Uskedalen: The Un(der)loved Stepchild of Norwegian Climbing

Climbing trips to Norway generally go like this; pick three destinations, pack for all of them, evaluate the weather forecasts, and at the last possible moment (thanks to smartphones, this can now be hours into the drive) choose the destination that seems the driest.

The most popular, and therefore most frequented, climbing destinations in Norway are all located in the northwest part of the country. Unfortunately, during the time of my visit there in September, a large storm system was on its way to northern Norway, and was expected to douse the entire region with rain just about the time we would arrive. Thankfully, we had a third option that was located in the middle of Norway’s west coast: Uskedalen.

Andy on approach to Uskedalen

Andy on approach to Uskedalen

Uskedalen is home to four vast, clean, granite faces that offer moderate free routes up to 800 m (2500 ft) in height. This area, located just 135 km (under 100 miles) from Bergen, has been largely overlooked by both the Norwegian and international climbing communities. The first route here wasn’t established until 1987, and even now, only 60ish routes sporadically dot these walls.

While I been keen on visiting this area for some time, only limited information (in English) exists online, and I didn’t know anyone who had been there before. With the weather looking grim in the north, Andy, Jimi, and I boarded the ferry for Stockholm and began our westward journey to see what it was all about.

After a ride across the Gulf of Finland on the overnight ferry, better known as the “party boat”, Google estimated a 12-hour drive from Stockholm to the small town of Uskedal. This “12-hour drive” took us by some of the most beautiful and impressive sites I’d ever seen, including two massive waterfalls, untouched high-country crags, and a 13 km (8,5 mile) long tunnel UNDER a glacier.  Between the sights and the road constructions, which were frequent and involved long waits with friendly locals, the drive took us substantially longer than the estimated time.

The view at road construction stop #1

The view at road construction stop #1

DSCN8916

Waterfalls, en route.

We reached the village of Uskedal in the evening, and checked into the one and only, Rabben Campground. Located only a casual ten-minute drive from the cliffs, this enjoyable venue was to be home for the week while we explored the local surroundings. After establishing camp, we “made the rounds” and drove down the tiny, single track road to view Uskedalen. It was stunning. The amount of rock was near unbelievable, and while the most obvious features have been climbed, the potential for new climbs there is huge.

Basecamp. Uskedalen can be seen in the upper right. Photo by Andrew Weinmann

Basecamp. Uskedalen can be seen in the upper right. Photo by Andrew Weinmann

In Norway, it rains. In Uskedal, it rains a lot, even by Norwegian standards – sometimes up to 240 days a year. As we would learn on this week-long trip, if the local forecast calls for sun, it will be cloudy. If it calls for clouds, it will rain. If it calls for rain.. well, its going to rain. So, our first “sunny” day of climbing involved heading up a 3-star, 5 pitch, classic route called “Alkymisten”.

The route proved to be quite standard for the area. The 40-minute bushwhacking approach was followed by lots of slabby friction climbing, with moderate run outs, over decent quality rock. This route, like most in Uskedalen, follows a system of inter-connecting dihedrals as it picks its way up the face. The cracks are often small and slightly flaring, so a healthy selection of small cams, micronuts, and offset nuts is quite useful. Since there are so few routes, many variations can be had on each climb, and route finding skills are a must. Even with the three of us, we managed to get lost in this sea of granite more than once.

Andy on the sharp end.

Andy on the sharp end.

Starting up another slab scare-fest Photo by Andy Weinmann

Starting up another slab scare-fest
Photo by Andy Weinmann

The rest of the week alternated between rainy days and climbing days, giving us plenty of time to rest well, eat good, and climb some of the classics. Unfortunately, it did not leave us with enough on-the-rock time to feel comfortable attempting one of the longer, 15+ pitch routes there.

As the week came to an end, so did the “good” weather window. We left (in the rain) on a Friday evening, just as the first climbers we had seen all week arrived for the weekend.

Descent in the rain Photo by Andy Weinmann

Descent in the rain
Photo by Andy Weinmann

While the climbing itself is not as varied as other areas in Norway, Uskedalen is still a worthy destination. The adventurous climbs and descents, friendly locals, and crowd-free environments already have me plotting a return.

Other Beta:

Descents: The descents off of the three routes we climbed were always a little tricky. Be sure to climb with a bail kit, and be prepared to use it. Our decent from Akslo was more than a bit sketchy!

Weather: Do be aware of the weather forecast. Even using yr.no, which is normally quite reliable, far more rain than predicted fell.

Camping: The guy who runs Rabben Campground is extremely friendly towards climbers. He even tries (but check ahead of time) to keep the guidebook for the area in stock. Even though you can camp for free near the base of the climbs, the area is perfect for rainy days with its cooking room and sheltered areas.

Climbing: While the topos are decent enough, be ready to follow your heart as you “choose your own adventure” and get lost on the routes from time to time. Also, be prepared for stiffer grades than Lofoten and less gear placements.

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