THE BERGFALLET ROCK AVALANCHE

In the inner parts of the Hardangerfjord, at the outlet of the Osafjorden tributary fjord, on the Bagnsnes side, a large part of the fjord side has once fallen out.

By Geologist Christer Hoel, M.Sc.
Read more: Rock Avalanches in the Fjords

The fracture zone reaches about 100 meters in height, and the shape of the slide scar taken into account there is reason to believe that the zone extends far below the water surface. The place is called Bergfallet or Støkken.

 

The Osafjorden tributary fjord with its outlet to the main fjord Hardangerfjorden.
The Osafjorden tributary fjord with its outlet to the main fjord Hardangerfjorden.

According to a legend associated with this rock avalanche, a wedding procession was on its way by boat from the Vangsbygda settlement to the church in Ulvik when the avalanche occurred. The wedding procession then passed by on the other side of the fjord. The rock avalanche created such a flood that the wedding boats overturned and all people drowned. The priest took part in the procession, and together with the others he would have been among those killed. The bride was said to have been found in the area which later was called Bruravik, Brides Bay, where the former ferry station of the place now can be found.

The lawyer T. Diesen mentions in his diary from the 1880s that at that time it was said by the local population that it was 100 years since the avalanche occurred. In that case, it should have happened around 1780.
 After all, terms like “a hundred years ago” need to be interpreted somewhat wide. But it is possible that the Bagnsnes rock avalanche occurred in the 17th or 18th centuries. The sources say that there have been times when one has been more exposed in the inner Hardanger to both mountain slides, snow slides and damage floods than in other times. It was particularly bad in the 1720s and 1740s. However, in both the 17th and 18th centuries, there were periodic floods and landslides that led to considerable problems on farms in many places in inner Hardanger. It also seems that the second half of the 18th century was somewhat more quiet in this respect.

We know that the time from the 16th century to the 1750s was a period of lower temperatures and much rainfall, in Norway as well as in other countries in Europe. The period from the 1600s to the 1750s is also called the Little Ice Age, and was a period when the glaciers in Norway grew a lot. The climatic conditions brought with them various slides and floods. It may well be that the block fell as part of this from the place we now know as Bergfallet.

 

Bergfallet at the outlet of the Osafjorden tributary fjord.
Bergfallet at the outlet of the Osafjorden tributary fjord.

 

Along the eastern side of Osafjorden, to the northeast of Bergfallet, the avalanches are located one after another, which the names also refer to: Storaskreo, Vetlaskredo, Kvitanosskreo, Tellskreo, Jutasprangskredo, etc. Thus, Bergfallet is one of several traces of rockfall and avalanches.

In the early 1990s, the University of Bergen carried out seismic surveys in the Hardangerfjord. As part of this, Osafjorden was also investigated. The results show that the block that fell from Bergfallet has penetrated deep into the sediments below the fjord bottom, maybe 70-80 meters. It must have been a noticeable event in several ways. 
Had this incident occurred in our time, one would in addition to one or more tidal waves have noticed a strong shaking on land when the block hit and penetrated the bottom of the fjord. The incident would necessarily have been noticed in seismic measuring stations, such as the Bergen Earthquake Station.

 

Seismic profile from the outer parts of the Osafjorden tributary fjord, showing where the rock fell down.
Seismic profile from the outer parts of the Osafjorden tributary fjord, showing where the rock fell down.

 

It is evident that the block that penetrated the fjord bottom created a crater at least 800 meters in diameter in the SW-NE direction. In order to create this, tremendous forces must have been active, pushing aside sediments under high water pressure. Osafjorden is here 300 meter deep.

If we are to consider whether there is any truth in the legend about the Bergfallet rock avalanche and the consequences of it, then we should include in the evaluation whether there is anything in the written sources that tells about the incident. But as far as this topic is concerned, it seems that we only have oral traditions to adhere to. About which farm in Vangsbygda the bride should have come from, or should marry herself into, nothing is said, nor anything similar about the groom. And there is nothing in the farm history of any of the farms in Vangsbygda that says that anyone associated with a farm in the settlement had perished on the way to the wedding as the legend says.

Legends of a similar kind from other parts of the country also exist. The similarities to the story from the inner Hardanger are clear, and one should also be able to say that having as a significant part of a legend that a couple and their followers were hit by a landslide, drowned or in another way killed on their way to the wedding, that makes a story grandiloquent tragic, such as the story of Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Julie.

References

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