Back then, it was one of the most difficult, most beautiful places to reach anywhere in Norway. To get to Kjeåsen involved a perilous, two-hour climb, using rope ladders and rope bridges across a landscape slickened with ice. There were once as many as 13 children at Kjeåsen, and their daily commute to the school in Simadal was a dangerous four-hour round trip. Access was so difficult that one of the buildings still extant at Kjeåsen took 30 years to build, back at the end of the 19th Century, because supplies had to be carried up the dangerous mountain trail on the backs of the builders.
To have lived there by choice, cut off from the world, must have been a conscious act of escape or of solitude. From where I am, down below, where Kjeåsen is just a name on a road sign, it’s impossible to imagine. In fact, it’s easy to wonder whether Kjeåsen exists at all.
There are many theories about the first people to settle here. “One is that it was a soldier who deserted from the Swedish army,” said Heidi Kvamsdal, a photographer, local historian and Eidfjord native. “Another theory is that the first one tried to escape from the Black Death [in the 14th Century]”. In its aftermath, said Kvamsdal, people abandoned Kjeåsen for more than 150 years. But “we know that there has been a permanent settlement there since early 16th Century.”
News of Kjeåsen first reached a fascination outside the world in the 1950s when the Swedish writer Bror Ekström visited and wrote a book called Folket på Kjeåsen (People of Kjeåsen). The book tells the story of a community farm, unique and tiny, of a world unto itself; of mountain families cut off from the outside world, yet somehow surviving against the elements. It was a story that juxtaposed inaccessibility with miraculous beauty. And their stories of isolation and resilience captured the public’s imagination.