Offwidth Climbs of Finland- The Incomplete Guide

It is no surprise to most climbers that Finland is not much of a rock climbing destination. Sure there are some sweet places to rope up, but on the whole, it is often viewed as a bit lacking. Beware though, Finland does have at least one ace up its sleeve: its collection of high quality offwitdhs. Much like flannel and fixies, offwidth climbing is seemingly trendy now. So, for those of you looking to break into the “scene”, may I present Mamu Allu’s Select and Incomplete Guide to Finnish Offwidth Climbs.

Kustavi

Kustavi is a collection of crags centered around the south-western, coastal town for which it takes its name from. Many of the climbs here are short, but powerful, and ascend the sharpest granite I have ever had the (dis)pleasure to touch. Two of Finland’s best wide cracks can be found here, and a nice warm up.

If you haven’t had much practice with shredding your ankles to ribbons and hunting down enough #5 cams to make any offwidth safe to lead, Kaunokainen is a great place to start. At 5+, it is the “easiest” on the list. While the crack is wide, much of the burliest offwidth climbing can be avoided by using face holds, making it perfect for the uninitiated.

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Far from uninitiated, Liisa makes offwidth climbing on Kaunokainen look good. Photo by Juha Ahtiainen.

Next, comes Kylmä Hönkä, checking in at 6c. This might be Finland’s most oft-tried offwidth testpiece, and for good reason. Think: lots of #5 and #6 camalots, heel-toe cams, and classic arm bar/crimp/grimace combos.

 

 

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If you are still feeling spry, head on over to Uhrikallio and test your wide pride on Kirnu, a lesser-known 6c+ offwidth. Short, steep, and powerful. This crack starts with rattly fist, and  ends with a full-on squeeze chimney. Nice thing is, it requires only three pieces of gear. Rumor has it that some years back, a contender fought so hard on the upper part, that they passed out mid-route and were held in place by the chimney – way to save the onsight!

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The infamous Saku Korosuo takes a lap on Kirnu. Photo by Olli Koiso-Kanttila.

Olhava:

Olhava is unquestionably the most iconic climbing area in Finland. Therefore, it’s only fair that Finland’s most iconic offwidth be located here. Eklipsi; the name alone strikes fear into the hearts of all but the fiercest offwidth warriors. Graded at 6c, it offers 40 meters of sustained, wide crack combat. When you get on this route, you better be ready. It will take all you have to give and then some.

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Beautiful setting for a beautiful battle. Mark testing his mettle on Eklipsi. Photo by Liisa Peltonen.

Kyrkskär:

Now this is where people angle their heads a little to side and say “Mitä?”. The climb is Kodiak and it goes at 6c+. Overhanging and powerful, the business section is mercifully short and located low on the route. The area, Kyrkskär, is located on a tiny little island in the Turku archipelago. Remote and hard to access, getting there is definitely part of the adventure.

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Henri working hard on Kodiak.

While this list isn’t long, it sure is strong. For all the climbs I have ever done, only on three have I pushed myself so hard that I was sure I would throw up. On the above list are two of those three. When the time comes for you to climb these, let me know; you can always borrow my big cams!

 

– If I missed a classic Finnish offwidth, please comment below!

Alpine training – In Finland?

Since my return from Japan, I have been working hard to get my mind, body, and skills in shape for some upcoming alpine climbing adventures. While previously I was spending much of my training time focusing solely on becoming a harder, better, faster, stronger rock climber, now my goal involves much more cardio and full-body fitness.

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Lots of time spend riding now makes for easier approaching later. Photo by Katja Silomaki.

To help give my training some direction, I have been following the basic principles and concepts from Steve House‘s book, Training for the New Alpinism. Until recently, this has worked great. Running, cycling, weight lifting, and moderate amounts rock climbing have been easy enough to participate in when required. That was, until last weekend. Last week, the training program called for “one day of alpine climbing”. Alpine climbing, in Finland; in your dreams.

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While Finland is certainly beautiful, it is not known for its mountainous terrain.

Having to get creative, I drew on my past experiences. To replicate alpine climbing I would have to first complete a long, weigh-baring cardio workout (long approach), followed by many meters of moderate climbing (the route). After an hour of research on Google Maps, I had a plan.

Step 1: Bike from home to Mustavuori Ski Hill

The bike ride, about 15km, offered a nice warm up to the day.

Step 2: Hike the ski hill for a total of 500 vertical meters

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Janne at the beginning of another round.

Surprisingly, there were MANY people out walking up and down the single-run ski hill. One man even ask if my partner and I were training for Kilimanjaro. Apparently, the previous weekend he had met some folks who were hiking up and down the hill 40 times for training. Yikes. For my part, eight times up and down was enough. I kept a slow and steady pace as I hiked, carrying rocks with me on the way up and discarding them at the top, in order to save my knees on the descent.

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Watch the pile grow! Photo by Janne Ruuskanen.

Steps 3 and 4: More biking to the climbing area. Climb!

After the hill, we once again mounted our noble steeds and pedaled to the Melo Crag where we climbed all but one of the routes on the wall.

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Janne leading one of the area’s more difficult routes.

Step 5: Bike home.

In total, we cycled about 50km, hiked 500 meters of vertical, and climbed 120+ meters. While it might not be exactly alpine climbing, it is about as close as one can get in Finland, and a nice way to spend a beautiful, early summer day.

 

 

Tampere Derby 2016

But first, a personal note:

So it has been a while. That is how life goes sometimes. For the last few months I have been paying the piper his due. Working a steady nine-to-five has kept me stationary. But please, no sympathy needed here. Between exploring new-to-me cliffs, trying hard on a few choice project climbs, and planning the next adventure (and the next, and the next) I have been keeping busy. Plans are in the works, but in the mean time…

Back to our regularly scheduled program:

As we barreled down the final hill all I could think was “I sure hope I can stick this last turn.”  My climbing partner, Tero, and I had just completed the Tampere Derby, a friendly, 12-hour, climbing competition held in the Pirkanmaa district of Finland. Throughout the day, we had competed against 16 other teams to climb as many routes as possible, at multiple crags, across the district. The catch for us was that while the other teams were traveling by car, we had opted for bicycles.

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Our noble steeds. Photo by Katja Silomaki.

The day had begun early. While the event organizers gave their morning briefs, the 17 bleary-eyed teams sleepily sized up the competition and prepared for the day ahead. Minutes before 8:00 AM, the event was officially started and the crowd, suddenly alive, dispersed with a frenzy.

Tero leading at Mustavuori. Photo by Henri Arjanne

Tero leading at Mustavuori. Photo by Henri Arjanne

As we took to our bicycles in the cool, overcast morning, Tero lead the way. Navigating us through the city blocks like an old hand, his alley cat racing skills really shined. After less than 15km, we reached our first crag, Mustavuori.

The weather, which had improved slightly during our ride, was quite perfect for climbing. The damp chill had been replaced by a hazy sun. Climb by climb, pitch after pitch, we worked our way across the cliff climbing everything under 6c. Nine routes and three hours later, it was time for the next crag.

On the approach to Melo, my road biking skills were thoroughly tested. We had to fight hard to keep our skinny tires rubber side down as we climbed and descended hills on a seldom-traveled gravel road. Reaching the parking area with no incident, we quickly changed shoes and made our way to the cliff. This cliff, unlike the last, was quite crowded with many teams coming and going. Luckily, we were able to deftly move through all seven of the routes there without once having to wait on another party.

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Team Jolly Good Bike Pirates posing for a quick picture atop Melo. Photo by Henri Arjanne

By the time we had finished up at Melo the day was over half way through. Another short, but harrowing, ride took us to our final crag of the day, Ramovuori. At Ramo, thing got interesting. The day’s undertakings were starting to take their toll on us. Our strategy became muddled and we foolishly raced up the few easy routes first thing, even as the threat of rain seemed unavoidable. Sure enough, the sky opened and unleashed its cloudburst. The crag emptied as other teams hustled away to other cliffs, hoping they had stayed dry. We lacked this option. Even as the rain fell, Tero continued to lead. The climbing went slower, but it still went! The rain stopped and we did our best; climbing the driest lines we could find. Unfortunately, with the easiest lines already climbed, this left the harder, more serious lines for us to do in the wet.

The busy cliff of Ramo, before the rain. Photo by Katja Silomaki

The busy cliff of Ramo, before the rain. Photo by Katja Silomaki

A bit after 7:00pm, we called it. It was a long ride to the finish line, and we were already feeling quite drained. We left the crag in a hurry, running to our bikes. As it would turn out, I badly underestimated the difficulty of the 30+km ride that we had before us. After 20km, and with still over 10km to go, I hit the wall, hard.  Tero, totally out of water and dealing with muscle cramps, was also struggling. We continued to stagger along, though just barely, and far behind schedule. After what seemed like much more than just ten klicks, we rolled down that final hill to the applause of the already-arrived teams.

When the dust settled and the scores were tallied, the organizers presented the winning teams. While Tero and I came in an overall fourth place, we did take the title home in the “team spirit” category.

Happy winners flying the colors. Photo by Katja Silomaki

Happy winners flying the colors. Photo by Katja Silomaki

The evening went on long into the night with dinner, music, sauna, and swimming. A big thanks to the organizers, the other competitors, and my partner in crime, Tero, Without him, I would have never been able to navigate myself even to the first crag.

Striking While the Iron’s Hot: The Tampere Triple

In the header of my blog I have a list of three things: quixotic quest, adventure travel, and local endeavors. These are the three categories that I hoped to feature here. While the first two have certainly been getting a lot of attention recently, the last has fallen by the way side – that is until now.

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Getting lost.

A few years ago, a respected local shared with me his vision of a good, close-to-home challenge. This challenge required climbing ice, rock, and boulder routes, all in a day, and with all transportation being done by bicycle. Always enjoying a unique challenge, I have been eagerly awaiting a spring where the weather and conditions would make this endeavor possible.

Almost exactly a week after I returned from El Chalten, all the variables finally came together. The ice was still in, the sun sun had come out, and partners were found. Early on a grey Easter Sunday morning, two friends and I all left our homes and pedaled to the pre-determined meeting point.

Our longest cycling leg came first. As the sun slowly emerged, we pedaled along 30km of mostly paved bike path.  The pavement ended with an especially arduous section of dirt road, which due to the recently melted snow felt like “riding on glue”. Once past this difficulty, we reached the boulders.

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Henri cranking hard.

While we had no boulder pads, we did have two foam sleeping mats. This, along with the snow, proved to be adequate protection for our two-and-a-half boulder problems.

With our butts already sore and legs tired, we continued our journey and made the short hop to the ice crag where (thankfully) surprisingly solid ice awaited us. Being that we had to carry all of our gear on our backs, we took turns sharing the two pairs of tools and crampons we had packed between the three of us.

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Me, leading some fat, wet ice.

On the ride home, we stopped at the local sport crag and finished our day, each leading a different route.

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Jimbo leading his route with Henri on belay duty.

Upon reentering the city, we each split off and headed our own ways home. In total, we had covered 60km, climbed 2 boulder problems, 2 ice routes, and 3 sport routes; a fine way to start the spring climbing season. I owe huge thanks to my partners, Henri and Jimbo, for helping with all the logistics and sharing their enthusiasm with this dream.

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The dream team.