Smash and Grab or Swing and a Miss

A few years ago a friend of mine stumbled across a style of climbing called the “Smash and Grab”. This concept is mostly aimed at those 9-to-5 climbers hoping to tackle bigger objectives than their limiting schedules might otherwise allow for.

In its grandest form, Smash and Grab can involve such shenanigans as last-minute plane ticket purchases, big mountains, and new routes. For most of us though, it takes the form of long drives and meaningful, classic climbs.

My first date with the Smash and Grab had humble beginnings. After watching the weather and ice reports for weeks, my partner and I finally spotted favorable conditions for some classic ice routes in the North East of the U.S. Driving from my then-home in Virginia, we raced through the night, driving the 12 hours in a single push. Over the 3-day weekend we were able to climb two of the most classic, test-piece, Adirondack ice climbs, and still make it back to work on Tuesday morning.

With enough patience and flexibility, Smash and Grab trips can often be extremely successful. Reader bewared though, it is still risky business. With such little margin for error one’s trip can quite easily become a “Swing and a Miss”.

This past December I had not one, but two Swing and Misses. The first was a trip to one of Europe’s premier ice climbing destinations, Rjukan, Norway. Unfortunately, while the destination for our trip was extremely flexible, the timing was not. Trying to work around a long weekend, courtesy of Finnish Independence Day (“Findependence” Day, anybody?), conditions all across the Nordic world proved unfavorable for skiing or climbing. To top it off, inaccurate weather forecast and a bone-headed call, made by yours truly, in which we bailed from the one climbing area with good ice, assured near-maximum time spent hiking and scouting with minimal climbing. Thankfully, on the last day, I did manage a few good leads.


Climbing Gaustaspokelse (WI4) at Krokan. Photo courtesy of the talented Rami Valonen.

My second Swing and a Miss occurred just two weeks later in Northern Sweden. For two years now the long, isolated ice routes at Stora Sjorfallet have called to me. Finally being in Finland for a winter, visiting this area became top priority.


Nastan Alpint (Almost Alpine) WI3, 400m

As my friend and I drove the 12 hours north and west, the temperature, as if playing games with us, steadily rose, and continued to rise to above freezing, where it remained for the duration of the trip. Thus, poor ice conditions were abundant. The final nails in the coffin included an overambitious agenda and a lack of ice climbing fitness. In short, it was too warm and we were too weak.


Being that we were there for the winter solstice, the sun never really rose. This was sunrise, sunset, and everything in between.

Overall, these trips were hard ones for me. There was frustration. There was disappointment. You win some, you lose some. Yet, interspersed, there were still some magical moments. Watching moose walk down the approach trail at Stora Sjorfellet gave me pause to reflect on my enchanting surroundings. The soft, warm, winter sunlight casting long shadows on the blue ice of Krokan reminded me how much I have missed winter in the North. Are these moments enough to make these trips “worth it”? For me, it is hard to know. At least they help ease the burden of the long journey home.


The boys, heading home.




One thought on “Smash and Grab or Swing and a Miss

  1. Hi Al!
    I always enjoy reading about your adventures and seeing the spectacular photographs. Although I used to backpack, hike, and camp for much of my younger days, I have never had the courage and fortitude to do what you do!
    Shannon (a friend of your Mom’s)


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