Tuesday 16 July 2019

Death at earth's scariest Instagram spot was 'an accident waiting to happen'

Trolltonga tragedy

A summer view of Trolltunga (The Troll's tongue) in Norway. Photo: Deposit.
A summer view of Trolltunga (The Troll's tongue) in Norway. Photo: Deposit.
Hiker on Trolltunga. Photo: Deposit
Kristi Kafcaloudis. Photo: Facebook

Hugh Morris

A student fell to her death last week from Trolltunga, a Norwegian rock formation that owes much its popularity to the rise of selfies and social media.

Kristi Kafcaloudis, 24, was with two friends last Saturday when she is thought to have lost her balance, falling from the rock that juts out 700 metres above Lake Ringedalsvatnet.

Visitors to Trolltunga, or troll’s tongue, often pose for dramatic photos standing close to the edge or dangling their feet over the drop.

The Huffington Post has called it "The Scariest Instagram Spot on Earth."

Kafcaloudis, a Melbourne student, had hiked to the rock at 1,100 metres above sea level before the accident. Her friends attempted to call the emergency services but there is no phone coverage in the area. An alpine rescue team recovered her body the next day.

Milli Kafcaloudis, the mother of Ms Kafcaloudis, who had recently moved to Norway to enrol at the University of Bergen to study music and cultural studies, released a statement to say that her daughter had not been taking a selfie when she fell.

“It was an accident. She was nowhere near the end of the rock – and not taking a selfie,” she said.

Since her death, a Norwegian tour guide has said that the increased popularity of Trolltunga was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Kristi Kafcaloudis. Photo: Facebook
Kristi Kafcaloudis. Photo: Facebook

Thomas Ruud, the owner of Trolltunga Adventures, which runs treks in the region, told the Australian Associated Press that the rock had only become popular relatively recently, thanks to photos shared on social media.

“It has become a huge favourite for travellers around the world and there are a lot of inexperienced people doing the trek – both in physical form and wearing some clothing and shoes you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

“In the last couple of years, people have started to bring tents because they want to see the sunset and sunrise, and people are drinking and going out on the cliff. This is why we have been waiting for something like this to happen.”

He said there had been numerous incidents of tourists needing rescue but this is the first fatality, adding it would be impossible to install safety fences on the rock.

Meabh Ritchie, a writer for The Telegraph, recently visited Trolltunga and said the drop off the rock is “unbelievably sheer”.

“It’s really terrifying watching people walk out and get their photos taken," she said. “Many don't realise that the walk to the rock is a really tough route, taking up to 10 hours up and down, and are taken aback at just how difficult a climb it is.

“I met two Americans who were incredulous about the lack of toilets en route and were calling for a road right to the top. Others were annoyed at the lack of 3G, delaying their Facebook posting.

“Once you reach the top, climbers queued for their chance to take a photo on the spectacular plateau. Despite the wind, and the narrow ledge, groups of people were jumping in the air, sitting with their legs dangling over the edge and, of course - taking selfies.

“When you look at the photos, it looks beautiful and isolated. But just to the left, there's always a queue of people waiting their turn.”

Advice on the Norwegian tourist board’s website contains a warning about tackling the hike without proper equipment or an appropriate level of fitness, but makes no reference to the risks of falling off the rock.

Ms Kafcaloudis's mother's statement offered further details.

“Apparently there were a lot of people on the rock that weekend, and Kristi was waiting about two metres out on the rock to come back to rejoin her two friends who were walking ahead.”

“We have lost a beautiful soul from our lives with the death of our much loved daughter,” the statement read, according to the Sunshine Coast Daily.

“We are only consoled by the fact that Kristi was doing what she loved with her friends and living a life full of adventure and dreams - but we are mortified by the loss of such a talented and lovely young woman with her whole life before her.”

Hiker on Trolltunga. Photo: Deposit
Hiker on Trolltunga. Photo: Deposit

Dag Rune Olsen, the University of Bergen’s rector, told Norwegian TV station NRK, that the death was tragic.

“We are terribly sorry about the tragic outcome of this accident. My thoughts are with the family, the parents and close relatives of the student," he said.

“Many of our students come here because they like being in nature, and they travel in Norway. We think that's good, but there are also risks. Maybe we need to inform our students of these risks to a greater extent than before.”


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