Midnight Sun & Mountaineering in the Lyngen Alps…

Summit-of-Brevasstindane

The last time I had visited Tromso was over 20 years ago. I was young, had thick brown hair, all my digits and in my infancy of international mountaineering and adventure. How times have changed. Since then I’ve become middle-aged, turned grey, and bits have dropped off. I’ve travelled over a quarter of a million expedition miles and seen more than I can hope to explain. Landing in Norway I noticed one thing there hadn’t changed however – the weather. It was pouring down..! Thankfully it cleared later on and the clouds were high, with beams of sun dappling the snowy white mountains. I met up with guide John Lyall and fellow climber Richard Hampshire, before driving on the bumpy roads and crossing the short ferry to the beautiful village of Svenby. Here we would base ourselves for the next few days…

The Lyngen Alps have been popular for climbing and ski touring for years. They rise directly from the sea and guarantee long days out. Unlike many places, there are no roads into the mountains, so every approach is from sea level. You could approach them on snow earlier in the season, but in late May you’re forced to walk in. Don’t expect anything less than three hours to the base of the peak in good conditions and with good feet. This is my downfall as big boots and toeless feet make for slow progress. The forests and rocks provided excellent purchase, but the snow fields were sugary and soft. My boots broke through at every step and I was regularly up to my waist in the stuff. It was frustrating, exhausting and at times painful, but that’s how life is after frostbite. We decided to go big early on and tackle Brevassintidane (1210m). A close by peak, it offered a good first days outing…

Walking through the stunted forests we were surrounded by the sounds of sheep bells and birdsong. The variety of avian life up here is staggering with everything from Buntings to Woodcock, and Willow Tits to White Tailed Eagles. On the ground, arctic birch and willow give way to glacial moraine before the snow begins. We fought into huge glacial basin where avalanche debris littered the slopes, and after donning our crampons, ascended the crest to a frozen glacial lake. Around us stood an amphitheatre of huge peaks, all heavily plastered with snow. A clear blue sky allowed the sun to blind us with its brilliance. It might sound a perfect moment, but the suns power soon began to unleash large avalanches from the adjacent overhanging cornices. Though we were in a safe position, it made for a chilling sight as the powder slipped down the hillsides. Being buried is one thing, but being buried in such as remote place as this would be another, as though nature was in abundance, humans were not. In fact we never saw a soul all day. That in itself was a huge change from many other mountain ranges I’ve climbed in. No matter how remote you may feel you are, there’s usually someone else around. Not so here…

The route was technically easy to the summit, with only a few tricky steps, and we were greeted with stunning views across the mountains and fjords. The peace of the hills was a thing of true awe as mankind has had no effect upon them. There were no ropes, lines, camps or litter to be seen. The descent was delicate at first, but soon became a long slog through the deep snow again. I was glad to get on harder ground lower down and remove my crampons. A blister had begun to form on my right heel, close to a skin graft and the pain was biting. I hobbled home slowly and with great relief, eased off my mountain boots.

The next morning another clear day greeted us, so we headed east to the town of Lyngseidet. Norwegian weather is legendary for its fickleness, and we were fortunate for such a sunny and peaceful day. We climbed through muddy forest, before taking a break at the Skihytta Hut. I’ve always been impressed by the quality of Scandinavian mountain huts, and this was a beautiful example of simplicity, shelter and surroundings. It had all you needed and no more, and was perched above the azure blue Storfjord. I could have happily stayed there all day, but Goalsevarri (1289m) awaited. Literally translated from the Sami as Fish Duck Mountain (a strange combination if ever there was one), it’s technically easy ridge was a beauty to traverse. The skies were blue, the fjord even bluer, the air was still and the summit allowed views for miles. It truly was a place of peace and serenity. Certain places are special to me. They may be on mountains, in jungles or on icecaps, but all speak to me in a way that words fail to describe. They have a ghostly, yet friendly feel, a place where spirit, soul and sense collide with peace, chaos and emptiness. They are sponges for stress, soaking away the conflict within my existence. The summit of Goalsevarri instantly struck me as one of these places. I sat there emptying my mind for as long as time allowed, before time forced us to head down an open couloir on the north side and descend homeward. My feet were aching like hell by the time we reached the car, but one of the best mountain days of recent months had been had.

After a well needed rest day, we headed north, up the peninsular to climb Stetinden (920m) and follow the ridge to Bjorndalstonden (913m). The severe blister had cut its way into my right heel, and the skin graft wasn’t happy. I patched it up the best that I could, before we headed into the hills, but it stung all day. The route was worth it though as clear skies allowed dramatic views across the sea towards Tromso to the west and over huge snow-capped peaks to the east. The ridge was a real mixed bag of loose rock and sugar snow, providing for some fun scrambling with huge exposure thrown in for good measure. Thankfully the wind kept off and we had a wonderful technical traverse of the hill. Four peaks and not a single soul on the mountains so far..!

Poor weather called an end to climbing, but I didn’t mind. I was happy with the trip and my heart was content. Unfortunately the week ended with bad news as an earthquake hit Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo. The BBC World Service contacted me for an interview, which I was happy to do, but the news did taint the end of the week. To top it all I was introduced to the world as a veteran mountaineer..! Am I really that old..? Perhaps I am…

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