Kvaloya Island, Blammanen (861m), North Face, Bongo Bar, First Free Ascent
Norway, Tromso Region
During our stay in Kvaloya, Donald King, Julia Snihur, and I climbed some established classics, which are as good as any in the world, and a few great new routes. However, it was pictures of Hansjorg Auer and Much Mayr attempting, in 2010, to free the aid route Bongo Bar, on the north face of Blammanen, that made me first think of coming to Kvaloya. They’d freed the first two pitches at a reported 7b+ and 7c+, but the overhanging third pitch through the roofs was wet, so they traversed left onto Atlantis before rappelling. [This line was completed in 2011 by Klarstrom and Meling; see this AAJ.]
Arriving beneath the wall, we weren’t sure Bongo Bar would be possible. It looked steep and blank through the roofs, but other potential new lines looked equally desperate, with many overhanging, closed granite seams and apparently sheer, featureless sidewalls. Andreas Klarstrom and partner were 60m up a new line having an exciting time. He shouted encouragement about us having a look at Bongo Bar, so I thought we should at least give it a shot.
The 55m first pitch (British E6 6b or F7b+) was a rough warm-up, a reminder that we have little steep granite laybacking in Scotland. The following pitch was also E6 6b or 7b+ (confirmed by Klarstrom), rather then the 7c+ quoted by Auer. Perfect laybacking with spaced protection made it one of the best granite pitches I have climbed anywhere.
Next day I sent Donald up the crux third pitch (A3) with aid gear. It involved two large loose flakes. He came down part way past the first, and I half aided, half free-climbed, to the belay, to find that pitch four looked almost as hard. I then spent a couple of days working these two pitches before making a redpoint attempt with Julia. Rain threatened our chances, but the black streaks on pitch three looked fairly dry. We began with no expectations.
We climbed the two initial pitches quickly, after which Julia assured me that Id dispatch the E8 6c/F8a pitch above. I wobbled onto the crux and began to lose my cool. The crucial thumb press and foothold were wet. There was no time for hesitation. I threw my right hand across the corner, caught the hold with two fingers, stayed on, and continued with an Elvis leg all the way to the ledge.
Seconding this 45m diagonal pitch through roofs with razor-sharp edges was going to be one of the main hurdles on the route, not for the faint-hearted. Julia had not been on it before and was carrying a rucksack However, the rope came in steadily. Pulling on gear where she could, to avoid weighting the rope and sawing it on the edges, Julia was up in 30 minutes, leaving me to dispatch the balancy 7c pitch above.
Layback cracks followed. Julia was keen to get out in front. She started up the long pitch six but set up a poor belay after 20m, allowing me to head around the corner and up endless cracks bathed in late evening sun. A BASE jumper flew past and touched down before wed completed the final pitch. A long stumble down took us to a pasta meal at 1 a.m.
I have a feeling that despite the unpredictable Norwegian climate, Blammanen will evolve into one of the most famous walls in Europe for hard big-wall free-climbing. It’s accessible yet impressive, with some of the best granite you’ll find anywhere.
Thanks to the Gore-Tex experience tour for sending us to Norway and to the locals who helped with information and encouragement. It was a pleasure.
Bongo Bar: 400m, 7b+, 7b+, 8a, 7c, 7b, 6c, 7a+, 6b+.
Dave Macleod, Scotland