Of course, you remember! But have your ever imagined how it would be like if we could Spiderman our way up vertical ice in the fantasy lands of popular fiction, where an instinct for adventure would be the only requirement?
That’s exactly what I stumbled upon — Ice Climbing in Finland offered by Bliss Adventure — while planning a trip to Finnish Lapland last year.
Admittedly, me — a Mediterranean girl — and the cold don’t get along very well. I had never given much thought to spending time in the Arctic Circle, especially not in winter. But as I finally decided to embrace the cold icy weather, I felt the urge to try out all it had to offer and found myself inquiring about the skills required for ice climbing.
“You can come with no experience,” Aleksi said. “Our professional guides will explain and show you how to tie in, belay, climb.” And he continued:
“The Ice Climbing is not that difficult and it’s very safe. We use the top-rope technique where a guide belays (secures) the climber and keeps the climber safely on the wall.”
Aleksi sounded quite convincing and off I went to Korouoma National Park for my first ever climbing experience, and that on ice! Yep, let’s go the whole hog!
Korouoma National Park, a long canyon with up to 100 meters high cliffs and a good dozen of ice-falls, is said to be the best spot for ice climbing in Finland. Even if you are not into ice climbing, Korouoma is worth a trip. You can enjoy the gorgeous scenery of the canyon with its snow covered pine trees and frozen rivers.
On a just -10 °C-degree warm December day — which is incredibly warm for Finland at this time of the year — Aleksi and Artturi picked us up in Rovaniemi, and we drove on empty roads further towards Posio and Korouoma, where we met the rest of our small group: a couple from Australia and Lauri, a parkour trainer from Helsinki.
We gathered our gear to start the descent towards the canyon. Artturi had already set off ahead of us to establish a belay spot with ice screws and set a top-rope.
The snow was deep and the landscape looked like in a storybook. I couldn’t help but felt myself like the White Witch of Narnia. The scenery alone was worth the effort already, I thought. After an hour of hiking through this amazingly beautiful canyon filled with snow covered pine trees and frozen rivers, we arrived the ice-fall we meant to climb up on this day.
Artturi was already half way up the wall and he made his way further up by just using his crampons and ice axes, not secured at all! Instantly, I felt great respect for him; this guy must know what he is doing. And my life would be safe hanging onto a rope fixed by three ice screws at one end, and secured by Aleksi at the other!? Will it really hold? This question went more than once through my head as Aleksi started briefing us and displaying the technique on a tiny wall around the corner.
Geared up with crampons — spikes attached to the bottom and front of your boot — and ice axes, it was now our turn to try out the technique we were just taught. I had already sensed that it would not be as easy as it appeared, and a few leg kicks and axe swings later, I knew for sure it was not. No chance that I could trust the ice to pull up my body, given that I was not even able to get the spikes and axes into the ice deep enough for my taste. Would it really hold? Waves of fear kept rising in me.
In the meantime, Artturi had already established the belay spot, and it was time for conquering the real ice wall. We all agreed that Lauri as a sportsman and former rock climber would be the best candidate to go first. And we were right. He was the only one who made his way up the wall twice, but not without suffering. Due to cold, some axe swings later he felt no strength in his arms — a feeling we all were about to experience soon. To see the fittest person of the group having difficulties was not quite encouraging for me. I was just thinking I would be more than happy if I could climb up 3-4 meters, should I ever attempt the climb. Let’s be realistic, no way that I could get further than that, right? All those thoughts were flying in my mind as I observed the others climbing up in pain one by one…sometimes hanging down on the rope like sausages, sometimes crawling up on all fours…
You cannot procrastinate the inevitable forever, so the moment to take a decision had arrived for me. After all, Tom with a fear of heights had given it a try…I had to try it as well to overcome my fear, my distrust in nature.
I approached the ice wall with respect, and I put my trust in Aleksi that he would keep me safe at all times. With ease of mind, off I started the climb by swinging axes, kicking legs one after the other, left, up, right, up…Surprisingly, it felt easier than thought, and within minutes I was already higher than the point I had initially aimed for. Leg kick, axe swing, left, right…pull yourself up, kick, swing…the sequence of moves followed each other, and I reached the ledge, marking the half way. But at this point I felt extreme weakness and tiredness in my arms. The axe started not to follow my instructions and failed to go into the ice, crampons didn’t want to hold any more that I slipped down a few precious meters.
I made my way up to the ledge again, but I had to face it. I had no more power left to pull myself up over the ledge. As I had already climbed higher than ever imagined, I decided to enjoy the view from up here. Some 20 meters above the ground now, the view was stunning that I could look wide into the canyon, feel a sense of freedom.
Up here, I wanted to hug and kiss the ice for restoring my trust in nature, in element ice and its strength, and even in strangers holding my life on a rope.
Then I rappelled down in euphoric feelings. Exhausted but extremely satisfied. Aleksi was right: ice climbing is so much fun! And if you like hard experiences, it’s very fulfilling.
When all the group members had spent their last bits of power, we headed back to the beginning of the trail, where we chilled out along with bonfire, sausages, tea, some other Finnish goodies, and good conversation. The perfect way to warm up our frozen bones and to reflect an action-packed day…
All in all, it was a long, fulfilling, unforgettable day in the Finnish nature that I can’t wait to return for more!
I can’t recommend Bliss Adventure highly enough! Once again many thanks to Aleksi and Artturi, who made such a memorable and unique experience possible (check their website out for more adventures in the Arctic outdoors).
PS: I’m not an affiliate of any of the web sites or companies mentioned above. I simply recommend them as I believe they do a great job.