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!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Swedish underwear endorsement for the Slate Culture Gabfest

If you don't listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest, the following won't make much sense, but I need to put it here as it wouldn't fit on their Facebook page.

Just for Steve and the Culture Gabfest's distant voiced producer - a Swedish underwear endorsement. And you have to understand Biltema, the Swedish-based but now trans-Nordic automotive, DIY (and just about everything else one needs) big box store that sells these very comfortable, hard wearing and excellent priced (€9 for a pack of three!) undies is not some fancy-pants hipster brand that will have a shop in lower Manhattan. No! Biltema is the natural environment of the troubled Nordic working man and will be found next to the motorways, in the drab, industrial outskirts of numerous Scandinavian cities.

If Biltema ever comes to the US, I presume they would open their first store somewhere in New Jersey. To understand Biltema is to understand the crisis of the Nordic welfare model and the crisis of Scandinavian masculinity; whilst simultaneously getting comfortable and excellently priced underwear. And in this sense I thought would appeal to Steve hugely.