An all but perfect ending to the Norwegian summer

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 Early in the tournament six Burundi players had withdrawn from the tournament and were reported missing (an attempt at asylum was not doubted).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.


The steep, clean granite of Blåmann

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.


Moving through the crux on ¨Loki¨

Moving through the crux on ¨Loki¨  Boel Aniansson photo.


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 masses of climbers fresh off the boat.

Climbers fresh off the boat.

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.

Martin moving into the crux of our FA ¨Harmonica¨ (8/12+)

Martin moving into the crux of pitch one on our FA ¨Harmonica¨ (8/12+)

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.

Perfect stone and splitter hands on the ¨Diamond cracks¨ of the ¨Festival route.¨   Bram V

Perfect stone and splitter hands on the ¨Diamond cracks¨ of the ¨Festival route.¨ Bram Vandendriessche photo.

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.

Looking down at martin on his hanging belay below the finger crack.

Looking down at martin on his hanging belay below the finger crack.

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.

¨Hagtind¨ this prize piece of rock holds some bold and steep lines still awaiting ascents.

¨Hagtind¨ this prize piece of rock holds some bold and steep lines still awaiting ascents.



More eye candy from Norway…

Randolph Wallace Rhea contemplating the beauty of the mountains he calls home.

Randolph Wallace Rhea contemplating the beauty of the mountains he calls home.

Randolph and Carl taking lunch outside the climbing hut with ¨Baugen¨ in the background.

Randolph and Carl Granlund taking lunch outside the climbing hut with ¨Baugen¨ in the background.

Martin finding rest on the third pitch of our attempt at a new line on ¨Hagtind¨

Martin finding rest on the third pitch of our attempt at a new line on ¨Hagtind¨


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¨Friluftsliv¨ A Norway update

¨Friluftsliv¨ (translated as ¨free air living¨) is the Norwegian word for a life lived fully by taking advantage of the outdoors and the recreation provided by nature. A lifestyle celebrated fully and involving only tools necessary for outside play. Little more than respect for nature and a sense of adventure is needed to follow the ¨free air life.¨ Living modestly and without boundaries, Friluftsliv might be simply understood by those of us in the states as the ¨dirt-bag life.¨

Here in Lofoten, even the laundry room has a view!

In Lofoten, even the laundry room has a view!

After the Icelandair squabbles our trip to northern Norway has been defined by unbelievably good fortune. The weather has been so uncharacteristic of the far north that only the ¨midnight sun¨ has been a reminder that we are actually in Arctic Norway. A month in Lofoten and only four days of rain might happen once in a lifetime according to locals.

yep its the arctic..

yep still the arctic.. photo by Lassa Glommen


Early on we climbed everyday like it might be our last anticipating the inevitable rainfall that keeps Norway from becoming an extremely popular climbing destination. That is we climbed as much as we could while distraction in the form of ridiculous views demanded most of our attention.


Dana finishing up the world classic ¨Vestpillaren.¨

The sweeping granite walls rise straight out of the sea and provide world class trad climbing with endless opportunity. Temperatures rose and the clouds became less and less the longer we stayed in Lofoten. We quickly ticked off the short list of climbs we were hopeful to sample and began looking for more gems. I was even able to snag a quick redpoint of one of Lofoten’s hardest gear climbs the ¨Minnerisset¨ (¨Memory crack¨).

¨Minnerisset¨ (9- or 13b-ish)

¨Minnerisset¨ (9- or 13b-ish). photo by Lars Martin Solberg

Eventually exhaustion caught up and we were forced to act like we were actually on vacation. Which came quite naturally aside from the heavy cost of beer (roughly $15 a pint).

Every hour is happy hour in northern Norway!

Every hour is happy hour in northern Norway!

Life is good, the rock is dry and the cod are fat (well maybe not the ones I reel in). Its tough to imagine not coming back to this place sometime in my life. For now however its time to move north and follow the slowly setting sun some 200+ miles north of the arctic circle…. in search of more world class rock climbing of course.

I will leave you with a few more from the Lofoten climbing collection.


Captain Jon coming up the four star green camalot pitch of ¨Odin’s bue¨


A foggy midnight bouldering session on the "king fisher.¨ The bouldering here is WORLD CLASS!

A foggy midnight bouldering session on the “king fisher.¨ The bouldering here is WORLD CLASS! photo by Lassa Glommen


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To the Nordland!

Three days after an expected two of travel we have finally made it to northern Norway! Along the way we were given a comical glimpse into the world of Icelandic “city” life by way of a forced stay in the capital city of Reykjavik. According to typical “island life” rules, nothing in Reykjavik seems to get done with any sense of urgency. The Icelandair mechanics decided to stage a strike on the very day we flew with the airline. Frustration set in when we realized a large part of our trips budget would be spent within the first week due to multiple missed flights and poor customer service on behalf of Icelandair. Guest books at our hotel informed that this sort of thing happens often in Reykjavik…. Well at least the beer in Iceland is still reasonably priced.


After a few extra credits on the old charge card we have adopted a bit of our own “Island life” mentality. “No Worries” because we have made it here to our granite paradise north of the arctic circle!




Henningsvaer, Norway

Stay tuned, more on our climbing travels in Norway coming soon!

P.S. Its people like this that make me want to hang out in more airports..



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“Free” Range Buffaloes

Three years ago I was introduced to the South Platte of Colorado with a trip out to climb in the magical Cathedral Spires. The trip began by dropping onto the rural road that follows the west arm of the Platte River. I knew then that this was a special kind of place. The narrow road winds around dilapidated cabins built on boulders of solid rock foundation, and hugs the river mimicking the flow of its every bend. Hillsides rise steeply from the edges of the pair positioned at the base of the narrow valley, and bold granite formations stand like castles at the tops of those hills. Within an hour we were out of the city and parking at the base of a sandy trail scratched into the sediment and leading what seemed to be straight up the hill to the most grand of the castles in the neighborhood – the ever glowing Cynical Pinnacle. Summiting the pinnacle on that day encompassed all that keeps me coming back to my climbing shoes and harness – staggering views, bad-ass crack climbing and a good friend to share it with. After battling a few hard-nosed pitches we spun circles atop our castle taking mental images of one of the most beautiful panoramic scenes in my personal collection.


That first trip to the spires we climbed the ultra classic “Wunch’s dihedral.” Last year, my friend Rob Kepley and I climbed what must be one of the best un-sung finger cracks in the state on the Bishop. A few months ago, I joined a new friend Mike Morin to sample the out of this world slab climbing on the infamous Dome. Classic after classic the Cathedral spires grew to be my favorite retreat on the Front Range.

Mike Morin on the classic last pitch of "Topographical Oceans"

Mike Morin on the classic last pitch of “Topographical Oceans”

Brad Gobright looking out on the "bishop" (left) and the "dome" (right).

Brad Gobright looking out on the “bishop” (left) and the “dome” (right).

Since the first time I thumbed through Jason Haas’s guide to the area I have had my eye on the all-but-forgotten aid climb, “Buffaloes in Space.” In October, I finally made it out to take a closer look at the un- free climbed line on the Cynical Pinnacle – a clean, steep headwall marked by technical crack climbing and laser cut edges. The line fit in with its neighbors perfectly, and turned out to be another ridiculously good rock climb on one of the proudest pieces of rock on the Front Range.

Looking up at the headwall pitch on "buffaloes in Space."

Looking up at the headwall pitch on “buffaloes in Space.”

The following months were spent daydreaming about that hidden gem tucked away from common views on the north side of the pinnacle. Most of my early efforts were spent dangling from a static line working out the technical sequences solo. With a final exam in pathophysiology approaching, progress on the route was slow. Snow started to fall and the climbs shaded nature had me begging for a few warm days. After final exams and the holidays had passed I was given exactly what I asked for – blue skies!


In the end it was a few good friends and the extra energy they brought that made the difference. Two short winter days of attempts with help from Dave Vuono and Joe Mills to stay psyched and some afternoon sun made it happen.  On my second try of that second day it all felt just right and I was able to snag the first free ascent on one of the sweetest pieces of rock I have ever climbed on.

"Buffalos in Space" 13b.

“Buffaloes in Space” 13b.

The free line breaks left away from the original aid seam high on the headwall climbing through endurance testing edges and side pulls (originally an Andy Donson vision).

Thanks for the photos Dave!

Thanks for the photos Dave!

Climbing in the spires has always felt a little more raw than what most of Colorado’s cragging has to offer. “Buffaloes in space” packs all the necessary ingredients to be the “route to do” for those looking for a little extra challenge with all the familiar qualities of a classic Cathedral Spires climb. I wont forget it any time soon.

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