Arctic days on the Planks EP3: Senja: about beauty and learning through pain.

We finally picked up Pedro in the Airport of Tromsø and decided to book a lovely cabin for the night. Amongst other things, so we wouldn’t scare him with the mess inside of the van and so we could profit to clean and dry everything properly before arranging the space and gear of our three in a functional way for the trip. Senja felt a little far as to drive there straight, so we decided to check Tamokdalen on the way there.

We had heard several about that valley, it seemed like proper cowboy ground with plenty of room for exploring and been alone in the mountains. Powerful mountains with inland snow and weather conditions and king ice lines. Moreover for the next days Tamok was having a risk two in the forecast while around Tromsø and Lyngen it would remain in three.

From the road to Tamok we already got amazed by the amount and quality of icefalls we were seen everywhere. Some of them seemed like sport crags and pretty much you could belay them from the car. Is this even possible?! We achieved to hold our horses and make it all the way to Tamok. Ok, once here, mountain really do seem like a bigger game, however the visibility was so poor that the only lines we could properly guess had horizontal rock spurs and the rest, we couldn’t really tell if what we were seen was sky, clouds, abyss, snowy faces and if it was snow if it was on the thirty-ish degrees or on the fifty-ish.

We stubbornly tried several times to stop the van, take the binoculars, wait some minutes to see if the cloud would fade a bit, try to double check with the map and the terrain curves, however we ended up on the other side of the valley without any clear line, so we decided the best was going to be to head to Senja and pray for the best. It made sense as Senja in the end was our main objective and the forecast was announcing more sun and as well risk two. We had an ice climbing guide for Senja, a couple spots marked that Merrick recommended for surfing, a photo of one of the most aesthetic couloirs I’ve ever seen and a few other random beta. We also heard that the winter in Senja tends to finish earlier than around Tromsø so perhaps we were not even going to find that much snow. Well, as you can tell, we were not even sure if we were going to have one of those real road trips of barbeques and beers instead of a real ski trip.

In the guide, the biggest chapter was about Mefjord, tha fiord just seemed like something from another universe in the PDF photo, so we decided to start from there on. From Tamokdalen until Senja, with the fog we had, everything seemed flat and boring. At the gas station we realized that the local hobby was snowmobile racing and customisation. Ok, WTF. Where are the mountains?! Are we even going to ski? When we finally made it to Mefjord, the joking was over and we just got silent. We got impressed and intimidated at the same time by such cathedral of granite surrounding both sides of the fjord with constant walls of compact, steep and pointy limestone towering up to thousand meters.

After another while driving seeking where to spend the night, we realized it was all really compact and steep rock. Where are we supposed to ski?! We spotted two soft cols of snow and it seemed from there we could access some mountain cirques with softer terrain curves and hopefully great ski ground.

We woke up early and eager to kick ass. We went to the base of the most obvious col and got shocked about the amount of tracks that it had. There were even two massive groups with guides getting ready to start. Ok, we knew there was a lodge in Senja, but this was quite too much actually!

We rushed uphards, and luckily we are faster and make more straight forward kick turns than the average tourist, so quite fast we let the groups behind and we felt again alone in our mountain. Once we reached the col we realized it didn’t made so much sense to rush, as from there there was a massive frozen lake acting like a valley floor with plenty of mountains, sectors for skiing and panoramic lines pretty much everywhere.

Of course, we got our eyes fixed in a obvious and powerful couloir starting pretty much by the col.

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Before making it all the way to the col we stopped in a small wedge with same facing and steepness as the couloir so I decided to do a snow profile and shovel test, that got positive in a few hits. Again this persistent weak layer.

Before discarding the activity completely, we decided to get to the base of the couloir to do another profile, as the couloir had a big old purge that most likely broke the tension and compacted the whole layer system. On the main couloir following the tongue of the purge, the snow was very stable, however it was icy, towards the sides of the tongue, still small slabs could be triggered. We didn’t got an overall positive feedback, so we headed back to the lake to seek other terrain.

From there we saw the other two groups going left towards mellow terrain, so we decided to go left. We spotted two aesthetic summit that promised a great view of the fjord and some enjoyable skiing without drama. We soon noticed how stable were the layers in this valley. Somehow, the low and medium height terrain facing the ocean had still the problem with the weak layer, but the high terrain that was facing frozen lakes was incredibly stable and having a great snow quality. It makes sense; the oceans makes milder temperatures, generates rain more often and unstable episodes, less re-icying, less exposure to the sun due to the towering mountains, while the inland lakes were acting as a natural fridge and generating stability.

Soon came the first summit in Senja: Burstinden 752m and it’s view couldn’t  be more impressive. Everything just got right. The sun came out finally when we were summiting, let us some magic light for enjoying the view and transformed the snow into an incredibly surfy density.

Let’s get the party rolling! In front of Burstinden we had another spectacular mountain: Roalden 862m. We made it to the upper shoulder of the ridge. The idea was not to follow the ridge all the way as we wanted to ski the same face that we climbed.

Pedro won’t forget that summit as he had a little scare up there with the cornice. I’m glad I saw it coming and there was no more drama than needed, but I guess we learned that day to not stick our noses out there, especially for an Instagram photo. From that day on I will remember the summit ridge of Roalden as Pedro’s ridge.

Whatever, another spectacular descent till the lake. However with crossing back the whole lake, peeking out of two other cols to check the landscape and possible activities for the following day and so on, we ended up in the car by eight in the evening.

We had for dinner all the leftovers from the previous days as the only mini shop that the village had was already closed. On the other hand we found a spot to camp with an amazing view of the fjord and the never ending sunset.

The following day we woke up pretty sore. From the previous day we learnt that the best strategy was going to seek similar terrain: altitude terrain over a frozen lake, not straight facing the ocean, with moderate terrain curves and panoramic views. I checked the map and found a bit more to the south a big patch of terrain that was fulfilling all our expectations on the other side of the Stormoa tunnel: we had a goal. On the way there we just got stunned with the beauty and serenity of Ersfjord and Steinfjord. Powerful places to the soul, definitely.

Just on the previous turn before the tunnel, we spotted a panoramic view point on the side of the road with a wooden deck. We decided to stop and take a few photos of the landscape. However this just popped in our face. Bang!

Probably one of the most aesthetic couloirs I’ve ever seen. It looked so perfect and steep..Can we even ski that? With the binoculars we spotted a group coming up the mountain right to it. They were already on the last part and seemed pretty soft terrain. We decided to go and check the couloir. In the worst case, may be we could just follow the tracks of the other group and have a mellow activity on a beautiful surrounding.

We parked at the entrance of the valley and it was incredibly warm. Warm to the point that we leave the car in t-shirt and it doesn’t take too long before I take it off for going flat in the valley. Well, obviously, this is not the best case scenario for going to a big mountain. We saw massive purges on the north facing mountains at the left hand side of the valley, however the south faces of the right, were steep, right in the sun and hadn’t been purged yet. We decided then to move forward right in the middle of the valley, far from both mountain sides. We finally saw the tracks that the group followed up. It goes through exposed terrain, on the 35º-ish and at some point needed a long steep diagonal over a terrain trap. We soon discarded completely that option and we decided to go for a simple sunday driver kind of plan: making it through the middle of the valley all the way to the soft col at the end of it. From there on we would have a great view of the couloir and of the ocean.

Everything goes as planned and we make it to the col. The view is just beautiful. We snacked a couple of dates, but soon we realised that from here on the couloir didn’t seem any steep anymore. It was just gorgeous, wide, not aggressive anymore and the terrain at the base of it looked like it was softening progressively for a long distance so it would make it difficult for big slabs to slide down. Moreover the shadow was starting to come in this part of the valley, it was not warm anymore, snow had a completely different consistency up here. We could make it without exposure to the base of the couloir and we spotted a good sheltered spot for doing a few snow tests. It was worth at least getting up there and see what feedback we were having.

When we are almost at the base I heard Pere yelling, I hear that distinguished hoarse sound that makes your heart stop and I even feel the mountain vibrating. I know it’s not coming from up as I’m looking over there, I take some seconds in figuring out what is really happening, but finally I see it.

A fusion avalanche, a wet slab self triggered. It’s enormous and moves rapidly. It tears the whole mountain and it’s pretty much doing a psyphon even though it’s a wet slab. I’ve never seen something similar. It torn down the whole forest in two second and made it all the way to the middle of the valley. It was the face where the uphill and downhill tracks from the other group were standing and that we did not felt confident with. However, even though we were not all the way convinced with that route none of us ever expected it could get this big and destructive. I’m glad no one was there at the time.

To feel the mountain vibrating made us extremely uneasy so we just skied back as fast as we could to the col, we didn’t even removed the skins. Once on the col we did the proper transition and made it out of the valley again from the lake keeping a massive distance with the mountains.

We felt uneasy after all this episode so we decided to just drove south and find a place for having lunch calmly and have a thought about the whole episode. Once we crossed the next tunnel, we suddenly appeared on perfect terrain for skiing. Frozen lake in the middle, mellow steepness, panoramic balconies, a temperature, color and density completely different on the snow that felt really stable and fresh…We stopped to see the view and at that same moment three skiers came down the mountain. They had donne three small sumits and told us that everything was super stable, fresh, slightly powdery and an overall great day of skiing. We just realised that in fact we were straight in the middle of the terrain that we first found on the map and fixed as the objective for the day. I bet that day we also learned to stick to the plan and don’t get seduced by the piece of candy.

From the car there was not even any approach to do, so we did a snow profile over there and we confirmed everything was homogenous, no weak layer, no faceted snow, everything was stable and with a thin glidy and surfy layer on top. To repair the karma we decided to go to the top of the obvious view point, a modest summit crowning the valley. After a few sandwitches we were on the move. It’s incredible just how completely different the snow was and the overall conditions and we weren’t even ten kilometers away from the massive avalanche in straight line.

Pere started quite tired and slightly grumpy, however, as soon as we gained altitude and the sky was becoming orange, he didn’t took long before becoming super excited and started to move fast. We got our magical moment and a beauty overdose in that summit. I don’t even remember it’s real name as I know I will remind it forever as “fire skyes mountain”. The ski back to the car was just magical with those colours around.

Coming back to the car, the temperature was dropping. It suddenly got freezing. You can really tell the effect of the frozen lakes. We decided to not spend the night in that freezer. From the summit we spotted some terrain further south, similar to this one that was fulfilling all our safety requirements for been a great touring option for the following day. We started driving towards there, but as soon as we joined the main road, we all felt a bit like disconnecting for a while and I’m glad Pere suggested to drive to the coast to see the sunset. With those views, two beers, the best team and a bottle of whisky, what else can you ask for.

Pere and Pedro had a rough morning, so after a long cowboy breakfast we started driving towards the spot that we checked the previous day. On the way I spoke with Aniek and she told me she was going to be off three days again. She told us if conditions would improve in Lyngen we could check one of the most aesthetic lines in Lyngen that had been skied on the last days. We decided to meet in Nordkjosbotn for doing something calmer the day after.

Meeting Aniek and having big plans in mind made us decide to take the day easy, do a road trip, enjoy the views and get a bit of fat on our way there.

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