Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lofoten, part 1 - Climbing, Days 1-3

In July Ilona and myself spontaneously decided on a trip to Lofoten. Both my trad and my crack climbing skills were pretty much non-existent before that trip, but a sequence of life events made me wanna have a break from usual life, go somewhere far and push myself to try hard. And this trip was perfect for that. I’ll put together the details on how we got here and got around in another post, this one will be all about the routes we’ve done.

We were in Lofoten for six days and while we thought that it’d be reasonable to have one rest day in the middle… we didn’t. And auch! we regretted it later, being absolutely drained and dehydrated on our sixth day of climbing and having to bail in the middle of the route, as none of us felt mentally strong to push up a pretty sweet off-width chimney, after an epic 2.5h approach… but let’s not get ahead things. Let's take it day by day.

[Day 1. Gandalf. Great intro and warm up -->]
[Day 2. Festvåg. Just a little spicier -->]
[Day 3. Presten. BIG day -->]

Gandalf is a usual ‘warm up’ wall and a great intro to Lofoten climbing. 10 minute approach from the road (not even), a dozen of easy but good for the grade routes, 2-3 pitches each, with a comfortable walk down from the top. What else one might need for the start, to get used to placing gear, rehearsing anchor techniques and meeting some new friends from all around the world. The crag gets busy, but since the routes are easy and there are so many of them, we didn’t have to wait long and we climbed four routes, one after another.

Gandalf (N5, N5-, N5-) - we decided to start with the route, which gave the name to the wall. Felt nice and super easy.

Guns’n’roses - (N5, N6-, N6-) - right next to Gandalf, very similar in style and also a cruiser.

Gamle rev (N6, N6) - Imho, the best climb out of all we’ve done on the wall. The first pitch is a superb hand crack and it felt entertaining to climb it. But it was also my first proper crack climb on that trip, so I might have just gotten too excited.

Tromso ekspressen (N6, N6, N5) - The first pitch is excellent and much more interesting than the other two! Really cool crack with some physical moves at the start.

Second day we woke up to the sound of strong wind and pouring rain. Here is this famous moody Lofoten weather, - thought we and went for a ride to the west of the island. We thought of going all the way to the beach from ‘The North of The Sun’ movie, but we didn’t quite make it (here’s what happened instead), which wasn’t a bummer at all: since the rain stopped at around 4 pm, by 4:30 we were at the tent and at 5 we were already off to climb at Festvåg. We climbed till 10 pm: it’s awesome when the sun just never sets.

The approach to Festvåg is pretty straight forward. It’s about 20-25 min steep walk from the parking next to Henningsvaer bridge, you can see the wall from the road. Again, a bunch of quality routes, both easy and intermediate grades, so it gets popular, but there’s always a choice. Initially we wanted to start with Lundeklubben, but there was a team up on it already, so we just traversed to the right to try Fire forsøk. Ilona felt energized and wanted to give N7 a go. 

Fire forsøk (N6-, N5+, N7-) - Ilona led 1st and 3rd pitches, I left the easier 2nd one. It’s a cool route for sure, 1st pitch has some athletic big moves on large flakes. One definitely needs big gear: we used both #3s and even a #4 at one point. The second pitch is easy, but still very pleasant. The last pitch is a finger crack changing into a less-than-vertical hand jams with shitty feet. Ilona had a really great burn on it and onsighted it with only a few struggling shouts. I got totally shut down following it: turned out super hard for me and I kept failing. So when I got to the top I was quite frustrated and convinced that I have no business to climb anything beyond N6 in Lofoten (spoiler: it wasn’t quite true haha). 

Lundeklubben (N6-, N6, N5+) - I led the 1st and the last pitches. After my shut down on Fire forsøk, my mental game wasn’t the strongest. So what’s the best cure for a poor head? Right, to fall on gear! I didn’t quite look at the climb from the bottom and didn’t see, where I’m supposed to traverse right, so went straight up into the corner with no good footholes, placed my favorite piece - black totem - climbed a bit further up and slipped with my foot taking a 3m great wipper. The totem held. I got adrenalin rush and led the rest without any troubles. Overall an excellent route, really enjoyed it.

Day 3. Presten
BIG day. Climbed the classic of the area, Vestpillaren Direct up on Presten.

Vestpillaren Direct (N5+, N6-, N6, N5-, N4, N6-, N6, N5+, N6, N4+) - an absolute must, my favorite route from the whole trip. Ilona led all odd and I led all even pitches. The route is so awesome though, that I really hope next time I’m in Lofoten (and I totally plan to go back!) I’ll try to get up it and lead all the pitches I followed that time.

The guidebook warns that the route gets super crowded and even has a proof photo with several teams up every pitch. So we got worried and decided to get to it ‘eary’... but since ‘early’ in Lofoten is a relative term, we were at the base at 8:30. There was only one team somewhere at the start of pitch 2, so we racked up in a relaxed manner and Ilona jumped on the climb. By the middle of my lead pitch, it started drizzling. And the the rain was on and off for the next three pitches, which made the whole climb to feel more adventurous than otherwise. We also quickly made friends with another team, a Californian couple, who climbed on a single rope but kept dragging the second single up just in case they decide to bail. But even though the weather was shaky and the climb felt committing, they didn’t, so we didn’t either, and all of us ended up having a lot of fun and the wall only to ourselves.

Pitch 7 was the most difficult of all, a steep finger crack, than an engaging layback and than a step to the right on the face with tiny holds. All of it on small gear up to #1. I was glad Ilona led it. Not only it was difficult for me, I was also VERY put off by the strong wind. The rain was gone by then, but the freaking wind, loud and cold and constant, just blew my brain away. I was close to panicking, even though there wasn’t any reason, just spooked by the storm. 

Pitch 8 was mine and I was pretty tired by then, so a committing traverse at the end, which I couldn’t find how to protect, went like in a dream. Since both Californians were already up and cheering from the top that ‘the next hold is good’, I just went for it and got to the anchor without putting any pro. Ilona wasn’t happy following this bit :-) The last pitch is just a grassy walk, did it in the approach shoes, made a few great shots at the top with the views and hiked down quickly. The walk down took us about 1h and a bit, although later we heard from someone that there’s a faster way - we didn’t discover the shortcut. It’s a great hike, just not on an empty stomach with an exhausted mind.

[coming next: Days 4-6 of climbing, Arrival and Getting Around Beta]

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