We are honored to help support this spirit of splitboard exploration through the Jones Adventure Grant program. For the last three years we have awarded the Jones Team Adventure Grant to a trip proposal from one of our international ambassadors that best showcased this desire to discover new terrain on a logistically lean, but motivation heavy expedition.
The winner of the 2017 Jones Team Adventure Grant was Finnish freerider Miikka Hast. In May 2017, Miikka and filmer Matti Ollila went to explore an especially inaccessible region of Arctic Norway known as Øksfjordjøkelen. Hitching a boat ride to a remote fjord inlet, Miikka and Matti climbed up into a high glacial basin where Miikka rode a striking couloir.
Hear and see the frustration and triumph of their mission in ’When Calls The Adventure’, a new feature length video about Miikka’s mission by Kota Collective. Miikka digs even deeper into his experiences in the trip report following the video.
Maps can be as intriguing as they are informative. It only takes one interesting contour on a map for the mind to start wandering. And then, you will not find peace until you go see those contours with your own eyes. In this age of digital technology it’s also very pleasant to spread a map over a table, dig into the contours and leave some coffee stains on the paper. Burying myself in the contours and coastline of a map of Northern Norway is how a small region called Oksfjord got my attention.
Northern Norway is amazing because I know I will not have time to ride all of it’s mountains in my lifetime. And I can just drive to the trailhead and climb the ones I choose to explore, not fly across the continents to find amazing adventures. Up until this trip I had never been riding north of the famous places in Northern Norway, like Lyngen and Tamok, but the Scandinavian mountain ranges continue a good ways further up the coast. Not many people tend to ride there because it is little harder to get to and has less services and information. The northernmost glacier of the Scandi’s range and the last peaks reaching over 1000 meters lie in this place called Oksfjord. These mountains can only be accessed by ferry or boat which means very few people, let alone skiers or riders have ever visited them.
Looking at the map contours of the Oksfjord region I found a valley that had riding potential on every aspect and an open view to the ocean. Seeing this my mind started to wander. Do these couloirs and lines go through? How steep are they? Maybe no-one has ever ridden there before? I knew I had to go find out. Otherwise, these mysterious map contours would start to haunt me.
My first attempt at exploring Oksfjord did not work out. Bad weather and extreme avalanche danger turned us around before we even loaded the ferry. A week later I saw high pressure in the forecast so I called the guys for a rerun. One partner could not make it anymore because of other arrangements and another partner had fallen sick so it was only me and Matti left. I tried to get at least another rider to join us but had no luck on such short notice. It’s not always the best option to go film in unknown mountains with just a team of two. I really had to debate with myself what to do. Two is a small number if something goes wrong. It also meant I would need to climb all the lines solo. But the call of the adventure was strong. The valley had developed into a obsession. I just had to see what was out there.
This time the forecast held. I was very excited as we got on the ferry. The boat would cruise us into the valley and drop us at the closest pier where we would continue by foot the next morning. The sunset was gorgeous that evening as we admired all the untouched mountains rising straight up from the fjords. Excitement grew as we got closer to our destination.
But as we entered into the valley, what we saw from the boat was nothing short from a devastation. The snow conditions were completely different in our chosen valley. There was no snow at the sea shore and the lines we saw looked like early season sharky slalom runs. The valley looked like another world compared to the other ones just beside it. There wasn’t even enough snow to skin up to the higher elevations. We would have to climb over nasty wet boulders. The valley reminded me more of Mordor than the snowy paradise I had imagined.
It was beyond our comprehension why there was at least two meters less snow in this particular valley than the ones next to it. We stared at each other and the valley in disbelief. The ferry was arriving soon to the pier and we had no clue what to do. If we got off now, we would be stuck in the rockiest place of all Oksfjord for the next few days. We made a quick decision to stay on the ferry and return back to square one. We had seen other valleys with more snow and it was time to explore some other unknown map contours.
On our ferry cruise we had spotted one line in the back of a fjord that stood out from anything else we had seen. It looked to be a completely straight couloir cutting through a wild face. We hadn’t been able to see if went through or even how to get there, but we could tell it was full of snow and north facing. The issue was, there was no village in this valley which meant there was no ferry service. Our only option was to convince a fisherman to take us there on their private boat. After a few inquiries, we were told to ask a fisherman named Örjan when he returned from the sea. Thankfully Örjan was happy to take us there the next morning. Plan B was starting to come together.
Loading Örjan’s boat the mountains looked beautiful in the morning light. We got the feeling this would be a special approach. There were a few abandoned houses scattered on the fjord’s shores and a shipwreck. Örjan told us that the last residents of this valley moved out 5 years ago. For whatever reason, very few families had settled in this valley after WWII unlike almost every other well populated fjord and valley in Norway. Örjan dropped us off at the end of the fjord and wished us good luck. As his boat disappeared into the horizon, we felt very disconnected, isolated and alone. We just had to trust he was a man of his word and would return for us.
We left some gear at the shore and started our ascent towards the potential line. To our surprise, we found dry snow only 100 meters up from the fjord. This valley also had way more snow then our plan A valley that was just on the other side of the mountain ridge. It was baffling to see the difference in the snowpack. Definitely one of the weirdest micro climate phenomenons we had ever witnessed.
The line was a real beauty: a perfect ramp hanging on the side of the mountain with huge walls on each side. It looked like a perfect wave rolling on the mountainside. And the snow conditions looked amazing with no run offs at all. I got ecstatic. This definitely was not just another crack in the wall!
Only problem now were the cornices hanging above the line getting baked by the spring sun. They looked like loaded guns pointed down the line. Soloing a serious line in the middle of nowhere was scary enough on it’s own. I didn’t want any extra tension for the climb so we decided to return the next night and climb the line when the cornices were frozen again. My plan was to ride the line at first light.
We returned to shore to rest up and fuel up for the night mission. I was so excited that it was hard to get any sleep. We also found some wolverine tracks in the snow. Had to wonder if the wolverines were fond of our smell after a long winter? We decided to pack knives within easy reach. Not that it would make any difference, but any extra comfort against the thought of a hungry wolverine attack was a welcome.
I started the approach around 11pm. As I took off skinning the world was completely silent. The atmosphere was both peaceful and very intense at the same time. The silence was only broken by the static from our radios. I reached the apron of the line in an hour and started the ascent. It might have been a fairly easy climb in the daylight, but in the foggy darkness it was terrible. I had to skin through old avalanche debris and I could not see the bumps and big chunks of snow. Even with my head lamp on high power I kept poking my skis into small boulders and falling into holes.
At the entrance of the couloir I started bootpacking. First step I sank in waist deep. This was going to be a loooong climb. But the snow felt stable so I started the push up with a good feeling. Not too long after starting, I could feel the cramps creeping in. I had lost a lot of fluids and energy zigzagging up the apron in the flat light. I knew I had good 2-3 hours of swimming through waist deep powder ahead of me so I decided to lay down and shake my legs out. In many other situations I would have stopped, but this was not the time for quitting. I knew I could do it, I just needed to suck it up.
When my legs felt better I continued the climb. At times I got scared of the snow. It was so deep and steep. And I was alone. I had no partner to discuss any decisions with. But there was no actual signs of instability or danger. The snow had settled for a few days and we had not seen any slab avalanches. These thoughts calmed me down and I got my confidence back to keep on going. Soon after, I saw the col and knew I would make it.
At 4 am I was relieved to stand on the col. The other side of the col dropped down to the "Plan A" valley where we were supposed to camp originally. This valley held significantly less snow and I still could not fathom why? But that didn’t matter anymore. I was about to drop into one of best lines of the season.
My legs were tired, but adrenaline got me pumped up as I strapped in. With a green light from Matti, I took a deep breath and dropped. The line rode just as it looked, the ultimate big wave. And the snow was the best I had ridden the whole season. Barrelling out the bottom of the line I let everything out, screaming at the top of my lungs.
It took a little faith, but in the end we had managed to accomplish something amazing. It seems the best memories and adventures need twists and turns, uncertainties and difficulties to become the truly unforgettable ones. This particular line, may it be just another crack in the wall for most, became something truly special for us, no doubt the result of all the setbacks along the way.
One beautiful line, which we called ’The Cold Pocket’ after the weird micro climate, was all it took to turn the trip into a real adventure. And regardless what map contours we ended up experiencing, it’s those feelings of isolation, fear, adrenaline and triumph that keep calling me back again and again. Just like a map, these are the sparks of the best adventures.