, Lea brassy & Vincent Colliard

Norway 2010

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Surfing and mountaineering above the Arctic Circle, with Vincent Colliard and Léa Brassy, March and April 2010, by Léa Brassy.

Copenhagen airport, February 23rd 2010, 1.30pm. The message says “I'm going to be (very) late”. Vincent comes back from his first meeting with his hero, polar explorer Borge Ousland, and no longer cares about how long he’s going to wait for me in this familiar place of his hyperactive life. The green Vito van is on the road toward the Great North, filled up with surfboards and crampons, and that’s the most important thing. The two climbing partners are going to share two months in the van, between sea and mountain, above the Arctic Circle, in Norway.

On the strait and monotonous white road through Sweden, all together ice screws clashing, Morphine melodies singing and engine running make an addictive routine. Slowly we start talking and soon tell our stories from all over the planet, forgetting the long hours driving through endless pine trees forests. Time is the keystone of our journey. Having time for meeting others and discovering elsewhere is precious nowadays. We know some would like us at school or working, forgetting our youth under mountains of abstract tasks. But we’d rather go for real mountains of Lofoten Islands, our first goal.

Proudly rising above the ocean, the white mountains of the Lofoten seam to have begun a long walk toward the open ocean. As if their name was meanful: feet of the lynx. Blue and white dominate the scenery, snow is everywhere where water isn't. The winding road seems unreal. Infrastructures such as bridges and tunnels remember us to the reality of the place; it’s a rich country with both oiling and fishing profitable industries.

In that infinity of fjords, a little bay named Unstad has been discovered about ten years ago by an American surfer, surely looking for loneliness. Although it's very high in the latitudes, we meet some strange creatures, half men half seals, who play in the waves. I had dreamt of empty beaches by these negative temperatures and short days of winter. Viking blood remains but their outfit as changed to a 6mm neoprene wetsuit! The routine is to dress up quickly without hesitation otherwise we won’t go. The water is light green and all around is mainly white. Waves aren't big but nice and glassy, enough to make us feeling this is the right place to be. Surfing above the Arctic Circle makes sense, it's something special in a surfer's life.

Considering the swell charts, the winter is fickle in swells and so in the rest of Europe. It’s mainly northerly short period swells. These break ok on the beach break but when the swell comes more westerly and eventually southwesterly, the reef breaks on both side of the bay start peeling into an intense right-hander and a mystic left-hander. We will be carefully looking for these swells during our trip to catch the “right moment”. The right-hander is no longer quiet and we get the chance to pull into a couple of serious sections. Life isn’t that bad at 68 degrees north. Sunshine and 5 feet waves last long enough to fill up our hearts.

From Morphine melodies to Tom Waits’s, the USB stick on which Vincent had his drug recorded has gone lost and despite his ferity to find some in the music store of the all country, he remained musically frustrated and had to move on. To compensate his disappointment, he bought all the different discs of Tom Waits he could find. The road is long and Tom is a very pleasant company. A new addiction is born. Driving time is also great to spot mountains. I learn a new glossary and surprise Vincent smiling when I qualify an icefall or a ridge. It’s nearly as exciting as driving along a coastline looking for virgin waves. It’s a all new world, covered with sparkling and glittering snowflakes. We reach a small island close to Hammerfest, in North Cape area.

Our local friends Mimie and Anthon, met via, introduce us to their activities and habits between snowmobile and fish soup cooking. We are the young wolves and people of the North are prudent and patient. The weather conditions are terrible and despite our expectations, we spend most of our time inside. We’ve learnt to always have a backup plan. So we head up to Ingoya Island, a little further north. Vincent had been fishing for two weeks with one of the 24 locals of the island before I joined him in Copenhagen. They live of fishing off course and their hobby could be surfing as we discovered a slab that’s worth the crossing. The scenery is standing, the water dark blue and the access snowed in. Surfing at 71 degrees north by 3°C water, what else?!

It’s time for more mountain action. On the way to the well-known Lygen Alps, we spot a huge conic icefall. I take a look in the binoculars to make sure it's ice. Our first trip is decided for the next morning. We ask an old man to park our van in front of his house and felt obliged to break his loneliness and share wine and dodgy meat steak with him for breakfast! As if it wasn’t hard enough to brass snow at waist high without snowshoes, we have to do it with the belly filled up with a heavy meal! Often you make a track and when you put your weight, it goes down for another 30 cm. But coming up to the icefall is worth the pain and I need some time to realise how amazing the place is. Overlooking the fjord, the massive curacao blue icefall is even bigger than expected. We dig to set up the camp with an amazing lookout of the fjord. It’s a beautiful but frigid day. The ice is hard and the fall is steep, Vincent warms up on the monster. The night comes quickly and it’s surely going to be my coldest night out. There must be northern lights but it’s impossible to leave the sleeping bags, our heat is too precious. We spend the next day ice climbing. Impressed and full of very fresh air, it's time to go back to the van.

Observing how fast and efficient we are, putting everything back in place and getting ready to the next adventure, it’s no doubt that our pair has taken a good routine. It was a great first experience and we feel like we can go for more serious trips. In the Lyngen Alps for instance. But snow starts following down, making a thick layer of fresh powder all over the place. The Lyngen Alps are sharp mountains going from sea level up to 1500 meters high. It's pretty dangerous with all this snow and we have to wait. Hot chocolates, sleepovers, card games and a few Tom Waits songs. It’s not getting better and the sun is shinning in the Vesteralen. A few hours later, we go climbing our first couloir. At the top, 400 meters straight above the ocean, we realize our dream of “climbing a couloir above the water while spotting Northern Lights”. At the time we planned this trip, too many things were out of my reach and I could not even imagine how it would feel. Here we are, first summit, 400 little meters higher, it feels like a world apart. Taking a picture, I wish I could capture the honesty of our approach as well as the beauty of the landscape. “Take only a picture, leave only a footprint” as it’s said in New Zealand. Once the camp settled and after a warm meal, we pull our mattresses outside the tent. Northern Lights dusts breath in the sky, in a soporific ballet.

In the morning, on the way back, Vincent spots a great place to dig a snow cave. In a couple of hours, we have a beautiful shack on the beach. It’s cosy, with the light of a candle, and warmish. I teach Vincent how to knit a orange beanie. Orange, because it’s the colour of the Arctic.

The Lygen Alps clear up and it's time for a more serious project. We go on a three days trip to climb a 1469 meters high mountain called Forholttind. No information, no route, it's both exciting and stressful. But Vincent is a good partner and shows no emotions, giving me confidence. The reward is huge. My eyes are wet to be able to come up here, I'm very proud of what we’ve accomplished. Around us is an ocean of white unclimbed peaks. No time for resting, the way back is at least as dangerous. Once back at the car, we're welcomed by some locals for a warm meal. There were waiting for us and had prepared us the best food. How can things match that well? We talk about our trip and the old couple look at us with shinning eyes and their message do not need any words.

Tired of being cold for the past month or so, we accept the offer to stay a few days with a local family that we had met earlier on. Vincent builds a kicker with the kids while parents are obviously worried about their kids challenging lows of gravity with so much confidence. Spending time with this typical Norwegian family was awesome. They also shared with us the nicest Easter cake and some great life values.

Beginning of April, the weather suddenly warms up. Temperatures reach zero Celsius and snow starts melting giving a strange impression of humidity and dirtiness. Days get longer and spring is on the doorstep. No time for sadness, it’s the best time for the waves. Swell forecasts are good and it's time for us to switch in a surfing mode. The mess of ice axes and ropes becomes a mess of surfboards and wetsuits. The sun is shinning in Unstad and a 4 to 5 foot swell sticks around for about a week. The water is still only 4 degrees but the weather is warmer and it's a bit easier. Waves are very good, the right-hander point break is long, hollow and fast and there is only the two of us out. What a feeling to be at the right place at the right time! Slowly the locals show up and we get to know this friendly tiny community of surfers. In the water, screams can be heard when someone takes off on a good wave and there is lots of excitements when the set comes. You can only stay two hours, after what you get cold. But twice a day we put on the wet wetsuit to go back into the green water. The left-hander is nothing flash but you can be told “When It works, it breaks from the garbage to the beach and I tell you, It's the best ride ever. Well, I've been surfing here for ten years and I've never seen it working myself.”. Every spot has got its own legend! Days finish around a warm meal with our new friends, story telling and good laughs, it feels like home. Leaving is harsh, this time maybe, we will leave more than only footprints.

On the way back to France, hidden at the back of the van because our wallet was empty, Vincent thinks about his hero. They will meet again in Oslo. Dream or reality? He is not afraid of breaking habits, we will meet Borge Ousland in Oslo harbour and who knows, he might go aboard his boat around the North Pole? Dreams are born from imagination and deserve to become reality? Only one life. Thousands of possibilities. Dare it.