superhuman efforts on the part of roadworkers.
Some years they were still digging tunnels through the snow for traffic as late as July. A road that was open all year round would bring numerous economic and social benefits to communities in the south of Norway.
The development of extensive hydroelectric schemes on the Tokkevassdraget river system increased the need for a permanently open road, and work finally got under way in Telemark county in autumn 1959. The plan envisaged con-struction of the road in three phases over a period of nine years: Phase 1 all tunnel sections of road (five years); Phase 2 tunnel ventilation and lighting systems (two years); and Phase 3 upgrading and realignment o f those sections of road that were already open in winter (two years). The project was funded by grants from central government and tolls on road users.
The new road scheme ran from Grungebru in Telemark to Seljestad in Hordaland county, a distance of 91 km. To cope with the winter conditions, some sections of road were routed through exposed terrain where the snow would be blown clear, and other sections (14.2 km in total) were built in tunnel.
The road reaches a height of 1,086 metres at Haukelifjell summit, and outside the tunnels some 15 km of road is more than 1,000 metres above sea level. After nine years work, the fine new road over Haukeli was officially opened by Håkon Kyllingmark, Minister of Transport, on 7 September 1968.
In 1968, Highway 10 from Drammen to Haugesund via Kongsberg, Notodden, Haukeli and Skarsmo was designated as a European Highway (originally numbered E76, later E134). Following this increase in status, the name Haukelivegen (The Haukeli Road) was applied to the entire road. For marketing and promotional purposes, this was of great benefit to the tourist industry in the areas served by the road. The rise in the traffic figures testifies to the popularity of the route. In 1969, 138.016 cars crossed Haukelifjell; in 1987, 280.596; in 1992, 368.610; and in 2000, 406.202. All the signs are that the upward trend will continue, as more and more people discover the rich variety of scenery, from fjords to mountains, that can be enjoyed whatever the season.
So much for the history of Haukelivegen.
Back in the present day, our westbound journey starts in Drammen. We shall take each community in turn as we follow the E134 to Haugesund and try to tell you a little about the route. If you would like more information, the local tourist information offices will be happy to help.