The North Face of Blamannen
My first thought upon landing in Tromso, Arctic Norway, has been about how insanely beautiful the place is. Flying in the midnight sun over Lofoten and the neighbouring islands, reflected in the water, with moon bathing their dark fins and snowy outcrops in a mellow light, I felt amazed, as in the old days, at the moment of birth, when discovering the Alps, when first driving through the Dolomites, when gazing up Cordiliera Blanca or contemplating El Cap from the bus: the sheer beauty, the simple and lasting presence of nature, masterpiece without need for the last touch of any human brush. This place where we can call "home" the Utah desert, the Sierra de Guarra canyons, the high peaks of Himalaya, or the Ersfjord waters. Come, stay, enjoy, and climb. What a fortune, to be alive and well, to see it all, to gather in the sounds, the smells, the sights, and to reverberate back.
Midnight light on the fjord, seen from the base of Blamannen
The first big objective of our expedition has by default become the Blamannen, a towering North Face crowning the island of Kvaloya, just outside Tromso. Already from the airport we could see the summit pointing outwards into the star-filled sky, the wall otherwise hidden by scenic hills. Not wasting time and using the incredibly good weather we have been having, we headed directly for the Blamannen approach on the first day to measure ourselves up against or with the mountain, to check out the worth of the human condition, to laugh at our smallness, to admire nature's prowess. It has been a while I have not been excited by a big rock face. Looking at this one from the car park I did not necessarily feel the kick of energy or the urgent need to get to the top either. Mountaineering ambition dead? Let's go see and check it out.
The promissed 45 minutes of approach turned out to be a good 2 hours of uphill walking, making me regret the missed training opportunities each time I have refused to join the Maladeta FA this summer with Ori, Xavi, and co'. But after some persistence and the help from the walking sticks, the first miracle was accomplished and we were standing at the base - having passed the forest, the slabs, and the final snow patch and the muddy fixed rope. Two other teams were going up Ultima Thule and Lost and Found, the first team ultimately abseiled, the other with Dave's friend Andreas on lead, continued to the top after we left for a due rest.
With difficulty getting used to the Northern light that never leaves, and recovering from the flight in, we slowly started exploring the face. First, a look at Icarus, that appeared very difficult and badly protected for a free attempt. Change of objectives, and standing below Bongo Bar we finally decide to give that a go as the lower cracks seemed more appealing and Andreas shouted down to us that the crux was apparently exceptionally dry during these last days.
Paul inspired by midnight light
Thus began the toil - almost Himalayan-like expedition style, fixing ropes up the first pitches. Dave bravely lead the way up, despite being short on gear, but inspired by the prospect of difficulties up above. Helena and myself seconded the incredible 50-meter monster endurance fest pitches with key lay-back moves on thin flaring cracks and pretty sketchy protection, especially on the first pitch. The whole second day was spent by the dedicated team of Dave and Don to aid up the key third pitch and leave another fixed rope up that. While the girls went bouldering and cooking dinner instead:
Bouldering at the base of Blamannen (picture by Paul Diffley)
The complete story of Blamannen remains to be written though, depending on so many outside as well as inside factors - will Dave be able to freeclimb the crux pitch? What difficulties will follow up above? Will the weather keep the face dry? Will we get a good day for a redpoint attempt? Will we be able to make it to the top? Logistics, planning, pure effort, and enthusiasm, those are the determinant things. Or is it all just about simple luck and courage to try things out, to take chances? Up and free!
Very late sunset as seen from Blamannen (picture by Paul Diffley)
And all this possible thanks to the Gore-Tex Experience Tour, Mountain Equipment, and the great company of Paul, Dave, Donald, and Helena. Let the adventure continue, wherever it might take us.