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Exploring The Ice Climbs Of Northern Norway
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March 2009 :: Norway :: Lofoten Islands

As I got off the plane at Evenes Airport, I wondered if anyone would be there to pick me up. I had been invited to northern Norway's Lofoten Islands as a representative of the AAC to the first international ice climbing meet hosted by the Norwegian Alpine Club. Information had been scant. All I was told was that "you California boys will stand out." As I am from Colorado, I was nervous.

The terminal emptied. The only other straggler was a young Norwegian. She volunteered that she would not have flown halfway around the world without a phone number or a contact name. Just when I thought I'd be sleeping on the floor, Hans Petter Want, one of our Norwegian hosts, walked in with Dave Turner, the other American representative. He and Hans had been finishing a difficult water ice route by headlamp. Then they had rushed back for me, as demonstrated by the slings draped around Dave's neck.

The Lofoten Islands form an archipelago situated off Norway's northwest coast. Due to the proximity of the Gulf Stream, they have a mild climate for their latitude. Sometimes that climate is too mild. On the first day we climbed, Dave and I backed off an ice pitch with the consistency of a slurpee. Meanwhile, the accomplished British duo Andy Cave and Dave Hesleden went scouting. They were excited by the area's potential but confirmed that sunny aspects should be avoided.

The next day the rest of the participants arrived—about 30 climbers in all. France, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Georgia, Israel, South Africa, Slovenia, and Greece, among other countries, were represented. Everyone was there, but no one knew what was supposed to happen next. When I had asked Marius Morstad, the event organizer, what kind of rack to bring, he'd answered, "The rock is rock; the ice is ice." Marius was not being coy-the Norwegians were as curious as we were about the area's potential.

While Dave attempted a solo, I teamed up with Hans Petter. As we drove south the weather cleared and we spotted an isolated mountain with an inviting line splitting the face. Moderate mixed climbing led to a stout finish with detached ice and an overhanging chimney. Six hours later we stood on the summit. We were rewarded with spectacular mountain views and a walk-off descent. This was probably the first winter route on the peak.

That day set the tone for the rest of the weeklong meet. When we woke we were never sure what we would be climbing or how we would descend. One morning we got up before dawn to start our approach by boat, a first for everyone. At sunrise we landed on a beach below a mountain called Rultan. I teamed up with my French friend Christophe Dumarest, but the approach aggravated a recent ankle injury I'd suffered. Luckily, Christophe was able to join forces with his regular partner, Aymeric Clouet, and Swiss expat Andreas Klastrom, and this trio ended up creating an aesthetic and difficult mixed line. Before the meet, only one route had existed on this mountain. Over two days, Andy and Dave, Slovenian Marko Prezelj, Norwegian, Czech, and Greek climbers established several routes on the face.

Our group put up great routes, but what set this event apart was the warm, noncompetitive atmosphere. The lodge was comfortable. Every night a boat dropped off our dinner. Our hosts broke their promise of fish for every meal-one night we ate whale. After dinner we compared climbs, planned for the next day, and shared photos. Andy Cave, who has spent more than 20 years climbing, said, "I wouldn't trade this life for anything."

Ben Rosenberg, 28, is a builder based in Boulder, Colorado. He'd like to thank the AAC and the Norwegian Alpine Club for helping to make his trip possible, as well as Black Diamond, La Sportiva, and Patagonia for some gear support.

Click here to see a gallery of Ben's photos from the meet in the Lofoten Islands.

Click here to see Dave Turner's story about the meet at the AAJ's Alpine Briefs website, with a photo gallery by Marko Prezelj.

In the Photos: (Top) The peak called Hoven, with the mixed route that Ben Rosenberg and Hans Petter Want climbed clearly visible in the middle. (Bottom) Heading back to the sauna.