Senja frozen wonderland

The endless dawns and endless sunsets were a real treat. There wasn't much in the way of actual daylight.

I went to Senja by accident really, I wasn't planning to do any winter climbing this season, but as I said in my previous blog, I got roped in by Rich Kendrick. Far from being on top form, the idea of going somewhere new and adventurous sounded just right. I set to do my homework before the trip figuring out the lay of the island and pinning the crags and routes that we knew about in a map. This together with the helpful info from Ines, Greg and a few others, I produced a mini guide that became very useful for the team.

We landed in Tromso airport really late due to some invisible snowflakes on the runway at Luton, and we only made it to the accommodation at 3am after some pretty intense winter driving. We were a group of six split into two teams: Adam Booth, myself and Rich Kendrick, and Pete Harrison, Simon Frost and Dave Almond. The other team decided to have a late start and go for a recce, we were too psyched and went climbing instead. I had the route in mind already I wanted to do and the guys agreed, so after unpacking and packing again, we managed a few hours kip before the dreaded 6am alarm went off. Bleary eyed we set off into the dark trying to find the cliff and the route in question. In hindsight it was godsend that we had the mini guide for the trip (and that I printed, no one else had…) to be able to find these routes.

The view out of the ranch
The ranch
Typical Norway, view of Senjahopen with the top of Kyle just poking out

The Great Corner is an Wi5/+ VI by Rich Cross and I thought it would be a great warm up, also the line looked fantastic on the pics that Rich sent me. Once the day dawned we could see that indeed it looked brilliant. I took the first pitch, an easy pure ice romp, but my god I felt rusty, my last lead on pure ice must had been five years ago. We got into the swing of things fast enough though (pun intended), and soon Rich was at the mixed chimney which he stringed together with the tasty ice pillar above. We all arrived at the belay with a few easy pitches to go but since we did all the hard climbing, it was dark and in need of some sleep we bailed from there. All in all a throughly magnificent first day.

Adam on the second pitch of The Great Corner
More views!
Adam belaying Rich on the chimney pitch of The Great Corner
Happy lads at the end of the of a successful first day

We retreated back to our cosy apartment in Bothnam and handed over the route folder to Adam and Rich whilst I cooked a curry. Before we knew it, it was time to pack again, and with no resolution on what to do the next day I just said we should go and do the classic hard ice line Finnkona (Wi6). I knew the approach to the route without a boat is a real bitch, either contour the beach strewn with frozen boulders or go higher on the tree line but dealing with five miles of chutes intersecting the slope shouldering the mountain. Nevertheless spirits were high until we were faced with the reality of the affair. I think we did about 500mts before we bailed, at which point Adam showed his relief as his shortie skis weren’t up for the job (we had snow shoes). We bailed back to Ersfjord and upon arrival Adam spotted a line to the side of Hatten and so we got up to have a look. At the base it was obvious that we needed bulldogs as there was not much option for any other gear. Regardless, I set off managing to get a tied-off stubby that encouraged me to get about six meters high before bailing and passing on the baton to Rich. He did get higher, climbing about a full pitch with no gear, but as soon as we found some he bailed too. We made the most of the rest of the day by scouting a line across the valley that had an established ice line, we called it The Yellow line as in Greg’s topos the line was yellow. Settled for the next day we headed home to fire up the sauna.

The rock potential is also insane, immaculate Lewisian Gneiss (it looks very similar anyways) everywhere
Some pretty amazing scenery everywhere you look

This time knowing what the plan was we were gearing up below the route in no time, and boy it looked good. Again I took the first pitch which had a bit a cool section of mixed protected by cams and a bulldog. I got greedy and wanted to do the skinny runnel above too but run out of rope, luckily Rich started simul climbing so I could build a belay. We ran four pitches at full 60mts so we all got our fair share of pump. Getting to the top in the fading light with the endless view of Ersfjord was pretty special. There was a bit of a moment on the last abseil when on a fully stretched rope we managed to let go and lost them above us just out of reach. We managed to recover the situation and soon we were back in the car on the way to the ranch.

Approaching the Yellow Line
Just past the fun mixed section of the the Yellow Line
Rich Kendrick getting his swing on the second pitch of the Yellow line (M6/Wi5/VII)

We wanted a day on Kyle, a mini alpine face that looked very Scottish, so we made a plan to climb The trolls, the trolls, another Rich Cross route. The slight glitch is that no one had thought to scout the face, where to walk in or park, despite having had a full rest day before to do so. So we changed plans and went to do an easy ice route called The Big Blue, which is road side and very straight forward, but with nice steep section at the top (thanks guys for let me have it). We finish the route pretty early so we went and scout the Kyle face and parking spot.

Showboating on the top of Big Blue

Back at the ranch we packed a humongous rack with peckers, terriers, bulldogs (sounds like a zoo!) and assorted rock gear and a load of psyche. The route climbed the whole face and we figured we’ll be topping out the mountain and walk off the back, we climbed with the packs containing the snowshoes and poles (a first for me). We simul climbed the first few pitches with Rich leading the way. Then Adam and I lead some easy but hard to protect pitches before belaying underneath the main event, a mean looking chimney with a looming roof. Adam hadn’t had a crux lead under his belt this trip yet so he strapped it on with the huge rucksack set off upwards. 3hrs later he shouted “safe” and me and Rich got our frozen bodies into motion. Soon we saw what took so long, a pretty tasty rock pitch with some wild moves. Adam seemed pleased with himself, with a great lead, nestled in a dark cave waiting for our headlamps to appear. I took the last pitch to the top which wasn’t a pushover either, but topped out on the summit with the night lights of Senjahoppen below us looking like an idyllic winter wonderland.

Rich approaching the Trolls
About to follow Adam up the second pitch of The trolls the trolls (VII) on Kyle

We took a rest day to hatch a plan for a new route we had seen from across the Great Corner, in a mountain called Ramnfløy. Not wanting to waste any precious attempts I took one for the team and did the approach to the base of the route to make sure it was a goer. With positive confirmation the game was on. The day after, with the track in place and relatively short approach, we were climbing by 7.30am. Rich got the first pitch, a really nice turfy mixed groove line and I took the second pitch, which was a grade V ramp really but still fun. Adam took the money pitch at the top, again with some funky moves and great ice features (ice umbrellas?). We topped out in the glorious sunshine feeling smug on our swift and efficient first ascent and headed back down. Back at the car by 2pm I suggested we go a do this roadside 120mts Wi4 called Tunnel Cuddling for the giggles. I had second thoughts when climbing the second pitch in the dark with fading arms and really wanting to be in the sauna. Rich made the right call to stay on the warmth of the car. The silver lining was that Bent from the Senja Lodge did stop by for a chat and did confirm that the route we did was indeed an new route, no routes had been climbing on that face.

Our new route on Ramnfløy "Tunnel Vision" (opposite The Great Corner) in Ersfjord follows the obvious slant t o the ice at the top
Rich on the first pitch of Tunnel Vision
Rich cutting loose
Adam on the last pitch Tunnel Vision VI
Topping out after our new route with Ersfjord in the backdrop

For our last day we wanted something easy enough so we wouldn’t get in trouble but challenging enough so we felt we did something worthwhile. We picked yet another line in Ersfjord, a three pitch pure ice route with spicy looking pillar at the top. Unfortunately the pillar proved to be easier that I thought, I was wishing to be Wi6 but with wet sticky and featured ice it was more like a Wi5. All in all a nice easy plaisir day out, despite dropping my belay plate on the last abseil, of the last route of the last day of the trip, what a timing!

Rich "the coventry whippet" romping up the snow slopes
Rich leading the first pitch of last day's ice route
Last day's route in Ersfjord
Leading the top pitch of last day's route. I was very impressed testing the Alpkit Definition jacket, I was totally dry being under the frozen shower of this wet pitch. I led this with the new Alpkit Frazil gloves, also in testing, and they did great though the water eventually seeped through since they don't have a membrane. But for £36 they definitely punch above their weight .

And with that we wrapped a brilliant trip with a good team in a really special location that I won’t forgetting any time soon. I would encourage anyone thinking of going to Senja to do a deep search online as there’s a lot of hidden information in climbers instagram, blogs and articles. I assume the Bent’s new guidebook will make things easier, but in case that doesn’t happen soon perhaps makes it a better experience having to collate, learn and explore all the information yourself. For anyone wanting a copy of my miniguide PDF please do get in touch (it’s not much of a guide, more like a collection of screenshots with some route descriptions).

The day the sun came out and we weren't stuck to a north face

For anyone thinking of going here are a few tips. Fly to Tromso or Bardufoss, the latter being closer but the return flight is always at 6.40am, and the drive being about 2/2.5hrs that means a very early start. Tromso is a further hour’s drive but with lots more options for flights. Wizzair, Norwegian and SAS are the usual airlines. Another tip is consider bringing a bag of food, I did and we saved a fortune. £60 at Lidl should have seen us through for the whole trip with careful planning. The other team spend £140 just in the first shop for one night’s meal and few other bits. It’s very expensive, specially now with weaker pound (thanks Brexit). For accommodation the usual suspect are Senja Lodge or the Legendary Lodge. We stayed in a lush 7 bed apartment in Laukvik near Botnhamn called Northern Adventures Troms (northernadventuretroms.no), which is a further 30/40min drive but it worked out way cheaper (£18/ppn) and it was roomy, toasty and had a sauna. I totally recommended, though some might prefer being closer to the climbing and stay at Senja Lodge, which is run by Bent who is a guide there and has a wealth of knowledge. The last tips to bring spares of essential things like headtorches, picks, belay plate and lots of tat, as the closest climbing shop is miles away in Tromso.

Have fun!

Wadi Rum Jamming

Scratch & Win