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Blåmman

Sunrise or sunset in Kvaløya? Photo - Calum Muskett

Sunrise or sunset in Kvaløya? Photo – Calum Muskett

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.

Our scenic camp spot beneath the north wall of Blåmman. Photo - Calum Muskett

Our scenic camp spot beneath the north wall of Blåmman. Photo – Calum Muskett

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.

Jacob Cook tackling the crux pitch of 'Arctandria'. Photo - Calum Muskett

Jacob Cook tackling the crux pitch of ‘Arctandria’. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dave free'ing the crux pitch of 'Disco 2000', an amazingly varied pitch. Photo - Calum Muskett

Dave free’ing the crux pitch of ‘Disco 2000’, an amazingly varied pitch. Photo – Calum Muskett


Dave casually chalking up on the lip of the roof of the 'Kalk & Gummi' pitch. Video still - Jacob Cook

Dave casually chalking up on the lip of the roof of the ‘Kalk & Gummi’ pitch. Video still – Jacob Cook

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!

Putting in some effort on the not so easy upper pitches of 'Disco 2000'. Photo - Dave Macleod

Putting in some effort on the not so easy upper pitches of ‘Disco 2000’. Photo – Dave Macleod


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.

View from the wall at midnight. Photo - Calum Muskett

View from the wall at midnight. Photo – Calum Muskett

The Rapid Rab Road Trip to Hoy

Climbers be warned! Photo- Calum Muskett

Climbers be warned! Photo- Calum Muskett

Short of time and short of sleep our final day on Hoy was always going to be a hectic affair. An early start saw Tom and I heading over to a gloomy looking Rora Head to prepare for the lead of our new line. As we abseiled in we could tell that conditions weren’t great. The spray from the waves and the lack of morning sunlight meant a thin film of grease lubricated some of the small holds on the final run out. We both top roped the pitch and brushed the holds as best we could before Ben Winston joined us and it was time to go big or go home.

Tom checking out the line of 'Dan Dare' prior to the first ascent. Photo- Calum Muskett

Tom checking out the line of ‘Dan Dare’ prior to the first ascent. Photo- Calum Muskett

Having travelled all the way up to Hoy there was no real option of backing down. Both Tom and I knew that it would be some time before another opportunity presented itself to return to Hoy so we abseiled down and psyched up, both of us having decided to lead the crux pitch. I headed up first, making the most of the reasonable rests and placing as much gear as possible. The first section of the pitch is quite steady. Reasonable pulls between slightly fragile sandstone ledges lead up to a compact wall of high quality sandstone. Once committed to this wall a confident approach is best suited. A long run out with strenuous climbing follows a line of crimps up to a rest beneath the crux section. From here a series of big pulls on reasonable holds lead to an enigmatic final reach up to a break, miles above the last piece of gear.

On the lead of the crux pitch on the first ascent of 'Dan Dare'. Photo- Ben Winston

On the lead of the crux pitch on the first ascent of ‘Dan Dare’. Photo- Ben Winston

Fortunately the lead went without incident and, having abseiled back down to remove the gear, it was Tom’s turn for the lead. Tom made steady progress up the lower wall before cruising the final crux section to reach the belay a very happy man. Realizing that time was now in short demand, should we want to make the 3 o’clock ferry off Hoy, I frantically seconded the first pitch and prepared immediately to lead us to the top. Having not inspected the top section of the cliff, I was surprised to find another top quality pitch, albeit at a more amenable level, but in keeping with the rest of the route. I topped out just as Ben was rushing back to the van telling us to hurry if we wanted to leave Hoy that day. Tom seconded rapidly and we were soon making a mad dash back to the car in time to reach the ferry a couple of minutes before its departure. ‘Dan Dare’, as we christened the new route, is a fantastic new addition to Hoy with some brilliant and varied climbing on good quality sandstone. We named the route after a terrible joke of Tom’s we were told as we travelled up north and we’ve given the route a grade of E7 6b.

Having caught the three o’clock ferry off Hoy and been inspired after watching Andy Murray win Wimbledon, we travelled back to the mainland and my thoughts returned to some unfinished business from the journey up to Hoy. We’d stopped off at a single pitch coastal venue next to a small hamlet called Mid-Clyth and I’d attempted a new route there on-sight. I was one move away from glory, but having snapped off a small hold and with no gear of worth, I decided to down climb back to the ground and leave the route for another day.

Climbing the Old man of Hoy was another highlight of the trip. Photo- Calum Muskett

Climbing the Old man of Hoy was another highlight of the trip. Photo- Calum Muskett


Abseil descent down the old man of Hoy. Photo- Calum Muskett

Abseil descent down the old man of Hoy. Photo- Calum Muskett

Despite the fact it was now 8.30pm I felt like this was an opportunity I couldn’t waste as we drove through the small hamlet on our journey home. After a quick top rope I made the first ascent of this compellingly bold arête. The sole protection for the route is two skyhooks and the climbing, although never desperate, is difficult enough to warrant the rather worrying grade of E7 6a.

As we cooked ourselves dinner in a picturesque harbor at 11pm that evening. we reflected on a fantastic days’ climbing and a memorable short trip to the far north of Scotland. Thanks to Tom and Ben for such a great trip and to Rab for getting us up there in the first place!

Tom catching the final rays of sunshine after a successful trip to Hoy. Photo- Calum Muskett

Tom catching the final rays of sunshine after a successful trip to Hoy. Photo- Calum Muskett

For those who couldn’t be bothered reading any of the above here’s a video of the trip put together by Ben Winston:

Setesdal Ice Climbing

On the road to Setesdal. Photo- Calum Muskett

On the road to Setesdal. Photo- Calum Muskett

Over New Year I travelled out to the little known ice climbing destination of Setesdal in southern Norway. Brian Davidson gave Andy Turner, Dave Rudkin and I a guided tour of the valley which he’d helped develop and we were impressed with the number and quality of climbed (and un-climbed) multi pitch ice falls, some of which must surely rank amongst the finest in Europe.

The Turnermator romping up some roadside ice. Photo- Calum Muskett

The Turnermator romping up some roadside ice. Photo- Calum Muskett

Unfortunately for us our trip coincided with mild temperatures and the beginning of a thaw which meant that many of our most sought after objectives were in the process of collapsing! It wasn’t all doom and gloom though; there had been so much ice that there was still a lot to go at albeit at a more moderate standard.

After a gentle introduction to Norwegian ice climbing on some roadside icefalls we all headed up to an obvious un-climbed line above the village of Valle near the head of the valley. This turned out to be an awesome multi pitch route of grade IV with amazing views back down the valley.

Climbing a new ice fall above Valle. Photo- Dave Rudkin

Climbing a new ice fall above Valle. Photo- Dave Rudkin

The following day Andy and Brian headed up the valley to attempt an amazing looking un-climbed ice fall appropriately named ‘the Big Drip’ which left Dave and I with the prospect of the most obvious un-climbed ice fall in Setesdal- an impressive large sweeping slab above Valle. Once again this provided much fun and was another classic multi pitch grade IV.

The Turnermator training for the world cup comps. Photo- Calum Muskett

The Turnermator training for the world cup comps. Photo- Calum Muskett

The weather warmed up from there on in and after one last new ice fall there was nothing left to climb but trees and take part in brutal pull up sessions with Andy whose biceps are abnormally large! Despite having had poor luck with the weather we still had a fun trip and Setesdal is an amazing area which should definitely be considered by those looking for a little bit more adventure than the more popular Norwegian ice climbing destination of Rjukan.

Evening light on a frozen lake. Photo- Calum Muskett

Evening light on a frozen lake. Photo- Calum Muskett

Siurana

Siurana. Photo- Calum Muskett

Siurana. Photo- Calum Muskett

The little cliff-top village of Siurana in Spain is surrounded by some of the most famous sport climbs in the world. When Ed Booth got in touch with me to see if I was interested in a last minute trip I jumped at the opportunity, excited about the prospect of some winter sun.

In the week leading up to our trip snow finally arrived in North Wales and I had a few good day’s winter climbing on the high crags as well as a rare snowboard in the mountains above Bethesda. I was really starting to enjoy using my axes again. I didn’t succeed on much but I tried a couple of fun unclimbed lines before the weather warmed up a couple of degrees leaving me with a cold and a low level of climbing fitness for the trip to Spain!

The Turnermator trying a new line up on Clogwyn Du. Verdict: tricky! Photo- Calum Muskett

The Turnermator trying a new line up on Clogwyn Du. Verdict: tricky! Photo- Calum Muskett

I travelled to the airport with James ‘Caff’ Mchaffie, still nursing a heavy hangover incurred from partying two days earlier and we met up with the Booth brothers, Ed and Adam, surely two of the most enthusiastic climbers around. After a short flight and a surprisingly quick car journey we found ourselves in Siurana with a few hours of sunlight left for a bit of climbing. The quality of climbing on the first few routes massively surpassed my expectations, interesting moves on perfect rock and despite my coughing and spluttering I was really enjoying myself, happy to be away from the horrendous welsh winter weather.

Adam climbing Delicatessen. Photo Calum Muskett

Adam climbing Delicatessen. Photo Calum Muskett


Ed lowering off at the end of another great day's climbing. Photo- Calum Muskett

Ed lowering off at the end of another great day’s climbing. Photo- Calum Muskett

I was keen to try and red-point something I’d find hard in Siurana. I’ve never put much effort into red-pointing preferring the simpler and shorter effort of on-sighting and it’s an aspect of my climbing that I’m keen to improve. I picked my project and managed to climb all the moves on it really quickly. I thought I had a really good chance of climbing it the following day but found my arms were a bit too tired to give it a good go. With only a week in Spain and one rest day I didn’t have a chance to recover enough to climb my project so changed my aim to climbing some of the classic easier routes around the El Pati sector as well as making a day trip to the impressive conglomerate overhangs of Montsant where Caff made an impressive on-sight of the classic Hidrofobia making it look more 7a than the 8a it is.

The final day of the trip was spent climbing in the sun on Can Piqui Pugui. After only a few routes my arms were utterly knackered and the rest of the day was spent lazing around in the sun. The highlight of the day however was filling Caff’s bag with rocks as he was climbing the final route of the trip. He didn’t notice until we reached the airport the following day!

Mina making quick work of 'La Cara que no Miente', 8a+. Photo- Calum Muskett

Mina making quick work of ‘La Cara que no Miente’, 8a+. Photo- Calum Muskett

Vertigo in the Verdon

The Verdon Gorge. Photo- Adam Booth

The Verdon Gorge. Photo- Adam Booth

The Verdon has been a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since seeing pictures of the climbing legend Ron Fawcett grappling with the flawless smooth limestone above a massive drop. Add to this the fact that it’s in the South of France where the weather’s always great and the seeds of a trip begin to get sown.

I travelled there with a friend of mine called Andy Woolston who had visited the gorge once before and had clearly enjoyed it enough to warrant a return trip. We travelled over in Andy’s van leaving some beautiful weather in North Wales. Blue skies remained overhead until we were within half an hour of the Verdon when we drove into the worst thunderstorm that Andy or I had ever experienced. We thought the windscreen was going to get smashed by oversized hailstones and small landslides had started to encroach upon the road as the lightening reached a crescendo of almost non-stop light: it was like we’d just entered Mordor! We decided to turn around with our tails between our legs and took the longer road around to the Verdon.

Andy leading the most difficult 5+ pitch in the world on Pichenibule. Photo- Calum Muskett

Andy leading the most difficult 5+ pitch in the world on Pichenibule. Photo- Calum Muskett

We awoke to blue skies and hot weather although evening thunderstorms were to remain the theme for the following few days. After a late start we abseiled in to climb the classic multi pitch test-piece ‘Pichenibule’ which tackles an immaculate smooth limestone wall in its upper reaches. Although we were underwhelmed by the first few pitches the quality of climbing soon stepped up a notch as we reached the band of high quality limestone some four pitches up. The crux 7c pitch was, as I expected it to be, totally desperate to on-sight although a sequence quickly came together after a couple of brief attempts. Thunder heralded the coming of bad weather though and I packed in about four red-point attempts of the pitch in ten minutes dropping the last move twice before big fat drops of rain began to fall which meant it was time for a hasty exit! I returned a few days later and managed the pitch free on my first go, but not without a lot of effort!

Andy on Marches du Temps. Photo- Calum Muskett

Andy on Marches du Temps. Photo- Calum Muskett


Andy high and exposed on La Fete de Nerfs. Photo- Calum Muskett

Andy high and exposed on La Fete de Nerfs. Photo- Calum Muskett


Andy leading the tricky Ctuluh. Photo- Calum Muskett

Andy leading the tricky Ctuluh. Photo- Calum Muskett

The following day we climbed the classic multi-pitch route ‘Les Marches du Temps’ which had some superb climbing with a more isolated feeling. Due to a slightly confusing topo we made the error of starting up neighbouring route ‘El Topo’ which is perhaps the hardest multi-pitch offering in the Verdon. This left us well warmed up by the time we were able to get back on route!

On our third day we climbed perhaps our favourite route of the trip called ‘Les Rideaux de Gwendal’ which had sustained climbing with really good quality limestone all the way. When we were about two pitches up the route we could hear thunder nearby and sure enough it started to drizzle. The danger of being caught out by a thunderstorm in the Verdon is that you will be totally unable to get back to your car at the top of the gorge. Faced with this scenario your best option would be to abseil down the route you’re on, walk several miles in your rock boots to reach the nearest road and then hitch a lift for over ten miles back to the top of the gorge. We were pretty keen not to be caught out by the weather so frantically linked pitches together giving ourselves ludicrous amounts of rope drag and reached the top in double quick time, just in time to see the sun come out!

We spent another three days in the Verdon climbing some other amazing routes such as the long and strenuous ‘La Fête des Nerfs’ and the superb ‘l’Ange en Decomposition’. The Verdon certainly has some of the best multi-pitch climbing that I’ve ever done and it seems to have fallen out of favour with both visiting and local climbers nowadays which was great for us but a real surprise for such a world famous climbing area. So if you’re in search of some exciting sport climbing in an amazing area then this is the place for you!

After our time in the Verdon we made a quick visit to the world famous limestone cliffs of Ceuse. The climbing was of course great but undoubtedly the most memorable moment was watching Adam Ondra climb there. A couple of days after making the first ascent of a long standing project called ‘Jungle Boogie’ he attempted to flash ‘Realization’, Chris Sharma’s legendary 9a+. The crag came to a standstill as he donned rock boots and tied in and what followed was an extremely impressive attempt. He failed at the crux high up on the route but in the process had climbed past the chains of ‘Biographie’, an 8c+! I’ve watched a lot of very strong and talented climbers over the last few years but he is in a different league to them all and left people at the crag awestruck with his effort and ability. Inspirational!

Adam Ondra coming close to flashing Realization. Photo- Calum Muskett

Adam Ondra coming close to flashing Realization. Photo- Calum Muskett