The first time I set eyes on Kjerag I knew I wanted to climb it. Perhaps the world’s most famous BASE jumping cliff, this 1000m vertical wall rising straight out from the sea was just asking to be climbed. In most cases dreams like this remain dreams, with logistics, finances and life in general standing firmly in the way, but this time I had my hand held. The Norwegians are such a friendly bunch, and on-it with their organising. As soon as I said I was keen all I had to do was find a window.
This was a ‘non objective’ trip, the way I like them. One of the problems of being a ‘known’ climber is that everyone assumes you have an objective, something new and hard, something that hits the headlines every time you pull on. This trip was just about climbing. We just wanted to be way up there, inching up the wall soaking the exposure. There are things to be done that would be big news, but that stuff could tempt us later.
But the forecast was bad, a whole internet page of black clouds and blue rain drops spreading out for the rest of our trip. Only the first two days had a glint of yellow, there would be no time for hauling, and no chance of waiting it out on a ledge unless we delayed our flights by several months. We drove straight to Lysebotn, the village at the head of the fjord, pitched tents and then got the boat straight to the base of the wall for 6pm. You can’t walk in, so the plan was to bivi, and then leg it for a one day push, fast and light, totally committed! The route ‘HokaHey’ is the classic, E5 and 20 pitches, it seemed the right challenge. Time was on our hands, for now, relaxing in the warm evening light and then sleeping out under the stars with that little bit of excitement knowing that tomorrow would be a different kind of day.
4.30am, no need for alarms. This is Norway, the suns been up for ages! There is something special about having done a load of stuff before everyone even opens their curtains. By midday we were 10 pitches and 600m up and all was good. But Charlie’s i-phone was spreading fear with some blue stuff apparently coming in, but we didn’t really need any technology to see the wall of water moving gradually toward us. There was a sense of urgency as myself and Neil swapped leads knowing that getting down would be no fun at all, but getting up would probably be impossible. Amazingly the wall stopped, it pissed it down less than half a mile away but somehow we were spared. So with the stress over I thought I’d add more, an E4 pitch was soaking so I headed off up some A2+ variation that looked doable. Forty five meters up and the exposure was forcing itself upon me, suddenly evident as I stepped way out of the comfort zone. Wet holds and snappy flakes and hard moves. Some good gear lay maybe just 5 or 6 meters below but it looked far away, far beyond the poor cam I’d just stuffed into a flaring undercut. Moving on I was impressed by my desire to push into this totally unessential challenge that I’d set. But the holds ahead were thinning out and running wet, all of a sudden this was a bad plan, this was not on the agenda and I back peddled with an agonising pump to very tentatively fall/sit on the cam preparing for the inevitable. It held, and an ‘impossible to place on lead’ bommer wire, which will live there forever, took me down and back on route where I should never have strayed.
We hit the top at 10pm, knackered, but not in the red yet. The tent was far away but darkness wasn’t, made more imminent with a cold mist blanketing the summit. We hit a fast march, more of a run, sticking loosely to directions. But what seemed clear on the ground was now far from adequate, and we had a sinking feeling that we were winging it, trying to make landmarks that loomed out of the mist fit the descriptions we had memorised. An hour later it was obvious, we strayed way off. The lunar landscape could give us nothing and with darkness pressing down we knew we’d blown it. We had to stop and sit it out, with no sense of direction whatsoever and absolutely no idea where we were, going anywhere was just pointless. But with no food and not really enough clothes for the biting wind neither of us took the plunge to sit and instead marched on, until by total fluke, after 90 mins of almost running we at last realised we were back where we started! Never has such a screw up been more pleasing! A text from Charlie, now happily scoffing back at camp, gave us more directions. This time we inched on, back tracking as soon as we lost the way. Torches only showed how thick the mist really was but a warm bed was possible and marginally worth the effort. At last we crawled in at 3am. A good day.
By 6.30am the sun scorched us out of the tent. It would have been good to have awoken on a ledge with the vista below. But already the clouds were bubbling and we opted for a sport cliff, steep and weatherproof. Right on queue the rains came in. The wall was finished. We’d been lucky, 40 days of rain had preceded our trip, and since then it’s rained every day. Our ascents might be the only ones of the year. But on the bright side, there is certainly something to come back for.