Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Klubbruta on Eidetind. Check out that shadow...
Good things about Lofoten:
1) It's the most ludicrously beautiful place I've ever been to. It's almost impossible to find a direction to look that isn't utterly stunning. Spiky mountains, beautiful clear lakes, clear blue sea everywhere, and rock everywhere else.
2) The rock is perfect. Fine-grained granite which from afar looks blank except for the cracks, but on closer acquaintance is covered in tiny edges and dimples, allowing apparently improbable lines to be climbed at amenable grades.
3) The cracks. Bloody hell. The cracks. Perfect sinker cracks abound; from thin snaking cracks which only just give up a finger-lock every few feet, through incredible parallel hand-cracks that go on forever, to seductively beautiful offwidths (OK, maybe that last one is just me).
4) The gear is amazing. Except for the terrifying bold slabs of doom (and you can see those coming), gear is almost entirely of the on-demand variety.
5) Almost everything is the right side of vertical.
6) The pitches are rarely below 35-40, long. Maximum bang for your buck.
7) Some of the routes go on for ever. Pitch after pitch of brilliant climbing.
8) Norwegians are all super-friendly.
9) They have really nice bread.
10) They also have amazing bizarro caramel cheese.
11) Given how totally ace it is, there's basically nobody else there.
12) Norwegian wildlife >> British wildlife (they have sea eagles and elk and shit).

Bad things about Lofoten:
1) Everything is really expensive. Really, really expensive.
2) Norwegian's can't work car parks at all. Perhaps it's their only form of rebellion against a very punitive legal system, but they don't seem to be happy unless they're parked across at least 2, preferably 3 bays.
3) There are motorhomes everywhere. Boo.
4) Cafes appear not to understand the concept of tea, beyond the wrongness of Earl Grey.
5) Norwegian climbing grades take no account of protection (or lack thereof), which is sometimes a bit unhelpful when you can't see the 8th pitch of your route from the ground and want to know if it's HVS 5b or E3 5b.
5) Erm, that's about it.

So, what did I do in the 2 weeks I was there?...

Day 1:  Flew in to Bodo, via Oslo, picked up our hire car and drove up the coast, our eyes bulging more with each new incredible looking probably unclimbed enormo-crag that we passed (and there were a lot of those). After a few hours we reached Bognes, hopped over the ferry to Skaberget and drove the last few miles to the foot of Stetind. Which looked incredible. And quite snowy.
Stetind. Mmmmm.
Day 2:  After some friendly Swedes confirmed that they had been turned back the day before by snow high on the ridge, we sacked our plans for Sydpillaren (alas) and headed instead for Eidetind, another nearby beautiful mountain, with a few 4/5 pitch routes around HS-HVS. We arrived at the base of the crag just ahead of aforementioned friendly Swedes, and managed to successfully monopolise the route they had come there to climb. Oops. Klubbruta turned out to be a very pleasant 5 pitches to get us into the swing of things though. After bog-hopping our way back to the car we ferried ourselves over to Lodingen and drove along the Lofoten islands to the free campsite by the beach at Kalle. Fully equipped with all of the luxuries a traveller could need (i.e. a tap and a very aromatic toilet) as well as a beautiful view we made ourselves at home.
Our campsite at Kalle
Day 3: After shopping for supplies in Svolvaer we got into the swing of things with the 5 pitch easy classic Pianohandler Lunds Rute on the amusingly named Pianokrakken. Then Si, Claire and I puntered up Applecake Arete, which confusingly went nowhere near any aretes, but did have a nice VS 5a crack at the top. As we packed our stuff away and waited for Julie and Andy to finish climbing we spotted a party climbing an attractive looking buttress on the other side of the fjord which intriguingly wasn't in the guidebook.

Day 4: Claire had cunningly lost her passport in the airport at Bodo, so whilst her and Si went into town to investigate the Police station the rest of us went to the well named Paradiset, which was like a good version of Sennen. We had a pleasant potter around and I won a free quickdraw. Whoop.

Day 5: After yesterday's single pitchings we were keen for something on a slightly larger scale, so we investigated the roadside delights of Gandalf, a 100m high chunk of granitey loveliness covered in cracks glorious cracks. The eponymous Gandalf and Gollum were excellent VSs, and Guns 'n' Roses a very nice HVS with a nice little burly tussle to get established in a crack on the second pitch. Our day was also  enlivened by some mysterious Americans who may or may not have been squaddies shouting things like "Dude, you're facing a groundfall, set some pro. Duuuuuude!", and generally being utterly incompetent.

Day 6: We decided to bite the bullet and join the reputedly eternal queues on Bare Blabaer. We arrived to find a party of 5 climbing on one rope (managing to be both sensible and considerate all at the same time, lovely), and another pair waiting to start, but once we got going things sped up. The route was incredible, with 3 of the best pitches of 4b crack climbing it's possible to imagine. And a bonus in situ no. 10 nut for me. Yay.
Crackgasms on Bare Blabaer
Day 7: The forecast was for rain the following day, so with Si and Claire heading back into Svolvaer for some more passport-related faffery, Julie, Andy and I got up unreasonably early and prepared for battle with Vestpillaren, the mega-classic 12 pitch E2 up the incredible slab of Presten. Conveniently there were 3 crux pitches, which we had split between us with Andy getting the technical crux on pitch 3, Julie getting the sustained (and I thought still bloody hard) groove/crack thing on pitch 7 and me getting the 'Slanting Corner' on pitch 9. After finding the first couple of pitches pretty easy I was feeling confident, and Andy's technical crux was over fairly quickly, but pitch 6 had some hidden challenging delights, and I found pitch 7 hard, and pitch 8 was laybacking (urgh), so I wasn't feeling at my very freshest when my big lead came round. Andy helpfully pointed out that it was the most famous pitch on the most famous route in Norway, which was exactly what I wanted to hear, and I couldn't see any holds for the first 10m or so, but I stuffed my face with lovely gelatinous Mega-Roulette sweets and decided that I would probably aid it when I inevitably fell off.
To my great surprise there were actually a few holds, and none of the moves were too hard, although none of them were that easy either, so when I reached the belay ledge and could take my shoes to liberate my entombed heels I was feeling pretty good about life the universe and everything. Psychologically we all felt like the route was in the bag now, with only easy climbing left, but after 400m of climbing and almost 10 hours on the route, Andy found some bonus amusement on a 5a traverse with his last gear a distant memory and the promised peg nowhere to be seen. Oh how we laughed. Thankfully nobody fell off and we all reached the top and managed to negotiate the scrambly ridge of peril which took us to the descent path. So, my first E2, probably the longest route I've ever climbed, and certainly the best. Not a bad day out really.
Presten in all its glory.

Day 8: Rain. I didn't mind as I needed a rest after 46 pitches and 1500m of climbing in 6 days. We treated ourselves to a shower in Svolvaer and dinner in the climber's cafe in Henningsvaer. I went so far as to buy a beer. At £8 I didn't feel the need for more than one.

Day 9: More rain. A bit annoying, but I was still aching, so it wasn't too bad.

Day 10: More rain. OK, fed up of not climbing. We plumbed new depths of entertainment by wandering round new supermarkets with no intention of buying anything. What fun. It did stop raining for a bit so we went to check out a little sport-climbing crag by the sea, but we didn't climb anything.

Day 11: After more rain overnight we headed for Finnvika, the sport crag by the sea. It was quite pleasant (although maybe I was just delusional after 3 days of not climbing). The crag classic Drommen Om Michaela was actually really rather good, with plenty of secret tiny crimps allowing the route to cover some improbably blank-looking ground. Convinced that the proper crags would now have dried out a bit we relocated back to Gandalf, where Simon and I got on Tromso Ekspressen, which Claire and Andy had recommended. It looked hard from below, but turned out to be fairly steady and pretty low in the grade at E1. Aceness.

Day 12: Having identified the mysterious route we'd seen people climbing on day 3 as Fish Restaurant, a 3 star, 11 pitch VS/HVS with a topo, but no description, in the Rockfax update to the guide, Si, Claire and I were keen for an adventure. We got an adventure. Of the 11 pitches one was a walk, 2 (both my leads) were Gogarthian travails up slightly off-vertical moss and heather, and one involved laybacking up a huge, booming, wafer-thin flake with your only gear behind said flake. Claire got that pitch, the lucky thing. That said the climbing was actually quite nice in places, and the fact that we were just following a dotted line on a topo rather than a proper description made it all feel quite entertaining. Unfortunately the entertainment coefficient took a nose-dive on the descent, which was dismissed as "Scramble down the grassy gully" or something similarly trivial in the guide. A more accurate description would be "Scramble down the gully, not the first or second gullies of precipitous death, but the third gully. The one full of loose boulders, mud and mosquitoes. Make 3 abseils, the first off a collection of scrawny trees, the second of a collection of scrawny trees and the third off a single, very wobbly tree (which you can back up with another wobbly tree) passing the ominous remains of a previous party's rope flayed against the rock. Try not to get too wet or muddy, kill any of your friends by dislodging rocks on their heads, die of blood loss from too many insect bites or break your ankles falling down any holes and for the love of god don't slip and fall".
Claire and the temporary flake of infinite terror
Day 13: Feeling a little battered after the descent of peril Si, Claire and I visited the conventional delights of the Svolvaer goat, whilst Julie and Andy went questing for adventures (and found them) on Trollfestingen. We climbed the very classic 5 pitch VS to the horns, before I nipped up the equally classic 1910 Ruta with Claire whilst Simon sunbathed. On returning to the campsite we discovered that a coach party of 50 or so Czech cyclists had camped in a large circle around our tents, and were hellbent on making as much noise as possible (aided and abetted by a mandolin, a guitar and a trumpet), seeing if they could make the toilets overflow with the combined volume of their effluent and generally being selfish arseholes. So we spent the evening drinking whisky, sitting in the car and thought malevolent thoughts.

Day 14: Si and Claire were broken, so I joined Julie and Andy at Festvag for some classic-ticking. After doing the crux of Lundeklubben, a classic E1, I managed to fall off a wet hold, which was tremendously annoying. But I got straight back on it and didn't fall off this time, and it did leave me with some reasonably good scars for my troubles. Julie then led the slightly soggy, but thoroughly amazing Skier, which was totally unlike every other route we did on Lofoten in that it was steep, but covered in enormo-jugs. We rounded the holiday off on Gaukerisset, which offered one of the best pitches of climbing of the whole trip (and therefore ever). 10m of indifferent climbing led to a tricksy little 5b traverse which gained an incredible flake that led the remaining 30m to the top of the crag. Like Heaven Crack if it was harder and 3 times as long. Brilliant.

Day 15: Time to leave Lofoten. Sad times. Julie and Andy got up early for a quick ascent of Gandalf whilst we lazed around, then we headed into Svolvaer for another shower and to catch the ferry over to Skutvik on the mainland. We stayed at a campsite next to a weird river connecting a lake to the sea, which changed direction in the middle of the night when the tide rose. Most odd.

Day 16: Drove back to Bodo, flew home. Heathrow at 11:30pm was a miserable experience. It was dark for the first time in 2 weeks and it was raining. Boo.

So, to paraphrase Sir Chris Bonnington, Lofoten was totes amazeballs. It might be expensive, but it's sure as hell worth it...

As a slight epilogue, I did get to Froggatt on Sunday for DrDanDanDan's homecoming/leaving again shindig, and wandered my way up Three Pebble Slab without any problems, but that really is barely worth a mention in the context of all the Norwegian awesomeness.