So just as summer appears to be drawing to a close, the long light nights and sunshine are slowly turning into nights at the climbing wall and brown leaves on the pavement, I jetted of to Norway with fellow Plas-Y-Brenin Instructor Lou Beetlestone. Our aim was glorious granite and 22 hours of sunlight a day.
Lofoten is an Archipelago in northern Norway. It sits about 100 miles north of the Arctic circle and experiences the Midnight Sun and Polar Nights, times of the year when the sun never sets, or the sun never rises. In 1994 Lofoten came into the climbing limelight when Ed Webster published the first guide ‘Climbing in the Magic Islands’. The islands have everything to offer the climber. Long multi pitch trad routes (and multi day routes), sport climbing, bouldering, hill walking, mountaineering and some alpine-esque ridges. The island is split into 4 main sections with road bridges between the islands, we spent our time on Austvagoy.
So on the 6th of August our journey began. We flew from Manchester to Oslo and then another flight to Bodo, in northern Norway. We then caught the passenger ferry, the Hurtigbat, to one of Lofoten’s main towns called Solvaer. Two hitches later in the rain with ginormous bags we were settled in the Gandalf Camping, a climbers camp under the popular and easy access cliff of Gandalf, just outside the village of Henningsvar.
We had come to Lofoten with few clothes, a small amount of food, camping kit and plans to hitch between areas. You can hire a car, and stay in cabins, but trying to keep cost down we opted to camp at the islands many free climbing-friendly camp spots. These camp spots often have the basics, a water tap and some flat ground…and even a toilet in Kalle!
We decided our first few days would be close to Henningsvar because of the plentiful roadside crags and it’s short walk from food and gas. It gave us a chance to get to grips with the grading system while ticking some of the Top 50 routes from the Rockfax Lofoten Guide.
Our first 4 days on the island where a frustrating mix of emotions, we were close enough to the rock we could see it drying out but then had our hopes dashed by stormy showers hitting the islands, catching a stinking head cold and trying to dry kit out in the porch of our tent. Between showers and having the sniffles we did manage to visit several crags and get some stunning routes climbed. Gandalf the main cliff is a 5 minute walk from the road and is a mix of popular 3 pitch routes starting at Grade 5, or English VS. Round the corner is the Festvag crags, a mix of 1-4 pitch routes all nestled under the summit of Festvagtinden (541m).
For our next hit we hitched to the Djupfjord Valley, a spectacular bowl surrounded by slabby walls of granite and sharp summits, with a fjord and a freshwater lake nestled in the bottom. The camping here is again within 50m of the road, and right under the popular Pianokrakken Crag, the closest freshwater is a 5 minute walk down the main road. This is host to some amazing rock on Preston, Vagakallen and the famous Bare Blabaer route. The 2 most memorable routes here where Bare Blabaer and the Nordryggen (North Ridge) of Vagakallen. Bare Blabaer is known in Lofoten as being one of the best and most popular multi pitch climbs on the islands. The line sits on a perfect crack up the centre of a huge slab. Running 7 pitches up underneath the summit of Pillaren. The route was everything it was hyped up to be, perfect crack climbing, beautiful views and fantastic sustained rock. Shame about the top pitches being a wet slippery mess, and the wrong path which took us underneath Pillaren adding on nearly an extra hour of steep tree bashing.
The second fantastic route in Djupfjord was the Nordryggen of Vagakallen. A 600m route following an epic ridge line. After fighting our way through more trees and steep gullies (and one horrendous mud pitch onto the ridge) we battled up the ridge for the next 7 hours climbing some fantastic pitches. Memorable ones where huge body swallowing chimneys, perfect boot cracks and the infamous ‘jump-able’ gap. In the guide described as a big step or jump across (like a giant version of Tower Gap) we came across as a 3m wide and 15m deep chasm. We opted for an abseil into the unknown and lucky corner to bring us back onto the ridge, a few more short pitches led to the summit and spectacular panoramic views. An involved and sketchy scramble back down to the lakes (described in the guide as a walk!) lead us back to dinner and our tent. A full 13 hour day and a spectacular, lone route was in the bag.
Our last camp was at the beautiful white sand beaches of Kalle. This is an actual campsite (free), with toilets and water! Although busy at the weekends you can’t beat the location. With Paradiset, Cornflakesveggen and Myggpillaren a 10 minute walk away, you’re in climbing heaven. To venture a mere 20 minutes from your tent brings you into Kallevatnet under the sheer nose of Storpillaren and Vagakallen. It’s host to one of the most revered route on the islands, the Storm Pillar put up by Mike ‘Twid’ Turner and Louise Thomas in 2003, it’s 19 pitches get E5 6a (A3). On the other side of the valley is the easier slabs of Alkoholveggen and the Smakallanryggen Ridge which we attempted near the end of our stay. Although the guidebook told us it was only an hour walk in after 3 hours of bush battling on no path, vertical vegetation and vertical impassable faces we finally found ourselves on top of the ridge after having committed to an awful slippery gully. 4 hours later we decided to take the descent route down Alkoholsveggen rather than carry on another 3 or 4 hours along the slightly scrappy ridge-line and an unknown grass scramble back to camp.
Our boat returning to Bodo was on Wednesday morning, so on Tuesday morning we packed up at Kalle and very successfully hitched back to Svolvear with the aim of climbing the 1910 ruta on the iconic peak of Svolvaergetia or ‘The Goat’. Although getting stuck behind a charming Swedish family out climbing we had a fantastic day. The route is spectacular not just because of the climbing but also it’s situation and views from the summit. Many people used to attempt the jump between the ‘horns’ but since a large chunk fell off making the gap considerably larger and with a smaller landing platform most people now just admire the view.
Lofoten has so many amazing things to go and see other than the climbing. It hosts the densest population of White Tailed Eagles in the world (of which we saw lots!) along with Puffins, Seals, Whales and porpoises, Ringed Ouzels and all manner of Sea Life. Lofoten is also host to the largest underwater reef. The plant life is similar to Britain, we spotted things such as Spotted Bee Orchid and Sundew along with carpets of tasty Bilberries, Crowberries and Cloudberries. Lofoten’s has a rich geological history with the Islands being mainly Granite shaped by the last ice age 20,000 years ago, giving huge U shaped valleys, steep ridges and sharp summits. Then the culture, walking along the main road (the E10) you can’t miss the huge fish drying racks. The views of the Norwegian Red painted houses from the crags and the ‘fish balls’ which we didn’t sample but seemed to be sold everywhere!
Logistically getting to and from and around on Lofoten can be tricky. We spent 48 hours traveling each way (not including the 6 hour car journey from Devon to Manchester) but once on the islands found it easy to hitch with lovely people. The other climbers are friendly and helpful. There are just enough shops close enough together that you can easily stock up on food, fuel every 3 or 4 days (or hide from the weather). People say Norway is super expensive, we didn’t find it too different from Britain. On the islands food was a bit of premium but it had to come a long way! Gas was 69NOK (£5.50) for a standard bottle, a big loaf of bread was 9NOK (£0.70), cheese was about 100NOK (£7.80) per kilo, salami 33NOK (£2.60) per 250g and large share bags of crisps where 12NOK (£1). Although we didn’t eat any meat as it is expensive we had a fairly repetitive diet, we didn’t find it much more expensive than the UK. We found no problems hitching around with huge bags, though we’d wished we had bought suitcases with wheels as most of the long walks with 30kg on our backs was on tarmac or concrete and would have saved our shoulders!
The Lofoten Islands are defiantly worth a visit, amazing rock and totally brilliant climbing and scenery. I’m glad to have finally made it our there, although the old age problem of just adding more climbs to wish lists means a return visit is defiantly on the cards!