Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Reading Orwell in (north)eastern Europe.

I don’t know why but I decided to read George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier. Besides a few of his shorter essays, I guess I haven’t read any of his books since school. Anyway the following paragraph jumped out.
I am not a manual labourer and please God I never shall be one, but there are some kinds of manual work that I could do if I had to. At pitch I could be a tolerable road-sweeper or an inefficient gardener or even a tenth-rate farm hand. But by no conceivable amount of effort training could I become a coal-miner, the work would kill me in a few weeks.
He clearly holds the miners in awe but is also perhaps being somewhat modest. An odd thought struck me about how lucky Orwell was to be born British considering when he was born. Perhaps because I have read some excellent books this year that deal with the terror of Stalin’s rule (most notably “Bloodlands” by Timothy Snyder and, in fiction, Sofi Okasanen’s “Purge”) it crossed my mind that had Orwell been born in what became the Soviet Union, or indeed in many other places between Berlin and Moscow, he may well have had an opportunity to find out how correct his premonition was.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"No, not him": the new Tiitinen list.

Of course throughout the Cold War, Finland could never admit that there was a Cold War. That was something the nasty superpowers did; studiously ignored or denied up in the north where neutrality supposedly meant good relations with all. Those who were involved in the Finnish end of that conflict (or who looked on from the sidelines) are still very much with us. They fill the upper echelons of political, economic, media and cultural life in the country, and whilst things stay that way, stories around the Tiitinen list aren't going away.  Until the list is made public, or another generation or two retire and die, the story will hang around Helsinki political circles like a bad smell.

But this week saw the publication of Alpo Rusi's book about the list - the book being the result of his legal battle to refute the story that his name was on the list. Rusi announced that a former Finnish prime minister (now deceased), Kalevi Sorsa, was on the list. This was one of the first bits of political gossip I heard when I started working as a researcher, on the outer fringes of the Helsinki political life, a decade ago. I had always presumed that if a fresh-off-the-boat foreigner had heard such a thing it was one of those open secrets that most had heard but no media would publish. Now Tiitinen (previously the head of the Security Police, now Secretary General of the Parliament) has denied that the former-PM was on the list. This must be a great thing for Sorsa's friends and family - in effect exonerating him, but an odd way to go about things.

Can we expect journalists now to suggest names to the secretary general every time they corner him in the corridors of the Eduskunta (parliament) in order to collect his denials? Perhaps they should start with the President, every current government minister over the age 40, the heads of the ministries of state and perhaps the editors-in-chief of the biggest papers and TV channels. If Sec. Gen. Tiitinen denies that those people are on the list, the next journo can try the ministers and prime ministers of the last few governments.

Alternatively, they could just publish the list, end the rumours and let people make peace with the past.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Road biking in the Helsinki hinterland

Old bike
Shortly after washing up on Finnish shores about a decade back I decided I wanted a road bike. I'm not sure why, watching Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon on the Champs-Élysées in 1989 probably. I went to Velosport, at the time probably the only serious shop for road biking in the capital. The guy there who served me looked suspiciously like 'Il Pirata', an impression that I'm sure he was only too happy to cultivate. Nevertheless he was great, talking me through everything with no hard-sell, despite my budget was the bottom of their range. I was sat on the jig and measured up before all that info was faxed off to the Olmo factory in Italy where (I would like to think) a little man called Giovanni built by hand the frame of my bike. My red, all Italian beauty did a decade a grand service, working impeccably over many thousands of kilometres and seeing me comfortably through my first long sportive rides last year (see here and here). But this summer revealed that really its whole drive train needed replacing - along with the wheels - and the cost and hassle of doing so actually made getting a new bike a consideration.

Bikes have moved on, road riding has increased hugely in popularity with rise of the MAMIL of which, I guess, I am sadly now one. My Olmo was probably at the end of the era where hand-built steel frames were more common. Now aluminium and carbon frames are the norm, with most of them I've been told coming from the same few massive factories in Taiwan. Unless you have a lot of money to spend, bikes are off the peg, so buying off the internet is a bit of a worry with educated guess over what size to order. But on the other hand, huge competition between so many brands and shops in different countries means that you are getting a lot of bike for your money - mine was a more than a third off in an end of season sale, letting me get something much nicer than I would have been able to afford at full price.

New bike
Road biking has definitely gained in popularity here in Finland as well; the Tour de Helsinki had another record breaking year for numbers doing it earlier this month. Out here on the edge of the city its quite normal to see groups gathering to head out into the countryside for evening rides, and through the summer it was normal to see a few other riders out when I went out to ride. Ten years back it was quite different, other riders would come for a chat if they saw you because road bikers were pretty rare - I remember at least a couple of guys, despite my lack of Finnish, invite me to club rides and the like as they were just pleased to meet other roadies. It's a very similar situation to climbing that I've watched rise massively in popularity here over the last decade and a half.

Typical rush hour in the Helsinki hinterland
Nevertheless, I think road biking could/should be more popular here. The Helsinki hinterland is just such a great place to ride. Firstly, unlike further inland, there are lots of roads. Secondly, most of these roads are paved - no need for cyclocross or hybrids. Thirdly, and most importantly, there is virtually no traffic on them. The five motorways radiating out from Helsinki take a huge percentage of the traffic leaving or entering the capital region, leaving a big network of well paved country roads with next to no one driving on them - and making them just wonderful for cycling on. You get to notice all the 'old Finland' of human history that is still there; sagging barns, elevated cow sheds, the plentiful volunteer local fire stations and small schools - stuff you never notice zipping up and down the motorway - alongside the natural environment. Expect all the birds, from tiny songbirds up to storks and hawks high above, or currently - fields full of geese getting read to migrate. You'll see squirrels and hares, and might see badgers and deer - I have. Best of all, I almost ran into a moose once, free wheeling nearly silently around a forest road corner. It's all out there, and for the vast majority of the time you'll be completely on your own to enjoy it.

Anyway, from a few pics and some video - all taken from my phone so please excuse the low quality - I've made a little film. It's my bit to help out Helsinki's tourist board to promote the quiet lanes of Helsinki's hinterland to the world road biking community. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Scotland: one wedding and two hill walks

The Firth of Clyde
The last couple of years of school in a small English town weren't really bad, but for loads of us sixth form was just a waiting room. Pass your exams and get the fuck out of there; young men and women with better places to be. It's nothing personal against small towns, it's just what being young is about. I chose Glasgow, or maybe Glasgow chose me. I wanted bright lights and the big city, but with snow dusted mountains on the horizon. I got it all and more. Perhaps I should have never left, but life moves on and other cities yet further north beckoned. How a decade slipped passed since my last proper visit I don't know. Looking out of the plane last weekend, the crumpled green of Northumberland and the Southern Uplands evened out as the Central Belt stretched below. Sun glinted on the bridges of the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh to the east before we banked left running north of Glasgow along the Campsie with Loch Lomond and its Ben above marking the edge of the Glaswegian sprawl. The plane swung south as we approached GLA and looking down the Firth of Clyde nostalgia washed through me like an adrenalin jolt. Dumby in the sun - how many afternoons were spent amongst the boulders summoning up the balls to try any of the routes? The cycle track along the river to Balloch and then out onto the moors before dropping back down to Milngavie - really the first mountain biking I ever did. Sitting in the wind-shelters on Helenburgh seafront, eating chips and laughing with the most beautiful girl I had met at that point in my life.

The happy occasion: a mate's wedding, dragging the old posse back together from all corners of the UK (and indeed world), made Glasgow all the more glorious. Things change, but many don't. The underground is still laughably small. Saturday night: the gallus townies still pack the wine bars and restaurants, all togged up, showing someone, anyone, themselves, that this is Glasvegas now rather than no mean city.

Things of great beauty can still be injurious to your health
Up in the west the students are as students do, just younger looking than I remember being. We drink too much and lose our voices yelling happily over the din of a heaving bar. I have a 2.30 am doner kebab on Great Western Road, it just seemed the right thing to do, although in the morning I would be disagreeing.

Sunday was the wedding day, and it was everything a Glasgow wedding should be; kilts and a piper, plenty of Stellas at the reception and a wedding band that did ceilidh numbers and Auld Lang Syne next to the Glee theme and Deacon Blue's Dignity. By the end, men in kilts were doing one armed push-ups on the dance floor. I don't know why but it all made sense as these things do at the time. It was cracking wedding for a cracking couple. Have fun together guys.

Matt, former MRT member, is disapproving of Ed's alternative approach to hill walking gear
Monday, Ed, Matt and me headed out to Arrochar. It rained. Of course. Somebody has fixed the path up the Cobbler, the first 300 mtr slog isn't quite the hellish mud squish I remember, but by the time we got to the dam, it was officially pissing it down so we beat a retreat back down to the tea shop. I notice "the Moorings" in Arrochar village has gone - now somewhere else must hold the title of the worst pub in the UK. Perhaps its formica and hostile grimness has gone forever.

Arrochar, now minus the worst pub in the world
I dropped the guys for the train back into Glasgow, and head northwards solo. There is a touch of sun around the top of Loch Lomond, by Tyndrum the drizzle is back, and it's hammering it down by Rannoch Moor. Glencoe passes in rain lashed greyness, but the westerly gale running up Loch Linnhe blasts a few gaps in the rain. Fort William deserves its name - a tough hold out against never ending inclement weather. I remembered why Northern Norway feels so familiar, Tromsø is just Fort William with more ambition and a richer, better dressed population. Nevisport Bar is no longer called Nevisport Bar yet remains a pub that still plays its old role of the site of much prevarication and hiding from the weather. But a man with no accommodation can only prevaricate for so long, so eventually I head out into the night and drive up to the top of Glen Nevis.

Blustery showers and utter darkness meet me on getting out of the car. My tiny headtorch doesn't light much beyond the sign at the trail head saying something about fatalities having occurred in the canyon ahead, but I shoulder my pack and head up into the dark and dank forest. I've only been on this path once before, as I remember it, going the other way with skis strapped to my pack after Matt and I had done a telemark traverse of the Aonachs then skied down into Glen Nevis in stormy weather. It's warmer this evening but otherwise the weather isn't much better. After a km or two the path comes out of trees. Pitch black wet forests provide plenty of fodder for the irrational mind to play on, but coming out of the shelter of the trees it is the rational mind that starts to worry as driving rain soaks you. I needed to find somewhere to camp pretty sharpish but with the wind barrelling down the glen and not being able to see more than a few metres with my little torch, this isn't the easiest of operations.

Eventually some flatish non-soaked ground with a small rock buttress giving some protection appears, beyond that I'll worry about it in the morning. I get my little tent up in record time, pull its scant guylines as tight as I can, double peg the corners and then dive in, zipping myself away from maelstrom outside. I don't get the best nights sleep, wind and rain wakes me once and I remember the story of an old UKC mate with the same tent as mine. He said he had to break camp in the middle of night once when the weather threatened to destroy the tent. Mine was working impeccably, but still every time it flexed in a gust, Douglas' story came back to me.

The next time I woke up it I was sure the roar of the river nearby was louder. A relatively scary experience in the Indian Himalayas taught me long ago how fast rivers can rise, it didn't make any sense as it hadn't been raining that much in days before, but the noise was definitely there. I got out of my bag pulled on my headtorch and went out to look. The wind was blasting around, but the river looked relatively placid and low, so were was the roaring sound of water coming from? I went back to bed and tried not to think about it. In the morning, on unzipping my tent to some sunshine, I was greeted by the majestic sight of Steall Waterfall cascading down the hill side just a few hundred metres away across the river. I had been completely oblivious to both that and the nearby cable bridge that I simply hadn't seen in the dark of night.

I quickly packed up and jogged back down to the car to dump my tent and sleeping bag, wolfed down an excuse for breakfast, then headed back up through the gorge, across the cable bridge to start the "Ring of Steall", a classic hill walk around a series of Munros that ring that side of the head of Glen Nevis. Getting to the start of the ascent included a boots-off fording of one burn (haven't done that in a long time) and then a few hundred metres of boot sucking bog before the ground dries out as you start to climb.

Raw Egg Buttress on Aonach Beag
The views were spectacular - Aonach Beag was free from cloud at some points, although the brooding bulk of Ben Nevis never cleared completely. White streaks of fast running streams, strengthened by the rain of the day before, painted the sides of the hills all around. I realise I don't hate walking uphill as much as when I was younger. Stronger legs from cycling? Or a better attitude to being in the hills? A bit of both most likely.

Steall meadows
At about 700 metres the next rain came in and the views went. I pulled on full waterproofs and kept on trudging upwards.

Summit grimness
Reaching the summit of An Gearanach, 985 mtrs, the weather was officially foul. Winds were hammering me, rain blasting, and I needed to swap out some wet underlayers to combat the first shivering. My fingers got cold despite two pairs of gloves that weren't water resistant enough for the conditions. Nevertheless, I scrambled on along the fine ridge to the next top, An Garbhanach, but the weather hadn't improved by that point, and all the summits along the ridge that I could see were in the cloud and the gust were enough to blow you off balance - not ideal on a narrow rock ridge. The full traverse will wait for another day - it does look mighty fine - but I turn around and head back down.

Plans rarely survive first contact with weather in the Scottish mountains. Needing to play on their terms is what perhaps make them so rewarding. My feet didn't dry out on the walk down, nor whilst having a coffee and cake in Morrison's cafe, nor whilst driving back down to Glasgow.

Loch Linnhe
My newly married friends wouldn't hear of me sleeping in my hire car that night, as had been my original plan, and with great grace insisted I bring my slightly smelly and muddy self to their spare room for the night.

Towards Ardgour
The road back into Glasgow next to Loch Lomond used to be one of mixed emotions; Sunday nights - leaving the privation but purity of the mountain behind and heading back down into the busy, complex world of people and relationships under the orange glow of sodium street lamps. But that evening there were none - happy faces of friends, a shower, hot food, a pint in the pub and then clean sheets and no dreams of tent poles snapping and rivers rising. Still Glasgow's miles better.
Sunlight breaks through over Blackmount

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marmot Plasma 15: revisited.

Some one left a comment on my original first look post at the Marmot Plasma 15 sleeping bag asking about the stuff bag size. Hence the photo above shows the sleeping bag in its stuff sack against a 1 ltr nalgene bottle and an average sized paperback for comparison. It's easy to put the sleeping bag into the stuff sack, and it is not very compressed in there - it will squash down quite a lot smaller than the size it is in the stuff sack if you need it to.

My full review of the Plasma 15 can be read on UKclimbing.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


As ever, laugh or you'll cry.

"Good choice"

Lots and lots more at photoshoplooter.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

After Utøya: the politics of a monster

The news from Norway is horrific. What sort of monster could do such a thing? Placing a bomb and running away is one (terrible) thing, but is perhaps easier an act to commit than coldly walking around a small island shooting kids dead at close range. Anyone who has visited this blog over the years knows that I have researched terrorism for quite a long time now, but one thing I've always thought about "terrorism studies", if there is such a thing, is it too often focuses on the political ideology of groups and doesn't consider the psychology of individual actors.  We use our difference (most of 'us' being white secular Europeans or North Americans) from them (the brown, religious, Arabs or South Asians) to focus on their political/religious rhetoric and not ask the simple question: in comparison to all the other people like 'them' who don't viciously murder innocents, are they just fucking nuts?

Is Anders Behring Breivik just totally fucking nuts? Perhaps it is easier to comprehend or accept if he is. Definitely that is how Finland has dealt with its mall bomber and school mass murderers - just freaks, nothing to learn here, please move along. Surely Breivik was in some way mad, but there was an awful lot of careful method and planning for his ultimate act of madness. And therefore we have to look at what he has said, the politics of his dispicable actions. It is not enough to just say he is mad.

Even as I write this, what looks like his 'manifesto' and is coming to light, and the translation of the collection of his comments on a Norwegian "immigration critical" website show exactly the political background that he comes from. He is a product of the "Counter-Jihad", the transatlantic anti-Muslim, anti-immigration movement. He quotes leading 'thinkers' of the Counter-Jihad like Fjordman and leading blogs like Gates of Vienna. This is a specific political trend that isn't classic "far right", in terms of fascists and neo-Nazi. For instance a BBC article on the Norwegian far right completely misses this point. It isn't the old far right of Jew hatred and hating non-whites. It is a hatred of Muslim immigrants who come from a different culture and an ever-spiralling hatred of European politicians and general people in European societies who feel that actually we can live perfectly well in countries made up of people of different colours, religions, political persuasions and the like.

I've written about this movement here and elsewhere for a few years now. I always feared their impact on European electoral politics, sowing distrust and fear in diverse societies. But this is just sick; they have bred their own monster - not just a fire-bomb against a Mosque wall, or an angry street protest hurling abuse at British Asians - but a man who killed almost a hundred kids from his own fucking country because he didn't like their politics.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Billy Bragg on the Dirty Digger.

I've not got much to say about the whole New International farce, besides told you so. I might often disagree with their editorial line, but having been a "Guardian reader" since I could read and wanted to, well its easy to be smug currently.

Take it away Billy.

BILLY BRAGG - NEVER BUY THE SUN from Billy Bragg on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

There is bike touring and then there is BIKE TOURING

This video of a bike and packrafting expedition in Alaska is just wonderful. Absolutely inspirational and beautiful. Grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy for ten minutes.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Crapping on paradise

I went canoe camping last weekend on Hiidenvesi, a biggish lake in southern Finland, not too far west of Helsinki. It was a sort of last minute thing - the weather was so hot it seemed being in/on/near a lake seemed like a good idea. Anyway, if you need a canoe at short notice and for a very reasonable rate, along with a totally relaxed - "oh just leave it over there somewhere whenever you get back" - attitude to returns, visit the nice people at Welhonpesä in Klaukkala.

We didn't have any real info in advance (although it turns out there is loads at www.melontapooli.fi including maps) so just took the standard 1:50,000 map and figured we would find somewhere to camp. There are lots of summer cottages around the lake so headed for some islands in the middle that the map marked as uninhabited.

One was hilly with little flat ground on it, but it's smaller neighbour was perfect with a great little beach and a nice flat spot for a camping.

Unsurprisingly some other families were already there by motorboat and it was clearly a regular stopping point, with a number of fire rings already built including one big one with logs laid around as benches and the like.

The Everyman's Right in Finland gives you legal right to travel through or camp just about anywhere that isn't land under cultivation or a someones garden (although there is no right to have a fire without the landowners permission). So there is no reason why this little island shouldn't be well visited, it is a beautiful spot after all, even if the fireplaces aren't technically permitted. But what I wasn't prepared for was the huge amounts of litter that was lying around - including maybe two metres squared of piled up rubbish mainly in plastic bags - and then used toilet paper stuffed down every little crevice or into bushes all over the island.  I actually watched a fat bloke (he was in pale blue Speedos just to complete the delightful image) down the last of his cans of beer from a box of cans, and carefully collapse the cardboard box before leaving it propped up against all the other rubbish as he and his family got back onto their speed boat and buggered off.

I then spent maybe 20 minutes with two sharp sticks going around the island collecting up toilet paper and burning it in one of the fire rings. I've cleaned other people's shit up before, but in a professional capacity where I was at least getting paid to be shining toilets. It's not something I would choose to do as hobby.

Who do people think is going to go to some little island in the middle of lake and clean up the crap (literal and metaphorical) that they have left behind? Some sort of magic, floating dustbin truck? And if we, in a canoe, can pack our small amount of rubbish into a plastic bag and take it back to the dustbins at our starting point, why can't the fat bastards in their motorboats do exactly the same? Take a look at the any Finnish tourist information website or brochure and you can bet it will be going on about the unspoilt wilderness and beautiful lakes. Plus guidebook writers or other myth makers tend to go on about how Finns are still close to nature and the environment yadda, yadda, yadda... The guidebook writers clearly never go cycling around the outskirts of Helsinki where there is significant and continuing fly-tipping going on, or indeed visit the idyllic little lake islands and spend a quarter of an hour picking up other people's used bog-roll. Finland seems to have exactly the same proportion of selfish shits as anywhere else in the world and folk should stop being so smug about their supposed love for nature.

And of course eventually one of my kids needed to, ummm, use the facilities for a number twosie. We canoed over to the other island where no one seems to camp, found a spot where I could scrape a hole in the dirt, burnt the toilet paper and buried the business. It's so NOT complicated (although if you really need instructions...). Why does anyone think that leaving shit covered toilet paper flapping around in the breeze could possible be a decent way to behave?

Right, glad I got that off my chest.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Historical quote for the day

'As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].'

Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua Speed, August 24 1855

Now that's a quote. 

It's 150 years since the start of the Civil War so the American media is bursting with some really good historical discussion on the Civil War. I hadn't heard this quote before so thanks to Prof. Adam Goodheart of Washington College, on a recent Diane Rehm Show from NPR.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bohuslän climbing: a trip report.

Bohuslän landscape
(All photos clickable for bigger versions) Trip reports are a bit old school, the type of thing people used to do back in newsgroups days. But lots of people have heard of Bohuslän in Sweden, whilst fewer non-Swedish climbers have actually had a chance to visit, so I thought that a trip report might be of interest to some.

First, thanks to Tomás for agreeing to come on the trip with me, and for roping in his friends Mishi and Martin to share the driving and climbing with. Tomás was the fella who agreed to go head-torch climbing with me on a dark, cold, damp November night in Stockholm last year, so he was just the guy for a mission like this one. It was a top weekend, I got to visit an area I’ve long wanted to go to, and the guys got a crash course in trad climbing. I wasn’t particularly ambitious in the climbs I did, but it was ferociously hot all weekend making all climbing a rather sweaty affair. Additionally, for Tomás, Mishi and Martin this was their first time trad climbing so obviously they wanted to focus more on placing and removing the gear than on cranking hard. Nevertheless we did some 5+ routes which I guess would be British HVS, and for a climber of moderate talent such as myself, no pushover.

Swedish climbers; almost certainly cooler than you are.
Firstly, where to stay: we camped at Klättertorpet (website in Swedish and doesn’t have any English on it so you’ll have to trust me). We were there on a long weekend around two public holidays so it was very busy - just loads and loads of climbers. You can camp or stay in a rather endearing bunkhouse.
A climbers' bunkhouse, obviously.
The facilities are basic - compost loos and just cold running water, but its a nice area an only 50 kr a night per person. The Swedish climbers were all absurdly athletic looking and decked out in fancy gear, making me feel like a typical tatty, fat Brit in comparison. Try not to let that psyche you out.

On the first morning we went to Möhättan for a route called Flaket, which I presume means “flake”. This is odd as its a 50 mtr high corner. Anyway it gets lots of stars and is an easy classic. The crag is a bit different from most of the Bohulän crags that are vertical lumps of granite bursting from the ground. Möhättan is a series of slabs up a hillside, looking like a miniature version of many mountains in the Narvik region.

Mishi's first trad lead - doing an excellent job on Flaken.
The route is very obvious from the road (being a 50 mtr corner and all), but finding the base of it was a bit of a nightmarish bushwack with us either ending up too high or two low to traverse to the base. Once found, the climb itself is very nice - a bit reminiscent of the crux corner pitch of Vestpillaren on Lofoten - just a slightly easier angle. We had a 70 mtr single rope and got down in a short and long ab. With 55 or 60 mtr doubles you’d be back down in one. We then did one more “sports route” on a lower tier - I say “sports route” as it had one bolt in 20 mtrs of climbing.

This is not a sports route...
At 5+ it is straightforward enough slab climbing to lead you quickly and easily into pant filling terrain, where sliding 15 mtrs down a granite slab makes you consider the wisdom of climbing shirtless and in shorts.

The big wall at Välseröd
We then went across the valley to Välseröd, one of the classic crags of the region. The heat was sapping our drive but Tomás and I did the excellent easy classic Jungfrun, that starts with an easy but quickly exposed up to a pinnacle belay and then super classic hand crack to the top of the cliff. A sort of Swedish version of Valkyrie at the Roaches, although easier and I’ve never got sunburn at the Roaches.

Looking down the hand crack of Jungfrun.
The routes on the big wall at Välseröd look very impressive - a guy was shunting one when we there and looked quite lonely in the middle of the 50 mtr sheet of rock. The crag classic Villskudd (6-) looks very nice. It has been called the best route of its grade in Sweden, but the heat and top ropers scared me away from trying - for Finns though I would note that it doesn’t look any better, and indeed perhaps not as good as the big Olhava routes of the same grade. I think its easy to forget just what an amazing crag Olhava is.

Naked German. They are just at their happiest that way.
In the evening we went for a wash and swim in a lake before back to the campsite for a BBQ. The swimming as well as being refreshing was a good chance to check for ticks - one of the few unpleasant “objective dangers” of Bohuslän climbing!

Brappersberget, where one is easily reminded that one is mortal.
On the second day, we went first to Brappersberget, a monolith of rock behind Lyse Church. The mainface is tipped back so interesting slab climbing is the theme of the cliff and it seems that you can climb the slab almost anywhere at about 5+ if brave enough, but most of the recorded climbs all follow natural cracklines. I led Big Ben, 5, and St Pauls, 5+, only Big Ben gets a star but actually I think St Pauls was more enjoyable - longer and with more varied climbing. Tomás led Kyrkråttan, which is a fantastic easier climb at 3+. Its worth noting that Brappersberget is open and close to the sea. On a breezy day it was much more pleasant climbing there than on the stiflingly hot more sheltered crags. Presumably the opposite is true in colder conditions.

Tomás leading Kyrkråttan
The last Bohuslän crag visited was Fedjan. I wasn’t particularly impressed with this crag - definitely not one worth travelling for. It looks like it spends much of the year wet. I led a route called Bideford Dolphin. The guide gives it a star and says well protected, but compared to unstarred routes elsewhere its not brilliant and neither is the gear. I was OK with a double set of cams as all the gear is shallow greasy breaks, so quantity rather than quality is the order of the day.

Me onsighting a granite 6a+ at Ågelsjön, something I rarely manage on Finnish granite.
It’s a pretty big drive over from Stockholm where Tomás lives and I had flown to, so both on the way over and way back we stopped at a crag called Ågelsjön, near Norrköping where we met and dropped off Mishi and Martin. This is a lovely spot by a lake, I didn’t have time to really explore the different areas but did some nice, if a bit polished shorter sports and trad routes on the little wall not far from the car park.
I’ll definitely head back to Bohuslän sometime, probably in the autumn when the conditions (cooler) suit me better, and would give me a fighting chance on some of the classic mid-grade routes at the “big” crags of Häller and Hallinden. The area gets called “world class” by some - I guess it is in the same way that you can argue “Gritstone” is; none of the crags in their own right might reach that status, but put such a huge selection of routes and cliffs in a relatively small area and you can’t really go wrong. It is also interesting to note just how many crags there are as you drive around that appear so far to have been completely ignored by climbers. Hence, there are many thousands of new routes still out there waiting to be done.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bikepacking the 7 Brothers Hiking Trail/Seitsemän veljeksen vaellusreitti

Bikepacking the 7 Brothers Trail
I've thought about trying to ride the 7 Brothers Hiking Trail for some time. It starts not too far from home so was a logical target. I think altogether the route is a bit over 50 kms but it depends where you finish. I rode about 40 kms of the trail ending on the Kytäjä road (Kytäjäntie), but I think you can do another 15 kms or so into Hyvinkää. I didn't start riding until mid evening, so rode the majority of the route late in the evening. I got knackered and camped at about half past midnight, just pitching my tarp where I was. Although it never gets really dark in Southern Finland at this time of year, with only a small head torch and riding in forest, the last hour or so had been a little too dark for fun, especially for single track riding, so I had done about 30 kms on the trail before stopping for the night.
Typical forest single track, and a trail marker
Feeling a bit fresher in the morning, I enjoyed probably the most technical part of the route as you leave Nurmijärvi and cross over into Hyvinkää district. It's proper single track mountain biking, I had to dab a few times, and even crashed off once or twice - but then I'm not a particularly great rider. I had commitments in the afternoon and knew I had 50 kms of road riding back to Helsinki, so finished riding the trail a bit before it ends: you are also at this point only a couple of kilometres from Hyvinkää ABC, and the lure of coffee and donuts played its part.

Trail life. Waiting for my morning coffee
There was an article about riding the trail in a recent edition of the Finnish cycling magazine Fillari, but  that was only so much help with my limited Finnish, so for here is some hopefully useful info in English for other mountain bikers. A found a tweet with someone categorically saying the path is not ridable. I presume this person was expecting the good gravel cycle paths you get in Helsinki's forest paths. Actually it is the lack of such path and road riding that makes the 7 Brothers Trail fun for mountain biking. Much of the trail is forest single track - perfect for an XC mountain bike, but probably ridable on a cyclo-cross or tough hybrid. I was glad to have decent, knobbly tyres as it was soft in places despite generally dry weather this spring.

Overnight camp
You can download usable trail maps in PDF format from here. Because they don't show topography, the bits that are just lines through forest or fields aren't much help. Keep looking for trail markers (which illogically change colour from red to blue once you are in Hyvinkää!), and I checked my phone GPS/Google maps a couple of times to check my position. One section of path, perhaps one or two kilometres of trail has been destroyed by forestry work (see my maps below), and is hassle. Around Myllykoski at the start and for a few kilometres just after you cross in Hyvinkää there are duckboards. You need to get in touch with your inner Danny MacAskill to ride the Myllykoski section (lots of steps), but the northern section is easy and flat.

There are normally good signs where the trail crosses the road
I've also taken the free trail maps and have added some of my own comments to them that might be useful for other mountain bikers and put them on a free hosting for PDFs site here (the southern sector); here (for the centre section of the path); and here (for the northern sections). I hope those work OK, as I've not tried that hosting service before.

Trail destroyed by forestry work. Hard work pushing and carrying the bike over the clear cut 
If you started in the morning, the whole trail would be easily ridable in a day, although the road ride back to the start would be a drag. For Helsinki-based folks, getting a train home from Hyvinkää would make sense. I did it with an overnight stop for fun as much as anything; and was comfy with tarp and mosquito net. I had the tarp/net and sleeping bag on my seat post rack, and then got the rest of my gear in a small backpack. For supplies, you ride through Rajamäki, I went to a petrol station there that was helpfully still open at 2330 when I got there. At more civilised times all the normal shops will be open. Otherwise finding a shop would require some deviation of the trail.

Anyway, I hope the above info proves useful to someone and perhaps inspires somebody to point their bike northwards and enjoy some of southern Finland's quiet countryside and enjoy some top quality XC riding. Have fun!