Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Climbing in Lofoten

Our days climbing in Lofoten were characterized by long days with beautiful sunsets. Gone was the midnight sun, we were a few weeks too late, but it was more than made up for by the magnificent sunsets.

A local who helped us to jump start Myrtle, our van, told us that last year they had only had one and half weeks of “summer” last year, but we got lucky this year. While the south of Norway had unusually high amounts of rain (even by Norweigen standards) we were enjoying great weather that made us want to jump in the cold lakes to cool off.

The climbing was fun, mostly 3-5 pitches long, and all trad climbing. It was nearly all crack climbing. In the beginning I was a bit of a crack virgin, not comfortable with painfully twisting my feet into the cracks, but by the time we left I was much more comfortable with it. On the plus side, the friction was brilliant on every single route we climbed, and that made climbing a pleasure.

Two of my favourite climbs were bare blueberries – This superb climb takes you up a huge slab split by a crack that changes from a hand crack in the beginning to a finger crack. It’s the sort of route that screams out from the valley “climb me”. And when you get there it doesn’t disappoint, as it is fun and varied climbing.

Another very long day saw attempting a sea to summit ascent of The North Ridge of Vågakallen. This was an alpine climb with all the best stuff, a long walk in, blue berries to eat on the way, a few loose rocks and a couple of huge chimneys one of which finished in a tunnel!. While it was rated just 4+, I felt that the harder pitches were much harder than many 5’s we’d climbed. (Maybe it was just my short legs in the very wide chimney!)

When we were tired and though we’d finished the worst we came to our crux. It was a huge cleft in the rock that spanned the whole ledge and which was too wide to step across. To get across this cleft would definitely require a committed jump. Having declined to jump the horns of the goat (Greig said “We’re climbers not jumpers, but I knew we were just wimps) we searched for another way, but there really isn’t one. We didn’t fancy abseiling down, so in the end we steadied our nerves and prepared to jump. Greig went first and then I followed. It was a moment of careful relaxed concentration and then pure exhilaration! I loved it.

The rest of the trip went pretty well, except for spending half an hour finding the descent route down. And then it was a long way down, so it was getting dark and starting to rain when we finally made it back to Myrtle only to find that the lights were on and our battery was flat! Thankfully we found a friendly local to help us out. Needless to say it was a great day out, but a very long one!

However, all good things must end eventually, and so after about three weeks we decided it was time to move on. We were a little sad to be leaving with so much rock rock left to be explored. The place had become nearly like home, and we loved camping at the place called Paradise. But as always there were more adventures to be had and one final, spectacular, route in the North of Norway was beckoning us further.

More information about the climbing
Lofoten is 100% trad climbing, although there are bolts on some abseils. I recommend that to get the most out of Lofoten, someone in the group should be able to lead 5+ crack climbs on trad gear though there is plenty of opportunity for leading up to 4+ pitches on many of the routes. For complete beginners there is plenty of leading practice on the rocks around Paradise where I loved climbing. I simply found a line that appealed to me and started climbing! We used the book, “Climbing in the magic Islands” to get around.

The routes we climbed:
Piano Handler Lunds Rute (Pianokrakken) A nice warm up.
Bare Blåbaer (Pillaren) Unmissable!.
Apa(Paradiset) Hard and committing.
1910 Ruta (Svolvaergeita) Classic or simply classical? – A polished, squirming up the chimney, and a very committing move without great protection!
Apple Cake Arret (Pianokrakken) If you go up the arete at the start the first pitch will seem much harder.
The Swedish Corner (Paradise) Challenging and easily top roped.
Gollum (Gandalfveggen) Lovely!
Gandalf (Gandalfveggen) Varied and challenging
RapellRuta (Svolvaergeita)
Forsida (Svolvaergeita)
Nice but loose in places. The easy first pitch seemed very commiting in places to me.
Guns n’ Roses (Gandalfveggen) Nice.
Skiloperen (Store FestVågvegg) Watch out for the very last move!
NordRyggen (The North Ridge) Vågakallen - Long but fun.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Lofoten, the magic islands

The boat trip out to Moskenes, Lofoten was a memorable experience. As you near the islands, the mountains can been seen, half hidden in the clouds, rising straight from the sea. They seem to fill every inch of these islands. I wondered whether there really were could be roads on the islands. As we neared the port I turned to Greig and said “Now I can see why you wanted to come here.”

It’s no lie. Lofoten is a magical. The many tourists who come flock here from all over Europe know that, but it is probably the climber who experiences The Lofoten Islands in their most magnificent splendor.

Hanging high on the cliffs the climber sees views which are so captivating that they do not encourage attentive belaying. More than once I was reprimanded by my partner for not providing enough slack, or too much because I was transfixed by the view.

During the day the view is a clear green ocean and orange algae covered rocks. In the evening the horizon disappears and the ocean and sky melt into the same pure white. Yes, if this place was a lot further south and a lot warmer, it would be swarming with tourists. Luckily for tough climbers who don’t mind the cold weather, this place remains a paradise untainted by the crowds.

On days when the climbing had taken its toll on our bodies, or it was raining we hid in the library finishing our latest game or headed to some of the tourist sites. The Viking Museums was pretty interesting but my favorite experience was a story telling session with a woman from the island in a rorbu at the museum of Å.

We sat in the dark as she told us how in the old days before engines, the men would row boats up the coast of Norway and then, when the weather was right, over to the Lofoten Islands. All of this in near darkness in order to fish for the cod which only come to Lofoten between December and April, when it is very, very dark in the North of Norway.

She went on to answer many of the question I had in my head about cod fishing and to sayt much about the history of the Islands. She told us both about the good times when merchants would come up the coast and lean times when the people nearly starved until they eventually asked the King for special permission to trade with Russia.

In the end I gained a huge respect for the people who lived and worked on the Lofoten, which added to my love of their beautiful red rorbus and aesthetically pleasing boats. I also got a chance to try cod liver oil. I don’t care how good that stuff is for you I will never take it! Yuck!

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