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Huinarcohkka (1,788 m), Nordland, North Norway

Huinarcohkka is one of the most impressive mountains in the Storsteinsfjellet area of Nordland. It is located at latitude 68º 14.698' N; longitude 17º 43.416' E.

Huinarcohkka is a fairly high mountain by the standards of Nordland, and it is very steep on most sides. There are many precipitous rock faces, and there are also extensive slabs. On the east side there is a fine hanging-glacier. The mountain was first climbed by a Swedish party in 1938. Huinarcohkka was extensively explored by Oxford University Mountaineering Club in 1957*.

[* see pp 110-111 of Per Prag's Mountain Holidays in Norway published by Norway Travel Association in 1963. This book, long out of print, has extensive coverage of many of the mountains of Nordland and other parts of Norway. If any reader wants to get further information about the contents of this book, then please send an e-mail.]

Technical routes on this mountain exist in abundance, but it is likely that these routes receive little if any attention. There is also one non-technical route, which involves gaining access to the south-east ridge from the col between Huinarcohkka and its fine neighbour to the west, Nihkevarri. This route involves some fairly arduous terrain, with little room for error in route-finding, particularly on the descent.

I was lucky to experience superb conditions for an ascent on 17 July 2003, when I was based at a camp in Skamdalen at about 510 m. An ascent of Huinarcohkka was an important part of my plans. But I had only arrived at the camp the previous evening and it was not my intention to attempt Huinarcohkka on my first day on the mountains. There were swirling mists in the morning, and I delayed my departure until 12:45 hrs. By then the mists had substantially dispersed, but they were thicker on the mountains to the west, whose exploration had been my original plan for my first active day. So I decided to head east up to a lake called Nihkejavri (980 m), with a view to climbing a lesser 1,300 m top. When I arrived at Nihkejavri I could see that the 1,300 m top was a pile of junk, albeit a shapely pile of junk. As the weather was good and the residual cloud was dispersing I decided that, having come that far, I might as well try my luck with Huinarcohkka. I had to walk along the 2 km length of Nihkejavri. It is a beautiful lake, it was still 95% covered with ice, and it provided splendid views of the dramatic north-east face of Nihkevarri. Access to the col (1,210 m) between Nihkevarri and Huinarcohkka was easy from the north.

I then proceeded on a heading slightly south of east, in an endeavour to gain the south-east ridge of Huinarcohkka. I knew from the map that the average gradient could be as much as 36º. Inspection of some photographs had also suggested that the slope could be fairly rugged. That proved to be the case between 1,300 m and 1,500 m, and there were various awkward characteristics—very large boulders piled up on top of each other, loose rocks, various moss-covered ledges, slabs covered with gravel or small round stones, and clean but steeper slabs that had to be avoided because of the gradient. It was necessary to weave one's way through the difficulties, and at times there were few options. The going was arduous, and one knew that coming down would be more difficult as the slope was slightly convex, and lower obstacles could not be seen from above. Above 1,500 m it became much easier and I reached the south-east ridge at 1,610 m. On lower parts of the ridge there are technical difficulties, but the information in the above-mentioned book by Per Prag suggested that there would be no serious obstacles higher on the ridge. The ridge was magnificent, with sheer cliffs on the east falling to the glacier below. The ridge involved easy scrambling in places, until a steep section within 50 m of the summit. At that point, at the top of a gently graded slab, the easiest option was to go several metres up a safe slot slanting to the left, which led to a narrow ledge with slight exposure. From the ledge one could climb on to the relatively flat slabs leading direct to the summit.

It was a superb summit. There were very steep drops on all sides apart from the ridge one had just climbed. There were impressive views of the large east glacier, the clean vertical rock faces above the glacier, the surrounding mountains, various fjords, and the Lofoten islands away to the west. Some of the mountains had an alpine aspect, including Storsteinsfjellet and Nihkevarri.

The weather was perfect. There was the slightest of breezes, and the temperature was 9ºC, rising to 16°C during moments when the breeze dropped completely. I reached the summit at 17:45 hrs, exactly 5 hours after I had left the tent. As there were still 24 hours of sun, I could stay as long as I liked, the only immediate constraint being that my evening meal and stove were back at the tent. If I had set out with the intention of climbing Huinarcohkka I would have brought these things.

There was a log-book in the summit cairn. It had been placed by a party of three Norwegians who had made an ascent on 9 September 1995. The next entry was by a party of two Norwegians on 7 September 2001. My entry was the third and last. It is remarkable that such a fine mountain should have only three ascents in eight years.

I took photographs and waited for the lighting to improve as the sun drew closer to the horizon. But at 23:25 hrs I could no longer resist the temptation of supper back at the tent. I made my descent by the midnight sun. Nihkevarri was looking magnificent, but the route demanded one's full attention, and it was only when I reached 1,300 m that I felt I could allow myself the luxury of a few photographs of Nihkevarri. Lower down it seemed that there was a slight frost, as the snow was very hard, and there was new ice in places along the margins of Nihkejavri. I was back at the tent at 03:10 hrs, and finally went to bed at 05:00 hrs. But my sleep was limited as heat drove me out of the tent by 08:30 hrs. Later that morning the temperature was up to 26ºC when the slight breeze dropped. But loss of sleep was a small price to pay for my experience on such a grand hill.

I comment earlier that the 1,210 m col between Huinarcohkka and Nihkevarri provides access to the non-technical route on to Huinarcohkka. The col can be approached both from the north (Skamdalen and Nihkejavri) and the south (Norddalen and Lossivatnet). The southern approach to the col is more direct, but involves more awkward terrain than the northern alternative. Any difficulties on the southern approach to the col are however significantly less than those faced on the route higher up, between the col and Huinarcohkka's south-east ridge. Although the southern approach provides a view of the hanging glacier on Huinarcohkka, it seems to me that, on balance, the northern route via Nihkejavri is preferable on aesthetic grounds. The walk along the side of Nihkejavri is truly delightful, and the view of the hidden cliffs on the north-east face of Nihkevarri is spectacular. But whatever route is chosen, Huinarcohkka is a challenging and rewarding mountain.

My trip in July 2003 to the mountains of this part of Nordland also provided various other ascents, and brief notes are available here.

Alan Law

04 August 2003

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