Cold Response - ice climbing trip above the Arctic Circle

Tanja Schmitt high above the sea during the ascent of 'Finnkona' on Senja Island - picture Matthias Scherer

Bardujord - ice giants 

The wind is howling and I can barely feel my fingers on the tools: -20 C and this arctic storm with gusts over a 100 Kmh makes for a real feeling. Next to me I see Heike shaking her hands - we both follow this 80m pitch up and slowly I realise that today the elements will be stronger. Another swell of spindrift is battering us and the icicles hanging above us are cracking in this unleashed energy. We find finally shelter behind a curtain where Tanja has put up the belay. Its our last day here for climbing above the arctic circle and it was a great trip so far: Nine days up here and we climbed nearly every day. Today we are all extremely keen to go on - we are 400m up on Skredbekken with 300m above us, the wonderful steep pitches…-  but sometimes it is smarter to come back another day and keep all extremities. 

Flågbekken - picture Matthias Scherer

Flågbekken - picture Matthias Scherer

But lets go back to the beginning of this journey. Landing in Tromsø makes every visitor right away clear where he is: The gate to the arctic… On the airport runway cold air is swirling around us and already the look out from the plane window before showed us endless white mountain ranges. After a day of visiting Tromsø we drive into the Bardu area around Setermoen. Flågbekken above the Øvrevatnet lake near to Sjøvegan is our first line here. Walking over the lake from the road takes less than 10 minutes and then the climbing starts. The ice is hard - no wonder the thermometer in the car showed -22C - but the sun is warming the air a bit, so we all enjoy the fantastic shapes of Flågbekken on Flågberget. Two very long pitches (70m ropes) bring us up to the top and we are so excited that we all climb the first steep pitch again…

Flågbekken Area


The Fjellkisten guesthouse is our base for the next days and a mere twenty minutes drive away from the lake. The rooms in the Fjellkisten have huge windows and during our first night nobody is really sleeping, like little kids we are all waiting for the aurora borealis. But the sky is showing us wonderful stars, and no more - we have to be patient. 

Next morning - the dawn is early high up here mid march - it starts to get light at 5am - we drive to Setermoen. A stop in the Skafferiet Bardu - THE coffee shop in Setermoen - gives us a good boost and we head up to Rubben in Sørdalen. Typical norvegian ice climbing action (long pitches on crazy shaped ice formations) brings us up to the highlight of this line, a huge free-standing pillar. Tanja is making her way up and arriving at the belay ourselves we enjoy the peaceful view over this wild land.

Rubben area


On the drive back to the Fjellkisten we have a close look on the Storstampen pillars. On the next day, when the slowly rising sun is colouring the first summits of Bardujord we are back and making our way up to this huge ice pillars. Heike is storming the first pillar - a 70 m pitch consisting of a 30m freestanding pillar followed by 40m of vertical technical ice. Dimensions change in Norway- we know it from all our northern ice climbing trips in the past. We are standing now under the upper pillar. It’s my turn to lead and I am checking the best way up this 50 m freestanding ice giant. The pillar is several times broken but has reshaped itself, building demanding overhanging sections. I carefully place my Ergonomics and swing over the first overhanging section out on the pillar. Now it’s time to move -  I will place no screws in this fragile free standing colossus:  the risk of placed gear in case of rupture are well known… I focus on the great shaped ice and climb steady upwards over the possible fracture line. Where the ice is solidly attached to the rock I place a screw and finish this awesome pitch. We are placing quickly a V thread and down it goes. With two big abseils and some down climbing we are back at the foot of this cool line.

The upper pillar of Storstampen - picture Matthias Scherer

The upper pillar of Storstampen - picture Matthias Scherer

Storstampen area


More coffee and cake at the Skafferiet Bardu restores the energy levels before we attentively  make our way back to the Fjellkisten witnessing the excellence of the Norwegian Army and its joined allies  - it’s 'Joint Reindeer'- and they know what they are doing. For days the soldiers hone their combat skills in the severe conditions of the arctic winter. Tank after tank is digging in while scouts on skis and snowmobiles are covering the area. Sitting in middle Europe this words and situation might seem strange, but up here with the Russian border just around the corner, you start to understand that this is not just some ‚playful exercise‘. 

Senja Island - the wonderful lightness of climbing above the vastness of the sea

Heike and Tanja Schmitt taking in the view - Bergsbotn, Senja Island - picture Matthias Scherer

Heike and Tanja Schmitt taking in the view - Bergsbotn, Senja Island - picture Matthias Scherer

We pack up this night and leave for some days the Fjellkisten guesthouse to drive to Senja. We all had heard so much from that famous island. Our very good friend Jeff Mercier had been several times at the place and what we saw and heard from him had made us really curious. Our base for the next days would be the Senja Legendary Lodge. Driving over the bridge from Finnsnes to Senja is another super moment while traveling up here. Same day we drive directly to Bergsbotn to have a look on ‚Finnkona‘ - there is just one word to describe this place: EPIC!

View point to Finnkona area


Also our accommodation at the Legendary Lodge is incredible. We have dinner with a breathtaking view directly onto the sea. Behind this wonderful lodge perfect ski mountains are rising up. 

Finnkona - picture Matthias Scherer

Finnkona - picture Matthias Scherer

But for now we are here for climbing and we are super psyched for the coming day. Driving along the shore early the next morning we are watching sea eagles hunting for fish. We leave our car in the pull out next to the turn before the view point in Bergsbotn. There is not much snow and so the approach to Finnkona is taking us a little bit more than an hour. Tanja is going for the first pitch and we are simul climbing to do this lower part in one big pitch. Some meters on snow bring us up to the mixed traverse - Heike is quickly climbing via the frozen grass and some drytooling moves to a good belay on screws. Now the real climbing is starting. I go for this 70 m pitch in a gully. The ambiance is powerful with strong spindrift flowing regularly over me. I’m stretching the rope to reach a corner and place a sheltered belay. The ice has quite a bit of tension and even being careful while placing my Ergonomics and Dartwins I can not avoid to send some dinner plates down to Tanja and Heike. So no simul climbing here. The sisters are coming up and lead quickly together the remaining 30 meters to the steep headwall. The stiff breeze from the sea together with temperatures below -10C are another addition to the strong ambiance above the ocean. The view from the belay behind the first pillar is incredible.

The Look down from the final pitch - picture Matthias Scherer

The Look down from the final pitch - picture Matthias Scherer

While Tanja is working her way up the steep and brittle ice, Heike and me look down on the water and observe a big pack of seals hunting for fish. Coming up the belay the sun comes out, and yes, I am happy to see her - her rays are defrosting a bit our feet and fingers… Heike is on the lead and judging from the sound her Nomics create, we know that also on this pitch carefully placed tools are demanded… Heike’s belay is as spectacular as the one before. We are standing now 500 m above the Fjord on an ice balcony behind some wildly shaped ice daggers. While Tanja is coming up I check where this journey will go on from here. It is the last pitch and it will be my turn. I choose to climb the system of icicles and stalactites on the left. I can place two solid screws on the initial candle before I step out on the freehanging dagger. The view is overwhelming - I see the infinity of the Northern Sea under my feet, and the fantastic formed ice of the dagger above me. With uttermost care I scratch my Ergonomics into the hyper tensioned ice. Meter for meter I climb up and enjoy this wonderful lightness that overcomes me climbing here under the endless sky and above the vastness of the sea. One has to become very humble facing so much beauty! The ice becomes less steep and on the last meters before the summit plateau I place my belay. The wind has deceased and is swirling now around me. When Tanja and Heike are coming up we make the last meters to the plateau together - VIVE LA VIE  - long live the Hood!  


The walk back to the road is fast and in the last light of the day we arrive at the car. 

Sørdalen - the race against the Arctic Storm 

To settle the impressions of this climb we take a rest the following day. Some kilometres on the cross country skis in Mefjordvær are helping to recover faster, and the afternoon sees us packing again. We leave the Legendary Lodge next morning to return to the Fjellkisten. We have three more days before our flight back to Torino and the Alps. The weather forecast gives us one more calm day before an arctic storm front will arrive. With the first faint light of dawn we start to drive to Sørdalen again. Our objective is Skredbekken - a 700m line with a great looking steep upper wall. While driving the temperatures drop more and more from -22C at the guesthouse to -27C at the pull out in front of Skreddbekken. So it’s no option today to get on the line - higher up temperatures will be below -30C…  

Skredbekken area


We have the obligatory coffee in the Skafferiet in Setermoen and wait here for the sun to rise. We choose to climb once again Flågbekken above the Lake and the climbing here is super fun again. At night we check the forecast again. The storm will arrive at 3pm next day they say. With wind strength up to 11. So we start even earlier the following day and the race against the weather begins. The temperatures have risen announcing the change of the weather. Still when we leave the car there is no wind. We climb fast the first 350 meters of the line in huge pitches stretching the 70 m ropes to the max. When we arrive at the steeper wall that leads to the head wall its 10am and the storm has turned his eye on us! Nevertheless Tanja is attacking the huge wall and Heike and myself are digging in on the belay. The spindrift becomes so intense that we loose often sight of Tanja. Its getting f…ing cold. Luckily we have the radios because in this chaos there would be no more communication possible otherwise. In an short break we talk with Tanja and she lets us know that she needs 15m more meters to reach the safety of a cave. So we dig out and start simul climbing while the storm is hammering us. In the screaming rage of the wind I hear a note from the radio that we are on belay…

....le vent nous portera - 'Au Revoir' Skredbekken - picture Tanja Schmitt

....le vent nous portera - 'Au Revoir' Skredbekken - picture Tanja Schmitt

While abseiling from Skreddbekken the storm gets even stronger. Our ropes are not more following the laws of gravity- they just get blown up and we always need to wait for a short break to continue our rappelling. 

Arriving at the the car the snow falls sets in - the Arctic has us given a response  - A COLD RESPONSE! BUT WE WILL COME BACK COMMITTED TO THE QUEST! 

My greatest thanks to Petzl for making this trip possible and supporting us with the finest hardware on this planet. 

Special thanks to La Sportiva for keeping our feet warm and precise, Gloryfy to protect our eyes from the splitters of exploding ice with unbreakable eyewear and Hammer Nutrition to restore our energy depots with their perfectly balanced sport nutrition. 

Big Thanks also to Tor Lyngmo for his great hospitality in the Fjellkisten guesthouse and to Espen Minde for making us feel so welcome in the Legendary Lodge in Senja



Matthias Scherer