A faint orange ribbon had been growing across the eastern sky for nearly an hour. Sat there, shivering in my bivvy bag the warning words of the guide book echoed around my head.
‘Long’ – ‘Serious’ – ‘Remote’
“Yeah but if we split it into two days we should be fine – there’s a huge ledge above pitch 11 – its only got three hard pitches – the weather looks great”
36 hours earlier sat in the Henningsvaer car park we had progressively egged each other on to have a go at The Storpillaren.
This 800m pillar is attached to the North face of Vågakallen and stands like a sentinel peering out across Svolvaer and the surrounding sea. At 16 pitches with a long approach and even longer descent the whole route goes free at Norwegian 7 or British E5 6a.
But of course we had neglected to read this part of the guide. We thought we were getting on something around E3.
The morning and early afternoon had been tough but we were 7 pitches in with the technically hard climbing behind us. We felt good, a bit wasted but good. Andy had put in an outstanding effort on-sighting the left leaning jamming crack on pitch 4 and I’d gibbered my way up my share of the hard pitches.
Then we got lost, or a least we think we did, we’re still not so sure.
You’d think that climbing a pillar with a cone shaped top would be pretty obvious, maybe we were just more tired than we thought, maybe we just got a bit spooked by the loose rock littering the top pitches. But when Andy started to see smiley faces in a random bits of rock and vehemently defended what he thought he could see, we decided to stop.
We put on primalofts and socks, wrapped ourselves in our bivvy bags and waited.
The daylight slipped away. The stars came out. The wind bit across our ledge.
Cocooned in our pitifully cold shelters we caught the odd hour of sleep.
As dawn crept slowly, beautifully across the mountain tops we wound our way past massive tottering granite blocks and up wet vertical grass to the top. A brief respite on the summit and we started the descent. Seven hours later we were back at the Clio.
Andy settled into the passenger seat barely able to bend his knees.
‘Man. That was hard.’
“So what about you guys hey?” enquired Hugo, the happy-go-lucky Aussie peering out from underneath his thick woolly hat. Before I could open my mouth and put the words together, Nick a buoyant and friendly British bloke we’d met in the toilets – answered for me.
“They’re off up the Storpillaren mate. F*ckin long, f*ckin grim, f*ckin North facin’, f*ckin serious route!”
I really hope Nick writes a guidebook one day, his route descriptions would be brilliant.
I winced a little at each of his adjectives, surely he was just exaggerating for the sake of a little campfire bravado? After all, the guidebook only gave it n7, which was kinda like E3 ish?
I won’t write a pitch by pitch description of the route, as they can be a little boring. But I will offer my two cents regarding difficulty and grade.
The most difficult climbing is contained in the steep and brilliant sweeping grooves and cracks visible from Kalle, pitches 3 to 7. Big chimneys, offwidths and great cracks gives really physical, gnarly, ‘old school’ climbing with great gear. Stemming, jamming, thrutching and fighting your way up will lead you through these crux pitches. The route becomes much more serious higher up, with some tricky navigation, plenty of loose rock that would be a quite difficult retreat. Once the last ‘grotty’ pitches have been negotiated and you top out the pillar, a long and tricky descent will require you to stay switched on, as it requires some exposed scrambling, steep gully-shuffling and short abseils. A longer and but less tiring descent can be made by joining on of the scrambling/ walking paths in the main basin.
As for the grade, I’d say it was best described as an NCCS grade IV wall, with a bunch of burly moves of British 6a, if you’re trying to free the whole thing.
I’ll never forget my experience of the ‘Great Pillar’, fighting hard through the crux pitches, shivering the night out with cups of tea and Taylor Swift, carefully picking our way through the loose top pitches and tricky descent, before stumbling through the trees and boulders back to the car like zombies.
The next morning I awoke sore, groggy and in need of a strong coffee, but dare I say… satisfied?