"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Saturday, 26 March 2011

North Norway Ice: a Guideblog

Nick's put together a Guideblog for ice climbing in the Lyngen area. The idea is to put in one place all the information a climber might need for a trip.

There'll be lots of stuff we haven't covered, so we'd be grateful for any further information or comments.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Back to work

I had mixed feelings about returning to the UK. But spring has arrived, the leaves are coming out on the trees and it was a balmy 15 degrees today. I returned to more than 1300 unread emails at work, but am sustained by what was a truly great trip.

My work colleagues enjoyed the dried reindeer meat.

Here are a few more photos from Norway:

Friday, 18 March 2011

Just Another Morning

From yesterday:

Just Another Morning from Jim on Vimeo.

Stuff we haven't had time for

Hattavarri: two climbs at about 90m, plus a shorter one, all believed unclimbed
Kitdalen: a big icefall off the end of the valley, long-looking walk-in
Spansdalen: large number of icefalls (15-20?)
Kvalvik: remainder of the Seven Sisters
Kafjord: we heard about a canyon further southwest from where we climbed, including a 120m M6/WI5+, 80m WI6 X and WI7- X 170m
Nordkjosbotn: good-looking WI4 above the town
Furuflaten: a series of climbs on an escarpment above the village
Tunnel north of Furuflaten: long WI3-4 above the road tunnel
Between Skarvdalen and Birtavalen: another above a road tunnel
Opposite Lyngspollen on the east side of the fjord: a hard looking climb high up towards the top of the escarpment above the road (the main pillar of which collapsed while we were here).

I'm sure there's lots more. Someone with skis and a sense of adventure could probably find lots of virgin ice, too.

Last climb

We chose one of the Seven Sisters of Kvalvik as our last climb. It was, as usual, steeper than it looked. I led the first pitch, Nick the second. Nick had to weave about to find good ice. Even that kept fracturing in great dinner plates, adding interest to the lead.

A good WI4+ 160m, of which 60m was snow-plodding between ice pitches.

After that we drove to he largest town in the area, Nordkjosbotn, 50km south of Skibotn, to get cash to pay Stein-Are's dad for the cabin. We had coffee and cake in the town and picked up a few beers at the big Coop supermarket for our last evening.

It's been a superb trip. For the first couple of days we were a bit concerned that we wouldn't find enough ice at our grade but after some scouting and some advice from Kjetil and Aadne we found a bounty of very good climbing, more than enough in the area around Skibotn for our 3-week stay.

And we saw no other climbers, not one in 3 weeks!

Thursday, 17 March 2011


We woke early, to hear wind gusting around the cabin. The sun was out but we didn't fancy cold windy belays. Over our now standard breakfast of muesli with yoghurt, banana and raisins we worked through our dwindling list of ice venues would be sheltered from a south-easterly.

In the end we plumped for our original choice, a climb Kjetil had mentioned, and that we'd seen in a valley west of the road at Furuflaten.

By 09:30 we were at the base of the icefall, which was out of the wind. It looked to be a fairly short and easy climb but by now we'd learned that appearances can be deceptive up here. Part of the fun of there being no guidebook. As we were gearing up Nick remarked that "if it wasn't for foreshortening no-one would climb anything."

I led the first pitch. About halfway up the icefall I was nearing the end of the 60m ropes, so belayed and brought Nick up.

Nick led on, sending ice whizzing down. I didn't manage to dodge all the incoming fire and, for the 2nd time this trip, took a small piece of ice on the bridge of my nose.

The 2nd pitch was steeper than it had looked, as well as longer. The climb is a good, 110m WI4.

There were white horses on the waves in the fjord as we drove back to the cabin.

Stein-Are's dad came round after we got back. He's given us the key to the sauna and said to fire up the sauna's wood-burner today and tomorrow too if we like. The sauna is heating now.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Best day of the trip so far

Here's a video of yesterday's goings-on.

Hattavarri Prime from Jim on Vimeo.

The iceman sleepeth

All sorts of rationalisation has been going on as to why we aren't climbing today. "It's warmed up, tomorrow will be colder". "We need to conserve energy for the big one tomorrow" etc. Truth be told, we're wasted. Nick's gone back to bed.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hattavarri Prime

Aadne emailed to say he thinks no-one's climbed the icefall we did. Nick's first new route! He's named it Hattavarri Prime, after the mountain it's on.

An arctic day high in Tamokdalen

We left the road heading northwest, snowshoes crumping in the snow as we walked up through birch woods for 45 minutes. At one point, as I waited for Nick, what looked like a Marsh tit flew up and sat on a branch five feet away, bold as brass, hoping for tastier food than the lichen or moss it had been taking off the birch trunks.

As we rose above the treeline a wide basin came into view surrounded by mountains. On the northwest side of the basin were 4 fine icefalls. Our approach involved a steep snow traverse high above a frozen lake, scary not so much for avalanche potential but because a mis-step would have led to a steep and very long slide down to the lake. It took 3 hours to reach the base of the climb from the car, most of it on the traverse.
We chose the second climb on the left, the steepest. It turned out to be 90m WI5, the second pitch just off-vertical for 50 metres. Another cracking lead by Nick, and a superb climb.
Thanks Aadne!

Dinner is chicken & pesto pasta with cheese, salami and veg, an easy favourite of this trip.
Nick has just remarked, "my head and heart want to climb tomorrow, but my body isn't willing." Let's see. It was a big day.

New routing?

Today we are going to follow a tip about ice hidden away a couple of kilometres from the road in Tamokdalen. The tip came from Aadne, a friend of Kjetil who lives and climbs locally. Apparently a lot of the ice there has never seen an ice axe. Exciting!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Simpletons climb at Kafjord

We had an "off day" today. We weren't engaged mentally and everything was harder work than it should have been. No disasters though, and in the end Nick led a steep 60m WI5, so all was not lost. The climb is to the left of the first climb of the trip in Kafjord.

Here's a clip from today.

Simpletons at Kafjord from Jim on Vimeo.

The moon's out so we may see the Northern Lights tonight. Toby emailed to say he saw them 3 nights running in Spansdalen!
Red Thai chicken curry for supper.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The cathedral climb

We got up at 05:30 feeling refreshed from our rest day and lots of sleep. The plan was to climb an icefall high on the escarpment by Kvalvik, and we were expecting a long, steep approach. In the event the approach wasn't as tough as expected - we reached the ice in an hour and a half. We could have slept in!
There was evidence of another climbing party before us: snowshoe tracks on the approach and V-threads in the ice. But in 16 days we still haven't seen any other climbers.

The icefall is about 30m wide at its base, tapering with height. The first 2 pitches gave excellent climbing past some strange ice formations:

Here's Nick belayed in an ice cave at the top of the 2nd pitch.

Exiting the cave and climbing up past it was scary. The ice was chandeliered and so didn't offer Nick any icescrew placements for a good few metres. It involved stepping up on small mushroom formations which didn't feel too secure either. It was another impressive lead by Nick. Further up the 3rd pitch Nick's axe broke through to the stream running underneath, which burst out and poured down the ice - and onto me as I followed.

It was another fine climb, a 170m WI4+/WI5. Approaching the top:

Saturday, 12 March 2011

A rest day

We woke up to the news from Japan. Truly terrible.

This morning we both felt a bit jaded after 8 days climbing on the trot and so decided to have a rest day. Not much to report. I cooked bacon and eggs (thanks for the bacon you left, Toby, delicious!) then after breakfast we went back to bed and slept until noon.

Stein-Are popped in for a chat this afternoon. He and his wife are over visiting his dad for the weekend. He fired up the sauna for us, a fine woodburner-heated one. He said it's traditional to swim in the river afterwards, but we copped out and had cold showers instead.

Tonight's dinner was baked salmon with new potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and Lofoten fiskesaus (white fish sauce). We'll be in bed by 21:30: we're planning to climb a big line high on an escarpment across the fjord, and need to be up early.

It's a cold clear night, but still there's no sign of the aurora borealis. Nick said it could been seen from Aberdeen in the last few days. Typical.

Domestic life at Cabin 7

Domestic life at Cabin 7 from Jim on Vimeo.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Gullyvers Reisen

We woke up to a cold, clear and sunny day. The salmon on the porch was still frozen solid (there is no freezer compartment in the fridge so we'd hung it on the washing line).

On the drive north to Kafjord a large bird flew in front of the car. At first we both thought it was a crow but then we saw it was much bigger - it had a 6-8 foot wingspan. It was a sea eagle. It turned its head to look down at us as it flew.

Further along the fjord, fish were being dried on large wooden frames.

We parked at the end of the road at Kafjord and walked in to the foot of the climb we'd run away from last Friday, Gullyvers Reisen, a 130m WI5.

Nick led both pitches. The first had a vertical, almost overhanging section. The second was a long steep climb up the back of a deep cleft. In contrast with the soft, wet ice on yesterday's climb, the ice today was almost like glass - smooth, hard and polished. I kept having to duck as ice dislodged by Nick whizzed down towards me, rebounding alternately off the rock wall to the left and the ice wall to the right.
For the first time this trip we saw evidence of other climbers - cord left in abolokovs by a party asbeiling off. There wasn't an abolokov at the top of the climb though, so Nick put one in:

On the drive back to the cabin the views were stunning. The snow on the mountains across the fjord was blue in shadow except where their tops were picked out in orange by the setting sun, and the sky above was pink. The air was so clear that you could see the mountains tens of miles north at the head of the fjord. There was a feeling of immense space.

Sunshine in Signaldalen

Here's footage of our exploits yesterday:

Signaldalen from Jim on Vimeo.

Thursday, 10 March 2011


Toby, Jody and Earendel left this morning for Spansdalen. We enjoyed having them stay. (Earendel didn't actually stay with us - he camped down by the fjord. Hardy!)

While they were trying to fit all their stuff into Earendel's VW, Nick and I left and drove back to Signaldalen. We parked where the road crosses the river and set off to walk in to what looked like a good steep climb with a long pillar on the north side of the valley. On the approach we had to skirt up the sides of the gully to avoid big holes in the ice full of water from the stream. The sun was out for a change. The only sounds were of running water and our snowshoes breaking through the snow crust as we plodded upward.

I led the first easy pitch up a couple of steps, then waded through deep snow up to the base of the main pillar and belayed. Nick then set off to climb the main event, a slightly off-vertical 30m pillar, as I held the ropes gloveless in the warm sunshine.

A drawback of the warmth and sun was that the pillar was streaming water, and the ice wasn't great for placing ice screws. Nick shouted with relief when eventually he was able to place a good screw. He was drenched by the time he arrived at the belay, and shouted down to advise wearing my waterproof shell when I followed.

From the belay at the top of the pillar I struggled on upwards through waist deep snow until we were on an easy-enough angled slope to put on the snowshoes and bag the ropes. There followed an epic descent through trees, the snowcrust holding our weight sometimes but more often breaking so we sank to our knees or deeper.

Finally we reached a track and a man approached on a skidoo. He was curious as to what we were up to. When Nick told him he said, "that's a little bit crazy".

The Brown Smear

Here's footage of Nick leading, and me following yesterday's first climb.

Brown Smear from Jim on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Brown Smear, and a reccie for ice

The moose hash was very tasty indeed. Moose meat tastes like slightly gamey beef. We had moose and cheese sandwiches too, and Toby made salad on the side. Normally I eat healthily but I'm afraid this was probably the first salad I've ever eaten on a climbing trip.

Today we drove south towards Hatteng and parked by the side of the fjord where we'd seen a yellowy-brown ice pillar. It turned out to be a 32m WI4. Nick despatched it in short order.

We then joined Toby, Jody and Earendel to play on a wide, fat 40m WI3 a few hundred metres south. Climbing equipment manufacturers send Toby samples of their gear to test and review. Here's Toby giving some new ropes a good testing!
It seemed strange being at a crag with other people. One of the striking things about this trip is that we have seen no other climbers at all, not a single one in 10 days of climbing on great ice in fantastic surroundings.

We then decided to explore Kitdalen and Signaldalen valleys, accessed from Hatteng at the south end of the fjord. We found a good-looking multipitch ?WI4 at the end of Kitdalen valley, and so many icefalls in Signaldalen valley that we lost count. Signaldalen is higher and feels remote, with impressive mountains at each end.

The sun came out today and the skies are clear now. We may see the Northern Lights yet.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Melting ice, and moose hash

We woke up later than usual (after 7!) to find that there was no electricity in the cabin. I rang Stein-Are's dad and he popped round, cheerful and smiling as ever, to say he'd sort it out. Luckily Jody found that the kitchen block still had power so we were able to brew tea. Phew.

We drove up to Kafjord again, had a closer look at a couple of promising-looking lines, but didn't fancy the steep walk-in after yesterday's slog, so we drove back towards Skibotn again until we saw a straightforward-looking roadside ice crag.

It was my turn to lead. It turned out to be a 60m WI3 with a steep step to start with. A longer, vertical final step would have made it WI4 but I wimped out and chose an easier line to the side. My confidence isn't there yet.

As I type Jody is cooking Moose hash. He knows someone who hunts, then arranges to have some of the moose meat canned. Moose can weigh 700kg so one of them would fill quite a few tins. He's mixing the meat up with mashed potatoes. It smells good!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Roadside my a***

Toby, Jody and Earendel joined us at the cabin at first light, looking only slightly worn after an epic 17 hour non-stop drive from Helsinki. They're here for 3 nights before heading south to Spansdalen. Nice lads.

After eating our standard muesli/banana breakfast and making our standard cheese and salami sandwiches (we packed our gear last night - yey!), we set off north again to have a look at Gehsteig, a WI5+ graded climb next to a climb called Roadside.

As it turned out, although the climb is visible from the road up on the hillside, getting to it involved a two and a half hour slog uphill through deep snow between boulders and trees. Here's Nick with the end in sight.

Nick then did probably the best leading I've ever seen him do, up a long, sustained vertical section on the first pitch and finishing up a pillar on the second pitch, which boomed as we placed our axes.

Here Nick is (click to see him) towards the top of the first pitch.
After abseiling off in one, the journey back down to the car took only 25 minutes. We arrived tired but satisfied and buzzing after a top day.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Tamokdalen dagger

This morning we scouted north for a WI5 we'd heard about on the internet. We found it about 25km north but the ice looked a good 2 hours walk from the road and we were by then too late for such a long day. We plan to go back tomorrow with an early start.

Instead we drove south to Tamokdalen valley south of Skibotn, where we found some ice crags to the left of the road:

After a short trudge uphill Nick led up to an ice dagger (click on the above photo to enlarge), which he then climbed as I watched agog. A very impressive lead.
When I joined Nick at the top he pointed out I had blood on the bridge of my nose. I must have been hit by ice he'd dislodged on the lead, without noticing.

Here's Nick at the top setting up an abolokov (a V cut into the ice then looped with cord, from which you abseil). We've been doing a lot of abolokov abseils this trip - the trees are small here!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

More "Scottish" than Scotland

Here's short clip from the walk-in this morning. The language isn't for the sensitive:

It doesn't have to be fun to be fun from Jim on Vimeo.

Harder than it looked

Today we revisited the west side of the fjord to look at one of the lines we'd seen on Wednesday. The southern half of the fjord had seen less snow but as we drove north it was deeper on the ground. As we parked more snow started falling, quite heavily. Faced with driving back and sitting around the cabin for another day we put on the snowshoes and walked northwards past our Wednesday climb.

After a slog upwards through deep snow we reached the base of the climb.

I led the first pitch which turned out to be steeper than it had looked, and the ice wasn't great for security of protection. So I gibbered and swore my way up, while Nick tried to keep warm on the belay. At the top the ice gave way to deep snow so I dug a deep snow belay and brought Nick up.

From where we were the rest of the climb looked short and quite easy. Here's Nick wading up to it through deep snow and almost losing the will to carry on:

The final pitch turned out to be 60m in length (it had looked half that) with a hard vertical top section. Here's Nick towards the top.

As we got towards the top the weather cleared, giving us good views across to the fjord.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Snowy day in Kafjord

During our first climb of this trip we'd spotted a promising-looking icefall in a canyon on the north side of the Kafjord valley. Today we decided to have a closer look.
It was snowing gently on the drive up. The forecast was for snow all day, but there hadn't appeared to be snow slope above the icefall, so we weren't too worried about avalanche.

The approach climb up the canyon to the foot of the icefall turned out to be at a good angle for shedding snow, though. Nonetheless we still weren't too concerned as the recent weather hadn't been conducive to layering, and it felt stable under our snowshoes.

It wasn't clear which of two ice lines on the right side of the canyon we should take. We decided to try the lower one and Nick set off on the lead. Almost as soon as he'd started climbing it began snowing very heavily. Together with the spindrift blown off by gusts of wind the conditions were becoming truly "Scottish". Nick had to contend with a good bout of Hot Aches as blood started to circulate in his cold hands. After 45 minutes of trying to see Nick through the snow, quite a lot of freshly fallen snow slid past me down the canyon. The game was now off. Nick abseiled down, and we ran away. Again.

A good 6 inches of snow had fallen during our time in the canyon, and by the time we reached its mouth, we found ourselves in Narnia. Magical.
On reaching the car a half hour later there were ten inches of snow on its roof.

That should have been the end of this blog post. It isn't because on the way back to the main road I managed to drive off the road into 12 inches snow. I tried to reverse out but the wheels just spun. Nick applied the shovel but that didn't work either. Just as we were scratching our heads, along came a tractor. We flagged it down and the kind Norwegian driver attached a chain and dragged the car out in a jiffy. Nick videoed the scene before handing me the camera saying, kindly, "that has to go on the blog."

On the drive home I said "Well, at least since I'm doing the blogging I can give the incident some spin", I said. Nick said, "You'll have difficulty spinning that."

He's right too. In the video you can clearly see the red roadside marker pole that I missed before driving off the road.

Kafjord 2nd visit from Jim on Vimeo.

Game on

Nick cooked fajitas last night. They were surprisingly good*. Chicken, of course.

Woke up this morning to find that it's still snowing gently but the wind has dropped. The plan is to return to Kafjord to search for a WI5 we saw in a report on the Internet. If we find it we'll need to look hard at the snow conditions above the climb and on the approach.

*I meant: surprising, given the paucity of Mexican ingredients. Despite spending 3 weeks with Nick in Canada, and a week in Spain, I'm still not sure how good a cook he is.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Running away

We woke up to find it snowing this morning, with wind moaning in the chimney flue. We decided to have a "wee look" anyway, so drove back round the head of the fjord and north towards Lyngseidet. We parked, watched the snow swirling around for 5 minutes, then wimped out and drove back to the cabin.

Here's Nick choosing his breakfast in Skibotn petrol station. Cake!

I bought some smoked dried reindeer meat as a present for work colleagues. Chocolates are so passé.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Ice south of Lyngseidet

This post will probably be of interest only to climbers. The video below is of some of the ice lines south of Lyngseidet. Most of the climbs are multi-pitch, from WI3 (probably) to WI6 (possibly) but certainly with some WI4s and 5s. A map follows showing where the video was taken.

Ice south of Lyngseidet from Jim on Vimeo.

Roadside ice-cragging

Here's a clip from yesterday. 20km north of Skibotn on the E6.

Roadside cragging Norway 1 March 2011 from Jim on Vimeo.

Chicken fest

When we got back to the cabin I dug the chicken out of the snow. All 2kg of it was intact, untouched by wolverines. I cooked a huge Chicken Jalfezi which we are still struggling to digest. The rest went in the oven and then into the fridge for the next couple of suppers.

There is under-floor heating in the bathroom. This cabin is amazing.

More ice than you can shake a stick at

The forecast was for rain all day, but it was snowing quite heavily as we drove round the head of the fjord then north along the west side of Storfjorden towards Lyngseidet. We stopped for a coffee at Lyngenalp Lodge, then drove back south looking for ice to climb.

By the time we reached Kvalvik the cloud had cleared somewhat, and we spotted what looked like quite a short and easy icefall. A small road took us toward the base of the climb then it was on with the snowshoes for the short approach.

It turned out to be a 65m WI5, much longer and harder than it had looked. [Update: on consideration the climb is probably WI4+]. Here's Nick on the final pitch.

By the time we had reached the top the cloud had lifted giving us great views across the fjord. On the way back we saw several other promising-looking (and a couple of terrifying) icefalls along the escarpment we had climbed and the next one further north.

So we have found upwards of a week's worth of climbing, yippee. And Nick's a happy man now that we've found some harder stuff.

How to descend

Nick demonstrating how to use snowshoes with panache.

Nick's jump from Jim on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Day 3: searching for ice

We hired a very small car.

This morning we set off south-east from Skibotn towards the Finnish border. Kjetil had mentioned climbs in a gorge not far from the E8. After parking the car we first tried to descend to the gorge in just our climbing boots, but sank to our waists in the snow so we went back to the car for the snowshoes.

Once down we walked the length of the gorge along a frozen river. The ice climbs we saw were short and very easy, so we just enjoyed the atmosphere and the scenery. Kjetil had mentioned there are wolverine and lynx in the area. We saw some tracks but had no way of knowing what animal had made them.
Here's Nick crossing the river.

The climb back out of the gorge was a battle: even in showshoes we sank deep in snow and struggled to make headway.

It was lunchtime by the time we arrived back at the car, so we decided to have a look at some roadside ice about 20km north of Skibotn. It turned out to offer good climbing, 25m of off-vertical ice made plastic by the warmer temperatures.