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Europe, Norway, The Shield, Attempt

The Shield, Attempt. My Norwegian climbing trip this summer was a surprise and a disappointment. First I flew to Oslow and spent three days gathering a team that consisted of me and two Swedish climbers, Ludde Hagberg and a friend of his named Marco. I had climbed several routes on El Capitan with Ludde two summers ago; Marco was a climbing partner of his.

We made contact with what were said to be most of the experts on Kjerag climbing. They were all in agreement: “The Shield in Kjerag is the greatest unclimbed feature in Norway.” They reported the route as being 1000 meters tall, severely overhanging at its top and having some of the highest quality rock in Norway. Most of my own big-wall climbing has been in Yosemite, so I began dreaming of El Cap-like walls. When we arrived at the base of the cliff, I was shaken to discover a completely different reality. The wall was technically more than 3,000 feet tall, but the bottom 2,000 feet were not only low angle but were covered in grass and trees! Even worse, the upper 1,000 feet, although steep and impressive, appeared blank. Despite our letdown, no one said anything. This was “the prize” of big-wall climbing in Norway and we couldn’t expect to find anything better.

The route had already been attempted by the late Aischan Rupp and a partner, but for reasons unknown, the pair had bailed after reaching the steep section. We set out and, after spending three days leading 5.10 jungle pitches in 30 minutes and then spending four hours hauling them, we arrived at the base of the steep section. There, we discovered why the pair had bailed. They must have hoped—as we had—that linkable features would appear. But after climbing only 50 feet and having to drill more and more frequently, it became clear they wouldn’t.

First we wondered if we had enough drilling equipment to get through The Shield. But a more important consideration was whether it was worth drilling that many holes in a country that historically embraces as clean a passage as possible. We bailed.

Aischan reportedly called The Shield the “hardest big wall in the world,” implying that it was possible not to drill but instead to hook, beak and head a passage through the featureless rock. Maybe this will be the case someday—though at current levels of equipment and sanity, it will be some time in the future.

Chris McNamara, unaffiliated