Sunday, December 08, 2013

An early winter bikepack

It seems that a late November weekend scout camp is now part of my kids's annual schedule, so a couple of Fridays back I found myself back up in the Forssa area, about 100 kms northwest of Helsinki with 36 hours to kill. It was mid-evening, slightly below freezing and very very dark. Last year I had taken my mountain bike and tried bikepacking the hiking route, the Lynx Route/Ilvesreitti, with limited success. The 'trail' was marked by waymarks but not enough people had actually walked it to make much of trail on the ground. I did a lot of pushing and carrying the bike through forest brush. This year I decided to stick to roads and forest tracks, including riding sections of the long distance bike route the Häme OxRoad/Hämeen Härkätie, that goes from Turku to Hämeenlinna, so took my cyclocross bike. A lot of the roads and trails are unsurfaced so the CX was a great choice, I could nip along paved sections at a decent pace, but had plenty of grip on the gravel.

Last year it was grey and just above freezing for the whole trip, and in November in Finland the days are so short and the sun always so low that it brings a whole new drab meaning to “grey”. This year I lucked out and the sky cleared early on Saturday morning and stayed clear until after I was asleep that evening, the temperature never got above 1 degree and was often just below freezing according to the thermometer on my excellent newish bike computer.
Saari Folk Park
The Saari viewing tower
I camped in a carpark in LiesjärviNational Park on Friday night with the luxury of a tent and left the car (and tent) there on Saturday morning. That day I rode a bit over 90 kms; this included some hiking single track in the Saari Folk Park but mostly was on unsurfaced roads and forest tracks. A good day of gravel grinding. It didn't feel that big a day but I ran out of daylight and had to ride the last hour or so with lights on to get to the laavu (lean-to shelter) I had decided to use that night. This was actually the same one as I had camped in last year, but it was much nicer this time with all the stars out above and no wind.

I lit a fire in the fireplace with out much trouble, although it never really got to that pleasantly roaring stage. There was only the dregs of the woodpile left, I guess after a summer of visitors, and although the logs burnt they didn't seem to put out much heat. I made lots of hot drinks to rehydrate – it's easy to not drink enough riding in cold weather – and ate my dubious far-eastern pot noddle thingy for supper, but with an indifferent fire retired to my sleeping bag very early.

Sunday morning, I didn't have much time before needing to go and pick my son up from scout camp so got up early, made some hot drinks with breakfast and packed up. It was still only getting light as I left the laavu and the moon was shining brightly over the lake. I only needed to ride about 20 kms back to my car that morning. It had snowed over nigh; enough to make most of the world white but not enough to bother me in terms of riding. My new tyres seemed to grip through the snow perfectly well and reasonably soon I was back where I had started and putting the bike back on the car.

Overall, the Häme Lake Uplands area is nice region to ride and the available map designed for hikers andother outdoors user is a great resourse. The roads away from a couple of highways, that I only crossed, are almost deserted. I reckon only around a dozen cars went past me all day. At this time of year in particular though, it is rather lonely – even though there are national parks with the related infrastructure you might expect, everything was closed. I found one cafe in the post office in Porras open, where I had a lovely chat with the ladies picking up their parcels and having coffee (I suspect and Englishman on a bike speaking very bad Finnish might have been one of the more novel events of their day), but beyond that I went past no open shop, cafe or similar. Make sure you have enough food with you. There are also large numbers of abandoned and decaying buildings in the area, barns and old farm houses like this are quite normal in rural Finland, but the empty petrol station and shops (see photos above) had an unnerving feeling of looking a bit too much like a scene from "The Walking Dead".

Of course you can camp pretty much anywhere, but I pushed on to get to a laavu I used last year – knowing it was great spot and has a fireplace, wood and a compost loo. But because of the hiking, riding, canoeing and cycling routes around that area there are quite a few similar laavus around.

I had new tyres for the trip, SchwalbeMarathon Plus Tours. I was still using my original Marathon Pluses through this summer on that bike. They came on my last bike and have been absolutely superb. I must have done at least 10,000 kms over five years on them and have never had a puncture but they're showing their age with the sidewalls beginning to crack and the tread must be wearing somewhat even if it doesn't look like it. I've ridden a few cyclocross races this autumn and using my light CX tyres and have had a puncture in one race then a double puncture in the next – all pinch flats from hitting rocks and having the tyres blown up firm doesn't seem to help. Hence deciding to try the Marathon Plus Tours – the same hopefully bombproof construction as the normal Marathon Plus, but with a bit of tread that seemed more suited for gravel roads and forest tracks of Finland. On this trip they were great – the grip felt great, even on Sunday morning riding back on snow. The only downer is that with those very meat tyres plus mudguards on, the bike felt bloody heavy. I'm not sure if serious CXers would want to race on them, although for me if they didn't puncture it would offset any slowness caused by their weight. For touring like this though they seem perfect, hopefully I'll get 10,000 trouble free kilometres out of this pair.

For cold weather bikepacking you need a bit more gear just to keep warm. I used the same set up as in September with my new Alpkit bikepacking bags and lashed-on dry bags but also took a waist pack; just that bit more capacity than I needed in summer. One of those bigger things for winter is the excellent Jöttnar Fjörm down jacket that I'm reviewing for UKClimbing currently. It's very warm and a nice “insurance” layer to have, obviously designed as an belay jacket for ice climbing but works great for any cold weather camping. It was stuffed with my sleeping bag in the dry bag that goes under saddle. This is fine when riding, but I need a number of straps to hold it in place which makes getting things out of the bag a hassle if you're not stopping for long. The obvious if a bit expensive solution to this is to buy one of Alpkit'sKoala seat packs, meaning retrieving a jacket from the seat pack would be easy, but I'm not convinced the Koala packs would fit as much as my current arrangement despite supposedly being the same size as my current dry bag I use there. Nevertheless, I know from winter climbing that your belay jacket HAS to be easy to reach because otherwise there is the temptation not to use it with the inevitable downwards circle into shivering. I guess with cold weather bike touring the situation is not dissimilar so I need to work this one out.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

DMM Renegade 2 harness - a review

Relaxing in the Renegade 2 at the top of the corner of Engelskdiederet, Eidetind.
 I think DMM probably asked me if I wanted to review the new version of the Renegade because I had given the original version a rather glowing review on UKC back in 2008. It became my main harness after that and did sterling weekly service for the next five years. It still looks in pretty good nick now so shall emigrate to England, and my mum and dad's attic, where it will reside with various other bit of older gear as my "UK rack", helping me cut down on how much baggage I take backwards and forwards across Northern Europe.

Simon borrowing the Renegade - fully adjustable to fit different sizes

I stand by my original opinion that the Renegade, before and now in its updated "2" version, is an excellent all-round harness. It's not the lightest, but it is supportive when you need to hang in it for a long time; it has loads of racking possibilities; it is very adjustable allowing you to put it over winter layers or lend it to a differently sized mate; and at least the original one I know was very well made because it lasted so well.

The stuff we lugged up Stetind, plenty of racks are helpful. The Renegade is the red and grey harness as the back.

Some people, for reasons I never got, hated the racks on the Renegade 1. They sloped forward a bit, something that I never really noticed but others clearly did. On the Renegade 2 DMM have done away with the sloping style. They have though kept the same seven loop-layout that I love. There are climbers who I respect who say they've never felt the need for more than four gear loops even for complex trad climbing when you carry lots of stuff, but personally I love the ability to split big racks between the seven loops and know exactly where some bit of kit is going to be. When I went to Norway in August I took with me the Renegade 2 and another very nice Edelrid harness that I was reviewing for UKC. The Edelrid is great, nicely made and super-comfy for long days, but as we racked up for our big day on Stetind I took the Renegade 2 without much thought; I just knew I would want the familiar ability to spread a big rack out over the seven gear loops and find what I wanted quickly. I'm sure I would have done fine with the Edelrid too; but for the me the Renegade works so well for big routes and big racks, it is reassuring.

Me sorting all the gear out on the summit of Stetind after 13 pitches of climbing; photo ©D. Smith
Of course a review isn't a review if you don't try and break the thing, even if just a little. One change DMM made between the 1 and 2 versions is that the tubing to stiffen the gear racks used to be pushed over the sewn on tape that makes up the racking. Now the tubing is pushed into the tubular tape before the racking is attached. This perhaps looks a bit smarter and avoid small krabs getting caught at the top of the plastic tubing on the original harness (cue much patting your bum whilst gibbering "dammit, where's my effing nut key gone!?" when it's not hanging as expected in the middle of the back loop). Nevertheless at some point on Stetind my inelegant chimneying technique, most likely, led to one of the stiffener-tubes pushing through the tubular tape that should have been enclosing it. Needing a field repair the next day and not being able to just push it back into the tape, I trimmed about 5 mms off the plastic tube to allow it to go back in, and then put some finger tape over the damaged bit. This has been fine since. I don't know if I just got really unlucky managing to snag the rack leading to this or whether it's a design weakness and DMM are going to see some returns from other people, but users should perhaps keep an eye on the racks to check it doesn't happen to them.

Where I broke the Renegade.
Nevertheless, overall, the Renegade 2 is great. Everything I liked about the original Renegade: loads of racking; the free floating padding meaning the harness is always straight; supportive and strong; is here and the "2" irons out a few kinds from the original. A total weight-weenie might want something more compact and lighter but if you do a bit of everything the Renegade is still a great choice.

Monday, October 28, 2013

DMM Shadow, DMM Alpha and DMM Aero quickdraws - a review

Simon escapes the dour Australian winter for some sunny Finnish sport climbing: lower bolt clipped with an Aero QD, upper with an Alpha QD
Back in the summer DMM sent me the new version of their Renegade harness to test, which is a good un' but deserves it's own post soon. They they also sent me some of their newest quickdraw models to try out at the same time. This post is going to focus on the quickdraws. Amusingly, considering I'm a pretty lousy sport climber, I got three plain gate models which most people now associate with sport climbing. More and more people use wire gates for trad and I think arguably wire gates make the best all-round krabs if you have only one set to do everything from summer, sunny sport climbing to brutal winter ice or mixed. Nevertheless, wiregates can mix badly with old school bent plate bolt hangers at the top end of quickdraws and some, I think including me, believe that a well designed bentgate is easier to clip in extremis than even the best wiregate krabs. Hence there is still market for plaingate krabs. Personally when there isn't going to be snow and ice around (with the possibility of gates freezing) I also find that plaingate models like those below work great as general trad cragging as well as for sport.

DMM Aero quickdraws

The Aeros are DMM's budget plaingate krabs, they're kinda heavy by modern standards at 47 grams for the bent gate, but they are burly at 9kn gate-open and shop around and you can find them for as little as £12.50 for a full quickdraw. They don't come with the fancy variwidth dogbones that the more expensive quickdraws do, but with plain 16 mm nylon tapes that I find found perfectly comfortable to grab and cheat on! The gate is exactly the same as on the more expensive models and is fantastic - getting the rope in is easy even for a total clipping-klutz like me. So yeah, if you needed to carry a rack of twenty up some enduro-sports-monster pitch they're gonna be a bit heavy on your harness, but still nothing like scared-trad-climber-rack-heavy and you're more likely to be able to afford twenty of these!

DMM Alpha quickdraws

Gio doing a tricky move past the Alpha quickdraw
DMM make two wiregate versions of the Alpha, a little one called the "Light" and a full size one - the "Trad", but I got sent the plaingate quickdraw - the straight-gate is called the "Pro" and bent gate the "Clip" - joined together by a variwidth nylon dogbone like the classic Petzl sports draws. This is DMM's full-on, top of the range sport climbing quickdraw, I felt a bit lame using it on 6as and the odd 6b or whilst trad climbing HVSs, but still I can say they are very easy to clip and reassuringly burly when you are working moves (yes, I work moves on 6bs - the shame...). At 45 grams for the Alpha Clip, they aren't a lot lighter than the aeros, so the technology has all gone into the ergonomics rather than weight saving, but on projects where the quickdraws are in place, that's what you'll be interested in anyway. So overall, super-luxury sport krabs - not very cheap - but you'll probably know whether the step up in price from aeros is worth it for you.

DMM Shadow quickdraws

The Shadow quickdraw (second runner down) on a trad route
I got a bunch of Shadow quickdraws to review for UKClimbing from DMM six years ago. As soon as I got to use them for regular summer cragging, I liked them a lot and my opinion hasn't changed in six years; they remain my favourite all-round rock climbing krabs. Those first six I got all those years back are normally the first six QDs I still use on just about every single-pitch route, be it sport or trad. The updated version of the Shadow hasn't changed hugely, the bent-gate version now shares the same great gate as the Aero and Alpha. They weren't hard to clip before, but I guess it's even a little easier now. The notching has changed very slightly on the straight-gate too; can't say I noticed a difference but DMM are sensible about these things and I'm sure its the result of suggestions from people who know what they are talking about. They now come with the variwidth dogbones, good for the sport climbers, although I've been perfectly happy with the narrower original dyneema tapes: fine to grab when dogging, but perhaps a tad more flexi for trad? It's not a huge issue though. The bent gate version is 43 grams, so the lightest of the three here. Not super-light by any means compared to modern crazy-light krabs; but these are big beefy easy to handle krabs that do everything well. The Shadows cost about halfway between the price of the Aeros and Alphas and I think are great value considering they make such good krabs for both sport and trad and, as my original ones will attest, they last very well too. The new colours look funky as well, although of course we're all too serious to care about such matters aren't we? One odd thing; the Shadows used to be rated at 10 kn for gate-open, now it's 9kn. 9 is plenty but 10 looks reassuring and I'm not sure why it has changed when I don't think the krab itself has changed much.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bikepacking - new bags, new camera.

Autumn is here and the sky is full of skeins of geese
So far all my attempts at bikepacking have been made with gear that on the whole I already had. I did buy a cheap bar bag that worked well but it won't fit the wider bars of my cyclocross bike. I also bought a seatpost rack, but that snapped on my last trip. Mainly I've just lashed dry bags to various parts of the bike. But with the bikepacking idea taking off in the UK as well as elsewhere, the British firm Alpkit (who I've written about in the past) are now offering custom frame-bags and are bringing out additional bikepacking luggage. I invested in the Stingray frame-bag for my CX bike and also bought one of their "beta" Fuel Pods.

Packed up and ready to go
 Last weekend I went for an over-night trip to try the bags out. The morning before the ride had also seen the UPS guy deliver my new camera - a rather fine little Canon - so I was keen to try that out too. The photos in this post and video at the bottom were all taken with it.

Quiet Finnish roads #1
Quiet Finnish roads #2
It's pouring with rain now but last weekend was far closer to the glorious summer Finland has had this year, rather than this newly arrived, business-as-usual autumn. The sun shone until it set and then through the forest canopy I could still see lots of stars. I rode about 85 kms to a little beyond the town of Karkkila, around 100 kms northwest of Helsinki on Friday afternoon. Just west of the town the land becomes more forested and less agricultural, and with lots of lakes. I wanted to camp on a lake edge; for aesthetic reasons and simply as a source of water, and despite there being lots of lakes around those parts, I was quite surprised by how many summer cottages there also are - so it took me a few attempts at following various quiet gravel roads to find some lakeside forest that kept me a respectful distance from people enjoying the last weekend of great weather in their summer places.

I had thought perhaps optimistically that the mosquito season was now over so took a tarp but no mossie net. At first in the evening there were more than enough mossies to be annoying but interestingly later at night they all seemed to dissappear allowing me to sleep with my head out of my sleeping bag comfortably. It was just below 14 degrees when I went to bed (my new cycle computer very handily has a thermometer on it) and just below 12 when I woke up, so I'm now theorising that there must be some magic point between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius where its gets too cold for mosquitoes!

The morning sun starting to burn away the mist
Overnight camp
A bit before midnight I could hear in the distance some interesting howling, that at least to me didn't sound like a dog. Noting this on Twitter as I lay in my sleeping bag, caused some amusement amongst other late evening Twitter perusers around the world, along with some useful research done for me on the most southerly sightings on wolves in Finland, some terribly bad lupine-themed jokes, and even a friendly suggestion from the deputy mayor of Helsinki to make sure my tent zip was done up tight. This of course made the howls feel closer as I lay there under my door-less and indeed side-less tarp!
The only nighttime visitor
Dew droplets on a spider's web
Morning arrived sunny and wolf-free with the forest glistening in its thick coating of dew. I had some breakfast and coffee and made a reasonably quick start as I had promised to be home by lunchtime in order to be ready for the family's annual trip to Linnanmäki, Helsinki's long established amusement park. Overall I was gone for less than 24 hours and rode about 170 kms, probably split evenly between surfaced and unsurfaced roads - the kind of riding that my CX bike is perfect for.

Greeting the morning sun with coffee
Packed and ready to leave where I camped
 There's been some good stuff written, originating in the UK, about "microadventures", whilst from the US there's the idea of "S24O" - or sub-24-overnight bike trips. It's taken off in Helsinki too which is really great. The ideas are simply about encouraging people to get out, see some countryside and sleep under the stars. I think it's a great concept; not everyone has the time, money or family situation that allows them to go off for months to some far-off wilderness, but most of us can nip off for 24 hours, and some exercise plus a night out in the woods listening to the bird calls (and maybe even a wolf howl in the distance) has to be good for your health - physical and mental.
It's probably not funny at all to Finns, but I would love to live in a place called "Ahmoo"
Somewhere in the Finnish countryside
 The Alpkit bags seem great so far. The frame bag takes quite a lot of gear but doesn't bulge enough to rub. I picked the thinnest option, 4cm bulging to 6cm width, as it was for a CX bike. On a MTB you might be able to get away with a slightly wider bag. The 'fuel pod' also worked well, although due to the hydroformed frame shape at the front of the cross-bar on my bike, I could do with the velcro tabs being a little longer, whilst the tab that goes around the stem could be thinner. They only had them in size large when I bought it, so went for that size by default. Nevertheless it's not that big, so I think the smaller option must be tiny with room just for some energy gels or similar. I wasn't sure when I ordered it, but I'm glad I got the bigger size.

The Alpkit "Fuel Pod", size large
Drops bars on a CX bike making attaching luggage to the handle bars trickier. A small-ish dry bag packed no bigger than to fit between the drops works OK, and for this trip I had some much better straps to hold it on. These are from the Aussie firm, Sea-to-Summit, which make some of the most intelligent little bits-and-bobs for camping and outdoor pursuits, as well as some amazing if very pricey serious gear like this very high quality sleeping bag that I reviewed for UKclimbing a couple of winters ago. They were sillily expensive for a couple of nylon straps - about €10 - but the alloy locking buckles on them work very well and didn't loosen despite hours of vibration, particularly riding on gravel road - so as long as I don't lose them they should pay off in the long term!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Climbing Stetind’s Sydpilaren (South Pillar): a punter’s guide

The classic view of Stetind from the campground/car park to the Northwest, punters start from here.
punter |ˈpəntər |

1 Football & Rugby a player who punts.
2 a person who propels or travels in a punt.
3 informal, chiefly Brit. a person who gambles, places a bet, or makes a risky investment.
• a customer or client, esp. a member of an audience.
• a prostitute's client.
• the victim of a swindler or confidence trickster.
4 sub-cultural, chiefly Brit. climbing: an active, often experienced climber with a genuine enthusiasm for the sport but who isn’t actually very good at it.

©New American Dictionary + a little help from me.

The less commonly seen North Face of Stetind. 1392 straight from the sea. No place for punters.

Climbing the South Pillar of Stetind was one of the best days of my climbing life. Although the crux pitches are not much easier than the hardest routes I’ve ever managed, the whole day went pretty smoothly. So I thought I’d write a ‘bluffers guide to climbing Stetind’, aimed very much at enthusiast punters, such as myself, with some tips and info to try and persuade those who want to give it a go but aren’t sure how they would fare, to go for it. Super-alpine Übermensch and sponsored heroes will obviously piss up it, and need not read any further (indeed that lot should stop arsing about and get themselves on terrifyingly massive North Face of Stetind!).

The South Pillar - between shade and light - emerges between the clouds. The start is at the left end of the obvious grassy ledge system, the finish is the summit 13 pitches later.
So first, how good do you need to be to climb Sydpilaren? I’ve been climbing for over 20 years now, never at a very high standard but I am pretty experienced. My top onsight grade is E1 (trad 6a/6a+-ish in Euros). I did onsight Red Square at Nesscliffe but I think everyone knows that’s not really E2. My best sport onsight is 6b, but that was some weird smeary slab climb, on steep stuff again 6a or 6a+ are the non-giddy heights I normally reach. I tell you this just so that you know that if you can get up similar graded routes or harder ones, you are perfectly capable of the hardest climbing on Stetind’s Sydpilaren. I do crack-climb a lot and I do climb mainly on granite - both of these are obviously of assistance considering that Sydpilaren is essentially a granite crack climb.

Looking down to Dave seconding pitch 10, the first headwall pitch and perhaps the crux of the route.
Stetind by any route is a climb and even coming down the normal route after the South Pillar needs some mountaineering skills. Overall it is a big day out for even competent teams and I think is closer in feel to an alpine route than to its famous, not-too-far-away neighbour, Vestpillaren on Presten, Lofoten. Vestpillaren has more of a super-cragging feel to it starting so close to the road. With Sydpilaren you are gonna need to get hiking first. With that mountaineering feel, the most obvious thing you need is a totally solid partner. I would recommend my climbing partner, Dave, but frankly it’s difficult enough finding days when he’s free to go climbing already, so you can’t have him. Find your own Dave.

Low on the approach, still in the trees.
The approach turned out to be trickier than we expected, particularly as we had cloud rolling around. After a few hours hiking up from the road, you get to a distinct steepening with a waterfall coming out of the glacial lake to your right. At the top of this steeping you get the view over to the Sydpilaren. There is a huge boulderfield ahead of you. Both the guidebook and Rockfax miniguide mention a huge flat boulder here, which is very easy to see, they then say follow cairns to an obvious gully that forms the start of the normal route. The problem is there are lots of cairns and no obvious gully. We went more rightwards and followed an obvious path continuing up; this turned out to be the wrong way - we were following the trail to the normal route and went much too high. We probably wasted an hour here hiking up, before finally coming back down and finding the start point for the traverse to Sydpilaren. The description only made sense as we came down at about midnight! I drew a sketch diagram for some friends who did the route a few days after us, they said it helped them so I have tried to reproduce it below.

Looking back across the boulderfield, where we went to right and got lost.

Excuse my pitiful artistic skills but it will probably make sense if you're there.
After the scary traverse scramble, crossing the moraine bowl, aiming for the curving ledge system that takes you to the start of the pillar on the skyline.
 We stowed some of gear at the point marked by the plastic pole and geared up. Then you traverse hard left following small cairns. The approach to the big moraine bowl is exposed and scary scrambling, it’s not hard but for about 50 mtrs a slip would be probably fatal. We very nearly used the rope.

Typical climbing on the lower pillar, slabby cracks and corners. Dave on pitch 4 I think.
The climb itself is made up of basically two sections - the first 9 pitches are on the slabby lower pillar and aren’t too hard. The hardest sections are given Norwegian 5- in the guidebook, about UK 4c, but those are just a few odd moves - most of the climbing is more in the V Diff-Sev range. Rockfall on pitch 8 has changed the route slightly; Dave took a belay on the big ledge below and left of the scar. Above we found a nice, safe, alternative bit of climbing that was slightly harder - probably Nor. 5 or UK 5a; see the picture below. This made our P8 shorter and P9 longer, but worked well.

Me on the left-leaning thin crack. A little higher the crack meets the arete where a big step left takes you into an easier groove. Follow this to the Second Amfi. Photo: D. Smith.
At the end of pitch 9 you hit a big ledge, the “Second Amfi”. The ledge is traversable, supposedly without difficulty, and it takes you out to the normal route from where you could either follow that to the summit or start the descent. I think knowing that is an option is really important as if you get freaked out by the headwall above, you know chickening out that way is a possibility. But don’t do that, man up, and do the headwall! It’s a pretty imposing bit of rock - noticeably steeper than the lower pitches - but the three pitches that get you up it are really great. The first one (P10 overall), given UK 5b in the Rockfax miniguide, is perhaps the most sustained, but I’ve seen some say it’s really only 5a. Whichever, the climbing is good and protection excellent so even if that’s the top of your grade, you should still go for it and just keep plugging those cams and nuts in. The next (P11) is only short - 20 mtrs or so - but I felt sustained and very airy. The climbing is great though, and again there are loads of solid runners to be had so it's not really scary. That lands you on a big comfy ledge from where you see up the slightly slabbier corner that makes up the crux of pitch 12. There is one distinct crux move on this pitch and the gear before it a bit more spaced. Nevertheless you can arrange a number of runners before doing the crux and the the move is all about balance anyway, fine for stout legged types as myself. Pitch 13 isn’t really a pitch, a few easy moves got us from the ledge where I had belayed at the top of P12 into a huge easy gully. We stopped belaying at this point and just walked roped together to the summit. It’s really easy.

Made it! Summit celebrations. Photo: D. Smith.
The Summit is huge - football field-sized, wander around and make yourself feel a little sick as you look down the west and north faces! Don’t forget to sign the very cool summit register in a bolted on box.
Dave signs the summit register.

Looking over to the descent ridge from near the top of the South Pillar. The descent follows the ridge down from the top left; the notch on the ridge is where you need to abseil. Then more scrambling takes you to the big cairn on the top of Halls Fortopp.
The descent is well described in the guidebook. On the summit we changed back into our approach shoes and roped up alpine style with one of our ropes, maybe 25 mtrs apart. Then we made sure there was at least two runners between us as we moved. This was easy and quick to arrange mainly using our double set of cams. The summit plateau narrows and begins to drop, you really couldn’t get lost even in cloud. There are a few step downs that require care but it’s not difficult. Soon it narrows down to a pavement-width ridge, sickeningly exposed but not difficult, and after a few metres of space walking along that you hit the bolted abseil point on the top of the “Mysosten Block”. You abseil 15 metres down the south side to a big ledge. From here we continued alpine style again, with much exposed but straightforward scrambling to the huge cairn on the top of Halls Fortopp, the obvious peak SE of the main summit. Here you can stop stressing-out, un-rope and collapse on the floor with relief; only (lots of) hiking now remains between you and your choice of celebratory beverage back at the car park/camp area.

Dave about to balance across to the abseil point on the Mysosten Block.
All in it took us 16.5 hours car park to car park. If we had found the approach better we would have been quicker but not by much, and during the day we were moving for most of the time except whilst belaying. Of course some people will climb much faster than us, but I don’t think we were particularly slow either. Unless you are happy to simul-climb big sections I wouldn’t think many parties would be hugely faster than we were and we met people who had been quite a lot slower! As I said, it’s a big day.

Our rack being sorted out the next morning.
Gear is always very personal to what you have, like and how many runners you like to put in. There are lots of pitches on the route that are 50 mtrs long and there is no fixed gear, so reckon on needing three pieces for the lower belay, however many runner you place on a 50 mtr pitch and then three more pieces to make the next belay, i.e. quite a lot. We took:
  • 10 Wallnuts, (size 1 to 10); our basic wires.
  • 10 Metolius ultralight nuts; a second set of wires - lighter than standards ones and they rack very neatly.
  • 6 Wild Country Superlight Rocks; these are amazing because they make even the Metolius nuts seem heavy, although with just one wire it's best not to look at them for too long after placing them.
  • 12 quickdraws; three of these were slingdraws with tripled 60 cm slings - very useful. 8 were Edelrid 19G quickdraws which I was lucky enough to have been sent for review. They are very small but, man, are they light - weighing the same as about four or five of my normal quickdraws. They really were perfect on this route.
  • 2 DMM Torque Nuts; mainly because being a punter I feel a bit naked without at least a couple of hexes.
  • 2 Wild Country Rocks on Spectra; mainly because these are Dave’s lucky charms and he gets nervous without them regardless of how old they actually are and how worn the cord is!
  • 5 DMM Dragon Cams, purple to blue (#1 to #5).
  • 5 BD Camalots, purple to blue. BD and DMM sizing now matches so, in short, we had two of each mid-range cams.
  • 4 Wild Country and DMM small cams - I think between #0 and #1.5 in Friend/4CU sizing.
  • About 4 slings, 2 120s and 2 60s, and about the same number of locking krabs.

We probably could have had just two sets of nuts, and maybe only one of the bigger sized cams, but we used everything at some point and I would have been nervous having a significantly smaller rack. We’re lucky that between us we have a lot of lightweight gear - most of cams were racked on DMM phantoms for example - and by using the lightest option we had for everything, even though we took a lot of gear its still wasn’t horribly heavy.

For ropes we took two 60 mtr half ropes. Theoretically a skinny 60 single would work fine too and be light, but if for some reason you had to retreat back down the pillar it would be a ‘mare. I also like being tied to two ropes on stuff that is hard for me, but that’s being British I guess. Finally, in a very un-British move I wore my crack-gloves and Dave taped up. Whilst this isn’t really necessary, particularly for easier climbing, on long climbs I think I climb a lot quicker when taped-up. It also just helps your hands survive the week if you are climbing lots of granite every day.

Tactics: Dave had the relevant pages of the Rockfax miniguide in his pocket, but they “escaped” during the approach meaning we never got to try its descriptions for accuracy. I had scanned and printed the relevant pages of the (rather big and heavy) guidebook and packed them in plastic bags, and that was what we used to get up the route. Stupidly when scanning it I hadn’t pushed the book down hard enough on the plate and it meant I couldn’t read the comments close to spine that accompanied the pitch by pitch topo diagram. Between that and losing the other topo we inadvertently added a sense of mystery and adventure to our climb!

Me reading the descent description in the midnight gloom. Photo D. Smith.
We both used approach shoes which turned out to be the perfect choice. I had some very light fell running shoes with me in Norway too but I wasn’t sure how their very aggressive sole pattern would work on the easy climbing during the descent. Both of our approach shoes have soles designed for easy climbing and they worked perfectly on the descent, you don’t need boots. It wasn’t too cold or windy on the day we climbed but we figured if it rained we could get cold fast. Hence we decided not to take a bothy bag up the route, but rather to take both shell jacket and pants each. I walked up in one base layer and changed for a dry one at the gearing up spot. That with, at times, my superlight windshell over it was all I needed on during the climb. On the summit I put on my microfleece between those two layers as it was windier and cooler. Dave wore his shell for some of the climb to add a bit of warmth, but neither of us needed the hats and gloves we had also packed. We were both fine in just basic softshell trousers, but it’s nice to know you have the over-trousers had the wind really picked up or the rain began.

We both took the food we thought we’d want/need and 2 ltrs each of energy drink. We drank most of one 2 ltr bag on the approach and then took the second with us on the route. I tend to drink a lot, but as it wasn’t too hot this was enough until we got to streams on the lower descent. We left one rucksack and our walking poles at the gearing up point and took the other with us on the route, meaning the leader could lead without a pack. I think this system worked well; the second carried the pack, a lightweight 30 ltr model. It held two pairs of shoes, two sets of waterproofs, the drink, some snacks and some ab tat for emergencies. It wasn’t bad to climb with at all but leading pack-less was also great.

We were doing the descent in the late evening having summited at about 2130. We were too late in the year to see midnight sun, but even in at times cloudy weather we didn’t need or want headtorches. Even walking back down through the forest at about 1 am, it was still light enough to see the path.

Finally I’d say make sure you have some good beers and some good single malt stashed in your car as when you get back down, probably at some ungodly hour of the morning, you’ll want to celebrate.