Greg Boswell and French alpinist Jeff Mercier have just returned from a short but very successful trip to the Norwegian island of Senja in the Arctic Circle. The pair established seven new routes in just eight days, of which three were on significant unclimbed faces.
Although Jeff had climbed on the island twice previously, Greg was on his first Senja trip - largely inspired by Ines Papert's photos from her visit in 2013. Jeff and Greg were united on Senja for the purpose of a Rab photoshoot, but still found plenty of time to scope out some new routes. Greg told UKC:
'I had never climbed with Jeff in the mountains before, only on local valley crags, but I think we worked well together and our tick list speaks for itself.'
On their first day, the team climbed a hard mixed line to reach some thick ice above a ledge that had already seen an ascent via a different route. Greg commented: 'The route for us though was in the first three pitches. These pitches packed a punch and the bold factor added to the technical climbing substantially! To give them a Scottish grade, it'd be P1-IX/9, P2 IX/8 and P3 VIII/8, so all in it was pretty spicy. We then moved together up the final 80m of WI4 ice.'
The following day, Greg and Jeff did a direct line up the North Face of Stormoa that they had spotted the previous day whilst driving and looking for potential objectives. 'It was a cool line that also had some bold hard mixed climbing, this time on thin ice. It was cool to do a big face route early in the trip,' said Greg.
On day three, the pair climbed a corner line directly up the unclimbed West face of Hatten. 'This was an amazing line that had some interesting mixed and turf climbing,' Greg explained. 'The corner line cut straight up the face, and the big roof that blocked the way on the penultimate pitch was a cool feature to find and climb. We also found some sunshine on the ridge at the top!'
Day four was another route in the same Ersfjord area, this time on the neighbouring mountain, Snaufjellet. The team climbed a direct line straight up the West face that took in some steep, bold and thin ice linking the middle section. 'It was a cool face and the climbing was super interesting throughout,' Greg said.
The fifth day was pencilled in as a photo session, but that didn't stop Greg and Jeff finding another mixed line to the left of the route they established on day one. Greg commented: 'This time when we reached the ledge, we went direct up the face above to reach a hanging ice section above a roof. The last pitch in its own right was world class!'
On day six, the pair planned to look at a route on the North Face of Breitind with the intention of backing off and going up earlier the next day for the ascent. Despite the climbing being hard and bold, they made some good time and height early on and decided to continue upwards. 'The climbing got harder the higher we went and the light started to fade,' Greg explained. 'The crux pitch was the second last pitch, and it was home to some very thin and delaminating ice alone with some bold and sustained mixed climbing. I led this pitch thinking it would be hard in its own right as a single pitch in Scotland, let alone 450m up a North Face in the fading light! That led us to the mother of all cornices, there was a moment when I thought we would fail, even though we were only 50m from the summit. It took all my courage and a whole lot of fighting the daemons in my head to commit to climbing that overhanging monster, 30m run-out from the belay. However, eventually I found myself on the summit with the aurora beaming above my head!'
The cherry on the cake came in the form of the third and last unclimbed ice line on Finnkona. Greg had spied this line years ago when he first read about Senja in a report on Ines Papert climbing Finnmannen. 'It was the rightmost of the three lines and we were super psyched to find a way directly up to and then up the ice on totally new terrain. The climbing was fun on the lower mixed sections, and then it stepped up a bit as it got overhanging and thin. I was pleased to find a passage through the steep roofs to reach the ice.'
Greg waxed lyrical about the quality climbing on Senja, and has vowed to return. He told us:
'We found a paradise for climbers that have an ambition for new routing in the winter. The terrain and mountains were ideal for everything from steep mixed test pieces, big alpine north faces or even 5 metre-thick immaculate ice falls! What more could you ask for! The conditions were perfect for winter ascents and the route potential was unlimited!'
'The place is unreal, and we only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. You could do a new route there every day for years and there'd still be cool stuff to climb. Plus the beauty of the place alone is worth another visit!'