The last month of my time in Norway was quite civilized when compared to the first. I drank wine on cruise ships and slept most nights in a bed. There was even the occasional hot water shower. Tromsø, the home of the most northerly brewery in the world is where I spent most of that last month. Yet another Norwegian city built on an island, Tromsø has been called the outdoor and cultural capital of the north. This year Tromsø’s culture included hosting the Chess Olympics, filling the streets with some of the most decorated board gamers from around the world. The somewhat comical organization of chess players unfolded with dramatic events capturing the attention of the community. Early in the tournament six Burundi players had withdrawn from the tournament and were reported missing (an attempt at asylum was not doubted). Later in the week two male competitors fell dead within hours of each other, one during competition. Although both casualties were ruled natural deaths its not difficult to imagine great chess players as being master conspirators.
As difficult as it was to take my eyes off of the superbowl of chess, it was the island of Kvaløya just west of Tromsø that drew my attention. The area stood out as the prize of my climbing trip to Norway. From the steep clean granite on Blåmann to the flawless cracks and quaint alpine cabin of Hollenderan, Kvaløya must be Scandinavia’s best kept secret.
After several days of sampling classics with my new friend and local Randolph he finally caved to my incessant search for possible new free climbs. Randolph explained a finger crack straight from my dream log causing our friend Carl and I to cancel other plans and have a go. The crack split the cleanest panel of rock on a formation called the ¨Masta¨ and was a thin beauty seemingly designed for free climbing. Within a few days time split between finger destruction and pancake feasts to pass the weather, Carl and I both free’d what we named ¨Loki¨ (8+/13-). The title shared by my dog was congruent with neighboring routes named after mythological characters and holds double meaning considering the amount of ¨hang-dogging¨ required for us to unlock the thin crux section.
Fugloyafestival: a worthy finale
A quick forty-five minute boat ride off the coast of Bodø is a small climbers paradise where granite formations seem to roll straight down into sandy beaches just before giving way to the bright blue waters of the sea. For several years the Bodø climbing club has put together a modest little climbing festival around the idea that Fugloya (¨bird island¨) deserves more attention from climbers. Now every summer a small group of climbers gather to pick away at the abundance of unclimbed rock and celebrate the Norwegian summer. For me it was the ideal excuse to ignore the exhausted voice of my body and get psyched for a three day finale to the trip.
The first day on the island I lucked out and found a climbing partner in the super talented Martin Skaar Olslund. Walking out to catch a boat for the other side of the island Martin described the route potential in the area by telling me that nearly every day he had spent on Fugloya he had climbed a new route. My first day of climbing with Martin was no different.
After a little success together we turned our attention to Hagtind, the largest piece of rock on Fugloya. We planned to climb the ¨festival route¨ and search the virtually untouched right side of the wall for new lines.
On our third and final climbing day we set out for a section of the wall we thought we could be successful on. ¨This should be a proper adventure¨ Martin said as we strolled out of camp with smiles on our faces and eyes on the wall above. From our research through binoculars we were confident the line would go although we knew there would be a high crux through what looked like a perfect finger crack. After four wildly exposed pitches I was giddy to find the prize finger crack meandering up perfect stone just beyond Martin’s hanging belay. It was my turn to lead and it was all excitement up to the point of mantling onto the face and realizing that the crack did not stretch all the way down the face. Pushing on I balanced my way up hoping that the tips of my fingers might fit into the closed seam above. But they didn’t and neither did the thin protection I tried to force in. It was all I could do to warn Martin that my upward progress was momentarily over and hope that one of the three micro cams would find a way to do its job.
The next thing I remember is opening my eyes to realize that the cams had not held and I had come to a painful rest well below Martin and his belay. Assessing the damage, I felt like I had taken a baseball bat to the head and there was blood dripping down my face. Martin’s hand was also covered in blood and had lost a lot of skin from the catch. We were coherent and the belay had held but it was time to take what we still had and retreat from our hopes of completing a new route on the beautiful wall… Spirits were not completely broken however, concussed and bandaged we had a lamb feast and good company to celebrate on that last evening of the festival.
More eye candy from Norway…