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Caroline George Fights Guilt and Sickness to Slay Norwegian Ice
Posted on March 31, 2016

Caroline high above Olderdalen

Last fall, Eddie Bauer guide Caroline George headed north to Norway and generated one of our top ten blog posts of the year. Her appreciation for all things Norwegian is no secret, but sneaking away for a long week in the land of the Vikings was a little more complicated this winter. Battling bronchial sickness, the demands of guiding and a little motherly guilt about spending more time at home, she almost opted out. But she flew north back for the encore, climbing tough in the Lyngen Alps and on Senja Island while her lungs were telling her to give it a rest. Now that she is finally recovered, this is is her confessional trip report. —LYA Editor

Caroline's dream line: Finnkona

Words by Caroline George, Images by Caroline George and Tania Bolognini

That achy feeling: it makes you start wondering whether you lifted too many weights, or overdid it on your workout, or was it the heavy luggage you carried on your back to the train station? Whatever it is, you’re coming down with something on the day you’re leaving on your one-week ice-climbing dream holiday.

So when I woke up in the middle of the night, having drenched the bed with sweat, I opted for denial as the best strategy to fight off being sick. I told myself that I had five hours until the alarm clock rang, and I’d be perfectly fine by then. And sure enough. I was.

No place on earth fills my soul like Norway does. This would be my fourth trip to Norway in ten months, but I was overdue for an ice-climbing adventure to the far north, especially with warm temperatures and no precipitation in the Alps this past fall and early winter.

It was hard for me to commit to leaving. I found a partner who had free time the same week I did, but I am away for work a lot during the winter, and the thought of leaving Olivia for yet another week was crushing me. My longtime Facebook friend Bent told me conditions were good in northern Norway, so we booked tickets. I was excited but also felt selfish and guilty. I just kept thinking what a bad mom I was. My emotions were so strong that I felt like they were making me sick.

I had read an article about ice climbing in the Lyngen Alps, a mountain range better known for being a ski-touring mecca. But the ice climbing above the sea looked amazing, with what looked like shorter approaches and climbs.

 

While waiting for our skis after we arrived, we opted to climb something closer to the road to get acquainted with the area and shake off travel cobwebs. We picked what looked like the most interesting line out of over 20 ice flows. Postholing waist-deep through sugary snow made it hard work. Other than the hard-earned approach, this first day was perfect: the climb was actually steeper and longer (240m) than expected, with beautiful yellow ice. We were climbing right above the sea and there was no one around. Not a track. Nothing.

The following day, we woke up at 5am to approach in the dark and climb during the daylight hours. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to drop a pin on our map, as we were driving during daylight, to see what road to turn on, but we still found it! And in the dark, finding the best itinerary to get to the climb is often not the most efficient. Looking back down at the car, I could see this perfect opening to ski through, which means we could have avoided zigzagging through trees and hopping over endless fences!

Thinking the route was 300m long and WI5, we were in awe of the feature in front of us. It was a beautiful, bright-blue, pear-shaped waterfall that seemed to stretch on forever. And yet, when we got to the base, I just couldn’t see how it would be WI5, or 300m long. 3x60m pitches of perfect hero ice later, we were on the summit of the climb! I threaded the rope though the holes of the V-thread I built, and we rapped down, taking in the magical views around us.

I was soon roused from my dreamy state when Tania couldn’t seem to pull the rope down. The ice climb had been wet in parts, and the rope was wet and frozen. But the area where I had placed the V-thread was dry, so I thought it would work to thread the ropes through rather than leaving a cord in place. So I was left to prusik back up the climb, even having to change my prusik along the way as it froze to the ropes. Now I know that threading the rope only really works in totally dry conditions. I built a new V-thread, felt a cord, and we were quickly back down at our backpacks, early enough to scope out our next day’s mission.

 

The thing with Norway is that people climb routes, but don’t report having climbed them. So each year, people come to Norway, climb routes, and claim the first ascent of routes that got done as early as back in the ’70s and ’80s. This naturally rubs locals the wrong way. We couldn’t really see from the road if it was really formed, as we had forgotten our binoculars, but decided to give it a go anyway. This five-pitch route was in amazing condition, with a beautiful featured pillar in the middle with lots of spindrift to spice it up.

Since we knew conditions on Senja were good, the daylight was longer than we had initially anticipated, and with so few days to climb, we opted to go explore yet another world-class ice-climbing venue in Norway. We drove in a snowstorm, which shifted from intense snow to horizontal sleet and rain, making it impossible to climb that day. The timing was perfect, as I felt that I was getting worse and should take a rest day.

We spent two days climbing perfect ice on Senja island, and even got to top off our dream trip with a little ski tour above the sea before driving back to Tromso. On that one day of rain, it snowed a lot up high, and the amount of wind was making the approaches really hard. It had snowed over 1.5 meters above us, and we were experiencing some chest-deep postholing. We were rewarded with climbing some amazing lines right above the sea, looking out to the dramatically steep peaks around. Rarely have I been as inspired by a place as I have been by Senja.

Eight days—including two travel days, five climbing days and one forced rest day—is what we had. And I feel incredibly lucky about how much climbing we got to do, considering how little information we had, how last-minute the trip was, and how sick I was. If I learned one thing, it is this: the mind is so powerful. It got me sick, but my motivation also made it possible for me climb every day, endure fever at night, and wait until the end of the trip for the full wave of the disease to finally hit me: laryngitis, bronchitis and a secondary infection of the bronchi. Olivia was happy to spend time with her dad and to sleep in our bed while I was away. When Olivia saw me again, she was just plain excited, and even more excited and grateful for the present I brought back. I hope I can stop letting guilt run or ruin my life.

Caroline skiing with her daughter Olivia in Le Tour to soak in the sun while the sickness kicked in

To book a climb or a ski with Caroline George visit her true mom-and-pop guiding business at intothemountains.com.

Author: - Thursday, March 31st, 2016
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