Blåmman is the highest mountain on Kvaløya, a rugged isle north of the small Norwegian city of Tromso inside the Arctic Circle. During the summer months Kvaløya seems beyond the reach of time in its normal sense; the amber midnight sky uncertain as to whether the sun is setting or rising. Camped up in the mountains with no battery left on my mobile and no way to ascertain the time meant that life had a simplicity to it outside of the ordinary. You woke up when you were no longer tired, ate when you were hungry and climbed whenever the weather would allow it.
I was in Norway with Jacob Cook and Dave Macleod who had already been in the mountains for a week by the time I arrived. When I turned up at the camp spot after an easy hitchhike from the airport and a load carry up the hillside, I came across their tents in the clearing mist with Jacob stumbling out of his tent for the first time that day despite it being the afternoon. Dave and Jacob had been aid climbing the wall and setting up fixed ropes in order to work the crux pitches over the previous week. The weather sounded like it had been terrible though and their body clocks were inverted after climbing through late nights and early mornings to make the best use of their time.
We were here to attempt the first free ascent of ‘Disco 2000’, a 400m A2+ climbing the steepest section of the north face of Blåmman. This was Dave’s second visit to the area after making the first free ascent of the neighbouring climb ‘Bongo Bar’ at 8a four years previously and Dave had the impression that this route would make an amazing free climb.
The climbing on the north face of Blåmman and the surrounding area are beginning to become better known to climbers outside of Scandinavia now, and I’m sure in future, the area will become a world class destination for climbers in search of either adventurous winter mountaineering in the Lyngen Alps and Senja or for the fantastic multi pitch granite rock climbing on the weathered granite of Kvaløya. The north face of Blåmman itself is one of the finest granite walls of its size that I’ve climbed on in Europe and without many of the logistical hurdles that the alpine granite throws at you in the central Alps. It’s about a one and a half hour walk from the road and the free climbing starts at around 7b+ in difficulty with lots of potential for new routes and first free ascents of aid lines in the future.
‘Disco 2000’ starts up what was the hardest existing big wall in northern Europe ‘Arctandria’, which was first free climbed in 2005 by Didier Berthod and Giovanni Quircci. After the first couple of pitches of ‘Arctandria’, including its second crux corner pitch, our line made a roof traverse to the left to arrive at the crux pitch which Dave managed to free dubbing it “the changing roof’s pitch” at 8a+. The following pitch tackles an incredible and often wet roof crack – fortunately you can chimney and bridge up most of it, but the final few moves on wet finger locks are tough before a long reach to a gloriously positioned jug on the lip brings you within reach of the belay.
From here we had hopes that the climbing would be significantly easier but the wall had different ideas. After the next pitch spat me off on multiple occasions Jacob took over and after several attempts managed to figure out a sequence through the undercut crack to reach the next belay. Jacob had a sheepish grin on his face for the next pitch which he knew had a big dyno on it. I got into position above to take some video footage and on his third attempt, after taking considerable air time on his first couple, he stuck the hold and continued up to the belay. Unfortunately Dave found an easier way around this dyno and Jacob looked like he was pretty keen to take his peg hammer to the small crimps Dave had found!
It was around midnight by the time we got to the top of pitch 7 and the climbing did look significantly easier above. Unfortunately we could see the weather moving in and free climbing the rest of the route seemed to be hanging in the balance. I decided to head down at this point to increase Dave and Jacob’s chances of beating the rain as they’d freed a lot more of the route than I had. Several hours after my descent the heavy beat of rain began drumming against the tent fabric and with no sign of Dave or Jacob I feared they’d been caught out just beneath the top. When they re-appeared at 4 or 5 in the morning they were soaked through but looked happy – they’d manage to free the rest of the pitches and ‘Disco 2000’ went free! The pitch grades are as follows: 7b, 8a+, 6c+, 8a+, 7c, 7c, 7b+, 7a, 6b, 6b+, 6c, 5+ Unfortunately, the weather and the amount of time we had out here weren’t conducive to a one day free ascent, so that challenge remains for future ascentionists. If you like your granite climbing and are in search of a different climbing destination for next summer then I would strongly recommend Kvaløya and its endless daylight. Flights to Tromso are reasonably priced and the locals are very helpful and friendly, all of which provide the perfect ingredients for a great holiday destination.