hrough a haze of jetlag I hear Miikka Haast say “it starts with a 20m rappel into a 50degree, 3m wide couloir…” ‘yes let’s do that!’ Sounds like a great first run in Norway.
The winter in coastal British Columbia was sub par this year. Definitely some good times but not quite the usual. Bad avalanche conditions had kept us off big lines for most of the winter and after having several other trips canceled due to similar conditions around the world, I had a serious case of itchy feet and big line’itis.
Every winter Miikka would tell me that I had to come to the Tamok and Lyngen areas of Northern Norway (300+km north of the arctic circle), and every year I couldn’t make it as something else had taken priority. This spring it suddenly seemed like a great idea, only problem was it was now May and I was hoping winter still exists in northern Norway…
“It starts with a 20m rappel into a 50degree, 3m wide couloir…”
Several hours later we’re trailing a group of Norwegians who we’ve heard are heading to the same couloir. With the foggy cloudy weather, I have yet to really see the mountains we’re in but our ‘rabbits’ have set a nice skin track and we catch them just as they make the top of the couloir. With 5 of them and 3 of us, the math doesn’t seem favorable for a tight steep chute. Thankfully only 2 from their group are keen on skiing the line. But they seem a bit hesitant about the rappel and unknown below. “Who wants to go first?” I hear one of them call out. I quickly volunteer and check the anchor. A quick ‘how to rappel’ lesson to our friend Jonas Haagstrom and I drop over the lip.
Woah, this thing is steep and tight. Øksehogget (the ‘axe cleave’) is living up to its name. 20 cm of fresh snow in the chute that’s a bit slabby but seems well bonded, however it’s worth an extra look a little lower. Jonas and Miikka come down to discuss the snow. We decide that I’ll lower Miikka an additional 20m on his board so he can ski cut a few pockets and see if anything moves. Looks great. “Dropping”. Powder clouds fill the air and slough chases us down 500 vertical meters as we ride down Norway’s rowdiest couloir (actually voted that in some mag). We collect ourselves at the bottom and high fives are thrown. Having just stepped off the plane a few hours earlier, I realize that was the best first run I’ve ever had in a new country in my life!
As we make our way back down to the road, I spy through the trees another line across the valley. ‘What’s up with that couloir?’ “That’s Blabearfjellet couloir. I think it’s only been ridden by one crew using a heli. There’s a huge cornice up top.” “really?? That thing looks great and quite close.”
It’s 3am and the sun is up. What? This is May? How do people sleep here?
After a very bright night of not sleeping, we decide to head up to the Lyngen area and see if we can ride the ‘Salama Couloir‘. It’s been on Miikka’s hit list for a while (and he got skunked on it a year prior) so he was super keen to give it another try. After yesterday, I was keen on anything.
On the drive, the sun pops out and it’s the first time I really get to see the mountains. And I’m blown away. Not overly high (1200-1700meters) but the trees end 200m above the ocean and it’s just pure, steep alpine above that. Couloirs and steep faces are everywhere. This is Norway!? I really had no idea it looked THIS good.
We skin up to the bottom of the couloir, throw crampons on and start heading up the couloir. Hmmm, lots of snow has sloughed through the chute and its quite icy. After some poking around, we decide to check a steeper and tighter couloir to the climber’s left.
Snow looks a little better but not exactly ‘hey let’s go mach-ing fast through it’. We climb about 2/3 up this couloir to a very steep 2m wide choke, when we decide the snow isn’t good enough to safely ride the choke. Pull the pin.
We rode down to some other couloirs to the climbers right that we thought deserved some attention. From the main bowl they formed a y. Easy and wide on the right, quite a bit steeper on the left. Turned out the right was a mega popular run as 14 other people were making their way up it! The locals really get after it. But no one was heading for the left line so I took off on the climb. Miikka decided to join me, while Jonas and another friend Tero went for the easier access of the right.
“Squamish may have met its match in the scenery department!”
Several hours later of uphill swimming and Miikka and I were up top, in a whiteout. It’s a bit surreal to stare down a tight steep chute and only see a wall of fog. With sun in the valley (at least the last time we saw it) we decide to wait for a clearing. The fog gets worse. We wait for nearly an hour before we finally give up and decide that the medium fog is better than the super dense fog. We carefully leapfrog each other while riding until we safely pass a short icy choke, which was the crux of our climb. Having gotten the more technical upper section out of the way, we wait again in hopes that the clouds we’re in have a ceiling somewhere around us. We wait. Finally it brightens a touch and my desire to ride takes over. Pointing the nose of my board in the narrow chute, the rocks giving enough definition to see fairly well I let gravity take over. Stomach deep uphill swimming turns into face shots and glorious turns. I round a corner into the main chute and drop out of the clouds with sunshine leading the way. Hooting in glee at the luck of another epic run I savor every turn down to the main bowl. Miikka blasts his way down to meet me and we cruise the lower slopes in smooth corn snow. With the ocean gleaming in the sunlight below us, I can only think Squamish may have met its match in the scenery department!
Clouds greet us this morning. After riding 2000m of vertical yesterday, and with sunshine in the forecast this week, we’re understandably a little slow to get out there. We decide to stay in Tamok and ride a cool gully feature on the mountain right behind Miika’s RV at the Olsrud Adventure compound. Leaving right from the RV we have a short hour and a half skin before we are greeted by the “Pipii”. As the out of towner I’m given first tracks. Stoked on the generosity, I drop into the gully. Granted it’s somewhat flat light and I have to jedi mind trick my way down it at speed. Maybe second would have been smarter…
That evening my curiosity starts to flare and I can’t get the Blabearfjellet couloir out of my head. The boys are beat, so I head off on my own for a few hours to skin up the valley and scope the line. It’s another gorgeous north facing Couloir that splits a big rock face for 500 vertical meters. The snow looks great and, yup, that’s a huge cornice up top. It actually spans across the chute in a 30 foot horizontal roof. Definitely one of the coolest cornice features I’ve ever seen.
However, with a bit of scoping I notice there’s possibly a way around via a short patch of snow above the cliffs that leads to a very steep ramp that might go into the chute. Only concern is if both the patch and the ramp have been getting sun during the ‘midnight hours’, as slipping would not be an option.