2019 in Review - Part 1 - Steep Skiing and Skiguiding in the Lyngen Alps
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
A blog isn’t really a blog if you don’t start every post by acknowledging the time that has passed since the last post. My sister made me my website last year and… well I haven’t really used it much. To be honest I’m not really sure why I have a website, but I suppose it gives me a nice platform to share this newsletter. This post is inspired by my friend Graydon’s year in review! One of the most interesting and well-traveled friends I have. If anyone needs inspiration for travel and adventure, you should follow his adventures. Some of these pictures have made it onto my social media during the year, but a lot haven’t and I don’t think I’ve ever given so much background into my experiences. One of my goals is to write more, and to share more of it as well. This is an attempt at this.
After starting to write this I’ve decided that this will be part 1 of probably 2 or 3 posts. 2 and 3 will probably come after the new year. _____________
The beginning of this year I was mainly consumed by work. 2018 was probably one of the best years of my life so far and heading into the new year I was planning to take a break from my master’s program and to work full time for AscentDescent, a guiding company based in Lyngen/Tromsø. I started in the new Colorado where I celebrated the holidays with my family, old friends and my girlfriend. Focus here was seeing family and friends while giving her a good American experience on her first trip to the States. Went mostly resort skiing and did some road trips around the Colorado and into Utah. Pretty quickly though it was time to say goodbye to the sun and head back to Tromsø and the Polar night.
In January and February most of my time was spent trying to fill the rest of our calendar with bookings as well as ice climbing and teaching avalanche courses. In March, April and May I was predominately ski guiding.
Among the highlights of my early winter season was when my buddy Andreas came to Lyngen and we had two big days in the mountains. I have several projects for steep lines that I am hoping to ski when conditions are right. I acknowledge that these lines are also quite hazardous, but it’s the unlikely strip of snow that invites passage through the otherwise daunting steep faces that I find so aesthetic.
One of these projects is the Parallel Couloir on the west face of Store Lenangstind. It’s in the guidebook as a climbing line and it’s the only other line on this face that is possibly feasible to ski besides the Lenangsløypa/Felix couloir which Andreas Fransson skied several years ago. I first got the taste of the parallel Couloir during Easter 2017. Randolph and I headed out into the hills with not more than spandex crampons and one light axe each. After doing the long flat approach over Blåisvatnet we started gaining altitude. As we started climbing the couloir, we found some steeper sections of ice that we knew we wouldn’t be able to ski and they would be very tricky to downclimb with just crampons and one light ice axe. Before we were too committed to this line, we downclimbed off the ice and headed further up the glacier. We ended up climbing up the Hastings couloir on the south west face. From the ridge it seemed like a big mission to get to the summit, so we just skied down from here. Incredible skiing, you can check out a little Instagram video from that day here. It was still an amazing day in the mountains that was made perfect by running into a bunch of Swedish friends who were camped out by the trailhead who offered us food and beer when we got back to our car. Having only eaten a gel and a Snickers all day we were so hungry we forgot our manners and dug in before driving back to Tromsø!
2018 was a great year for me, but we had really challenging snowpack. This combined with other factors such as writing my thesis, guiding, and training for PDG meant that I didn’t really do that much steep skiing that season. Needless to say, when 2019 came around I definitely felt like I had an itch to scratch. With the approaching guide season, I took advantage of a week in early February when my buddy Andreas came for a visit. I had showed him a picture of the west face of lenangstind and he just laughed at me, said I was crazy. To be fair at this time Andreas was definitely more of a climber than a skier, though he is a super reliable partner in the mountains. Skiing conditions where pretty poor to be honest but we made the most of it. We had planned to take a snowmobile into the Vagas cabin, hoping there would be better snow in there, but when we found out the snowmobile track was closed, (snowmobiling outside of the tracks in Norway is illegal) we didn’t feel like doing a 20 km approach to maybe find good snow.
Instead we did a warmup day skiing the backside of Storgalten onto Gamvikblåisen and then the couloir on Peppartind before descending Storura back to Lenangstraumen.
Cold and clear, incredibly beautiful light that we have in the arctic in January and February. Conditions really weren’t that good for steep skiing as the snow surface was so hard you could barely get your edges in. None of this skiing is so steep, but if you lost control you would slide for a long way before you stopped when the conditions are like this. Andreas handled this skiing well and with new snow forecasted overnight he agreed to give the Parallel couloir a try with me.
We started early in the morning as we knew it would be a big day. It’s amazing how our mind has the ability to ignore obvious signs when you want something really badly. It had been poor conditions for steep skiing the day before and now it had come 10-20cm of cold powder snow. Classic dust on crust skiing, not ideal for steep, exposed, technical skiing. We tried anyways, I suppose we craved the adventure and the uncertainty. I know I was growing complacent of being extra safe all the time and finally I had a partner who I felt shared my risk acceptance on this day. Still ever going superlight we decided on one 30meter 8,5 Beal Opera rope and beal escaper (a contraption that lets you rappel the whole length of your rope. It holds your weight while your rappel, but it releases after you tug on it about 8 times). A couple ice screws, nuts, pitons, and cams. The Lyngen adventure rack. We each had two petzl gully axes and irvis hybrid crampons with steel front points and aluminum on the heel. It was snowing but it was overcast, and the wind was blowing. Several loose snow avalanches coming down the big faces on both sides of us on the approach. Our irrationally motivated selves justified ignoring this clear sign by saying that the couloir we wanted to ski held so little snow that it would not gather enough snow to slide. We continued. Andreas didn’t have skicrampons, so I didn’t bring mine. It was hard work skiing up the steeping apron up to the couloir. It probably would have been faster to bootpack, but sometimes sensible people can be stubborn.
The start of the couloir has a few short sections of water ice. We soloed up though the first part of it before we had to simul climb the steeper section as our rope was too short for Andreas to find a good anchor. After this section of climbing we had a few hundred meters of steep snow before we got to another almost vertical section of mixed climbing. From looking at this couloir for a while I assumed there would be two sections that weren’t ski able, now this was confirmed. After the second crux the snow remained steeper. Despite calling it a couloir it wasn’t super apparent which way to go, there were several sections of snow that funneled into and over this cliff into the couloir below. Trying to find the improbable strip of snow that passes through this otherwise steep dark face of crumbly rock.
The higher we got, the more the realization that the skiing was going to be terrible settled in. The new snow wasn’t contributing to giving us any more purchase, it was just making it difficult to see what we were stepping on. The couloir was finally starting to get steeper and narrower. The wind was still blowing and transporting snow. Despite finding almost no decent rock protection, we stayed roped up sometimes finding a nut placement or a cam placement as we went higher. We discussed bailing but both decided to press on. After another hundred meters of delicate climbing we didn’t have to say anything, we just transitioned from crampons to skis and prepared to descend. It was probably another 300 meters to the top, but we didn’t care about this anymore, our intuitions pressed the override button in our decision-making center. It was time to get the fuck out of there!
I would describe the skiing as spicy. Classic dust on crust, the new snow just slid away and made it hard to decipher what we were actually skiing on. We made jump turns all the way down, knowing we were skiing over lots of exposure, falling was not an option!
Though downclimbing might have been faster we kept our skis on. The escaper worked a like a charm, and we were just able to make it over the cliff with our 30-meter rope. From here we skied down to where we would make our next anchor above the icefall. Just as we are about to begin the second rappel a sluff comes roaring down the couloir and hits me in the chest. Andreas is attached to the rope by his belay device, but I just dig my ice ace into the snow and am able to hold on. Quickly I take a sling and attach myself to our two-nut anchor. This first sluff was just a warning shot. Right after Andreas has gone out of view over the edge of the ice flow a second avalanche comes roaring down the couloir. It hits me in the chest and throws me off balance, suddenly my whole weight is hanging on our anchor as I feel like I’m being pummeled by a wave. Luckily Andreas was able to get under a small roof, so he didn’t get pummeled as well. After it passes Andreas continues to rappel only to discover our rope is too short and has to down climb the rest of the way. A few more small sluffs pass as I rappel down to meet him. Hoping to retrieve the rope we attached all of our slings to the end of the rope so we could stand in a safe spot while we pulled rope.
For some reason the escaper wouldn’t release, and none of us wanted to solo up an icefall where we could potentially get knocked off our feet by another sluff. We decided to leave the rope and down climb as quickly as we could out of the couloir before another slide came down. By the time we were out the couloir it was completely dark so we had the long ski back to the car by the gps on our phone. This gave us plenty of time to reflect over how close of a call we just had. Had the avalanche not come exactly when we were attached to the anchor, we both would have been dragged several hundred meters over a cliff, who knows what that outcome could have been. In hindsight it’s obvious that conditions weren’t right on this day, but somehow, we made it out unscathed. Is this skill and good mountain sense or just blind luck? Who knows, but my itch was scratched and though I am still determined to go back I was super content with conservative decision making for months to come.
In April I had the chance to pick up my rope. I had been guiding non-stop for the months following Andreas´s visit and I was relieved when some guests cancelled last minute. This was my chance to go camp out with some friends who were camping at Tyttebærvika. It had been awhile since I had done my own skiing and I was just happy to spend some time with friends, though in the back of my mind I knew I still needed to go back to pick up my rope. I was the 6th member of the crew so it was pretty natural to split up into two teams for Sunday. Sort of joking I asked if anyone was interested in doing a long approach to do a few pitches of alpine climbing to pick up my rope, with a small chance of skiing something steep and sketchy. Honestly, I would have been happy to go ski anywhere with my friends this day. I also knew that the after the warm spell we had had that the line was definitely not in condition to ski, but this was the first time I’d really have an opportunity to go back there. Luckily for me, Halvard was itching for an alpine adventure and eagerly agreed to join me, no matter how terrible I made the trip to sound. I didn’t bother blowing up my sleeping pad, I just slept in the bushes and we got up and had an early start.
We underestimated how much snow had melted so we had a long rocky approach in our ski boots before we could finally skin. Eventually we made it to the base of the couloir and all hopes of skiing the line today were definitely out of the question. We climbed up to the where the escaper hadn’t gotten stuck because of the rope drag. This time we had brought two 60-meter ropes, so rappelling was no problem. Halvard went first while I spent quite a bit of time getting drenched by the dripping waterfall trying to excavate the end of the rope which was buried under a bunch of snow and Ice.
After 20 minutes of digging and chopping on the ice I ended up cutting my rope a meter from the end. We down climbed back down and climbed another couloir to gain the northwest ridge of Store Lenangstind. The snow was absolutely awful for skiing. Just completely refrozen and in the shadow of this big face it wasn’t likely going to soften up until maybe the evening when it had been in the sun for a bit. Though it was tempting to continue up the ridge to the summit we knew the skiing would be terrifying in the current conditions. Instead we traversed the ridge to the summit of Lille Lenangstind and took some pictures instead. We had the rope with us but ended up both soloing it, cool scrambling but with poor rock quality and snow it would have been really hard to find good protection. Mostly scrambling with a few cruxes. I haven’t heard of anyone traversing this ridge before, but I’m sure it’s been done before. We traversed back to our skis which we left on the saddle between Lille and Store Lenangstind and we decided to ski down the north west face. I don’t believe this face has been skied before, its fairly steep and skis over significant exposure, not the best place to be skiing with really firm icy conditions, but Halvard wanted an adventure so he got one. A little bit of ice climbing, a little bit of ridge traversing, a little bit of scary exposed skiing, and 10kms walking on rocks with ski boots… Excited to come back to this area again when the conditions are right.
After a good day out with Halvard it was straight into organizing the race formerly known as Skittentind Rando, now rebranded Tromsø Arctic Skimo. For the first time we had a two day event with 2000 meters elevation gain on Friday and Saturday. Skittentind Rando, and its afterparty has always been one of the highlights of my ski season, but since I knew I wouldn’t have much time for racing this season I offered to volunteer to organize this year. It was an exhausting week with challenging conditions, but with a big effort from all the volunteers we were able to have a great race over two days this year. Looking forward to arranging it again in 2020
When Tromsø Arctic skimo was over I took one day to nurse my hangover and then it was straight back into a few more weeks of guiding in May. Though I probably have never spent as many hours outdoors in a season as I did this winter, it is probably the winter I’ve had in recent years with the least amount of time for my own adventures. I love guiding and enjoy spending time with other people though this point I was pretty exhausted, physically and emotionally. I had put all of my energy into skiing and working and my girlfriend and I ended up deciding to break just before 17. Mai. In addition to distress of dealing with ending a long term relationship (on good terms) this also left me suddenly homeless as I had been living with her since august…
How is that for a cliffhanger, hopefully the rest comes before 2021 ;) Below is just a few photos from the 2019 guiding season. Thank you Jimmy, Magnus, and Steffan for being great colleauges and mentors this season.