I’ve not been climbing in the mountains that long, and although I’d visited the Caucasus, Crimea, Tien Shan, and Khibiny peaks of the Kola Peninsula, I’d been fascinated by mountains outside the former Soviet Union. After training in summer 2008, we decided to visit Norway and enter the Russian Winter Championships by climbing a new route on the Troll Wall. However, the Troll Wall was well-known to Russian climbers, and the championships are oriented toward first ascents, so we consulted Andrei Varvarkin from St. Petersburg, who knows Scandinavian mountains well. He provided three alternatives, of which we chose Kjerag.
Kjerag is popular with local climbers, and there were at least 13 existing routes, with grades of Norwegian 6 and 7 free and A3+. According to the information we found, the left side of the central wall is taken by the 21-pitch Hoka Hey, first climbed in 1996 at Norwegian 7- A2+ and freed in 1999 at 7+ (5.11c/d). Toward the right is the 1995 route Skjoldet (A3, 18 pitches, climbed free at 8). We decided to create a direttissima between the two.
We started our journey on the night of February 20, with support from the Russian Mountaineering Federation and Sport Committee and friends who lent us equipment.
Galina Chibitok, Ivan Dozhdev, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Aleksey Lonchinsky, and I, with 10 huge bags in two cars, headed to the Finnish border. We spent a day on a ferry to Stockholm and the following night reached Oslo, where we stayed with friends, Marina and Feodor Iskhakov, who had been gathering information on Kjerag. We took a second ferry in the evening and finally reached Lysebotn, a small town that has become a Mecca for BASE jumpers and climbers. It’s lively and well-populated in summer, but tourism stops in winter, and Lysebotn is transformed into a quiet village.
We reorganized our gear on Lysebotn’s pier, separated from our goal by a short stretch of water, which we crossed in a canoe I’d brought. We set up base camp near the foot of the wall, and on our first day the weather was fine. However, the only other good day was during our descent. The rest of the time the weather astonished us by its diversity: rain at the base, cloud and wind higher, snow in all its various forms, and continuous humidity. It was the humidity that affected us most; despite only mild frost, we were always cold.
For the first 12 days on the wall we were continuously wet. Three of the team did all the leading, with a different leader each day, though sometimes changing during the day in bad weather. On the lower part of the wall we found several bolted rappel anchors. When we reached the crux, we discovered a bucket of canned food hanging from a bolt, the food dated 1999. We took it with us. Then, in the overhanging section, we found two copperheads, the higher of which had a rappel loop. Above, the wall was featureless and had no sign of passage. We continued, risking still being there when our visas expired. We reached the top having climbed 95% of the route on aid. In summer it’s my opinion that a strong leader could free climb 20-25%. Our route had an overall classification of Russian 6B.
Valery Shamalo, Russia (translated by Ekaterina Vorotnikova)
Editor’s Note: The Russian route is a continuation of Aishan Rupp’s attempt. He left much gear on the wall for a second try but was killed on the Matterhorn. The new line shares a pitch with Tsunami (Norwegian 6+ A4, Stein Ivar Gravdal-Trym Atle Saeland, 2003) at its steepest point, and was not welcomed by local climbers, as it is rumored to be heavily bolted. According to Saeland there are ca 20 routes on Kjerag, and many climbers had eyed this new line but were waiting until they were competent to do it in good style. In 2008 Martin Jakobsson (Sweden) and Mikjel Thorsrud (Norway) made the first winter ascent of Skjoldet, leaving Lysebotn on January 9 and not returning till the 23rd.