Rob Pizem and friends explore Norway
Five Guys, Granite Bigwalls, Two Weeks and …
By Rob Pizem
Photos by Andrew Burr
Every time that I saw Brian "something", while climbing at Rifle, he was crushing routes, catching something with his son or belaying his wife. Ari was a friend from when we went to the Colorado School of Mines and has always been a longtime inspiration for me. Mike has been a partner through and through and was the brains behind this adventure. Andy, well he just always wants to go on these trips and take incriminating photos and as for me well, I never learned anything from staying home.
Norway was an easy place to say "YES" to when Mike told me that we were going a few months back. We decided that it would be fun to have some of our other good friend’s join us, so we invited those who we knew had the time. It didn’t take much to sell the idea to everyone and it wasn’t long before we nearly collided head on with an Arctic Circle reindeer after only being in our rental van a few minutes. At that moment we knew that the twenty four hours of day light, our extremely motivated crew and lots of rock would all come together for a once in a lifetime trip to the Lofoton Islands of Norway.
It is not often that I can say the first climbing that I have done while in a new country was at 1 am in the morning, but when you go Norway in late June that is what happens. We all had the attitude that if it wasn’t raining that we should be rock climbing. So as we scrambled up above a picturesque ocean side town, along the towering mountains that rose right out of the depths, I knew we were in the right place. Hours of travel had put each of us in a dilated state and we were all surprised to find out that it was after midnight when we began our ascent of a classic tower, the locals called the Goat. It was also quite odd having to wait for the light to be just right at two in the morning.
I am pretty much a lightweight when it comes to a few things and jumping from one summit to another is one of those things. Every one of the hard men in our group did the jump except for one person and that was me. I am really good at finding excuses and satisfying myself about why I shouldn’t do something and I can congratulate myself for doing it again. It was no more than five feet across to a down sloping ledge about the size of a small four person dinner table. Andy kept calling me names, Mike knew I wouldn’t do it and Brian and Ari were reclimbing another route and waiting patiently. In the end, I stood on both summit peaks (the horns of the goat) and I breathed easy as I didn’t injure myself for the rest of the two week trip to Norway. Andy ended up doing it in his hiking shoes and bruising his heals. What was odd was that we weren’t the only people on the route at those late hours. There was a party in front of us and one behind ready to enjoy the idyllic summit over the crystal clear water and lush mountainside.
No one poured over the guidebook more than Brian. He had the routes chosen that we should climb, the directions to them and all the beta that we could wish for. So as we were always elated with the routes that he chose, we eagerly geared up for the Storm Pillar. This was no casual jaunt up twelve hundred foot 5.11 trade routes that we ate up days before, this was us about to enter the "jaws" as Ari and Andy would say.
The forecast looked good for the more than 20 pitches of climbing that we were about to tackle. We were all psyched up for the hour and a half approach when we got started. I didn’t mention the time because after all, it didn’t matter! Anyway, the approach led us into a cirque through some swampy wetlands, cobweb covered boulders, waterfalls and a snowfield or two. It was easy to break a sweat as we had a little extra gear and clothing for the real deal in Lofoton. As Ari and I reached the beginning of the route we noticed that the lower half was covered with running water from the melting snow above. We had to scratch the lower half of the wall off and hope to approach from the right through a high snowfield. Things didn’t work out so well for us as Brian and Ari got shut down a pitch and a half up by wet rock, no gear and thick moss. While those two were bailing Mike and Andy had skirted up the cliff line and found out why the locals told us not to try the route this early in the season, a steep, insecure, melting snow field with bad consequences below for a falling American. I decided that it didn’t look good and was hanging out below working on my Arctic tan. In the end, we opted to not epic and avoid catastrophe by skipping out on the proudest line in the area. The Storm Pillar would have to wait.
The feeling of being cheated and weak lingered on all of our minds and soon the conversations moved toward putting up a new route. One of the problems was that we didn’t know where to try to establish a new route. Another was that none of us brought jugs, fixed lines, cleaning supplies, a bolt kit or anything else required for putting up a new route. So after climbing some shorter routes on the coastline, and few long conversations, we ended up chartering a boat and heading to a deserted island with a known thousand foot wall only a hundred feet from a white sandy beach. We didn’t know what was possible, we didn’t know what the weather was going to do, we didn’t even have a plan other than hope and the knowledge that somebody else had aided the wall years before.
It took Ari and me about an hour and a half of scouting the wall to decide on a line to attempt. There were some obvious lines on the left side that would go, but they were not very elegant. There were a couple possibilities on the far right side of the wall that would require some major cleaning and since all that we had were a couple of nut tools, were weren’t really too excited for that. The center of the wall had some striking possibilities but with only two days before the boat came back and no bolt kit for the long blank sections between crack systems, we decided on a clean looking dihedral that trended up and left on the wall. It looked as if there would be some exciting transitions on arêtes up high to reach parallel crack systems and we just assumed that they would be free climbable.
So after Brian, Andy and I fixed the first three pitches in the middle of the night and after Mike and Ari did some major cleaning in the morning, we were racking up for an attempt of the route by noon the following day. The weather was wonderful and sunny, the man eating mosquitoes were not attacking us and there was a clean finger and hand crack to be climbed, our bellies were full, so we headed up the wall directly over our giant tent. It’s not often that you can just walk up to a bigwall and establish a new line your first try and have it be a pleasure to climb with some exciting committing climbing on it. The stone remained perfect from bottom to top. The gear was bomber and the features appeared just when you needed them. It was a new routing dream come true. In the end, we topped out the wall, left some gear as rappel anchors and were back at the tent with hours to spare before our boat came back to take us to the mainland.
The great thing about being in another country is being able to drive without any worries. As a stupid tourist, U-turns are now legal, driving on the sidewalk the norm and speeding is not even a consideration. Well, for the non drivers that is the truth, but for Mike he makes it his goal to normally do something that we can apologize for later. Mike will truly go out of his way to do almost anything for anyone at anytime, but when it comes to speeding, his foot is really, really heavy. So, as we drove to Norway’s national mountain the Stetind (yes, they really have a national mountain) and he was driving let’s just say way over the limit, we didn’t even think twice about the fact that speeding near towns was strictly forbidden. In the end, he was fortunately only going a few kilometers over when he drove through the speed trap. After a few minutes of trying to play the dumb American reminding the officer that we get warnings for speeding back in the states, he was handed a speeding ticket that was almost five hundred dollars. So much for making good time on the winding coastal roads of mainland Norway for the rest of the trip.
On the rain day that followed, we journeyed to obtain our first shower after nearly two weeks without. We checked out a local mall (lame) and posed in the rain for Andy under stylish road signs. As with all days that you want to be climbing and your not, it was barely bearable. On a side note, every time it did rain on our trip, the next day was totally sunny and the rock was dry. So the next morning we made our normal three hour gourmet breakfast compliments of Brian and were on the trail by midday.
Norway’s national peak was about forty five hundred feet tall and directly out of the ocean fjord. The entirely granite mountain was breathtaking to gaze at unless you were getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes. The hike was wonderfully casual and well groomed, as many hike it to the top. We reached the base of the wall and had to decide where the route actually began. The climbing was varied, steep and slabby, tricky yet easy, ledging and sheer. In a nutshell, it was perfect. What was really cool about climbing such an important mountain was that there were relics all over it. Tens of old bolts, leepers, tat and pins remained from ascents long ago. It is no wonder why they have banned the use of new bolts, they have hundreds of pieces of old junk on the walls already.
Near the top, after crossing a thousand ridge foot traverse, we were greeted with the best views of the whole trip. The sun was in its almost setting phase and the sky was ablaze with the most amazing colors and pastels that I have ever seen. I stared at the horizon and the snow covered surroundings for what felt like an eternity. The ever changing surface of the ocean with its tides and currents captivated me in the fjord below, and knowing that tomorrow was July 4th, and the day that we had to leave added to the power of the moment. Thanks Arcteryx for making this trip possible.