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New Mixed Climbs on Norway's Senja Island

Posted on: May 22, 2015


Daniel Burson leads a thin smear on Smoke Show (150m). [Photo] Aaron Mulkey

In late February, the American foursome of Aaron Mulkey, Chris Guyer, Daniel Burson and Shawn Gregory visited Senja Island in arctic Norway for a week of mixed climbing. Mulkey and partners had visited previously, in 2013, and established five new routes on the island, but since Senja was relatively unknown at the time, they'd tried, says Mulkey, "to keep things hush."

Senja Island, the second largest island in Norway, is a spectacular and pristine land that faces the open Norwegian Sea on the country's ragged northwest coast. The coastal region, with its fickle winter weather, is perfect for mixed climbing protected by trad gear. Rough and rocky mountains, sculpted by glaciers, rise directly out of deep fjords on Senja's north and west coasts. Alpine ridges crested with cornices and tall mountain walls dripping with ice runnels, gullies, icicles and pillars have attracted winter climbers, particularly in the last few years. The island offers adventure seaside climbing, with serious mixed routes as well as unclimbed faces on the high peaks. As Viv Scott of ukclimbing.com writes, "There's no guidebook and little in the way of records so it's all a step into the wild unknown." It is impossible to be certain if any new line is a first ascent.

Chris Guyer climbs mixed terrain above the fjord on Tidal Roulette (200m). [Photo] Aaron Mulkey

On this most recent trip (February 23-March 2, 2015), the climbers established three new lines—Tidal Roulette (200m), Deliberation Corner (270m) and Smoke Show (150m). The routes, from four to six pitches, were mixed rock and ice adventures. Mulkey declined to rate them, saying, "There is no use in grading these routes since the conditions change so often here—I wouldn't want to detour anyone from doing the routes because of a grade. The mixed climbing we found could very easily be covered with ice on the next ascent or it may not; that's why it's best to just show up and climb."

Tidal Roulette (200m), says Mulkey, "was a...mixed line that rose straight out of the ocean and involved a two and a half-mile hike along the ocean, rock-hopping." As the four climbed, the tide came in, forcing them to post-hole in snow over bedrock for hours to get back to the car.

Aaron Mulkey steps off an ice smear onto steep mixed terrain on the second pitch of Deliberation Corner (270m) on Luttinden's high cliffs above Ersfjorden. [Photo] Shawn Gregory

Deliberation Corner (270m) looked like a "fat vein of ice" that slimmed down on Luttinden's high cliffs above Ersfjorden. The route, the most difficult one climbed on the trip, involved "very thin dry tooling up seams to a small ledge." Above, the second pitch was a thin ice smear up a corner. Mulkey says, "Halfway up you had to step out of the corner system on a thin smear where everything beneath your feet became space"—perhaps the climb's most memorable moment.

The team spotted Smoke Show (150m), the last route on the trip, on Hatten, the next mountain east of Luttinden. After approaching on skis, they climbed a thin smear that rises directly up the peak. Mulkey recalls an incredible, long pitch of thin alpine-like climbing that led into a chimney system with moderate alpine ice and mixed terrain.

Aaron Mulkey works his way up an ice runnel on Riders on the Storm (325m). [Photo] Tanner Callender

Earlier in February, another four-man team—Paul Bride, Jesse Huey, Paul McSorley and Jon Walsh—visited Senja Island and established some long mixed routes of their own. One of the most demanding ascents in the area was perhaps the Canadians McSorley and Walsh's new line, Ice Princess (M6+ AI4), on the Scottish Wall sector of the impressive 500-meter north face of Brietind, the highest peak on Senja. The wall, glazed with long ice smears and frosted with snow, has no bolts and is notorious for runout mixed climbing. Two routes already ascend the face: Crazy Maze (8+/IX WI4+, 600m) was first done by Ines Papert and Thomas Senf in 2014, while Fantasia was opened in 2007 by Sjur Nesheim and a partner using a 150-meter rope, since belay stances and protection were lacking.

On his blog, Alpine Justice, McSorley wrote: "We settled on a route at the left side and blasted up amazing neve and mixed climbing for seven pitches (two of those involved extensive simulclimbing...) totaling 450 meters. The difficulties were not too severe (M6+ AI4+) but the thin, runout ice and rock overlaps were consistently spicy."

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Walsh and Huey also repeated the difficult mixed route Finnmannen, graded M9+ WI6+, on the Trophy Wall. The 500-meter line was first climbed in February 2013 by Ines Papert and local climber Bent Vidar Eilertsen. The route, reached by a five-kilometer ski approach, offers tricky rock climbing with crimps, long runouts and thin smears of glazed ice.

Sources: Aaron Mulkey, coldfear.com, arcteryx.com, Alpine Justice, senjalodge.com

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