UKC

Lavagen Ice Climbing: Photo Report

© Marius Olsen

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Aljaz Anderle on Finnkona, Steinfjorden, Senja
© Marius Olsen

Henrikkefossen WI4/5. Climber: Aljaz Anderle  © Marius Olsen
Henrikkefossen WI4/5. Climber: Aljaz Anderle
© Marius Olsen
(Don't miss the photo gallery below)

Imagine a land where ice fills the valleys from November to April, where alpine ridges and huge icy walls rise from the sea, and where around every corner more potential awaits. Sound like a winter climbing paradise? It not only exists, but is only a days travel from the UK. Welcome to Arctic Norway.

In the last week of February, the Norwegian Alpine Club hosted a winter climbing meet in the Troms region of arctic Norway. Based around the Lavangen fjord on the mainland, and on the nearby island of Senja, the meet brought climbers from the rest of Europe and beyond to explore the unsung winter climbing potential of the region.

It initially felt slightly wrong to leave behind the best Scottish winter in years, but flying into Tromso watching the sunset over the mountains and fjords quickly changed my mind. At the airport, I joined a group of likely looking kitbag wielding characters where I was quickly tracked down by the Norwegian climbing legend Sjur Nesheim who gave me a lift onwards to Lavangen.

As we drove Sjur explained that conditions in the area this year were 'very thin', courtesy of the same weather that was giving Scotland a bumper season bringing extreme cold which had stopped the melt freeze cycles that build the ice. Looking out into the moonlit frozen land there seemed to my 'UK perspective' to be ice everywhere. In the event there was more than enough climbing to keep forty-odd climbers of all standards entertained for a week, so when conditions are fat there must be a lifetimes worth of routes and some... Indeed, after a week of being shown around the area and dragged up outstanding climbs by a very talented Slovenian-Norwegian-French team who kindly put up with my flailing I feel I at best barely scratched the surface of the areas potential.

The climbing:

Although pretty nearby in Norwegian terms (2ish hrs drive between them) the climbing in Lavangen, and the climbing on the island of Senja have different feels.

Lavangen area:

Lavangen in winter is a land of valley icefall plenty. Running inland from the Lavangen fjord, the Spansdalen valley is described by the locals as northern Norway's answer to Rjukan. The main action lies on the south (north-facing) side of the valley where there are around a dozen big ice lines from WI3 to WI6, between two and five pitches long and all around half an hour from the road. King of these is the huge Henrikkefossen (250m WI4/5), a superb classic that dominates the view from the village of Tennevoll at the head of the Lavangen fjord.

A short drive northwards, the frozen Flaget lake allows a five minute stroll to a range of south facing sunny lines including an impressive three pitch WI5+, an superb and amenable single pitch WI3 plus several bolted mixed lines and loads of other ice - in short something for everyone to enjoy.

In the unlikely event of exhausting these, the rest of the area is filled with ice - almost anywhere there are cliffs (i.e. nearly everywhere) icefalls are to be found, from right by the sea to high in the surrounding mountains. Although there is currently no guidebook, topos to the area are in production for next winter, and as the ice is clearly visible from the road more detailed information isn't needed... enjoy!

Climbers crossing the frozen Flaget lake  © Viv Scott
Climbers crossing the frozen Flaget lake
© Viv Scott
Senja:

Tucked away in the northwest of Norway's second largest island Senja lies an adventure seeking winter climbers paradise. Approaching from the mainland, the islands initially gently rolling landscape suddenly gives way to a world of dramatic fjords surrounded by stunning alpine peaks, huge icy walls and steep turfy ridges. Suffice to say the mountains surrounding the Baltsfjord, Oyfjord, Mefjord and Ersfjord are among the most spectacular I've ever seen.

Senja is adventure climbing at its best, and will hopefully remain that way. Some lines have been climbed, most probably haven't. There's no guidebook and little in the way of records so it's all a step into the wild unknown. Go with an open mind, look around, take your pick and enjoy!!

Logistics:

When to go:

Lying well to the north of the Arctic Circle, the area has reliable winter climbing anytime from November to the end of April and often beyond, and from mid-February onwards there's plenty of daylight for climbing.

Getting there and around:

Air is by far the fastest method (around 2hrs flight from Oslo), as it's a long long drive (or boat ride) from Oslo or Bergen further south. The area is well served by airports, with Bardufoss extremely convenient for both Lavangen and Senja, and Tromso (north), and Narvik (south) around 2-3 hours away. All three are served by both Norwegian [www.norwegian.com] and SAS [www.flySAS.com] (among others) from Oslo, which helps to keep the prices down, and Norwegian currently operate a direct flight from London to Tromso. www.skyscanner.net is as always a good place to start for finding options from the UK.

Narvik is also accessible by train, taking the famous Norrlandstaget night train from Stockholm. See www.sj.se for further details.

A car is pretty much essential for getting around once there - hire cars (with spiky winter tyres!) are available in Tromso, Bardufoss and Narvik. In addition, the Fjellkysten [www.fjellkysten.com] hotel (see "Where to stay" below) does airport pickups from Bardufoss, meets the public bus system, and has a small fleet of it's own vehicles which they hire to guests.

Where to stay and supplies:

The meet was hosted at the Fjellkysten Hotel [www.fjellkysten.com] looking out over the stunning Lavangen fjord. This provided simple but comfortable catered and self-catered accommodation with plenty of room for relaxing and kit, a friendly family run atmosphere and a bar! Other accommodation is also available in the area, and there are food shops in both Tennevoll and Sjovegen.

On Senja, climbers stayed in the Mefjord Brygge [www.mefjordbrygge.no] in the fishing village of Mefjord, again providing simple, comfortable and flexible accommodation - plus a bar and superb seafood home cooking! A small supermarket for supplies is in the next door village Senjahopen.

The nearest gear shops are in Tromso, but the range and availability is limited so best to bring some spares if you have butter fingers.

The Photos:

 

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Approaching the classic Henrikkefossen WI4/5 250m, Spansdalen valley, Lavangen
© Viv Scott

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Breitinden, Senja's highest peak
© Viv Scott

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Dawn over the Lavangen Fjord
© Viv Scott

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Ersfjord, Senja
© Viv Scott

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Ersfjorden, Senja
© Viv Scott

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Fjord walls, Senja
© Viv Scott

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Erwan Lelann climbing Henrikkefossen WI4/5.
© Viv Scott

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If Carlsberg made ice climbs.... Finnkona, Steinfjorden, Senja
© Viv Scott

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Mefjorden walls, Senja
© Viv Scott

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Spansdalen - valley of ice, Lavangen
© Viv Scott

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They start them young in Norway... family day in the sun at Flaget
© Marius Olsen

 


Viv Scott would like to give a huge thanks to the Norwegian Alpine Club, Marius Morstad, Sjur Nesheim, Marius Olsen and everyone else on the trip.

 



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24 Mar, 2010
//kiwiclimber.se/iceclimbing/iceguide/iceguide.pdf Viv - what were avalanche conditions like when you were there? Had the cold weather meant lots of snow? Or not much snow? I'm going not too far from there at Easter and hope to climb and ski tour.
Great article. Really inspiring. I have only climbed in Spansdalen and in another valley east of a town called Setermoen (in Bardu Kommune) and can attest to the high quality ice climbing. We went in February and it was cold, like -20. On page 22 of the following .pdf guide http://kiwiclimber.se/iceclimbing/ you can find information on routes in Spansdalen. We stayed in Narvik as it was hard to find accommodation.
24 Mar, 2010
Inspiring article and quite a few "I wanna go there photos" in it. It would however be nice to know a little bit more about what kind of icefalls people climbed. Ex. besides Henrikafossen is there a lot of 200m+ falls in the region? I was actually going there myself but got slight frostbite on my bigtoes in january so I gave it a miss. Looking at the pictures I´m not sure it was the right decision. Was there a lot of falls southfacing? Approx temps. during the week? hopefully they´ll run something similar next year!
24 Mar, 2010
Hi Toby, As you probably know it was exceptionally cold in northern Norway this winter, and by the standards of the area pretty dry as well (not as much snow as usual). As a result there were no avalanche issues while I was there, but not sure what's happened of late. Still plenty enough snow to tour though and was right down to (and on) the sea. Cheers for the guide link - very useful.
24 Mar, 2010
Hi, People climbed all sorts of icefalls, from easy single pitches to long and steep and everything in between. Obviously the Hennrikkefossen as the 'classic' got a lot of ascents, but it's by no means alone. Most of the main lines in Spansdalen are at least 150m+, and there's loads more long lines tucked away in the surrounding valleys. As for Senja, the possibilities are numerous, long and impressive to say the least... Temperature-wise, was bitterly cold to start with (-20 and below in the day with no wind), but there are south facing lines (Flaget lake all got the sun), as did other places. Warmed up a bit to daytime temps of around -5 ish for the last couple of days which was apparently more usual.
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