If you would like to get the full taste of the following experience recap, I highly recommend refreshing on the previous two posts. We’ll call them “appetizers”. Here, I’ll make it easy for you, I’ll run it under a separate tab: Norway: part 1 (but not quite) and Norway: part before part 1.
Sander, Jonathan, and myself are driving back from our Preikestolen Stroll to pick up Kenneth and make some configuration adjustments that will allow us to climb, savagely and badassedly. Because when in viking land, do as vikings do. Do everything savagely and badassedly. Even eating brown cheese.
At some point, Jon (a friend of Kenneth and Sander) is making a subtle appearance in a fast-looking sports car discreetly painted red, which we pack ourselves and our ample climbing gear into, and take off. Speaking of sports, Jon and I are both sporting try-hard footwear alternatives.
Let me explain. In climbing, when you intend to “try hard”, the choice of your climbing shoes would be anywhere between 1st and 3rd place, depending on who you talk to, on the priority list of things you must have (your physical preparedness, technique, and try-hard mental game notwithstanding). Consequently, if those are really your “try-hard” shoes…they are more than just uncomfortable. I’m not talking about your regular gym rental slippers. The only thing that stops you from crying like a little shitful-diaper baby, is the presence of other climbers. Who are not crying. Because the only thing that stops them from crying like little shitful-diaper babies, is the presence of other climbers, yourself included.
Here is a picture of a climber’s foot inside the climbing shoe, and not even the most aggressive one, by the looks of it.
Now that we are all on the same page about climbing shoes, perhaps the idea of flip-flops and sandals as the footwear of choice when not on the wall, makes more sense. In defense of my hiking-sandal choice, I did put them through some easy-trail trial, and they held up like the champs that they are. Jon was in straight up beach flip flops, which leashed my starting-to-rage doubts. He is Norwegian, after all, and has an idea what the approach trails are like, it can’t be that hard. I was about as wrong as Sander when he gambled that we weren’t going to like the brown cheese. But let’s take baby steps.
The crag, chosen for our inexorable triumphant domination over it, was new to our crew, but Kenneth had an internet-obtained description of the approach and the routes. We had knowledge, literally at our fingertips. We knew the name – Bersagel (what a coincidence! that’s my pet dragon’s name, too), and we knew that the approach trail started right off the road. We successfully drove past what definitely looked like a trail, looking for… Honestly, I don’t know what we were looking for. Welcome signs? Local villagers gathered in their most festive clothes, offering wine and bread (and brown cheese)? “Pun-loving climbers this way” banner?
Safe to say, we found none of that, and instead set our feet on one of the shaggier trails. Jon pulled out a couple of plastic bags full of snacks and drinks for everyone, a duffel bag, and a version of boombox. The rest – backpacks with gear and ropes – was distributed among the four of us.
The trail snaked forward and slightly to the right, toward the rocky walls in the distance. We cracked jokes, traded puns, and enjoyed the late afternoon sun, which offered much welcomed cooler temps. We were still not 100% convinced that we were on the right trail, but our wishful eyes were already spotting white (chalk?!) markings on the walls.
Eventually the trail split off away from the wall, and we found ourselves so close, and yet so far from our crag – separated from it by an entanglement of bushes and trees. The choice was clear: when faced with bushes, engage your best bushwhacking skills. Duh. This decision met some resistance from Jon whose get-up was loudly protesting against any such foolishness. But the mountains were calling, and their centuries-old deep rumble devoured any doubts, reasonable as they may have been.
We used our teeth as machetes to break through the thorny thicket of bushes (not really, but don’t deny you enjoyed the image; also – say “thorny thicket” out loud). My sandalled feet sank deep into the tall grass, and I was wondering what sort of critters might have some fun with my bare skin. That part was true, as much as the one when we finally faced the wall, and the truth along with it: that ain’t no crag. White markings? Ever heard this joke:
– What’s the white stuff in bird’s poop?
– It’s the bird’s poop…
Stupid, right? Yeah, that’s how we felt, too, staring at the rock we couldn’t climb, savagely and badassedly. “Over here”, we heard a whisper to the left. Later we would come to the conclusion it was definitely one of the infamous Norwegian trolls, luring us in. But at the moment we just figured that, since the trail was not far, the crag must also be, “not far”. Somewhere around, at any rate. A pretty tame slab led some ways up, a short tree here, and a rock there, watch out for a slimy mossy patch, over the crest, around an arête, …and no luck. Well, must be just around the corner then. And another.
At this point, the slab becomes steeper and more technical. I start to question my footwear choice, but, with pride pressing a firm hand over my mouth (this is the only reason that I hold my breath!), continue following the lead that Jonathan and Kenneth trade between themselves. Jon is having, presumably, the least enjoyable time, having to balance the food bags, his duffel bag, and the boombox. I offer a hand, but he refuses, impressive in his flip-flop slab skills and viking savagery. Norwegians. Savage. This ain’t no Preikestolen Stroll, kids. This is real life Norwegian mountain adventure, full of danger and puns. Oh, did I not mention Jon kept cracking those up like a squirrel going at a pile of nuts? Now here’s an individual well versed in diffusing danger!
Nonchalantly like so, we reach a slanted ledge, big enough to fit three of us. Kenneth and Sander disappear to do a quick reconnaissance of what lies ahead and return empty-handed. We decide to descend down the new line from where we stand, and it goes better than expected, and quicker. We find the trail we left and resume following it, even though it veers counterintuitively away from the mountain. Our spirits are lifted up, just by being off that slab, and on firm(ish), horizontal ground. We walk until we see a tiny trail go off of the main one, disappearing in the trees. I volunteer to run up it to scope it out, and leave my backpack with the crew. It’s not a long run, although a bit steep, and I can soon see the bolts (hooray!) in the wall. I scramble back down to alert the rest, and we make it up to the crag.
Jonathan and I make a beeline to the first climb that looks great (they all look great), and start gearing up. Meanwhile, the Norwegians waste no time in getting straight to the important stuff: “hygge”-making. Telling you, it’s a thing, from gym to crag! They set up hammock, pull out a couple of beers and snacks, and get comfortable, ready to bestow upon us a Norwegian take on verbal encouragement offered plentifully and indiscriminately to climbers anywhere in the world.
– HENG PÅ!! [heng-pō]
– KOM IGEN! [kom-i-yen]
– PUST! [pust]
Each of us heard those exquisite morsels from the rich Norwegian heckling thesaurus thrown at us while we crimped hard, threw dynos, and found that non-existent foothold to perch the tip of the shoe on. Oh, and did we return the favor plentifully, and perhaps mercilessly butchering the native pronunciation, but it’s the feeling, the intonation, and the passion that counts. And gusto, definitely gusto!
Turns out, all three are easily interchangeable, just like in English: “hang on”, “come on”, and “breathe” ricocheting off all available walls at any given crag, anywhere in the world. It’s nice to feel like a local, though. I guess, it’s one of those things which as a climber you’d learn immediately upon or prior to arrival to a foreign destination, along with “thank you”, “please”, and “where is the toilet?”
Our fingers started to get pretty raw and tired after a few tries, while we were unsure if our abdominals felt sore from climbing or from so much laughing. Climbing is in no way a reason to stop making puns; if anything, we found it to be a great catalyst. Inversely, we noted that climbing gains grow exponentially by a factor of 1 grade when puns are introduced into the climbing process. Try it some time. Maybe I’ll write a training manual.
The sun finally started to set, throwing a stunning soft rosy-gold hue on the side of the rock we were climbing, and we thought to check the time: 22:00!! I could swear it felt like 19:00. Gotta love summers in Scandinavia. My heart was full, but the Norwegians had one more surprise for us: we descended to a beautiful, sunset-lit lake, surrounded by the mountains. I know you are dying to know the name of it: Tengedalsvatnet (strongly considering renaming my pet dragon now).
The water was a little chilly at first, but the beauty of swimming in the calm, clean water, while enjoying the horizon of mountain peaks behind the silhouettes of dark trees…was quickly deafened by a very vocal expression of utter disgust coming from Kenneth. The four of them huddled chest-deep in the water, passing around a log they found at the bottom of the lake. Wouldn’t you? And sniffing it! And screaming in disgust. What is this? Some sort of Norwegian late-night after-climbing lake ritual?
– Smell this!!
– No! Why?!
– Because it smells like farts!!
– Really?!! Let me smell it!!
I swam over hastily, not willing to miss out on this rare opportunity. Turns out, the log was smelling like farts, but only in one specific spot, all the rest of it being more or less within the normal, acceptable range of smell one might expect out of a log which spent who knows how long at the bottom of a lake. So, naturally, my companions had to each verify such fact through their own olfactory orifices. Who wouldn’t?! I, for one. I have many hobbies, but going out of my way to smell farts is definitely not one of them. But I digress.
We are at the car, changing, drying, cracking open cans of beer. The time is quickly approaching 23:00, which we realize is the time that most grocery stores close, and WE NEED FOOD! (Because if you are going out to eat in Norway, well, we are obviously in different weight categories financially)
Jon slams on the gas pedal, and it’s like a chase scene in the best action movies, except we are chasing no one but time. We can’t even claim to chase the sun, it’s already dark around. Bohemian Rhapsody comes on the radio, and we unanimously perform the entire piece, full throattle. We get shut down by two bigger stores before getting to the one that’s not yet closed. We only need a few items, so we race through the space, and Sander does one of those last-minute-escape body throws on the ground, and gracefully glides through a tiny gap between the floor and rolling steel vertical door to get to the veggies and fruits. We exit the store with the produce and smug smiles on our faces. Anticipation of making a feast at Sander’s, topping our another incredible day in Norway, makes us all giggly. Maybe recently consumed beer has something to do with it, too. I’m barefoot, my still damp skin is covered in goosebumps, sand stuck to my feet, I’m hungry, tired, my face hurts from so much smiling, and I am so very happy.
It’s one of those moments that feels perfect, with, despite, and because of all its imperfections; a moment of complete, and utter, immense, all-consuming happiness.