Into the White
The wind is strong, close to 30 m/s and I am high up in an alpine environment with my beard covered in a solid sheet of ice. I pull the hood over my head, which thankfully blocks wind, snow and ice blowing into my face. I try to communicate with my friends a few meters away, but all we can hear is the violent roar of the storm.
“Wooohoooo! Welcome to the alpinism!”. My friend Napoleon’s voice is competing with the blowing wind when I finally reach some kind of horizontal formation among the icy rocks. We both stand in a cleft while we belay our two friends on their way up. The wind gets even stronger due to the Venturi effect and it feels like being in front of a 747 engine.
At the top we find ourselves in total whiteout and even though we are relatively close to the mountain lodge, we somehow end up walking in the opposite direction...
The feeling of being outside for hours in a really brutal storm and then eventually getting inside a warm house, where you can go and just crash on a sofa, is the best. The mountain lodge at Sylarna has a cozy touch, decorated with old climbing gear and stylish pictures of skiers from the time when black and white was the standard. Sylarna was the place where Swedish mountaineering started, 21 years before the first climbing route at Kebnekaise (highest mountain in Sweden) was established.
Napoleon, who is an experienced climber and has done some high alpine stuff and knows the area well, is our designated guide. We are sitting in a suite, chatting about the day when Peter, who has many years in the military and experience in navigation mentions he is still confused about how we could end up walking 180 degrees in the wrong direction. Cissi is chewing on a piece of dried moose meat when she suggests we hit the sauna. Well-deserved when we’ve been out doing some ”ultra-extreme alpinist shit” as Napoleon puts it, with a wink. Everyone is laughing. I like this crew.
Every section of Sylarna’s massif of are named and we ski towards ”The Temple” to climb its pinnacle, which was first climbed by Folke Wancke in 1899. The view of the mountain and the surroundings are stunning on a sunny day… Today there is a blizzard.
During a short period, the sun pushes through the thick cover of clouds and the Temple appears in all its glory. The beautiful view only lasts for a moment and the next time we see the mountain is when we are about to climb it. We quickly change ski boots to alpine boots, attaching crampons and begin the hike upwards.
Every meter it feels like the weather deteriorates and on the ridge the wind almost throws me off the mountain. “Living the life!”. Even through this escapade, there is something thrilling about battling the forces of nature.
Mom would not have liked this. The climbing is steep and partially with no belay. Napoleon goes first, with dual axes on the trickiest part, to set up a top rope for the rest of us. The rope bends like a boomerang in the wind, but he manages to fix it and we can safely climb. Cissi comes up with an ear to ear smile.
At the top, I can glimpse other parts of the massif through the blizzard. We find ourselves on a pinnacle with nothing but air to the left and right, watching this mighty wall rise in front of our eyes. It tells us that we are in a rough alpine environment.
As we can barely stand up, we rope down in a couloir on the opposite side of the pinnacle, where we slowly descend all the way back down to the skis. When we come down, Napoleon looks like a frozen waterfall with icicles all around his face. It’s a funny sight and we snap some photos of him. Now it’s time to head home, in the right direction this time.
Instead of hitting the mountain on our third day, we choose to go Nordic skiing. We head north, finding some banks of snow to play around with and then dig a shelter, having a fika in the middle of the blizzard. Cissi pushes a sandwich in Napoleon’s face while Peter pours a cup while laughing.
Here, sitting front row in the middle of a white mighty landscape and far from what people call civilization, we watch the snow fly around like millions of white flies. I ask myself why we like to be out in this chaos. The moment after, a Bob Dylan song pops up in my head “The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind...”
Words and pictures by Martin Olson