The Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofoten Islands are said to be one of the most beautiful climbing areas on earth. Although the mountains there are not very high, and the highest peak, Higraftindan, reaches only 1161meters, the fact that they rise straight from the sea makes them spectacular and extraordinary.
The Lofoten is an archipelago of five big and five small islands in the northern Norway, west of Narvik and around 200km north of the Arctic Circle. The extraordinary climate of the islands is caused by the warming effect of theGulf Stream. It also dries the rock very quickly after heavy rain. Also during all June and July, you experience there 24 hours of daylight. The heavily glaciated and granite rocks of the Lofoten offer lots of possibilities for rock climbing and mountaineering all over the year. However, one must remember, that the Islands do not have the signed trails at all. The Norwegians prefer to experience the nature individually, therefore each hike has to be carefully prepared and the tourist has to be equipped with map and compass.
There are several ways of getting to the Lofoten Islands..
Flights to Oslo, the capital city of Norway are available from almost every part of the world. Once in Oslo, you can take a train north, to Trondheim and Bodø, from where you can catch a ferry to Stamsunds, Moskenes, or Svolvaer. If you have a car you just have to follow E6 from Oslo up to Fauske and than take off to Bodø and the ferry.
There are also more possibilities to catch a ferry from the mainland of Norway to Lofoten. You can do it in Narvik, Skutvik and from Melbu to Sortland. This last connection is the shortest and the cheapest way, but it also requires a very long drive to Melbu.
Other option is getting to the islands by plane. There are three airports in Lofoten: to the northeast of Svolvaer on Austvågøy, in Leknes on Vestvågøy, and on Røst. All of them have daily connections with Bodø.
The Lofoten are not famous for a very nice weather. However in the summer months of June, July and August the weather usually is stable and it is the best time for climbing. Still, you have to keep in mind, that even the most beautiful summer conditions can be replaced by heavy storm accompanied with low temperatures within a relatively short period of time. Adding the extremely useful feature of having a sunlight 24 hours per day, you can start climbing whenever you want.
Where to stay
Norway is one of the few countries that have preserved the ancient law of free public access to all of their lands. Therefore you are allowed to camp in any place as long as it is not in sight of a private home and providing that you don’t make any damages on the fields or crops by walking through them. Of course camping is not accepted in all places where it is directly stated that camping is forbidden. For other accommodation the easiest way is to ask in the nearest tourist centre. Other very common, and relatively cheap possibility is staying in one of the old fishermen’s huts, called Rorbu, which are very numerous on the islands and offer a decent standard of lodging.
It is commonly known that Norway is quite an expensive place. Although you can save a lot on camping, all other expenses are extremely high. For example, beer in the bar at the Klettern Schole costs around 10 euro, and a regular pizza – around 20 euro.
Also, when travelling by car, you shouldn’t speed. The fines cost a fortune in Norway.
Climbing history on the Lofoten
It is considered that climbing on the Lofoten started in 1889, when two local fishermen made the first ascent of Vagakallen (942m). The next important step was reaching the summit of the two pronged tower above Svolvaer, called The Goat in 1910, by three climbers from Oslo. In the first half of the twentieth century there were mostly Norwegians and British climbers visiting the islands. The ’60 are a decade of Arild Meyer and the Nesheim brothers from Tromso. Meyer did the first ascent of Presten via the West Pillar (one of the Lofoten’s most famous routes in the presence), and the islands’ hardest and longest route, The Great Pillar on Vagakallen. One more important for the history climber that should be mentioned here was Hans Christian Doseth, who contributed to raising the standards of free climbing and made the first free ascent of Presten’s West Pillar.
The first in over 40 years climbing guide to the Lofoten, “Climbing in the Magic Islands”, was written in 1994 by Ed Webster.
The Norwegians stand for natural climbing. That is why most of the routes are all-nut protected. Climbers visiting the Lofoten are encouraged to leave their electric drills and bolts at home. Bring a set of wired Rocks or Stoppers, several Hexentrics plus a good selection of Friends up to #3, although #4 Friends may also be helpful on some routes. Small wired nuts (brass, steel, or RP nuts) are also useful. As for the ropes, 50meter-long ones are a must, as most of the pitch lengths and a majority of the fixed rappel stations are 50meters long.
The Norwegian rating scale differs slightly from other European scales. E.g. to the UIAA rating scale usually you have to add 0,5 – 1 grade. Below is an approximate comparison of Norway and French rating scales.
| Norwegian Scale
|| French Scale
The Lofoten’s labels are the Svolvaergeita (“Svolvaer Goat”) with its Classic Route 4+ (Norwegian), S 4b (British), and the Presten (“the Priest”). However the big minus of the first rock is a long way to get there and not very interesting climbing. What attracts the climbers most is an extraordinary top, a two pronged tower with 50meter long precipice in between. Contrary to the “Svolvaer Goat”, getting to “The Priest” takes only about 10 minutes, starting from the road. Another highly recommended place is Gandalfveggen on Lofoten’s Austvagoy. The routes are quite short there (from 80 to 100meters), but with some very nice views and the rocks are located nearby the road. The classic here is the Gandalf, a varied four pitch route up the right side of the wall, Guns’n Roses and Rasmusekspressen.
Near the village Kalle there are great rocks coming directly from the sea. The guide calls that place “Paradiset”. This place is also a beginning of a fiord where the most classical route, the Storpillaren or The Bonatti Pillar of Lofoten, is located.
Apart from free climbing, the Lofoten Islands offer a wide variety of ice climbing spots in winter and many attractive places for all year round mountaineering.