‘Intense Hours’: Frigid Big-Wall Solo North Of Arctic Circle

Just a few days into the new year, Finnish climber Juho Knuuttila established a solo climb in frigid northern Norway.

After battling up the mixed route’s “wild terrain” with dry tooling, thin ice traverses, and small overhangs, he topped out with a new line up Rånkeipen, a 1,200-meter peak near Narvik.

“I had just lived some of the most intense hours of my life,” Knuuttilla wrote on Instagram.


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Una publicación compartida por Juho Knuuttila (@juhoknuuttila)


The 26-year-old has spent his winter climbing season in this remote part of Scandinavia north of the Arctic Circle. His solo, an M6, WI6 route he named Polar Vortex, came after another first ascent with partner Alexander Nordvall in December.

Knuuttila and Nordvall, a Norwegian, established the six-pitch Arctic Circus, an M6 WI6 also on Rånkeipen.

“We were challenged by brittle ice, compact rock and of course, lack of daylight,” Knuuttila wrote. “Some of the pitches were rope stretching due to lack of good belays, some took us inside the mountain and others included hanging daggers above the void.”

Sounds epic and dangerous, but Nordvall offered a slightly different take:

“It still fascinates me, how I just don’t stay at home and eat gingerbread instead,” he wrote on Instagram.


Coming back for more

It was during the Arctic Circus ascent with Nordvall that Knuuttila spotted the route that would become his solo route, Polar Vortex. 

Initially, Knuuttilla planned to free solo the route — but also brought a rope and gear in case it looked too sketchy. Once he rappelled down to check out the line, he decided that rope soloing seemed a smarter option.

“I expected to free-solo most of the line but when ‘easy’ looking ramps turned out to be smooth slabs covered on powder I had no other option than climb down and change my mindset to rope soloing mode,” the Finnish climber wrote.


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Una publicación compartida por Juho Knuuttila (@juhoknuuttila)


The first 50m pitch took him two hours to lead, bringing Knuuttila to the “first big ice structure,” he said. Thus far, it was “not really” the WI5 climbing he had hoped to find.

He spent another two hours on difficult, varied climbing before he finally reached easier terrain near the end of his rope. In a conventional attempt with a partner, the whole climb would likely shake out into several pitches, Knuuttila wrote.

That equals a casual day out for many climbers — on an established route, as a team. Knuuttila managed to shoehorn the solo FA into his day of normal responsibilities.

“I cleaned the pitch, topped out climbing easier ice and skied down to get to work at 13:30, exhausted but happy,” he said.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.