On March 4th, Juho Knuuttila and Eivind Jacobsen scaled the 1000 meter high northwest face of Blokktind. The two Scandinavians named their adventurous first ascent Entropi, which means a lack of predictability and at the same time is a foretaste of the challenges of the tour.
When the Finnish mountain guide aspirant Juho Knuuttila sees the Blokktind on the shore of the Tjongsfjord for the first time, he thinks he has found a cool summer destination with its gigantic north-west face. When he sees black and wet streaks on various images, he suspects that there could be ice in winter. "It turned out to be one of the most beautiful ice lines I've ever seen in northern Norway," enthuses Juho Knuuttila. "One of those lines that you just can't get out of your head.
A small window of time
Since Juho Knuuttila spent the winter in Narvik, Norway, he was quite flexible in order to be able to go to Blokktind immediately if the conditions were right. A local with a direct view of the north-west face was kind enough to report the current situation to him, says Knuuttila. “Conditions seemed to be getting better week by week. Finally, at the beginning of March, it was time to try it.”
Since the native Finn only had two days off this week and the upcoming low pressure system threatened to destroy the fragile ice, the time window was small. "Luckily, Eivind Jacobsen, a fellow skier and climber, agreed to join us."
On Thursday evening, Knuuttila drove five hours to Bodø to pick up his climbing partner. Then it was three hours further to Tjong, a village near the mountain. After a two-hour ascent, the two stood at the foot of the 1000-meter wall on Friday morning. "We found that the line looked a lot thinner than we thought."
They didn't let that discourage them. To get to the ice, they climbed a ramp system. “Pleasant turf climbing – not too steep and with good blocks.” They were accompanied by regular spindrift.
“When we got to the ice, we quickly thought of quitting,” remembers Knuuttila. The next pitch featured a vertical section of bad ice that seemed impossible to climb. Despite this perspective, the young mountain guide climbed higher to see if there was a way around the passage. He spotted a steep, forbidding feature of frozen grass and wet rock.
It took Knuuttila three tries to convince himself that this unappealing beta was the better one. "I kept climbing down to collect myself before finally doing it. I turned off my mind because the hedging was terrible.”
First he climbed with his bare hands, put on a couple of nuts and then grabbed the ice tools again. The terrain: steep, technically and psychologically demanding. "When I got to the stand, I collapsed from mental exhaustion," says Knuuttila. But he didn't have much time to recover. Next up was a vertical pitch with a thin layer of ice.
Every pitch like a victory
Since Eivind Jacobsen had only started his winter climbing season a few weeks earlier, Knuuttila offered him to lead the climb. The sixth pitch led the alpinists in easier terrain to a crack that Knuuttila climbed with his bare hands. The job demanded his entire repertoire: finger and hand clamps, still crampons on his feet. "When it got icy, I switched back to the ice tools and fought my way back onto the ice with a long pull."
In the headwall, the duo got into the striking vertical ice vein that was visible from afar. It was finally possible to set ice screws again. However, the exposure and the ever-increasing spindrift made progress difficult. "Up to this point, every pitch was a win," said Juho Knuuttila. "And it was a surprise that it worked at all." The last two pitches on the fifth ice grade felt a little more relaxed after so much tricky climbing at dusk.
A real adventure
After the last length of ice, there were still 250 meters of snow slopes up to the summit. The terrain was safe to go rope-free, but the wind picked up. "He was already so strong at the summit that it was better to stay crouched." The snow and ice particles flying around massively reduced visibility. They made very slow progress descending the South Grade. "Again and again we had to check our location with the GPS."
After 16,5 hours they reach the car. "The ascent was a real adventure and I can hardly imagine that there will be a nicer line up here in the near future," sums up Juho Knuuttila.
He's feeling pretty empty right now. It will take a while for him to process everything and it will probably take longer for him to mentally recover. "It was definitely one of the most challenging tours I've done."
Juho Knuuttila and Eivind Jacobsen name their new tour with difficulties up to WI5, M6, 5b, R Entropi. That means something like lack of predictability and describes the line well. "But the name could also have something to do with the current world situation," adds Knuuttila.
That might interest you
- Big interview: professional alpinist Yannick Glatthard about his Dolomite adventure with Simon Wahli
- Video report: Yannick Glatthard and Silvan Schüpbach in the north face of the Gross Wellhorn
- Line van den Berg and Fay Manners get Phantom Direct's first women's ascent on the Grandes Jorasses
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Credits: Cover picture Juho Knuuttila