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New Route Climbing in the Lofoten Islands

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Blåfjell Kammen (Blue Crest Mountain) sits on Flakstedøya, one of the Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway. Its western crag, a series of complex corners and faces, sits prominant and full of interest, overlooking Skjelfjorden far below.

On the 31st August 2023 I set out from the valley for the 2 hour walk-in, humping enough rope and metalwork for the task... this was to be a solo endeavour, so no climbing partner to share the hard labour.

The sun was warm, and the walk-in, although hard work, was full of great views and interest.

The scramble across the ridge line was exposed and airy. Stunning views of the neighbouring peaks demanded attention, as did the rock beneath my feet... a truly exhilerating and absorbing experience.

Although I had spent time considering my options through binoculars from the banks of Skjelfjorden far below, closer inspection from above yielded details that were critical in my final descision making. The rock faces, although climbable, looked dubious in their integrity, and the availability of protection looked sparse... sub-optimal for the solo climber, many hours from assistance. Vegetation and further loose rock adorned many of the corners. Rockfall funnelled down from above could easily sever rope, the thought was sobering.

I finally opted for the most northerly corner on the crag... it seemed to promise the most continuous line of quality rock with an acceptable level of objective risk... It also elicited in me a deep sense of excitment and challenge... something to measure myself against... perhaps the real reason I'd been drawn to these islands for the last 10 years.

Abseiling in to the route was essential. A ground-up attempt, though more pleasing, wouldn't have afforded me the chance to inspect gear-placements for 'belays' ... critical when rearranging from a downward to upward load in rope-soloing.

Abseiling in was exciting, a commitment to the unknown... A 're-direct' on my anchor to prevent dislodging the collection of loose blocks at the edge of the cliff.... and away I went.

The route was steep, maybe 70 degrees... a deep, foot-wide chimney, separated the lefthand wall from the ragged edge of it's over-lapping neighbour on the right... an impressive sight. 30m down, with relief, I found a great collection of cracks on the left wall. A great standard belay....and they'd work well for the essential upward-pull required for leading too.

Now looking back up the route, I projected myself forwards to my imminent lead attempt....I'm good at 'bridging' for sure so no sweat there but there were definitely a few metres of 'laybacking' just above me. Not so confident... that edge... hmmm.

I descended the rest of the route with the remaining 30m of rope... not quite enough to reach the foot of the crag though. I'd have to work that out later. I'd seen what I assessed to be the crux, up on the top pitch and thought it wise to rehearse the moves.

The lower section seemed to offer little protection, but going at about tech 4c, I wasn't too worried. It was damp and often required careful negotiation of loose blocks on the right edge (particularly by the belay, just above the grassy alcove... look out!!☠). Good bridging kept my feet dry and I arrived at the stance, confident that I had the 'head game' for the required run-out on lead.

Pitch 2 was different. Good gear, some placements would later require a little searching for, or digging out, the climbing was technically much harder - consistent 4c throughout with the addition of two consecutive 5a moves... so maybe 5b?

With my thoughts in too many directions at once, my foot slipped off a tentative smear mid-crux and my stylish laybacking ended in an adrenaline-pumped and battered mess, some 5m below... rope stretch! I was using a Wild Country 'Revo' which activates at a rope speed of 4m/second, reliable yes, but it doesn't completely stop you from getting hurt.

A little rattled, but with renewed focus, I pulled though successfully the second time around. The route gave little opportunity for respite, as it immediately offered up another technical section that required complete focus. A cool sequence of 5a moves... pulling great-shapes and feeling like a legend!

With 15m of around 4b climbing above, I was soon reaching carefully for the final mantleshelf and pulling over, with some relief, into the bay at the top of the route.

Having re-racked my climbing gear, hydrated and coiled my rope, it was now time for the serious business of leading the route. Being so far unsighted from the foot of the crag, I found myself burning valuable time assessing the route down...and subsequently up to, the base of my climb. Steep heather and grass, shattered rock and complex terrain drilled home the need for caution, even a simple turned ankle can spiral into an epic event for the solo climber!

About an hour later, deep into the afternoon I eventually stood, thoughtfully, on a narrow grassy ledge by the gully that marked the start of my route. Assessing a large block which was to become my anchor at the base of the gully, I felt an acute spike of loneliness as I prepared for my ascent.

Having already climbed the route once, I was able to focus the extra attention required for the complicated ropework and techniques of rope-soloing... being wholly self-reliant and responsible is a hefty extra weight to carry on the ascent of a new route in the mountains.

My start point was some 15m lower down the crag, bringing the total route length to around 80m. The climbing felt different this time... the moves flowed, but there was now an ever present sense of my own mortality...although there was no concious thought given to the 'what-ifs?'.... they were just well known, the consequence of failure...fatal? Assessing each foot placement a little more intently, time slipping away..... carefully selecting each gear-placement, checking the integrity of the rock, minutely. Move... Breathe... Relax... Focus... I've got this!!

The belay now in sight.... move right, out onto the arete... balance... avoid wet feet. Back left onto the wall...tiptoes, strong bridge, maintain core tension... 3 'bomber' wires ... clove-hitch.... smile and relax.

Time to rap down and clean the pitch... no time to 'switch-off'.

I arrived back at the belay having retrieved all my gear... tiring work. Complete focus is exhausting... with no partner to rely on, your decision-making process needs to be robust. Check, check and check again! My hanging stance made for awkward and labourious work... changing my standard anchor into an upward orientation required firstly that I build a whole new belay then transfered myself back into climbing mode, then onto the new anchor. It took a while, I stopped at one point and just closed my eyes for 20 minutes... just putting my brain in neutral ... I was in a hurry, but not a rush. Making mistakes due to fatigue was not the way I wanted life to end.

Safely back 'on-belay' and ready to move...I looked-up... OK, here i go...

"I can do this...just keep moving Ant" positive self-talk... and strong fingers!

The crux was about 4m above the belay, a featureless few meters of steep wall on the right, a good edge, a small-slopey foot placement on the slab to the left. Good gear below, check! Breathe... and go. I think that I actually smiled... putting myself to the test... having felt tired as I left the safety of the belay I now oozed confidence... adrenaline too!

A quick pause to place a No. 2 Dragon cam in the break 4m up, a delicate shift to the left, pause, breathe, big pull, and through.... god that felt good! I was wired-up and loving it!!

15m to go... Stay cool... Keeping it together for the last section was a challenge, celebrate when the work is finished. It soon was! Pulling out of the corner and on to the ridge felt ace... life affirming. I'd lost the sun hours ago on the climb, now I was stepping out to catch its final few rays in a display that felt like it was just for me... warm, golden-light and an evening cloud inversion.... truly stunning.

Having taken a few moments to enjoy the feeling of success, I eventually rapped back down to clean the final pitch. Gear stowed, I began the walk-out. Buoyant. Knackered. Content.

'Ravnen' N5+ (The Raven HVS 5a)

Unlikely to ever see a repeat ascent due to it's lonely location, remote as it is, from the popular centre of mass in Henningsvær. So what was the point? My route was just part of my personal journey... at age 48, it was about confirming my chosen identity, measuring myself against my own standards, learning about myself and what I'm capable of.

I hope you've enjoyed my little blog, well done for making it to the end. Drop me a message it you have any feedback...

Take care


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