Lyngen 2015: I'll ski that for sure!
After last year’s ski trip to northern Norway, I was left awed by the beauty of the area but unsatisfied. High avalanche danger stymied all possibility to ski anything close to 30 degrees. This year, we went to Lyngen in early May, and were treated to a week of some of the best ski mountaineering I’ve experienced. What follows is a summary of our trip.
Day 1: Fugldalsfjellet
Audun and I arrived in Tromsø to find our hosts, Yngve and Sanna, seven months expecting their first child. We were surprised that they hadn’t seen fit to tell us about it beforehand, but excited they still wanted to go skiing with us.
I took this picture so Sanna can show her kid what a bada** mother she is!
It was a beautiful, sunny day, but windy on some aspects, so it took us a couple of tries (read: driving back and forth and gauging the wind in different valleys) before we finally settled on Fugldalsfjellet.
The gang heads up the mountain.
Due to the advanced stage of pregnancy of our hostess, we only climbed the first 1200 vertical meters of the mountain, stopping at a shoulder 400 vertical below the summit for a long break.
Sanna and Yngve relax in the sun at our highpoint on Fugldalsfjellet.
The steep flank we had skinned had melted slightly in the sun, making for good turns on the descent...
Audun still hasn’t realized that skiing actually is supposed to happen on the snow.
…although it was a little rocky at the end.
Less-than-optimal skiing conditions at the base of Fugldalsfjellet
Day 2: Blåtinden
The next day, we picked my sister Zoe, who goes to university in Tromsø, and headed for Blåtinden.
Zoe and Audun on the way up Blåtinden
We were hoping for similar conditions as the day before, and were elated to feel the sun warming the snow again, although there were some clouds across the fjord. A thousand vertical of fairly easy skiing brought us to a top with a magnificent view of Lyngen, and a really cool summit cairn.
The summit cairn was hollow - you could sit inside it!
Unfortunately, it clouded over just as we got ready to descend. With the cold air temps, this was enough to freeze the partially melted snow, turning it into hard ice. Not the best descent of the trip, but still a nice ski.
Audun above the fjord
Day 3: Tomastind
The next, it was just Audun and I. What with the low avalanche danger, we decided to try for a top in the Lakselv Massif. To access this massif, you have to climb up the imposing, massive Tomas Couloir. Every since I hear about this I’d wanted to do it, but I was just a little nervous. With the low avalanche danger and good weather, this was our chance.
Let’s go up THERE!
We were able to skin up the first section of mountain before it got too steep and icy, and we put on our crampons for the first time during the trip.
Audun below the Lakselv massif
What followed was a long, seemingly endless slog up the couloir. The snow was hard on the bottom but loose on top, and the steepness was such that skiing uphill without ski crampons was impossible. So we booted it, sinking 20 cm into the snow with each step. Audun broke trail, which may be the only reason I made it to the top - it was hard going!
According to our guide book, the couloir should have been no more than 35 degrees, but we measured it at 38-40 degrees on three separate occasions on our climb up. This is steep enough to make me slightly uncomfortable on the whole climb, and I was relieved to finally clamber over the lip onto the magical glacier in the center on the massif, aptly named the Heavenly Place of Peace.
The weather had started to turn, so we had a quick lunch before heading for the final 200 vertical to Tomastind. Store Lakselvstind, the largest peak in the massif, was a sheer wall behind us as we climbed upward.
Audun, dwarfed by Store Lakselvstind. The Tomas couloir exits onto the lip in the left edge of the picture.
The clouds really came in as we booted the last section to the top of the mountain. Due to a tricky, exposed move, I turned a few meters below the summit while Audun went all the way to the top. Apparently I wasn’t missing out on much of a view.
Audun in Tomas couloir
The ski down was a struggle; I was too tense to have fun the couloir. I didn’t want to slide or loose control, so I did extremely carefuly, slow turns, skittering on the hard layer below the soft surface snow and clenching my thigh muscles tight with each turn. I was obeying the primary rule of skiing: go with gravity! Audun seemed to be enjoying himself more, however.
“Jump off that rock and I’ll take a picture!"
I was exhausted and elated at the end of the day. We had done it! We had conquered the Tomas couloir!
Day 4: Rest day
We were pretty tired after the Tomas couloir, and had a halfhearted attempt on Lille Piggtind before deciding to take a rest day.
Our high point of the day, just enjoying the sun and the view
We lounged around our campsite, feeling slightly guilty that we were wasting such good weather but quietly knowing we would need this rest for what was coming.
Audun at what might possibly be the world’s most beautiful campsite by the fjord.
Late that evening, our friends Vibeke and David arrived from Oslo. They were stoked and wanted to do a big day tomorrow if the weather allowed.
Day 5: Holmbuktind
We had our sights set on Jiekkevarri, the tallest mountain on the Lyngen penninsula. It’s light out all the time in northern Norway at this time of year, so we were lazy and got a late start by mountaineering standards. The lower part of the route weaved through a maze of partially exposed rocky forest; it wouldn’t be long until this section was no longer skiable.
Audun, David and Vibeke at the base of the climb.
The weather had stayed just as beautiful as the day before, and I was happy I had rested and had legs to climb.
David leads the group into the bowl below Holmbuktind. It was sweltering in this bowl, and all of us were down to the bare minimum of clothes.
We had to strap our skis on our packs for the climb up from the bowl to the ridge that lead to the top of Holmbuktind.
It was a long way to the top of Holmbuktind, the neighboring peak that you essentially have to pass over on the main route to Jiekkevarri. The finally stretch to the top was on an exposed ridge with dropped to a valley far below on either side.
Almost there! You just have to get across that steep, corniced piece of ridge!
On top of Holmbuktind, we looked over at Jiekkevarri and considered our options.
Vibeke and David arriving at the top of Holmbuktind. Jiekkevarri is the dome in the far right of the picture; the dome in center is a peak called Kveita.
The climb to Jiekkevarri wasn’t very appealing; a short ski downhill, before a steep headwall and then a long slog on a flat glacier. In the end, we decided that 1600 vertical meters was actually enough for one day and enjoy the incredible view around us before heading down.
I really enjoyed the ski down, cruising through turns instead of clenching the way I had in the day before.
Vibeke and David descending from Holmbuktind
Shadows had started to set in on the slopes as we skied down and we were glad we had turned; if we had waited any longer, the snow might have hardened like on Blåtinden!
Me in action
Day 6: Rasmustind
The next day, Dad flew in from Trondheim, and he and Zoe met Vibeke, David, Audun and I at the base of Rasmustind. Zoe and Dad had taken a wrong turn on the way, and we were a little grumpy by the time they arrived. The weather was still beautiful though, so everyone was back to enjoying life by the time we got our skins on and headed out.
Zoe and Dad with the Lakselv massif in the background.
The clouds started to come in on some of the neighboring peaks, but mostly held off on Rasmustind.
Clouds on Durmålstind but sun on David, Dad and Zoe!
The final 300 vertical meters to the summit were a steep flank of 30-35 degrees. The snow was a bit hard and I was happy there were some old tracks to give me purchase.
David and Vibeke on the summit cairn of Rasmustind.
The ski down wasn’t half bad, although the conditions were variable and challenging.
Looking back at our tracks from the top - sweet!
Zoe on the descent
Dad in the shadow of Rasmustind - our route went up the flank behind the ridge in the left of the picture.
Day 7: Store Hollendaren
For our final day, we decided to try for a classic on Kvaløya, one of the big islands that surrounds Tromsø. Some friends of Vibeke and David had skied it the day before and reported a steep, ice pitch at the beginning of the climb. Unfortunately, Audun, Zoe, Dad and I didn’t get this information until arriving at the base on the mountain… with no crampons.
There was just enough old bootmarks in the snow that we could get up this first steep pitch. I wished I had crampons though. Had there been any more truly icy patches we wouldn’t have made it up. Next time I’ll remember to through my crampons in the car, even if I don’t think I need them.
More booting below majestic mountains.
The intermittent clouds turned into thick fog as we climbed onto the summit glacier.
Dad and Zoe on the summit glacier
There were just enough gaps to allow us passage to the top, although I was glad there were at least 3 gps watches making tracks in our little group. The top of Store Hollendaren formed a weather divide, with fog on the glacier we had skinned up and sun on the steep cliff and fjord on the back side of the mountain.
Audun, Vibeke and David with the fjord 1000 meters below in sun in the background.
The weather opened up slightly on the ski down, yielding some good cruising on the way down the glacier.
Zoe on the way down Store Hollendaren
Upon chatting with some other skiers, we discovered there was an alternative to skiing the icy slope we had clambered up at the begining, in the form of a couloir shrouded by two rock walls. It was a little daunting, but we decided it would be better than the alternative and made our way down it one-by-one.
David (foreground) and Dad (background) descend the final couloir on Store Hollendaren.
After over 8000 vertical meters in a week, my legs were happy to get on the plane home. My heart, however, is very much stuck in the beautiful mountains of Lyngen. I’ll be back!
- The Wild Bazilchuk