A strong trio of British climbers - Dave MacLeod, Calum Muskett and Jacob Cook - recently travelled to Kvaløya near Trømso in Arctic Norway to attempt the first free ascent of the aid route Disko 2000 (A2+, 400m) on the island's highest mountain, Blåmman. Calum had one week less than Dave and Jacob to spend on the route, so the full free ascent was eventually only made by Dave and Jacob. The pitches were freed at 7b, 8a+, 7a, 8a+, 7c, 7c, 7b+, 7a, 7a, 6a, 6c, 6b+ and 5+.
The line had come to Dave's attention on a previous trip to Blåmman in 2011. Writing in his blog, he explained:
"It was while freeing Bongo Bar on the north face of Blåmman, 4 years ago that I got the spark of curiosity to try to free Disco 2000. Looking across at the maze of roofs to my right, I saw a bolt belay looking lonely in the middle of nowhere on a blank looking granite wall. Huge roofs above and below. I could picture Marten Blixt hand drilling them by headtorch in some blizzard during their winter aid ascent in 2000."
The route takes a direct line up the steepest bit of cliff and was an obvious target for a hard free climb. It climbs the first two pitches of the classic free route Arctandria, first freed in 2005 by Didier Berthod and Giovanni Quirci. It follows Arctandria's crux, an 8a+ corner before breaking out left through wildly overhanging terrain. The rock is granite and the climbing is traditionally protected for the most part, although there are two bolts on the crux pitch left from the aid ascent.
Jacob and Dave had already spent one week scoping out the climb before Calum arrived, of which four days were passed by sitting in their tent waiting for the rain to subside. Making the most of the long Arctic daylight hours, the team were able to work the route at otherwise impossible times of day and optimise their efforts.
Dave wrote in his blog:
"Calum Muskett arrived, bringing a couple of dry days with him. Jacob and I were so impatient as the wall started to dry out again that we raced back up to try the Arctandria corner at around 11pm."
Writing in his blog, Calum described acclimatising to the typical Arctic day as follows:
"During the summer months Kvaløya seems beyond the reach of time in its normal sense; the amber midnight sky uncertain as to whether the sun is setting or rising. Camped up in the mountains with no battery left on my mobile and no way to ascertain the time meant that life had a simplicity to it outside of the ordinary. You woke up when you were no longer tired, ate when you were hungry and climbed whenever the weather would allow it."
Jacob told UKC:
"We spent two days redpointing the first five pitches (I only managed 4 of them, Dave got all 5), then jumared up to our highpoint on day 3 and finished the route to the top of the wall. A one day free ascent would be a phenomenal effort but it wasn't to be for us this trip due to the sustained hard climbing and bad weather."
On the successful summit push, Dave, Jacob and Calum were faced with a tough decision as to whether to push on or retreat with the prospect of heavy rains closing in from the North and South of the island. Calum selflessly opted to retreat to increase Dave and Jacob's chances of freeing the climb:
"I decided to head down at this point to increase Dave and Jacob’s chances of beating the rain as they’d freed a lot more of the route than I had."
Knowing that it would most likely be their only chance to complete the free ascent, Dave and Jacob opted to get wet and go for glory, as Dave explained:
"We carried on, first with a soaking wet E4 groove. I slithered and power screamed my way up it. It wasn’t pretty, but I got to the next ledge. The following two pitches went a little quicker in the gloom of the night and landed us on a ledge with two pitches to go. The rain clouds looked like they were just a few minutes away. To be honest, the rain wouldn’t have made much difference to the next pitch."
"The heavens opened and by the time I reached the top we were both soaked to the skin, amazing timing!"
Commenting on his personal highlight of the trip, Jacob told UKC:
"One of the highlights for me was pitch 5 called the “Kalk & Gummi roof”. A 45 degree overhanging finger crack! The downside is it always seems to be covered in black slime. Amazingly it turns out that the finger locks are so bomber it’s possible to climb despite the slime. At the end you do this wild move to a perfectly placed jug on the lip of the roof and cut loose. Dangling from that jug with all the space under your feet is a pretty heroic position!
"The other personal highlight was pitch 7, where the aid route does a pendulum to switch crack systems. To free climb this part I ended up doing a huge sideways dyno. It took me three goes to stick, and I got to take some fun falls on the first two goes!"
Despite the lack of opportunity to complete a one-day ascent, Dave was pleased with the team's efforts to be as productive as possible in the challenging conditions
"I was still really happy that we managed to take every moment of dry weather to get all the pitches freed in the 50 hour, rain-interrupted sessions we did get. The locals we met in between the solitude of our camp below the wall were extremely friendly and kind to us. Both the climbers and the various people we hitched lifts from. It made it such a nice experience on top of all the great climbing, and this left us very impressed by the community in this part of Norway."
Calum summed up the attempt and the climbing on Kvaløya in his blog as follows:
"Unfortunately, the weather and the amount of time we had out there weren’t conducive to a one day free ascent, so that challenge remains for future ascensionists. If you like your granite climbing and are in search of a different climbing destination for next summer then I would strongly recommend Kvaløya and its endless daylight. Flights to Tromso are reasonably priced and the locals are very helpful and friendly, all of which provide the perfect ingredients for a great holiday destination."
Watch the video below for a taster of the climbing on Disco 2000: