Last month I spent a week in the Lofoten Islands, way north of the Arctic Circle and so at this time of year 24 hour sunlight! I was very lucky to be working there on this, my first visit. Thanks Martin Moran! I was paired with a young keen and very strong climber that I’d worked with during a winter course for Moran Mountain. Tom had started climbing over the past couple of years while working full time as a mechanical engineer, he studied engineering while on an apprentice scheme so missed out on the university climbing experience I was very lucky to enjoy, with the time, available climbing partners etc. that went along with this. And what a location I had, Bangor university in North wales! … Anyway back to a short write up of Lofoten in June.
First of all we were going to be sharing transport and accommodation with John Lyall and his client. They were there with more of a mountaineering theme to their trip, and had already spent a week in Lyngen, a Norwegian mountain range in the far North of the country. -To be able to ask John for ideas meant our week was guaranteed to succeed. John has worked in Norway for years and is generally a fountain of knowledge and wisdom -without going overboard with compliments.
So the trip…
Arriving Saturday evening, forecast for the week dry till Wednesday. And unseasonably cold according to anyone familiar with Lofoten in June.
Day 1 Arrived in the early evening in Solvær, in the eastern and most accessible area of the Islands, around 2.5 hours drive from Harstad/ Narvik airport in Evenes. And with the forecast in mind we were dropped off in Svolvær to climb the Svolværgeita (Goat of Svolvær) that evening!
It features the leap of faith between the horns at the summit, this tradition was started back in the 1930’s by a guy called Arne! But now since a rockfall sometime in the winter of 2006/7 the leap is now wider and the landing smaller than it used to be. As we were in a rush that evening and it being super windy on the summit I decided on just a careful abseil, we had enough excitement just climbing the classic 5 pitch Forsida at 5 + or Vs 5a. -Arriving back in Svolvær around 10 pm. The sun still high in the sky!
Day 2 Dropped off by John and Richard to climb at the classic cragging venue near Henningsvær, Gandalf. It was a chilly breezy morning so this crag was chosen for its sunny aspect, and sheltered location a short walk from the road. The crag features multiple 3 star 3-4 pitch routes on perfect granite from vs up to much harder. We were keen to get warmed up for the following day when we hoped to tackle the intimidating 12 pitch classic Vestpillaren route on Preston.
Here at Gandalf we climbed three great routes, all around E1, all top 50’s in the rock fax guide. Tromsø ekspressen Norwegian 6, Gamle Rev 6 and Gun’s and Roses 6- which we thought hat the toughest pitch; a short steep but with excellent crack with jamming and laying away with a nasty ledge to land on if you fell with rope stretch.
Day 3 The last day forecasted not to rain for the week…although we did have a shower the day before which wasn’t forecast…
Preston, just round the corner from Gandalf is the local mega crag, with the classic Vestpillaren route which thought the Rockfax Lofoten guide book is mentioned again and again. All he profiled local climbers choose this route as their favourite must do route for the visitor. It is graded at Norwegian 6 with 12 pitches of climbing, 5 pitches of 6 or 6-, 4 of 5 and a couple of easier stretches. It is sustained in its steepness for almost the whole way and feels huge whilst on it. Views all the way up are amazing, looking out to sea over the western Islands and towards the Sun in the evening. Perfect rock all the way, cracks lichen free and quick to dry -luckily for us- due to its popular status.
We arrived there mid morning, and a party was already started on the second pitch, one of the guys fancy dressed in a pink Tutu! So after waiting a while we gambled on no one else arriving as the weather wasn’t perfect, and headed to Hennisgvær to do the tourist thing to kill some time.
We returning an hour or so later and got started.
Straight away it’s an intimidating wall to start on, the first pitch is graded 5+ and feels like you already are really committed, even though a short way off the ground; damp corner, traverse, steepness, exposure and knowledge that this is a relatively easy pitch on the route, of which there are 11 more to go. At the end of this pitch the bolts marking the belay were round the corner out of the crack, involving a short crimpy traverse, feeling un-reversible and unlikely for the grade. I decided not to go for it and instead belayed in the crack, and after getting settled spotted old bolt holes -the old belay point… I could only imagine that the new bolts round the corner were put there to prevent people descending getting in the way of climbers on their way up the crack. A little happier now that I’d done right, Tom on his way up smoothly.
Pitch 2. grade 6- The big pitch for me, I was beginning to have my worries about my abilities for the later pitches, which are graded a little harder than this one. I reversed a short section, the section connecting a hollow flake with a thin crack, Tom shouting up that I shouldn’t feel like I have to do it. Thanks Tom, a slightly different line to the right, a better handhold; a small crimp swapped for a pocket, another wire, knowing that I had another possible ab point coming up (the first three pitches up to the Storhylla ledge are equipped with bolted chain belays so easy to escape from).
Pitch 3. 6 I’m climbing better now, and / or the angle has just pushed back a little allowing me to relax on the foot holds a little more.
Highlights of the rest of the route….
Pitch 7. 6 Superb in balance groove climbing, good gear all the way and a phenominal semi hanging belay.
Pitch 9. 6 Amazing! Easier angled leaning groove with padding and your shoulder/ hand on the left hand wall, repetitive and quick to climb, great gear, amazing moves, totally the best pitch of the route, I want to write a kiss right here to that pitch! Xxx
Pitch 10. 4+ Rain shower! But this quickly drys with the stiff breeze that’s chilling us for the final pitches.
Pitch 11. 5 Damp scary Traverse for Tom because there’s no fixed peg at the top of the groove anymore, a little broken rock where it could have been. Small wires and cams were useful but not as good as the peg would have been.
10pm ish. And the top!! Amazing views before the clouds and drizzle roll in permanently wetting all the rock for the night. Tom has fun in his Adidas flat shoes on the wet descent, lichenous rocks, earthy path, steep grass.
We didn’t see the guys ahead of us again after our first pitch, they having sped up just where we did on pitch 3. We did see a group of people on the summit of Festvâgtinden which is the Peak above and to the side of the crag, which must have been them and some of their mates perhaps. We went down the short way, down from the col to the SE, as the clouds and Tom’s shoes made everything a little treacherous.
An amazing day, arriving back at our lodge at nearly midnight, John and Richard still up and having also had a good day.
The rest of the week…
It rained heavily the next day and we did very little, reading and resting. The next day, still wet, a little coasteering behind where we were staying at Sandvika, a walk up Fløya in the afternoon -the peak above Svolvær. -With more great views…
The final two days we had a day in strong cold winds having a go at the classic Lundeklubben 6 on Storefestvåg, climbing with wooden fingers. After the first pitch retreating and bouldering for the rest of the day on the Preston boulders and coastline. And finally some cragging at Paradiset in between showers, Tom by this time leading and ready to buy his own rack when he returned.
It was a great week thanks to Tom, John, Richard and Moran Mountain! Hoping to team up with Tom somewhere in the mountains or sea cliffs before the end of the Summer.