Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Six days in Arctic Norway

1:45am, somewhere in Finnmark, Arctic Norway

We weren't in Arctic Norway for climbing or to reach a summit, in fact we weren't there for mountains at all. What would a trip abroad feel like that wasn't based on altitude, contours, weather forecasts and maps?

I was 13 years old the last time I went abroad without mountains as the focus. To say I've been single minded since then would be an understatement, and the rewards have been plentiful. But tunnel vision is only a great thing when limits are applied, and sometimes a brief step back and away from mountains and climbing is a healthy change - no matter how unconvinced I can be beforehand.

Since New Year I've been living as a full-time climber immersed in a very complicated Scottish winter. The idea of being away from Scotland during the first week of February has on occasions felt like a fate worse than death, but it really isn't every day you get to go to Arctic Norway. The wider perspective can be the hardest thing to see as a winter climber but so often the cure to so many frustrations.

I'll let the photos do most of the talking of our trip to 71 degrees North, but a few words have got to go to the dark early hours of the 7th February. I'd been on the deck of the boat since 11pm, the cold biting deeper and every layer coming out to keep me warm for a night that my instincts told me was going to be worth spending shivering with my camera.

Tantalising glimpses of creamy light occasionally appeared in the sky, promising greater things but never staying for more than a few seconds. The cloud rolled in and the cold started to get bad in the wind, and it didn't look promising for anything more.

I persisted. And at about 1:30am it came - a display of the Northern Lights that blew my mind and took my breath, left me as high as a kite for days and has to be one of the maddest things I've ever seen. My photos are an insult to such an awesome spectacle, but it is sure to rank amongst the most intense memories of the last five years.

I've returned home now, to the snowiest Scottish winter climbing season for 20 years. What the next month will bring, well your guess is as good as mine.





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