The first time I set eyes on Kjerag I knew I wanted to climb
it. Perhaps the world’s most famous BASE jumping cliff, this 1000m vertical
wall rising straight out from the sea was just asking to be climbed. In most
cases dreams like this remain dreams, with logistics, finances and life in
general standing firmly in the way, but this time I had my hand held. The
Norwegians are such a friendly bunch, and on-it with their organising. As soon
as I said I was keen all I had to do was find a window.

 

This was a ‘non objective’ trip, the way I like them. One of
the problems of being a ‘known’ climber is that everyone assumes you have an
objective, something new and hard, something that hits the headlines every time
you pull on. This trip was just about climbing. We just wanted to be way up
there, inching up the wall soaking the exposure. There are things to be done
that would be big news, but that stuff could tempt us later.

 

So I pulled a strong team together, Myself, Neil Mawson,
Charlie Woodburn and Liam Halsey. That’s a strong team indeed, and it was good
to be in a team of 4 with a 9 day hire car charge creeping over £800. Norway
isn’t famed for cheap prices so we lugged out extra food knowing a take away
Pizza might be £20, though Charlie appeared to be on an eating holiday with an
extra 30kg of baggage! Norwegianair was a breath of fresh air compared to
Ryanair, with an extra 20kg of baggage just £12, and of the seven 20kg bags we
had between us, every single one was overweight but not an eyebrow was raised.
The guy at the car rental desk glanced over our kit and gave us a free upgrade
from ‘medium family’ to ‘utterly massive’, which was actually completely
essential once we’d collected portaledges and a whole pile of other space
unfriendly stuff.

 

But to be honest we already knew we’d not need it. The
forecast was bad, a whole internet page of black clouds and blue rain drops
spreading out for the rest of our trip. Only the first two days had a glint of
yellow, there would be no time for hauling, and no chance of waiting it out on
a ledge unless we delayed our flights by several months. We drove straight to
Lysebotn, the village at the head of the fjord, pitched tents and then got the
boat straight to the base of the wall for 6pm.
You can’t walk in, so the plan was to bivi, and then leg it for a one day push,
fast and light, totally committed! The route ‘HokaHey’ is the classic, E5 and
20 pitches, it seemed the right challenge. Time was on our hands, for now,
relaxing in the warm evening light and then sleeping out under the stars with
that little bit of excitement knowing that tomorrow would be a different kind
of day.

 

4.30am, no need
for alarms. This is Norway,
the suns been up for ages! There is something special about having done a load
of stuff before everyone even opens their curtains. By midday we were 10 pitches and 600m up and all was good.
But Charlie’s i-phone was spreading fear with some blue stuff apparently coming
in, but we didn’t really need any technology to see the wall of water moving
gradually toward us. There was a sense of urgency as myself and Neil swapped
leads knowing that getting down would be no fun at all, but getting up would
probably be impossible. Amazingly the wall stopped, it pissed it down less than
half a mile away but somehow we were spared. So with the stress over I thought
I’d add more, an E4 pitch was soaking so I headed off up some A2+ variation
that looked doable. Forty five meters up and the exposure was forcing itself
upon me, suddenly evident as I stepped way out of the comfort zone. Wet holds
and snappy flakes and hard moves. Some good gear lay maybe just 5 or 6 meters
below but it looked far away, far beyond the poor cam I’d just stuffed into a
flaring undercut. Moving on I was impressed by my desire to push into this
totally unessential challenge that I’d set. But the holds ahead were thinning
out and running wet, all of a sudden this was a bad plan, this was not on the
agenda and I back peddled with an agonising pump to very tentatively fall/sit
on the cam preparing for the inevitable. It held, and an ‘impossible to place
on lead’ bommer wire, which will live there forever, took me down and back on
route where I should never have strayed.

 

We hit the top at 10pm,
knackered, but not in the red yet. The tent was far away but darkness wasn’t,
made more imminent with a cold mist blanketing the summit. We hit a fast march,
more of a run, sticking loosely to directions. But what seemed clear on the
ground was now far from adequate, and we had a sinking feeling that we were
winging it, trying to make landmarks that loomed out of the mist fit the
descriptions we had memorised. An hour later it was obvious, we strayed way
off. The lunar landscape could give us nothing and with darkness pressing down
we knew we’d blown it. We had to stop and sit it out, with no sense of
direction whatsoever and absolutely no idea where we were, going anywhere was
just pointless. But with no food and not really enough clothes for the biting
wind neither of us took the plunge to sit and instead marched on, until by
total fluke, after 90 mins of almost running we at last realised we were back
where we started! Never has such a screw up been more pleasing! A text from
Charlie, now happily scoffing back at camp, gave us more directions. This time
we inched on, back tracking as soon as we lost the way. Torches only showed how
thick the mist really was but a warm bed was possible and marginally worth the
effort. At last we crawled in at 3am.
A good day.

 

By 6.30am the sun
scorched us out of the tent. It would have been good to have awoken on a ledge
with the vista below. But already the clouds were bubbling and we opted for a
sport cliff, steep and weatherproof. Right on queue the rains came in. The wall
was finished. We’d been lucky, 40 days of rain had preceded our trip, and since
then it’s rained every day. Our ascents might be the only ones of the year. But
on the bright side, there is certainly something to come back for.