By Paul Nelson
Disclaimer: This is not a post about a climbing trip. You won’t find rad sends, amazing photos, or gripping epics here. Rather, this is a story about how I managed to pull myself away from a non-climbing vacation for one day to experience some quality granite cracks in one of the coolest countries on earth.
“Sometimes, climbing is all about disappointing your loved ones.” This is one of my friend Jack Marshall’s acerbic one-liners that a group of friends has compiled into a “rules of climbing” list. I believe it’s rule #16.
Rule #16 popped to mind as I started researching climbing areas in Sweden just after booking my tickets there. See, this was to be a family vacation. My sister is married to a Swede, and his family invited my folks to their cabin on the Baltic Sea for a summer holiday. My girlfriend Miranda and I jumped at this opportunity and bought our tickets– we’d never been to Europe before. What’s more, I decided that this trip would be the PERFECT opportunity to propose to her. We recently bought a house together, and had been discussing getting hitched; why not pop the question in Europe?
But… climbing! Even if this was not a climbing trip, I simply had to check out Swedish rock. I didn’t know much of what to expect– Norway has big walls and the Flatanger Cave, Finland has some island bouldering I’d read about, but what about Sweden (other than that guy who started 8a.nu, I think his name is “Debate/Jens,” right?)?
Oh, and a place called Bohuslan. According to Mountain Project it was the best climbing area in the nation and I think I’d recalled a climbing magazine article on it a while back. It looked cool. Unfortunately, it was nearly 6 hours from the Baltic, and did not look super easy to get to. Both my family and girlfriend raised eyebrows when I mentioned taking three days out of a seven day trip to go check out rock, but hey… #16.
We landed in Stockholm; a jet-lagged walk around the capital city confirmed a lot of preconceived expectations I’d had about Sweden: everyone is blond and beautiful, everyone speaks perfect and polite English, and the pop music is worse than you can possibly imagine. We didn’t spend too much time in the city, but instead busted straight out to the cabin on the Baltic.
I know this is a climbing blog post, but I’ve just got to take a paragraph to gush about the in-laws’ cabin. At the end of a dirt road as remote as anything in US National Forests, this off-the-grid habitation was literally carved into a granite coastline and surrounded by wild blueberry bushes. There were even thirty-foot cliffs in the back yard, with a couple 5.12 looking seams. They didn’t look classic, though, and I was not about to ask my hosts if I could scrub off decades of moss and lichen for a one-star F.A. Plus, we were already occupied with rowing and sailing through the archipelago, pulling flounder from fishing nets, having fika (basically like English teatime), and learning Swedish drinking songs. Pure paradise, and yes, I did pop the question (she said “yes”).
After four days on the seacoast, however, I was amped to get on some rock. Miranda and I took a train (you know, those things that nobody uses in the US?) from the Baltic across Sweden to the west coast, where we rented a Volvo and sped toward Bohuslan.
The dozens of crags and thousands of routes that make up the Bohuslan region– a series of peninsulas and North Sea inlets just south of the Norway border– are super diverse. There is DWS, hard sport cragging up to 5.14c, and a few multi-pitches, but the best of Bohuslan is single-pitch trad cragging, mostly on quality granite cracks. The granite is “just right” in Goldilocks terms– not slippery like Yosemite or Little Cottonwood Canyon, and not too coarse or sharp like Vedauwoo or Joshua Tree– amazing friction and painless jamming in the fingerspricka (finger cracks).
The overall vibe of the place was rustic and rural. Single-lane asphalt roads wound through forests, pastures, and quaint little cottages, passing by more outcrops of granite than we could comprehend. It’s kind of a similar feeling to the Red River Gorge in that you are in a confusing maze of crags and country roads that extend in all directions. There weren’t too many amenities: the small town of Brodalen had a grocery store with essentials and basic climbing gear; the fishing village of Lysekil was where we would go for evening seafood and nightlife; we stayed at a B&B in the tiny hamlet of Sämstad.
Anyway, we woke up Saturday morning to cool temps and a cloudless sky. If this area was anything like the few other coastal crags I’d been to, sea breezes would definitely have dried off yesterday’s rains. After meeting up with Beni, a solo dirtbag from Germany, we drove to an area called Välseröd, a group of scattered clifflines along a dirt road, with grueling 2-5 minute approaches.
Deciding to start easy, I found a route that Mountainproject called 5.7. Not super classic looking, but I figured we should start easy. It was a fun, mountaineering-type route that had a couple armbars and knee jams that seemed a bit hard for a 5.7 crack; then I glanced at the grade conversion chart in our new Swedish-language guidebook, and realized that this route actually converted to more like 5.4 or so. Ok, so a total sandbag!
Once at the top of the cliff, I noticed that the only pair of rap rings were currently occupied by a group belaying off of them (boooooo!). Fortunately, the easiest way back down looked to be by dropping a toprope on Slimline, a fingerspricka splitting a gravestone-like buttress that was without a doubt the crag’s proudest line.
Not gonna lie, I had mixed feelings about leading this Swedish grade 7+ (roughly 11d/12a). I’d heard a lot of stories about sandbags here, and it looked like there was a roof move that would put you in ankle-breaking territory. In the end I was happy we dropped a toprope on it; the thing was HARD! Every size of jam from thin hands down to tips, some face and some arête slapping, this was an amazing route. It felt on par with many solid 5.12 cracks at the New River Gorge, my home crag that does not have the reputation for being soft. We would learn that the 7+ grade was similar to other “plus” grades in the U.S.– in that historically first ascentionists were hesitant to claim a new number grade for their routes, and instead would just keep adding the dreaded “+” to harder and harder routes.
Next up was a must-do 6- (5.10a/b) called Villskud, a full 120-foot pitch of slab, roof, fingercrack, and layback climbing that may have even surpassed Slimline in quality. While racking up for this, I asked some locals if I needed to take a #4 Camalot. One looked at me, smiled, and simply said, “an onsight is an onsight!” Can’t argue with that.
For the rest of the day, we just kept wandering up the road to more crags, trying to jump on every good-looking 5.10 route we happened upon. Although it stays light until about 11pm during a Swedish summer, by 7pm our fingers and toes were shot from so much amazing jamming (note to self for next time, Moccasyms would have been way more comfy than Miuras!).
It was a great day of climbing (so great that we didn’t get very good photos!), and I’m already trying to convince my sister and her husband to move to Sweden so that we can always go back. Bohuslan is not an international destination like Yosemite, the Red, or Indian Creek, but for single-pitch trad cragging, it simply does not get better. If you find yourself in Scandinavia– even on a family vacation where you’ll strain relationships by ditching your relatives– definitely hit the place up. You can always invoke rule #16.