Words by Paul Ramsden
I have been hearing stories of Norway’s arctic Senja island for many years. Tales of alpine scale Scottish routes rising above the sea amazed and inspired but the reality of family and work commitments meant that I didn’t make it there until this winter.
Senja is often described as Norway in miniature, as in a small area it has a bit of everything that Norway has to offer, deep fjords, granite walls and rolling fjell.
The tourist boards marketing department describe the place as ‘Adventure Island’ but the Norwegian word for adventure can also be translated as ‘Fairytale Island’ which is in many ways an equally fitting description.
Steep faces dropping straight in to the sea, jagged rocky teeth raising out of the Fjords creates a Tolkienesque landscape reminiscent of the Hobbit movies.
Senja isn’t really a summer rock climbing venue as the granitic gneiss is surprisingly compact but the wet climate had endowed the steep walls with a descent amount of turf, which come the arctic winter turns the island into a mixed climbing paradise. However, the ice climbing shouldn’t be dismissed, just take a look at Finnkona above Nordfjorden to see what I mean.
There isn’t a climbing guide to Senja, something that many climbers can find intimidating but offers those with an adventurous spirit the opportunity to climb in one of Europe’s last true climbing wilderness areas.
Climbing is a very varied activity that offers different experiences to all participants from indoor bouldering walls to 8000m peaks. For myself the fundamentally important experience that climbing offers is the ability to experience genuine adventure in an over reported, over documented world.
Adventure is something that climbing offers at all levels from your first big lead, to getting lost in the fog on some winter wind-blown Scottish hillside.
For myself the essence of adventure is when the outcome is in doubt, when the route ahead is unknown, and the descent is something to worry about later.
Usually the quest for adventure has driven me farther afield to Alaska or the Himalaya but in the age of cheap flights Senja offers you real adventure right on the doorstep.
The best place to stay is Senja Lodge run by local guide Bent Vidar Eilertsen. Its smack in the middle of the best winter climbing. He has a new route record book and other information is available on the internet but the best thing to do is just get yourself there and embrace the adventure.
So how was our trip? Well we had 6C and heavy rain on the first day, -13C the following day with blue skies. Snow blizzards the next and the deepest powder snow ever! The weather like the climbing is like Scotland, just more of everything.
We saw the northern lights, repeated some classics and put up some new routes. However rather than detail anything I would suggest that you get yourself up to Senja Lodge, read through the new routes book and have your own adventure or maybe fairytale is the better description after all.