Hitch/Hike Iceland

I’ve been putting this long-expected post off for months now – for the simple reason that it seems to be an impossible task to put into words what Maria and me experienced in an entire four weeks of hitching and hiking and hitch-hiking through, across, and around the island Iceland. Where to start? What to write? And what’s the point, after all? Is there a justified need to document & publish everything? Do I put time and effort into writing this because I want to inspire people to go out and walk similar paths or is it all just narcissistic self-portrayal because I’m having just such a great time, all the time?

I’m not too sure. Possibly a bit of both. But, you might now be tempted to remark, can’t I shut up now and just deliver those stunning pictures? Oh, yes. Sorry, almost got distracted from writing a long-expected blog post about a month on Iceland. We continue: Iceland, man! Have you heard of Iceland yet? Of this totally exotic and mystical island somewhere between Europe and America, home of trolls, fairies, and very few humans too, living in volcanos and bathing in natural hot pools, doing their magic? Yes of course you have, because those volcanos occasionally blow up and disrupt the international air traffic between Europe and America with their nasty smoke cloud. Nasty trolls. But where now, you might inquire persistently, are those goddamn pictures? I deliver.

Of course, just throwing a few shiny picture into a blog post cannot accurately mirror the experience of hiking a month through Iceland. Well, nothing can, except the experience itself. But to say the least, quite an experience, it was. There are also a couple of hundred pictures more (as on the Web, the experience only counts if you picture it), but lets save some for a follow-up post. Why, you might ask? No, please. Don’t ask.

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L’Opium du Peuple! Tour Va Mal!

It’s probably not overly exaggerated when I say that I probably never put as much effort into climbing a route than into this one. Or two, to be precise. The first and almost most difficult effort was to wait in Chamonix. Wait for stable weather, which was rare, this summer. Wait and look at the topos. All those topos! All those routes! All this perfect granite! And us, stuck in the valley, condemned to do some sport climbing. Bah! What an effort. But then, finally, our new favourite site meteocham preached no rain, for three days! Off we go. Quite slow actually, because as it happened, we had to carry our massive bags containing topes, trad gear, tent, sleeping bag, mats, food for three days, cloths, but no beer. Still heavy. Seb was dubbed ‘the walking barrel‘ as the sheer size of his haulie almost exceeded his body size.

And what a pain it was. Frankly, the walk up to Refuge de l’Envers des Aiguilles (2700m) is breathtaking by itself, surfing the mer the glace, but with that damn haulie on your back … different story. Well, a few hundred curses later we arrived up there and found the snow retreated just enough to give way to a few flat square meters, setting up basecamp! Then, the route we planned to do that day didn’t quite happen; just as we roped up, it started to rain. And my stomach got bad. Seriously? After all that hauling? Mpf. Back to tent. More rain. One thought: La misere. Eyes close.

Only to open up the next day to, yes yes yes: blue sky! Finally we’re in granite-heaven, we decide for an easier introduction and an intriguing route name: L’Opium du Peuple (300m, 6a). Getting to the actual climb proved to be an adventure for its own sake, there are some cravasses to pass and then, the infamous bergschrund: depending on the season, route length can vary up to a pitch or so. Some routes are simply impossible because you can’t get to the rock at all. Climbing at altitude is a different game. But L’opium we got, a magnificent climb situated in a unparalleled and isolated scenery. And to watch avalanches play right beside you is interesting, too. Also, our decision to extend the route and to climb the second tower as well made for an adventurous abseiling action: through snow. Wet climbing shoes guaranteed. Back to base camp to witness a one-of-a-kind sunset, großes kino without an entrance fee.

Our big project is scheduled for the next day, Tour Va Mal (600m, 6c+) on the Auguille du Roc. And what a climb this one is. Starting out as a bolted slap route, it quickly steepens and the bolts make way to perfekt orange-coloured Chamonix granite cracks, occasionally streaked by 40m long quartz veins. Each pitch a beauty (as dirty as it may sound), each friend a bummer, each nut bomb-proof. But 600m are a long way to go, and the last pitch makes you pay your tolls. And cold, cold it get, at almost fourthousand, as soon as the sun disappears. Finally, what comes up has to come down again: All the way. Not too pleasant, considering that the entire route is named after a malheur while repelling after the first ascent. The cracks eat ropes. Ours too, but just once. Anyway, exhausted and no earlier than by sunset we arrive back at base. What. A. Climb. I won’t go into length about our cursings the next day when the clouds moved back in, and we had to haul all our stuff back to Chamonix. So were the efforts worth it? Judge yourself:

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Beer and Sauna, Beer and Sauna, Beer and …

If you have ever wondered how it feels like to be on the highest peak of the Alps a little bit before sunrise, then let me tell you you’ll have two things constantly and repetitively crossing your mind whilst enjoying this most wonderful view and waiting for the very first sunrays in all of central Europe to hit your face: beer, and sauna.

Try if if you don’t believe me. The summit of Mont Blanc, 4810m above sea level, is by its nature quite exposed to the elements as it towers high above all surrounding materiality. This means quite some wind, and the minutes before sunrise are traditionally the coldest minutes of the day (or night). Well, those two factors in combination with the above mentioned altitude make your brain inevitably repeat: beer and sauna, beer and sauna, beer … for this is the state of luxurious comfort that you left behind, way down in the Chamonix valley.

Of course, mountaineering is not about comfort. There has to be another reason to answer the question of why on earth we left beer and sauna behind to adventure up the Alp’s highest peak during complete darkness just to see the sunrise from up there, exposing ourselves to serious danger, exhaustion, cold, and the lack of beer. The answer is this:

Sunrise on Mont Blanc

To put pixels into words: Why not. And yes, there was a strange feeling of success when, finally, you, gasping for air, kick the crampon into the hard snow one last time, gaining a view unparalleled: the view down on everything. Being on the very top of it all. Yes, one does feel superior for a second or two. And no, there isn’t an après ski bar up there, selling beer. Yet.

Sebastiaan and me left our cosy bivouac at Col Maudit (4000m) a bit after midnight, wrapping out of our sleeping bags after a few minutes of napping to enter a perfectly still night. I’ve never seen as many stars anywhere in Europe as that night, and the full-moon was constantly looming above the summit, kind of guiding our way, luring us to get closer, as close as possible in this part of the world, allowing us to walk without headlamps when there was no obvious crevasse danger. Yes, after two weeks of waiting and uncertain weather, we were rewarded with the perfect conditions, at last. We, quite exhausted and breathing hard, reached 4810m at 5:13 a.m., and what followed were minutes of bitter cold; we wished for sauna and beer more than ever. But all we got was this magnificent sunrise. Good enough, we said, and departed for a long, long, long walk down into the valley. Beer and sauna we got, at last. Prost & Santé.

long walk downAnd because the scenery quite generally is not the worst and quite worth picturing, here a gallery for your enjoyment.

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Bohuslän, yes again

Yes Mats. This is definitely worth a blog entry. The tricky thing is just that all blog posts have to be written by hand. There really should be a automation process to it. Such a big effort! Maybe that’s why it took me three month to write this. Three month (I know you were faster)! But there really wasn’t any time whatsoever during the last three month to write a blog post; no no. So as of now, it feels like last year that we drove through a lot of flatland to arrive in Bohus yet again. So how should one possibly write about a thing in such a distant past, barely remembered at all? Well, a first step would be to copy-paste all text found scratched on a worn, torn, and rumpled sheet of paper. It reads:

  • Svaneberget, Bergkirstis Polska 6-, 35m: “beautiful sweeping line that requires footwork to the top”; “def. not in the trad-mindset yet.”
  • Svaneberget, Bohusvals 6-, 20m: “ex thinner fingers”
  • Svaneberget, Höstsonaten 6+, 35m: “!!
  • Hallinden, Pekkas Diplomtur 6, 22m: “excellent jamming lesson”
  • Hallinden, Prismaster 6-, 55m: “an exceptional climb: a classic for sure”
  • Hallinden, Fueled on Coffee, Powered by Bakon 7, 25m: “thank god for great granite, and thank god Daniel led this one”
  • Häller, Chapman 6, 35m: “a great, great climb”
  • Häller, Djurgårdsfärjan 6, 45m: “Simon led this classic Swedish horror show. Actually was a strange and wonderful cimb, with very unusual moves required. The traverse at the top is also pretty special”
  • Högberget, Karl Alfred 6-, 25m: “svamp?”
  • Högberget, Jäger 6+, 25m: “a line, a line, a line. worthy finale of a great trad trip”

(Thank you Sam, you slightly crazy English guy, for pre-thinking most of the comments. Will start my own routebook soon. You’ve got a good point there.)

Second, you quickly upload some pictures found on your hard-drive to the almighty cloud and add them to the blog post; makes for some good and colourful space and doesn’t require a lot of thinking. Go:

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Sea Kayaking in Gräsö, Sweden

Summer retrospect #5: Sea-kayak trip around Gräsö, Uppland, Sweden. At some point towards the end of our magnificent weekend trip, Malin asked: “Now, would that be worth an entry on your blog?”. Yes, Malin, absolutely, I said. Just that it took a few month to publish, but that’s another story (not that complicated of a story, I just never took the ten minutes to upload a small selection of the photos and the nine minutes to write those few words; but, you know, there’s always something else to do).

Reasons why it’s worth a blog entry include:

  • A weekend of cloudless autumn skies, enjoyed on the open Baltic sea, occasionally splashing its mildly-salted water in our endlessly peaceful faces
  • The sheer calmness and “remoteness” of the whole endeavour; To start paddling, we first drove to a mildly populated little village, took the ferry over to an even scarcer populated island (Gräsö ), where we drove to the point where the road disappeared into the sea, where we got picked up by a tiny boat that brought us to the next island from where we finally started paddling. That’s how remote it was!
  • The possibility of actually going for swims, in Sweden, in September, in the sea, and not freeze!
  • A one-of-a-kind sunset, motivating us all to search for our spirit animal and then try to mimic it, silhouetted.
  • A campfire
  • (a campfire alone should be reason for a blog entry those days)
  • A mild late-summer night spend on one of a million empty and uninhabited islands
  • An unbelievable night-sky, and thousands of distant stars doubling in number by being perfectly mirrored on the calm, dark surface of the sea in the bay.
  • (This point is simply to emphasize the above point, which was unbelievable)
  • CALMNESS, in absolute terms
  • The absence of mosquitos (which is a very real plus if one wanders around the little island, closely observing the rims of dried-out ponds; literally, you won’t believe the death toll …)
  • The joyful exploration of empty islands, see if there are treasures hidden, and outlooks that reminded me of seeing pigme-Lofoten
  • The hoisting of a flag, which was actually a t-shirt, but saying ‘LIVE SIMPLY’
  • For the great company of friends. What a weekend.

Malin, here’s the blog entry. In sweet memory.

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Osttirol, 2013

Summer retrospect #4: Osttirol, Austria. The paradise next door, finally discovered. Only named ‘Dolomites’ for touristic reasons (you could do that back in the day), nevertheless impressive on an equal scale for long and slightly scary high-altitude climbs. Will be back. Pictures:

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