Into the boltless unknown..
For several weeks I'd been doing it already. Drop everything. Take a book. Forget what I was doing. Looking up alpine voies. Soon we'd be heading for Chamonix where — after a solid winter — the ice in Couloir Gervasutti (Tour Ronde) promised thick and bright. But the ice only shone in our imagination. Forecasts announced dark rainy clouds stalking the valley.
Emergency assembly! The expeditionteam (Dave & me) came together behind the table with the map on, and the figures you can shove around to explain your strategy. Jaws dropped. We flipped the table and plans. We learned of a land of milk, honey and light, in the grip of the blazing sun: rocky lands shooting up from the ocean in the wild west of Sweden. Sweden?!
Ain't that far? Oh, over the bridges that is 1456km and an almost equal number of German road constructions.
We had to fret asphalt for 15 hours. So we wasted no time and left with the sun in our faces. Hours on highways later, deprived of airco, car's shadows had become very long. We turned inland towards fresh steaming potatoes at one friendly German's garden near Hamburg, and were soon ready again for more road. The star on our map was still 1000km away, beyond Göteburg in Brodalen. (Did you know?.. for long, Dutch was the official second language of Göteburg-City).
Night fell. Off the Danish highways there was immediate darkness wherever we considered taking the exit. No scattered lights. Plain flat dark. I'd even say wilderness. Smaller and smaller became the roads, further away from where you'd still expect any car to pass, until we were like "this seems nice grass" and the frogs were quacking a bit further where silhouettes from plants and bushes vaguely emerged.
Dear rock, don't eat it
...Croak.. croak (frog).. The next morning (yet before six thirty) I gestured as subtly as I could. Barely-awakening Dave peeked over his sleeping bag to see the golf caddy at 30m. Next to it were two busy golfers casually gazing at us and our sleeping bags. "They can't see the car, it's green.." or so we comforted ourselves.
Route with an offwidth start. Got to use the five 8).
Ain't it expensive? Not really. Local grocery stores set reasonable prices, not like those along highways or in Stockholm where I was in January. Moreover Dave caught sea mackerel and sea-kale. Transport then? Nothing crazy. ViaMichelin estimated around €160 for the usual fee plus expenses for the entire car forth and back, incl. payment to the publicans of three megabridges.
The cheap options for sleeping surprised us. Besides legally bivouacing in the wild, we could choose from campings and two climberspots. Number 1 climberspot: near Häller, of old, climber pairs ran down the paths to rocks behind a farmyard, so the old farmer thought "Off my yard!!... so I can quickly build a wooden mansion for you, straight underneath the daunting wall at my farm".
Thanks to Dave
The daunting wall of Häller towered above an open grass place surrounded by woods. Around dawn or dusk Dave would spot deer where nobody else would see them. Countless times, from several hundreds of meters. Here and there cows danced freely in and out of the pasture. Strangest skies colored the evening.. skies we don't have at home.. we have different ones. Up north the dusk stayed 'till deep in the night. Time's tricks.
Number two: Bohusläns Klätterklubb. Our choice. We are somewhere on a foresty slope. We catch glimpses – between the coniferous trees and birches – of grassy plains, veined with little streams and bushy watersides, where cows in high grass reach to. Beyond, a granite crest marks the other side of the valley with some slab multipitches there. We turn around back to the tiny red wooden house.
Staying at the Klätterklubb had been discouraged by two sullen Swedish beanie-boulderers who told us it had become too mainstream for them packed in all their shiny La Sportiva and assorted cloths. We didn't have a problem with the house. We just arrived and I got the key from Aleksej, the only one present, yet he was leaving. Soon I was bouncing over a slackline and I saw Dave putting up his wavering tent in the grass garden near fine herbs and purplish pinkish lupine flowers.
We then checked the wooden sleep attic and the workhouse full of tools with a few beds puzzled in near little windows. Food that we brought found a way into the kitchen while I found a guitar in the living next to the woodfire. A bit later and a kilometer off we ran and jumped in the hot shower which is the little lake of Välseröd, full of fish and the occasional snake couple. Valserotta Beach.
Eldfågeln (De Vuurvogel), no so-called classic and on none of the lists, but memorable nonetheless
The lake's surrounding 'landowners' had consistently mowed a 1m broad path through the high grass, past waving flower meadows and separate rock walls, one tree high. The winding path led us to a couple of alone standing birch trees on a bump, running gently back down to a flat and naturally staired boulder, leaning into the immediately deep water, guarded by schaatsenrijders and schrijverkes (insects skating on the watersurface). This lake is in Belgium not even possible in the wildest dreams of the most decadent rich guy. Here it's free for all. We met a few rockwizards in their birthday suit, like Vinçent and Birgitta, and a few local girlfriends. There would not be a crowd.
Map of the municipality of Lysekil, home to Brodalen, in the neighbourhood of our red house. There has been whispering that this landscape inspired Pokémon.
Behind my back I heared a dragonfly heading in a straight line for me, suddenly bending 'round my right and resuming the straight line forward. Suddenly another dragonfly bent 'round my left, in pursuit. Shooting beyond I descerned them both nearly skimming over the lake surface.
Nog es keren, half past five, golf terrain in Denmark
Last year Göteburger Aleksej Jaruta climbed what he personally considered the hardest tradroute of Sweden. One thing is for sure, it's now among the hardest in the world. Now he was back to start a new summer project which by consensus was considered of even higher grade. Don't be trumped, he also had a lot of tips for routes in grades we were comfortable/safe in.
The Green Dragon
Once, I drove the just-teenager-off past on his old racing bike in the late sunny afternoon. He waved and this time he seemed to have something special to tell. He had just send his project. First Ascent of Monomani (route with a moonsick monojam) at the secret hidden crag of Keberget, days after the First Ascent of Cox Orange. More plans were ahead.
VM-Brons (Världsmästerskapet-Brons in 1994, who knows, Sweden might win World Cup Bronze again in Russia next month.. or Belgium..),
the crack right on the photo.. enigmatic.. what did I do?..
So did staying at the Klätterklubb cost a lot? Members stay for free, so you can stay at the house for €60 per... (now think back of people telling you Sweden is expensive, and booking a French hotel room for 80€ a night)... year. Before I took rash decisions and became Swedish, I quickly put the recommended price for non-members in an enveloppe, and dropped the few Swedish Krones in the mailbox.
Not so expensive then.. But it'll cost you blood. F*ck, at Bergkristis Polska... Will you leave me some blood for myself please?! They don't listen. I smack so many that - when we hear a helicopter sound - we're sure it's the final boss that we have to fight.
Sun sun sun here we come
Our wonder if you can really climb there goes straight to the bin when we check the pictures after we bought the topoguide from the only distributor, a grocery store in Brodalen. UK's world authority in crack climbing, Pete Whittaker – last fall visiting LUAK – wrote an article of how he appreciated the heavenly granite he had for breakfast on a few trips to Bohuslän. He's not the only one going all the way to the north. Indeed, there were not only the locals like Vinçent (originally from Paris-city) and Birgitta, and Seba who knew our Tim from meeting on a climbing trip in Spain.
Shot from Hallinden's 'Al'legne'. Further left is Prismaster. (© Fredrik Rapp)
Rockaficionados who also had some kilometers on their counter were (non-exhaustive numeration): the Estonian guys and girls (6 in total) venturing in diverse climbing grades; the solo travelling Englishman Dave with 40-years of experience; the Frankfurt couple Dave and Brigitta; the two afterwork climbing Norse friends from the sunset picture; the Swiss sis en bro; and the retired Scottish couple Gary and Karen (whom – I later discovered – are the recent authors of one of the finest and most elaborate topos for Scotland climbing like this preview shows). Gary is a rad climber familiar with cracks. He had ordered 50 of the Bohuslän topos for the streapadairs back home. Karen and Gary shared with us homemade cookies and tea, flavored with honey from the tiniest jar I can remember, good for what must've been two hours of English siësta.
A Danish and Swiss housemate
For one route Gary warned: PrisMASTER. Later at the crag in Hällinden I have mijn pere gezien (struggle and get a beating). I wandered through my playing cards. Dyno is not what I need. Dropknee won't work. Flag don't go. I needed to come up with something new. It worked but it arrived like a fist to the jaw, with meters of micronuts where I shouldn't fall yet. And on top of that a mysterious crux, powerful and delicate, only then leading to a well protectable spot. But so far for that..
We had met at Svaneberget where the Scot duo ventured into Bergkristis Polska right after we cleared the route and abseiled from the old pine tree on top. Gary went into Bergkristis with a bunch of friends and nuts. He managed very smoothly and showed his impeccable crack experience. Karen climbed gracefully after. Eventually they also abseiled from the tree. Oei, the topo didn't mention you need an extra long rope. We had a long dubble rope and had got away via a small ridge a few meters above the ground. Gary and Karen now stranded higher.
Two Norse friends climb with the Zephyr friday after work
Karen abseiled to the ground from their improvised trad relais in a crack. He then cleaned the friends, slings, carabiners and nut from the crack and via a miniridge Gary traversed free solo to a slender minibirch that grew from a slit from where it eagerly tended to the sky. You could go well around the stem with your pink and thumb. Nodding she smiled, expressing her doubts and hinting this wasn't the first time, as worried as she was amused. "Well...". Out to reassure he looked up and was surprised to notice “...it's got leaves!(?)”.. Hardly more than ten, half of the twig was dead. Me, Karen and Dave just stood there frowning. Gary abseiled 10m off without problems. So can you climb in the wild west of Sweden? Yes, even abseil from the smallest of trees.
He knows what he's doing
Ok, you may be able to climb, but isn't it all trad and life threatening? Trad(itional) climbing requires a new focus and thorough reading of rock. Back home I now look different and less blind at the rock face in front of me. In diverse routes on the edge of our climbing I came up with moves of which I certainly knew: “this I've never done before”. Climbing Bohuslän's granite is a bit like learning a new language and with that actually getting more agile too with other languages, though I don't know if I can lose my face climber accent. Armed with lists of classic routes of local rockmasters – and of the internet – we entered a whole bunch of crags. And we got treated with quality routes.
On the way to Brodalen
On Trad climbing in Bohuslän, Rory Smith writes in Australian mag Vertical Life: There is a lot of rock in these countries, but only a few climbers. Bohuslän is (mostly single-pitch only) no Yosemite madhouse where you might have to queue at a route. [...] Be prepared to grunt, bleed, and fight, but also to dance blissfully up some of the world’s more spectacular trad lines. […] There are more than 100 crags in Bohuslän and each has its own personality creating a huge open-air museum exhibition featuring every conceivable shape, hue, and characteristic of granite. […] You will remember all the routes you climb there, they are unique and demanding and although most of them are well protected, it always gets your heart beating. There are moves there that you wont find anywhere else in the world."
On the road to Rågårdsdal
Trad in Bohuslän is different from sport climbing, and sometimes can be extra scary. Rory: "As you might have presumed, grades here are stout (sometimes sandbagged). ‘Don’t come to Bohuslän if you want an easy tick… There are no giveaways and given the eclectic range of styles from finger cracks, to off-widths, to full on roofs, all of which are incredibly technical, judging a route by its grade could get you in way over your head. […] The supremacy of these strict trad standards means Bohuslän has more than a few bold routes whose sparse gear and marathon-like run-outs would likely make even the Dalai Lama’s hands sweat."
Our recent guest at LUAK, Pete Whittaker, in Electric Avenue, classic close to Granitbiten and Ein Liten Bit Granit (© Petter Restorp, maker van de topo)
Does it really have to be so scary? Or dangerous? (...)
That's double. Rory writes very strikingly: "...these stringent standards kindled a lengthy quarrel among Gothenburg’s trad and sport climbing communities that reached its zenith in 2011 when Martin Skaar Oslund (his name is wrongly spelled, it's Olslund), one of Norway’s prominent young climbers, chopped the bolts on Electric Avenue, an iconic 8a (29) at the crag Skälefjäll. […] ... daunting piece of rock and fittingly it is home to Dreadline, a grade-28 r/x that has claimed more than a few victims, including the same Martin Skaar Oslund, who was evacuated by helicopter in 2011 after he fell from the top crux, ripped his gear, and hit the ground." :/
A blitz checkup brings to the Instagram of the professional worker-at-heights. The Instagram starts rather recently, full of climbing pics, two years after the accident. So he got well through. If his guardian angel is still there, one might question... I find a picture of him climbing a runout labeled with #masculine... not sure if it is a joke.
Stefan Wulf starts with the crux of what will become the FA (and still only ascent) of Dreadline. The pink sling, from the last piece of protection, dangles at the bottom of the photo (© Jonas Paulsson)
Besides a bunch of articles that introduce the climbing area in a touristic way: packaged and labeled (after one visit and with reference to the usual sponsored climbing posers) there is a refreshing article in Climbing Magazine of an American rock hero, with climbing partner, who gives their account of the beating and spanking they got at the Swedish coast, this in the light of the back breaking Yosemite accident of said partner.
Climbing, either trad or sport, should not be something significantly dangerous, otherwise you're doing something wrong and apply for a Darwin award. In trad climbing such demands extra extra attention.
Some of the classic routes we've sent:
First day started with Villskudd (Wild kisses or something), the number one famous pitch of the region
(© Shawn Boye). Lead: V.
Villskudd 2/4 (© Anders Diseberg)
Villskudd 3/4 (© Petter Åsander)
Villskudd 4/4 (© Petter Åsander, who moreover made a movie accompanied with music of Leuven girl Selah)
Bagatell (© Shawn Boye). Lead: V.
Bergkristis Polska, memorable consistent crack. Right at the bottom flaunts Gary's minibirch in better times (© Antti Louhi). Lead: D.
Prismaster, with several cruxy meters demanding you to continue despite dubious micronuts and your own crying for hands from above to lean on (just like the Swedish bands: Knife and José González)
(© Niklas Bjørnerstedt). Lead: V.
En liten bit granit (a bit of granite) next to Granitbiten
(© Shawn Boye). Lead: first mentioned V, the latter D.