My home is Bergen, Norway – otherwise known as the city between the seven mountains. It is here that I grew up with a family who took me to the mountains or the cabin every weekend and every holiday. With that, I was trained from a very early age to take active breaks from a busy everyday life.
When we were up there, long steep walks and nice views were the only thing that happened during the day. In the evening we read books and played games. The world stopped for controlled periods of time. It feels the same way now, just without having any control of the time period.
However, this time, the world seemed to stop at a time when I thought everything was going a little too fast anyways. So, in a way, the break itself has actually been a bit welcomed. Suddenly there is room to focus on some of the things that matter. Of course, I can complain about having to share a tiny home office with my girlfriend and having to cancel to trips I was looking forward to. But when you think about the sacrifice that health care and socially critical parts of the workforce are doing for us now, I am only grateful for my own situation.
Time to reflect
These days, I spend a lot of time exercising as usual, and also have a lot of time to daydream. Dreams of both new adventures, and old ones. One fond memory was climbing Stetind, Norway’s “National Mountain”. In September of 2019, my friend Johan who lives in Tromsø started talking about the trip and climbing the iconic South Pillar route. Johan had been there before and was willing to be the host and guide for the climbing trip. How could anyone say no?
Above you can see the face of Stetind, with the South Pillar in the left half of the photo.
A few facts for starters
The mountain is called Stetind and it really is the official national mountain of Norway. It rises 1391 meters above sea level, which is where you start the trip. The 13-pitch South Pillar route with a difficulty of 6- (NOR) / 6a (FRA) / 5.9 (USA) saw its first ascent in 1936 by climber, environmental activist and philosopher Arne Næss. It is well known for its magnificent views towards the mountains in Lofoten and Narvik and is also considered a “classic” – a bucket list route for most climbers in Norway and many around the world. As we were to haul quite a bit of photo equipment and take photos throughout the climb, we expected it to be a long day and possibly night. More info about the route up the mountain can be found here.
The approach to the route is a 2-3-hour hike, with somewhat exposed terrain at the end. I would recommend bringing a larger backpack for part of the approach. The large rock by Svartvatnet is a good spot to drop the larger backpack, as from then onward – Light is Right. Bring your climbing gear, enough food and water (and some emergency rations?), phone with fully charged battery, light first aid equipment and a down jacket. Ditch the unnecessary stuff.
The approach to the route is a 2-3-hour hike, with somewhat exposed terrain at the end. Above you can see the hiking trail going upwards to the left ending at the start of the climb.
Tor at the very start of the climb, with 13 pitches of fun and exposed climbing above him.
Johan becoming quite small in the majestic scenery of Stetind.
Johan is the stronger climber of the two of us and probably felt he waited for me part of the way. I can physically endure long, distance and hard climbs, but when the holds get too crimpy, that doesn’t help. Should have spent a few more hours with the finger board. So, I would recommend making sure both your climbing and crimp endurance is solid before attempting the climb. Having Johan to lead the two last pitches did the trick though, so bringing a strong friend also works.
I especially remember the upper pitches, which included some fun challenges. One of which was the chimney pitch that was difficult to negotiate with a pack. The open side of the crack system had an absolutely stunning view of the ocean and mountains, which was nice to look at while trying to push my backpack over my head and breathing like a horse under it. We ended up pulling up the bag with one of the ropes, hoping neither camera nor lenses were destroyed.
For the last pitch, Johan went a little too far, which meant a lot of rope drag, and just when I was on a difficult move over an exposed area, the rope got stuck out to the side of me, risking a long fall. Then it was important to take a deep breath, look for good solutions and implement them. Johan ended up extending his own position from the belay stand and loosening the rope himself. Again, remember to bring a good climbing partner on this climb.
The climb itself gets more challenging towards the end. Here Johan is finding his way up one of the final pitches.
The summit feeling beats it all, especially when you have been struggling and fighting your way to the top through 13 pitches. The descent was long and mainly on foot. Upon returning to camp, we jumped into the ice-cold river nearby. The feeling of freshness from the swim, tiredness from the climb and the good sense of mastery is priceless. The best part? We could sit there watching the beautiful mountain we had just climbed.
By writing this, I could feel the deep pleasure of completing the climb, being surrounded by great views and a good friend. Nothing beats it. And it feels good to know the adventure lies out there, waiting for us to crawl out from our caves. The global pandemic situation is going to end at some point. Until then, now I have absolutely no excuses for not using the finger board…