Suliskongen (1,907 m), Nordland, Norway
The Sulitjelma area of Nordland is a mountainous region that contains Norway's highest mountain north of the Arctic Circle, Suliskongen (1,907 m). Mountains lie on both sides of the border with Sweden, but as is often the case the best country lies on the Norwegian side. There are many glaciers in the area, and these seem to be very active by most Norwegian standards, with impressive hanging glaciers and ice-falls in places. There is also the fourth largest ice-cap in Norway, known as Blåmannisen. There are many snow-beds down to 800 m, and the glaciers go as low as 1,000 m. The high mountains and the snow and ice seem to generate a lot of precipitation, and the area is known for bad weather
There are certain unprovisioned huts on the Norwegian side of the border, and also huts on the Swedish side, at some of which food can be bought. There is a marked trail between Sweden and Sulitjelma that seems to be popular amongst non-Scandinavians. I used part of this route for access to Suliskongen and nearby mountains, and I had the impression that some of the people on the route, accustomed to the support and trail-marking on the Swedish side, had little mountain experience. The exit through Norway involves an easy pass at 1,040 m, but the pass is very exposed to winds from the west, and is a notorious place in winter conditions.
Norwegian sources indicate that Suliskongen is a popular mountain for ski-ascents at the end of the winter season. The customary routes are over the glaciers, which are relatively safe at that time of year if travelling on ski. I was unable to find any reports on summer ascents. However, my NGO map suggested that there could be an option away from the glaciers going up a long ridge from the north to the north west summit (1,781 m), with a drop eastwards down to a saddle at 1,570 m, before the final ascent to the main summit at 1,907 m. The map could not provide certainty about the feasibility of the route, and there were two places in particular where the route was in doubt—first of all getting on to the north ridge at ca 1,000 m, and secondly descending the nose from the north west summit to the saddle. Allowing for re-ascent, the day would involve 1,500 m ascent, and a return distance of 28 km from the nearest hut. The best option would be to reduce the return travel by at least 10 km by camping nearer the mountain.
[The NW summit (1,781 m) of Suliskongen is located at latitude 67º 09.233' N; longitude 16º 21.351' E. The main summit (1,907 m) is located at latitude 67º 08.804' N; longitude 16º 22.636' E. The distance between the two summits is about 1.25 km.]
In September 2002 I paid my first trip to the Sulitjelma area. On 2 September, when I arrived in Bodø 80 km to the west, a vigorous storm was in evidence, and many flights and boats were cancelled.
When I reached the hut providing best access for my proposed route, the weather was fairly poor, which was what one expected given the area's reputation. I managed to climb some lesser mountains in fog and rain, but conditions did not encourage placing a camp nearer Suliskongen. Indeed, the practicability of any attempt was in doubt as there was a river to cross en route, and various people had encountered difficulties wading the river. This was a glacier river, but most of the water coming down in September was the result of rainfall.
On Sunday 8 September 2002, after some dismal weather during the preceding days, the weather did not look too good first thing in the morning. However it improved rapidly within an hour or two, and I was away at 9.30 am. When I reached the river it had gone down a bit and crossing it was not difficult. The weather was by now looking promising, but unfortunately the higher summits were shrouded with cloud, and this cloud lasted all day.
From the distance the proposed route on to the north ridge looked discouraging, but on close inspection there was a reasonable way through the most awkward section. After that it was a matter of plodding up at a slanting angle on loose rock until the ridge was reached. The ridge itself was slow but easy until the last 50 m before the NW summit, at which point scrambling was required. By that stage I was in the cloud. I had no view across to the main summit, and could see nothing of the 210 m drop down to the intervening saddle. The freezing level was at about 1,500 m, and there was a small amount of new snow higher up. Although I had kept up a good pace all day, it was already 3.30 pm. Even if the invisible descent leading to the saddle before the main top were feasible, going to the main summit would probably add at least two hours to what would in any case be a long day. The presence of fog on the critical unknown descent to the saddle, and the imprudence of attempting to wade the glacier river after dark on the return journey, led to the conclusion that it would be wise not to push one's luck in proceeding any further. In the event, I had been out for 10¾ hours by the time I returned to the hut.
I concluded that an attempt on the summit would best be made a bit earlier in the season, when there is more daylight, and a suitably placed camp would help considerably.
I returned to the Suliskongen area in August 2003, and was fortunate to enjoy much better weather. The conditions were good for camping and I established a camp near the glacier river flowing into Sorjosjavri. I spent a total of six nights at that camp. There was hill-fog on the mountains for much of the time I was there, but on the afternoon after my arrival the cloud cleared and I climbed a nearby hill (Svarthammaren, 1,260 m) which provided a partial view of the ridge dropping to the saddle between the north west summit and the main summit. What I could see provided some encouragement that my route was feasible. The following day, Tuesday 19 August 2003, it was dry and fine but there were cloud caps on the higher tops, and indications that there were strong winds higher up. As the barometric pressure was falling I decided that it was best to try the proposed route, on the basis that the weather was likely to worsen, but that conditions would probably remain acceptable for the rest of the day.
I repeated my route of the previous year to the north west summit, and ran into hill-fog at 1,600 m, but this time there was no new snow. I set off down the east ridge to the intervening saddle, and it soon became obvious that this ridge was going to be easy. At the bottom I had to cross about 200 m of glacier on the saddle, but it was a dry glacier without crevasses, so there was no danger. Then I ascended the 340 m to the main summit. The northern slope was wide and open and, although it was steep near the top, one could take more or less any line. There was a surprising amount of moss on the rock, but the ascent was easy. Because of the fog there was no view anywhere above 1,600 m, and one had to contend with a blustery wind. I spent five minutes at the summit, and returned by the route I had taken on the ascent. I was caught by a shower on the re-ascent to the north west summit, and was chased off the mountain by a number of light showers. The time for the return journey between camp and the summit was just under eight hours. It was good to have found that the route was feasible, indeed straightforward. The only regret was the absence of any views.
Later in the week Suliskongen spent most of the time hiding in the cloud, but appeared unpredictably from time to time. During the remaining time available to me I had a chance to explore the old glacier route from Sorjosjavri to Sulitjelma, and to climb Kokedaltinden (1,470 m). This last mountain was an excellent viewpoint, providing views of all the larger mountains in the Suliskongen massif.
Readers who are interested in the Suliskongen area might care to visit Vincent Lowe's web-site. He visited the area a few years ago, and his site has some very interesting photographs taken in the area.
08 November 2003