After four or five days of low cloud and rain that put a damper on most activities, I was happy that the weather forecast was accurate in predicting sun for Wednesday night – mainly because, banking on this prediction, I'd made an arrangement with Geir Jenssen to climb another mountain.
We'd discussed a few possibilities, and finally settled onTverrbotnfjellet, an "easy" 1299m peak to the south of Tromsø. At 16:00, Geir picked me up, and we set off for another upwardly mobile adventure.
I first met Geir a few years ago when I asked him to perform at an electronic music festival I was organising. I'm still quite pleased with myself for getting Biosphere (website/wikipedia) to play his first ever (and, I think, still only) gig in Finland, and have it be in Rovaniemi (much to the chagrin of ambient music lovers in Helsinki!). What I didn't know at the time, and what I only found out while living in Minnesota, was the Geir is also seriously into climbing mountains.
He started climbing when he was 14, and has even climbed some first ascents of mountains in the Tromsø area. He records his routes and climbs at his website, The Northern Playground, which I encourage you to check out as it is full of mountains and excellent photography He is, by all accounts, a very experienced climber and mountaineer, so I was really happy he was in Tromsø – his home town – while I was visiting.
Geir likes to climb mountains he hasn't summited before as much as possible (I would too if I lived where he does: there are so many to choose from). I initially suggested Store Blåmann as one I'd like to climb: its probably the second most popular peak after Tromsdalstinden. Although he hadn't climbed it since 1993, he told me his friend was planning to climbTverrbotnfjellet, so I could chose which I wanted to do.
Geir's friend – Kent Hugo Nordheim – is attempting to climb all of the mountains over 1000m in Tromsø county. That's 666 mountains. He's already done over 400 and only been at it for about four years. Needless to say, I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to keep up with the Norwegian supermen, but I decided to join them anyway. I probably wouldn't have gone to
alone, so I was glad to seize the opportunity.
We got a message from Kent-Hugo that he'd be a little late as he was picking someone else up, so we decided to set of without them – I reckoned they'd catch us up with me slowing Geir down!
The trail head is at a farm in Andersdalen. After negotiating the terrors of a few cows and an electric fence, we hunted out a sheep trail leading up through a very pleasant stand of birch, before skirting around a hillside towards
's southern flank.
This was very easy walking; almost flat, with only a few trees to clamber over or around. As we neared the turn into the main valley, the river below us roared, it's sound amplified by the steep valley walls.
We descended down to the valley bottom, and followed a blueberry-covered glacial esker that snaked along.
I've always liked eskers. They're great to walk along, and give you just enough height over the landscape for scenic views along the valley.
Tromsø had a lot of snow this winter, and as a result the spring melt has lasted quite a time. We had to cross the river coursing down the valley, but I didn't see any convenient or safe places. While I distracted myself form the problem by photographing sheep, Geir had jumped across the raging torrent and was eagerly trying to get me to do the same.
I jumped onto a rock in the middle of the stream at the top of some short falls, but the rock I needed to jump to was wet and moss covered, and I lost my confidence and chickened out.
I've become more cautious as I've got older, which is one excuse. Another is I didn't want to prematurely end this trip with a cold soaking in meltwater. So I headed back and up stream to find a place where I cold wade across.
It was quite a rapid river, and it took me a while to find a place I was comfortable with, but the
got me across in no time, safe and sound, and ready for the next couple of tiny, easily crossed streams.
As we approached the foot of the mountain proper, I knew this easy terrain was about to end. A good, old, 60 degree section of moss-covered uphill reared up in front of us. A few weeks ago this would have given me the willies, but now it just seemed
Geir sped off ahead of me as I laboured up the west ridge. I'd been trying out a
for carrying my camera gear and knickknacks while climbing, and I was glad of the
I'd chucked in the pocket. I sucked down water, wondering how Geir could go so fast carrying none at all.
i eventually caught up with him, and sat down for a short breather.
The landscape was getting more rugged, and spectacular.
The view down the valley was beautiful, the sun sending shafts of light down to glisten off the river.
But enough of this sitting around. We had more mountain to climb. I put my legs to work as I watched Geir disappear again over a crest.
The steep moss gave way to scree and boulders, and became somewhat easier to traverse, if harder on the knees. We crossed a few tiny snow fields to cut a few corners, but in general it was a case of easy climbing with some minor scrambling as we hauled upwards.
Clouds drifted around the mountaintops, hiding them momentarily before dispersing. I was glad: I'd wanted to get above cloud line at some point, but I'd take being in the clouds as a good second.
The top of
is fairly rounded and gentle, so the climb became easier the higher we got. We hadn't seen or heard Kent-Hugo or his friend, so we assumed they had gone somewhere else. But suddenly, just as we were reaching the top of the mountain, two heads popped out from behind a rock. They'd climbed straight up the side of the mountain a little further west, and would descend the way we came. We didn't chat for long, but it was funny to meet people on the summit on an otherwise solitary (and bikini-free) climb.
Kent-Hugo and Geir thought that it would be possible to descend via the large snow-fields lining the couloir that formed the side of the mountain. It was around this point that I started to get a little uncertain at the prospect of getting back down again. I'd never tried a
before, and the potentially deep snow (and clear avalanche trails) made me nervous. But I tried to keep my worries in check: I knew I was in good hands.
Anyway, first of all we had to get to the top!
A quick traverse of a snow field and we were there.
is comprised of two summits, the 50m or so lower
I'd wanted to do four mountains while in Tromsø, but the weather made that difficult. I wasn't kidding myself that the two peaks here counted as two mountains, but I was happy with 3.5 (
– I don't count the lower hills like
as "proper" mountains, based on a completely arbitrary and personal classification system of suffering involved while climbing them).
The "true" summit of
lay 500m or so to the west.
I snapped a few photos while Geir zipped off to
The view from this slightly lower peak was quite special though. Sometimes size really isn't everything.
Looking back towards the summit proper, we saw the last remaining cornices, ready to drop hundreds of meters should anyone be stupid enough to stand on them (and people do, I'm told, surprisingly often).
Clouds drifted over and around us as we walked along the gently sloping mountain top.
I followed Kent-Hugo's footprints across a modest snow field
to the top. (Mine are the flat-footed footprints!)
Once again, I saw a minuscule Geir, set against giant rock.
And then the summit, crowned by one of the area's typical circular über-cairns.
It was around 21:00. We sat out of the cold wind as I snacked on Troika bars (
, you lucky people!), liver pate, and lefse (separately, I might add, although...). A massive cornice, belying the edge of the mountain, began right at the foot of the summit cairn (you can see it above), and somewhat limited the vast, sweeping views down the valley, so you'll have to make do with one from a little further away.
Replenished, it was time to get back down again. It was time to leave the summit, and my comfort zone.
The ridge up had been okay, but Geir said the snow would be the quickest and easiest way down. Now, I don't have a lot of mountain experience, and I tend to play it safe. I'd have been quite happy going down the ridge, stone-by-stone, but as I said before, Geir knows his stuff, and I trusted him. Plus I figured Kent-Hugo's track would also be visible, so we'd easily see if they mysteriously disappeared next to a big hole.
On the way up I'd eyed the couloir and thought it didn't look too bad. But when you get up close to these things, "not very steep" can seem "extremely very steep indeed".
Nevertheless, I felt okay about it.
Geir knows what he's doing
, was my mantra.
I asked if we should
down (i.e., slide on our asses) but he wasn't so keen, worrying about crushing the gentiles against rocks. He favoured a kind of running down the snow field, and who am I to argue?
I was a little worried that stomping down great walls of snow would trigger an avalanche, but I was assured this was not an issue as the snow was quite well. I asked for other tips, and he told me to be careful at the start, as the snow can be soft and deep, and avoid rocks for the same reasons. The start bit I'd already figured out, but the rock tip was good.
Okay then. Off we go.
Geir ran ahead, and then his run turned into some strange kind of magical foot skiing as the slope and gravity took hold.
I plodded after, cautiously at first, but with more confidence as my steps didn't result in any immediate plunges to my untimely death. I picked up the pace a little and found myself foot-skiing. Sadly my foot-skiing skills are about as developed as my ski skiing skills, and I soon found myself in an involuntary glissade down an increasingly steep slope.
After stopping that (I would use the term "arresting" but it was more luck than enforcement), I got to my feet again, and took it slowly, step-by-step, and you know what? It was kind of fun. Nerve-wracking, wide-eyed, lump-in-the-throat fun, but fun nonetheless.
I don't have many pictures as I was busy trying to stay upright and, you know, alive, but
I only had a 21mm lens with me, so you can't really see Geir in this photo, taken as I'm crossing the tell-tale brown-stained avalanche snow.
I don't know how much time we saved, but I'd estimate about 45 minutes. It was clear from the tracks that Kent-Hugo had slid down, but I was happy with my slow-paced stumbling.
At the bottom of the mountain, I experienced a catastrophic gear breakdown of my beloved
. It was entirely my fault. I'd had them lengthened for the descent, unfortunately a bit too much. I felt them bend a couple of times and should have shortened them, but no. When I took a stumble near the bottom, my "ample" weight snapped the carbon clean in half on one pole. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
We still had that river to cross again. Geir found some more snow across the river, but again, I took the wet path. My shoes were already damp from the snow, and frankly I was looking forward to the cooling waters on my feet, so with just one pole I wobbled across.
Down, down into the valley. The sun wasn't going to set, of course, but it's angle was lower and the light was turning golden.
Geir told me this was his 200th mountain. That's 200th unique mountain – he's climbed some of them several times. Pretty good going.' I'd managed 3.5 in 3.5 weeks, and I though that was pretty good going too.
At the farm, we scared the cows again, sending them running away from their cozy sleeping place in the forest.
As we neared the car, we looked back up at
, and watched as the sun transformed a muddy field into a golden carpet of sprouting grass, each individual blade picked out in the light of the midnight sun.
I can't help but think how luck Geir, Jan Hugo, Kent-Hugo and all the other inhabitants of Tromsø are. To have this combination of sea, mountains, the arctic, the light... I think if I lived here I'd become addicted to the outdoors, and weighing it up against all the other addictions in the world, I really don't think that would be bad at all.
At the car we shake hands after a good climb. I can't think of a better way to spend an evening.
In the car on the way back to the city,
appears, looking steeper than ever, and bookending my time in Tromsø. When I climbed it a few weeks ago, my legs turned to jellied eels, and a few days after I could hardly walk. Now, aside from a couple of achy knees, I felt fine. Better than ever.
Mountain euphoria, I'm going to miss you.
If you're interested in some of Geir's music (as Biosphere), you can find lots on
, or even better,
. My favourites are Cirque, Substrata, Dropsonde, and N-Plants. Most of his stuff is released on the excellent