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

Monday, 19 March 2012


Here are a few more photos from the trip:
Descending after the Finnkona fiasco. Back in the UK everything is suddenly Spring-like. While we were away the birds in London seem to have rented megaphones for their dawn chorus. It's a real contrast from the silence of The Frozen North. It's a good thought that Spring's finally coming but part of me misses the hard, cold beauty of Arctic Norway. Nick has done a summary blog.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

North Norway Ice

Nick has updated his North Norway Ice Guideblog, a distillation of 6 weeks' ice climbing adventures in Arctic Norway in 2011 and 2012.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


It was a bit of a trek.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


It's stopped snowing but there's 12"+ on the ground and the forecast is for +5 degrees tomorrow. So we've taken the financial hit and rebooked our flight for tomorrow.

It would have been fine if we'd brought the complete series set of The Wire to watch, but otherwise we'd go barking mad stuck in the cabin for the next 4 days.

Oh well, these things happen.

Still snowing hard

We couldn't even drive up onto to the road at the moment. It's due to ease off soon. Let's hope Tor Erik gets the snow plough out soon.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012


Tor Erik told us that recreational fjord fishing attracts a good proportion of the people who stay in his cabins. The cabins all have barbecues, fish griddles and wall-charts of local salt water fish.

From looking at the wall chart in our cabin, a lot of British names are similar to the Norwegian:

Ål (eel)
Skjell (shell/mollusc)

The plan disintegrates

It was snowing heavily by the time we reached the E6 so we ditched the idea of driving to Sweden and drove to Grov instead. The ice there was either short and uninspiring or very thin so here we are, back at the cabin. 

The photo above was taken on the drive back down Spansdalen. 

Rich and David have bailed out and gone back to Senja. We thought about decamping to Lyngen but we completed all major objectives we could find there last year, and the forecast for Lyngen is no better anyway. 

Springing into action

Not just yet. More tea first.

The plan is to drive to Sweden. If the road is closed we'll have a look at an icefall to the south near Grov.

The last big objective for the trip, Søylafossen, a 4 pitch WI5/6 next to Henrikafossen in Lavangen, may go tomorrow, weather and ice permitting.

A bit busy in the sauna yesterday


Monday, 12 March 2012

Blowing a hoolie

Snow is now flying horizontally with a driving gale. I wouldn't want to be on the hill right now. Lots more snow forecast over the next 24 hours.

The sauna stove is lit.

How the Guide sneered

We seem to suffer from a perennial shortage of cord for use as abseil anchors. Last trip Toby saved the day by kindly giving us his old climbing rope for us to cut up and use. This year we brought 30m of 6mm cord with us for abseils, but after the series of epic retreats we found we were running out by the end of week 2.

Tor Erik had told us there was a gear shop at Sjøvegan so we went to have a look. No joy. So we tried the hardware shop next door, and found this rope.

"Very strong" the store owner said.

Rich, a Mountain Guide, said it reminds him of curtain rope.

We tried...

We headed towards Sweden in search of better weather, but the rain turned to snow as we moved inland, and towards the border we found the road closed because of heavy snow.

So back we came. As we got back to Lavangendalen the weather was improving, but by then we were ready for nothing more than sleep.

Champing at the bit

Wind is driving rain up the fjord. We are somewhat at a loss for a plan. We may drive inland and over the Swedish border to Abisco.

Feeling slightly sorry for Rich Cross and David, who drove down from Senja last night to escape the weather there.

This photo shows the state of the ice at the lakeside climb near Sjøvegan yesterday.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Fuel for climbing

We have settled on cheese and salami as the perfect sandwich filler. They remain tasty in the cold, don't freeze easily, and restore energy like nothing else I know.

We have been averaging 2 each a day, plus a couple of Norwegian High Energy chocolate bars. That means that in this photo Nick is eating his 20th+ cheese and salami sandwich of the trip so far. He doesn't seem to be losing his appetite for them.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Yeti Mark II

On the way back down to the car we were joined by a dog. More wolf than Alaskan Malamut!

Failure once again

We'd thrown off our sloth by the time we'd slogged up the hill to the base of the ice for Rubben (400m WI5+). After the mild temperatures over the last 2 days I'd expected the ice to be wet but the air was cooler higher up and the ice was perfect: dry, and it took our axes easily. Nick led the first grade 3 pitch then I climbed easier ground to the base of a tall grade 4 section. All pleasant climbing during which the clouds parted and the sun lit up the valley. More easy climbing led up to the "main event": a vertical pillar. Nick went up to have a look, but straight away shouted down that it was no go. Fluted ice, quite cruddy, the pillar cracked through completely, and very tenuous moves to gain its front.

Four abseils later we were back at our packs, then bum slides took us most of the way to the valley bottom.

We were back in the cabin in good time for tea and a sauna before I start to prep a Thai green chicken curry.


The thought was to go to Sordalen and climb Rubber today. We are suffering severe motivational difficulties though.

Last night There was a weather warning for much of Norther Norway, for heavy rain/snow early morning, but the weather hasn't materialised. Yet. Oh well, if we are VERY lucky the weather will go pear-shaped on the drive. Then we can turn around and go back to bed.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Bits and pieces

Woke up this morning to find it snowing outside. The sheep at Tor Erik's farm are hunkered down to keep warm.

Tor Erik is the first farmer I have met to have a sauna on his property. The day before yesterday we tried it out. The wood burning stove worked a treat, and after 20 minutes we had to retreat to the relative cool of our cabin and a shower. No plunging into icy lakes for us.

As Nick has already blogged, yesterday was another huge day: over 14 hours between leaving the car and returning to it. The decision to retreat from the ice pillar (towards the top in the photo above) was the right one. Neither of us liked the hollow booming sound it made as Nick tried out his axes on its base. It probably would not have collapsed if Nick had decided to lead it, but "probably" isn't really good enough.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Stuck again

On the way back to the cabin from Sordalen, Nick drove off the road. He had been trying to drive and read the map on my knee at the same time.

I can't afford to be holier than thou about this (much as I might like to). I did the same last trip in heavy snow.

Nick set off walking up the road in search of a farmer with a tractor. He knocked on 3 doors but found no-one home. After about half an hour a passing snow plough stopped and pulled the car back onto the road in a jiffy.

Moose aboot

At the head of Sordalen we saw some young moose. No wonder there are roadside warning signs here. The moose didn't seem to be in any hurry to get off the road, and if you were to hit a full size specimen at any speed you'd be lucky to survive. They are big.

Recce in Sordalen

We got up at 04:00 this morning with a vague plan to climb something in Sordalen, a valley southeast of Setermoen that runs south toward the Swedish border. By the time that we had checked out the valley and decided on Skredbekken (a 700m WI5/6) as an objective it was too late to start. So the plan is now to get up tomorrow morning at 01:30 to give us the chance to do the approach and first easy pitches in the dark.

This is going to be a massive day, in a par with Polar Circus or even longer. We are going to spend the rest of day resting, eating and drinking lots before bed at 18:00.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

By the lake

As Nick has blogged (http://nickonice.blogspot.com/2012/03/another-day-another-retreat.html?m=1) we failed to complete another climb today. But this time the walk in was short at least.

Walking across the frozen lake I heard a creaking sound and stopped dead, only to realise it was my backpack creaking, not the ice.

Shortly afterwards we saw the tracks of a large animal crossing the lake. Moose?

The ice on the climb was very poor as Nick says. The conversation as Nick climbed went something like this:

Jim: - How's it looking?
Nick: - Eh?
- Scary!
- Can you see somewhere to put an ice screw in?
- No!
- You'd better come down then

And he did. Oh well. It was a beautiful place.

Cold blue

It's a beautiful, clear blue day without a breath of wind. Nick is still slumbering. I'm on my fifth cup of tea. I can't say I'm raring to go though, still being a tad weary after yesterday's 12 hour marathon.  

Nick's dressing gown has been on the porch for 2 days. Some insects bit him on Senja, and he got it into his head that they've taken up residence in his dressing gown. So he is keeping it outside, as he put it, to "freeze their ***s off". I told him it's no use, they'll only go into hibernation.

Nick has blogged about yesterday's climb: http://nickonice.blogspot.com/2012/03/henrikfossen-snags.html?m=1

Monday, 5 March 2012

View from Henrikfossen

Our cabin is on the far side of the (Lavangen) fjord.

Before and after

Here's what our cabin looked like on arrival, and now. The cabin owner Tor Erik did say we could use the sauna as a dryng room but it takes about an hour to heat and we're just too tired to stay up that long.

We've had another epic day, this time on Henrikfossen, a 6 pitch (normally 6 pitch anyway!) grade 4/5, 10 minutes from the cabin. Nick's going to blog about it so I won't steal his thunder.

By the time we finally got back to the cabin the temperature was -9 degrees and the Northern Lights were on display.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Staying sane on belays

There is a knack to staying sane on belays. You can be standing there for an hour holding your partner's ropes  while he is absorbed in the climb. You can't switch off completely as your partner is depending on you to catch him if he falls.

Usually you are in a beautiful place, with good views, which helps. In summer you can look down from a seacliff and see a seal watching proceedings from the water.

In winter you have to contend with the cold, and often it's windy and snowing too. I find the trick is to focus on small things, like the blue ice in an ice screw hole, or snow-crystals on an ice bulge. You see the world in new ways if you stand in one place for long enough, and look closely.


We have arrived at Aa-gård just northwest of Tennevol and are drinking Amaretto. Or rather, I am. Nick is "settling". Our wood cabin is called Sjybua and is huge. There is a sauna 15 metres away. The Grandiosa pizza is ready to go. Things are looking good.

Last day on Senja

Nick's blogged about our epic day yesterday: http://nickonice.blogspot.com/2012/03/epic-fail.html?m=1

We've recently woken up from a 10 hour sleep, to find that Yeti (who got back from Sweden yesterday) had torn open the rubbish bag so he could chew up the empty egg boxes inside. I removed the rubbish and took this photo. Butter wouldn't melt.

Thinking back on yesterday it's amazing how quickly the memories of discomfort fade: the epic slog through the snowy pine forest and over snow covered boulders on the beach, the long, cold belays. Already the good parts of the day stand out more: seeing ptarmigan and arctic hare, the view from the snow basin high over the bay as the sun came round the mountain. We wouldn't keep on winter climbing if the memories of it's less comfortable side didn't fade so fast!

Saturday, 3 March 2012


We leave Senja tomorrow for Lavangen, on the mainland. Here are a few things that struck me and I jotted down while we've been here:

Peaks shaped like great broken teeth guarding the entrance to Ersfjord 
Lithuanian generosity
An eagle standing on the road, clutching a fish, head in profile watching our approach 
White houses in the snow, welcoming lights in all the windows 
The smell of fish around Senjahopen harbour
The sky bruised with snow clouds over a gunmetal sea
A seal watching us from the middle of a fjord
The green glow of Aurora Borealis over Mefjordvær village 
Walking on seaweed-covered boulders, in snowshoes

Friday, 2 March 2012

Trolls and pizza

It is still above zero today but only just. Nick and I drove southwest to Gryllefjord to scope out some ice lines we'd seen on the Senya Lodge website. On the way, at Senjatrollet, we came across one of the strangest sights we'd ever seen: the largest troll in Norway, weighing in at 125 tons.

The climbs did not inspire so we continued to the end of the road at Torsken before turning round and driving back for coffee at the ICA shop in Senjahopen. On the way, we developed a plan for tomorrow: to have a look (at least) at a WI6 on Finnkona. It will be a very long day whatever happens - which was excuse enough for us to buy the biggest pizza I've ever seen for us to eat when we get back worn out tomorrow night.

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the Grandiosa pizza, weighing in at 1.2kg.

The forecast for tomorrow is perfect for a big day out: -1 degrees, gentle breeze and no precipitation. But we've learned already that the weather here is fickle and there's a fair chance that we will wake up at 4am tomorrow to a howling blizzard. If so we will go back to sleep.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


The Senja forecast was for more warm temperatures and rain, so we decided to drive to the mainland. Bent told us about 5 icefalls in a river gorge in Iselvdalen south of Bardufuss, and the plan was hatched. 

Rich and Jim climbed an ice pillar while Nick led the 2 pitches of the longer WI5 to the left. It was a good climb, if wet. 

On the way back we saw fresh moose tracks and spoor. 

Yeti again

Last photo of Yeti - he's gone to Sweden with Bent. 

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Yeti again


Last night Nick, Bent and I had a couple of glasses of wine at Senja Lodge before Rich and Jim arrived at 9pm, wired from the drive from Tromso. So it seemed a good idea to break out the Jameson and Amaretto. We went to bed at midnight after a couple too many and didn't wake up until 9.  

Another day above zero degrees. We drove via Senjahopen and through the tunnel to Ersfjord. The pillar we had spotted up on the right after the tunnel seemed a bit scary in the warm temperatures so we parked the car across the fjord And walked in our snowshoes up to what looked to be a short and quite easy climb. As always it proved both longer and harder than it looked (120m, first pitch WI3, the second a streaming WI4+). A good climb. 

Tuesday, 28 February 2012


We've moved into Senja Lodge across the road from the Brygge. (We had been due to move straight in when we arrived on Saturday evening but Bent the Lodge owner was still decorating it). Anyway Bent has an Alaskan Malamut called Yeti.  


The weather is truly minging this morning (not, as Nick so nicely put it, mingeing
- I thought it best to correct him in case he says it again in polite company). Proper Scottish mingin: sleet and high winds. So we are sitting in our room in the Mefjord Brygge drinking tea. 

While Nick was looking despondently out of the window earlier he saw a large otter loping along the main street of the village. It must have been the same animal that left the tracks I saw yesterday. 

Here are some old Norse words we've come across:

Vær - fishing village
Botn - bottom, lowest end, innermost part of a landform such as a valley or fjord
Brygge - wharf, quay
Fisk - fish

Monday, 27 February 2012


Nick is blogging too: http://nickonice.blogspot.com/ 

What a fun pair we are. 

Knee report

This is what my knee looked like 2 weeks ago after I pulled a lump of chalk onto it at the cliffs at Saltdean. It has been slow to mend. I was on crutches for the first week and  swelling, discomfort and swelling continued into the middle of last week. 

None of that mattered much EXCEPT (as I today confessed to Nick) I had been thinking my injury would scupper the trip. 

But my knee stood up well to the climb today and hasn't suffered any ill effects. Tremendous relief!

Tunnel Cuddling

After a breakfast of green tea and porridge we drove south along Mefjord past Senjahopen. On the way, a sea eagle dropped down onto the road ahead then flew away. Turning the bend toward where it had landed another eagle was standing in tthe road clutching a fish. It turned its head to look at us as we approached, before spreading its wings and flapping lazily away. The first eagle must have been trying to steal the fish. 

We parked and walked along the road to the base of a 100m climb, 3m from the road by the entrance to a tunnel. The first pitch was WI3/4 the second probably hard 4. Both of us had hotaches at the first belay, in my case nowhere near as bad as the worst I've had but enough to bring on nausea as my hands thrummed with new blood. Later as I stood belaying Nick, with heavy spindrift whirling around and up into my face I wondered "why do we do this?". I later learned Nick was thinking something similar at the uncomfortable top belay as he brought me up. But a lot of the climbing was enjoyable, despite our slight rustiness, and the memory of discomfort always seems to fade fast. 

As we got back to our bags after the abseil, another sea eagle soared low over the fjord. 

(The climb is called Tunnel Cuddling, in case you were wondering). 

More about fish

Last night I cooked the two cod steaks in Norwegian fish sauce (Lofoten Fiskesaus) with pasta and broccoli. It was pretty good though I say it myself. 


This would be a great place to spend Christmas.

Last night I saw some animal tracks running past our front door and ending in a slide down a slipway to the sea. Sea-otter?!


On Saturday night our Lithuanian friend (who seems to subsist on protein shakes and fish) spent a couple of hours heading and gutting this plate of Capelin. Last night he fried and ate them with the result that the kitchen, which has a not wholly unpleasant background smell of fish anyway, smells stronger than usual this morning.