Stop whining and start climbing

Hellooo, long time no blog. Over the winter I was busy with work and didn’t have as much time to climb as I’d like. Now I’m starting to get back out. Slowly. I was fortunate to get 10 days off around Easter. What to do with all those days? What is the best way to unwind from work and relax?

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“Do you know how to place it, Emma?”

“Yes… I mean no. But I’ve seen people do it.”

That conversation sums up my trip to Senja, Norway. Some call it a vacation, I’m calling it an alpine climbing course.

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Approaching the Spoon Couloir.

We had four climbing days. I actually had six since I begun my holidays by participating in the ice climbing instructor course (JKO) in Korouoma, in Northern Finland. I went back and forth about whether to participate this year or not.

I visited Korouoma with Liisa in January to see where I’m at. It took me two and a half hours (and more takes than I care to admit) to get up the easiest line at Jaska Jokunen. Way to get a boost of confidence for the season! Ice is a terrifying element… since it is just water. The trip was the high point of my busy winter but at the same time I went through a low point as a climber.

Why am I doing this? I remember having fun ice climbing last year. Right now I’m so scared I don’t want to move. What if my crampons fall off? This is stupid. I don’t want to climb anymore. This is my weekend off. I should be doing something fun. What if I drop my ice tool? Why am I not using leashes? And now I will think about the letter I got from my sister a few months back. Oh god, I might as well start crying right now.

Emma, stop thinking so much about climbing and simply climb.

Or as my friends in Oregon would phrase it: Stop whining and start climbing.

And so I did. After the Korouoma trip I went back to top roping as much as I could whenever I could. It paid off and I passed the course but I was totally pooped after. More importantly though, I realized I was having fun too.

Back to Norway. I’ve done climbs in the alpine terrain but I have not had this winter combo before: avalanche hazard, mixed ice/snow climbing, spindrift, and winter camping. In addition, I’ve never had this little information about the area I’m going too.

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Camping by the ice fall Big blue.
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The last belay of the Big blue was in a cave.

We went with the recommendations of a local guide Bent Vidar who operates the Senja Lodge & Mountainguides. We climbed the Spoon Couloir (400m/III, AI3), the Cave Couloir (600m/III, AI3) and an ice fall called the Big Blue (160m/WI4+). The routes are in the Top 12 list of the Senja mini guide. Bent told me that the guidebook for the Senja area is in the making. This place doesn’t get much traffic yet but I’m fairly sure that will change.

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Getting acquainted with the occasional spindrift in the Spoon Couloir. Photo by Max.
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What a lovely, relaxed day. Photo by Max.
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Liisa swinging her tools in the Spoon Couloir.
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Bye bye Norway!

It’s my 29th birthday today, hurray! My birthday present to myself this year, in stead of climbing 29 pitches in a day, is to go climbing in Yosemite. Maybe we will try to get 29 pitches in in two weeks. Katja? 😉

A Tribute to Indoor Climbing

I was about to tell you about my last trip to Kvaløya, Norway. The new places I visited, the fun moments I had climbing and bailing with Liisa, and the crippling fatigue that slowly wore us down. But it sounded so blah that I didn’t post anything.

Even though I was happy to be back home at the same time I also desperately wanted to go back to this.

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Liisa and I had to shed layers mid-hike. This is freedom. Photo by Liisa Peltonen

Then something unexpected happened. A couple days after getting home I found myself smiling happily at the freshly painted plywood walls at TK, my local gym because I had just had the most relaxed and enjoyable climbing experience I’ve had the whole summer. Climbing plastic holds and clipping fixed draws was incredibly fun. Wait, what?

And most importantly, why?

It took me about five minutes to come up with twenty-five reasons why.

  1. No approaching.
  2. No slippery wet slabs.
  3. No loose rock.
  4. No sketchy snow.
  5. I was not cold while I was belaying.
  6. I was not afraid of a hold breaking or the protection failing. The bolts and anchors are tested and safe.
  7. No route finding.
  8. Did I just drop something? No worries!
  9. I know what the route is like by looking at the holds. No scary routes!
  10. No rappelling.
  11. No tangled ropes. No stuck ropes. No core shots. And even if I end up with one of these, no worries!
  12. In-house first aid kit.
  13. I can fill my Nalgene in the bathroom as many times as I like to.
  14. Gotta poop? No worries!
  15. I forgot my spandex. Lost and found box. No luck? The climbing shop!
  16. My fingers and toes are dry and warm.
  17. Why did I not study meteorology when I had the chance? Or physical geography? Had I known. Oh well, I learn now.
  18. No hiking with heavy backpacks, no climbing with heavy backpacks.
  19. Gear loops! I almost forgot I have them. Nothing is dangling from my harness, so nice.
  20. This carpet is incredibly soft.
  21. My phone died. No worries!
  22. I dropped my phone. No worries!
  23. I can hear my belayer. My belayer can hear me.
  24. I’m tired. I don’t want to be climbing anymore. No worries!
  25. I can tell my mum exactly what I was doing this afternoon. She worries so I often feel guilty about pursuing a lifestyle that has inherent risks.
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Climbing long routes means we take the first weather window we get, skip one night of sleep, and climb/scramble 18 hours straight. In the photo Liisa and I are almost at Storstolpan. Photo by Liisa Peltonen
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Liisa and the Ståra Blåmann. Her haul bag weights so much she can’t stand straight. Hehe.
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Climbing long routes means I say goodbye to the cute gym look and organize trad gear in itchy, uncomfortable wool and/or technical layers. Familiar with the atopic eczema? No? You are very, very lucky. Cotton would be so much better, except COTTON KILLS! Photo by Liisa Peltonen
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Climbing long routes often means that you approach for several hours.
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Sketchy snow and loose, wet rock are my favorite combo!
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I forgot one! You smell terrible, especially your socks! Liisa forgot hers at the Baugen hut. It seems like someone found them. 😉
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Heading back home. I was very happy to find cairns this particular day. An hour hike to the car, then a cheerful 16 hour drive back to Tampere.

I promise right now, that I will never again complain about climbing indoors. I don’t have to be there if I don’t want to. I can bail anytime, at any point of the day and no harm is done.

I’m happy as long as I have the option for both indoor and outdoor climbing. Here are a couple examples of what me and my friends do for fun indoors. Please, always consult the staff before rigging setups like these in the gym. Cheers!

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Even my most devoted boulderer-friend Riikka knows how to set up a portaledge. Big boulder, big wall, it’s all the same.
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The Birthday bingo challenges Hanna to aid a trad route. First step is to practice aiding bolt ladders.

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After spending a week in Kvaløya, Rami and I continued to Lofoten. A crazy thing happened while we were strolling down the streets of Henningsvær looking for a shower. We run into Morgan who I met in the Needles in California about a year ago. It was fun to catch up!

The weather in Lofoten was not looking good so we decided to continue South to the Stetind mountain. Stetind was still covered in snow. We hiked in almost all the way up to the base of Normalveien but decided to save the climbing for later.

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Stetind is the National mountain of Norway. Photo by me!
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We hiked in to see if we could climb the easiest route Normalveien (4+). We bailed 300ft from the base.
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Cooling off. Photo by Rami Valonen

We drove to Jotunheimen and went skiing instead. The photos make it look like we had the perfect weather. In reality we were being chased by rain every day.

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Rami has cooler spandex than I do.

Unless you did not know, cross country skiing is a national sport in Finland. I grew up skiing and later snowboarding. Then I turned 15 and decided that I don’t like it anymore. Ten years later I went skiing again in Oregon. In Finland I go cross-country skiing every now and then (read: twice in the past three years). I’ve been wanting to try touring knowing I’d love it. Norway offered the perfect beginner venue. The terrain was friendly and Rami was a patient ski guide.

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Rami and Liisa skinning somewhere in Kvaløya. I went for a run.

Ski touring is a new game for me so I learned a lot. The boots adjust so it is possible to cross-country ski surprisingly easily. The term skinning comes from the skins. Skins are hairy pieces of cloth, which are shaped to fit the skis and placed at the bottom of the skis. The skins add friction to the skis so it is easy to ski uphill.

The competence in assessing terrain, weather, and navigation are very important in touring. Rami thought me the basics: how to test the snow and how to use the beeper, probe, and shovel.

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Rami is digging a hole in the snow pack so that we can asses the layers.
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Why is Rami so far away?
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Just like cross-country skiing. Photo by Rami Valonen

The weather didn’t look promising for the next couple days so we continued driving South towards Nissedal.

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Zoom in to see (one of the many reasons) why my photos are not as good as Rami’s.  Photo by Rami Valonen

Ski touring was super fun! What actually fascinates me the most about skiing in the mountains is that it is much faster than hiking or running. Skis would be sweet for the approaches! Yes, I just got it.

Percs of driving 5000 km in two weeks in Norway over the summer; many, many beautiful sunsets by the sea.
Perks of driving 5000 km in two weeks in Norway over the summer; many beautiful sunsets.

Nissedal is a cool place and the climbing on the famous slab face of Hægefjell is definitely worth traveling for from Finland. Especially if you want to climb long (350-500 meters), relatively easy trad/mixed routes.

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Rami climbing the second actual pitch of Hægar (6+). I bailed halfway because I couldn’t do the moves and place decent pro.
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The fourth pitch of Hægar is amazing. If only there were more of these!

Now I’m off to Kvaløya with my lovely friend Liisa. See you in a week!

The Magical Kvaløya Island

I’m back! And I have a new blog. I’m new to WordPress so bare with me. I am trying to keep it simple. Feedback is always appreciated so don’t hesitate to contact me.

The Norway tour was everything I had hoped for. I left home with a three day notice, expecting to spend two weeks in Northern Norway. I was traveling with Rami and Liisa. We brought gear for climbing and ski touring. Two weeks later, I found myself in Nissedal in Southern Norway. First we drove from Tampere to Kvaløya.

Kvaløya is an island right next to Trømso, Norway. Kvaløya provides a great playground for activities such as ski touring, climbing, bouldering, hiking, running, fishing and mountain biking. If you link well, you can do it all in one day.

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The clear blue sky was greeting us in Norway. This is a beach somewhere between Trømso and Kvaløya.
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Ersfjorden is one of the coolest crags I’ve been to! Photo by Rami Valonen
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Ersfjordbotn, Kvaløya. Heading back to the car after clipping bolts at Ersfjorden. Photo by Rami Valonen

I’ve wanted to go to Kvaløya since last summer. I went climbing in Lofoten while Rami and Lauri went to Baugen and Blåmannen. After hearing their stories and seeing their photos I realized Baugen is where I want to go next.

Our main goal was to climb in Baugen. Baugen is a part of the Hollenderan mountain range, the historical epicenter of the Kvaløya climbing, as the Kvaløya – Selected climbs describes it. Baugen is the alpine climbing venue in Scandinavia. The wall consists of about 20 sustained 250-350 meter routes, in the 5.10 to 5.12 range. Plus the variations.

For anyone who seeks beautiful views, Kvaløya offers many established trails and top tours. Photo by Rami Valonen
For anyone who seeks beautiful views, I recommend Kvaløya. Me and Liisa filling our bottles. Photo by Rami Valonen
The approach to the Baugen hut.
The approach to the Baugen hut. Photo by Rami Valonen
The view from the saddle. The Baugen hut is located a ten minute hike away from the hut.
The view from the approach. The Baugen hut is conveniently located a ten minute hike, or a two minute ski away from the climbing.

The Baugen hut is run by the Trømso climbing club. It is the cutest and best equipped hut I have stayed in. Wine glasses and slippers are included! First day we hiked in (3 hours) and went climbing in the evening (more hours than I care to admit). We were back at the hut around 3am.

The Baugen hut is very cosy. Bring your binoculars and check which routes are dry. There is also a lot of interesting things to read and topos you can borrow.
Hanging out in the Baugen hut. The in-house library offers a lot of interesting reads, including topos. Photo by Rami Valonen
Liisa is enchanted by the view of Baugen. I am sleeping. Surprise! Photo by Rami Valonen

The climbing was excellent, just as promised. We climbed Baugsprydet (6-/6) and Vårrusen (5-).

Belaying Liisa on Vårrusen. Photo by Rami Valonen
Belaying Liisa on Vårrusen. Photo by Rami Valonen
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Me and Liisa at the top after climbing Baugsprydet, which is the first route at Baugen! Photo by Rami Valonen
A bolted rappel line is always nice. Photo by Rami Valonen
The bolted rappel line can be tricky to follow, unless you know exactly where to go. Photo by Rami Valonen

As much as I love climbing in the mountains, I don’t feel shame in admitting, that the climbing is scary up there. Even if I say I enjoyed climbing a route, I most certainly experienced moments of discomfort during the day. I remember a time, not long ago, when I was blissfully unaware of things that can go wrong. The North is s great place to practice, because during the summer months, the sun never goes down. Say no for getting benighted, hurray!

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The steep…ish snow traverse is not my favorite. It felt steeper than it looks. Photo by Rami Valonen

For me, alpine climbing is the most empowering and exciting form of climbing. Someone asked me why. Why do you do this? Aren’t there challenges here, somewhere closer to home?

The very fact that someone asks me this question, tells me, that there is no point in trying to explain why.

Mountaineering is as meaningless as life itself – that’s why its magic will never die.  – Peter Wessel Zapffe

Agreed.

A week spent in the Kvaløya island gave me just a tiny a glimpse of what it has to offer. I can’t wait to go back!