Tapio Alhonsuo tells how Hans Christian Doseth has influenced his climbing.
I made my first climbing trip to Norway over a decade ago.
Doseth’s routes had played a big part in my slow progress of learning the dark art of crack climbing, and I celebrated every time when I was successful with his routes.
It was an overwhelming experience for a young and hungry climber, who came from a land which foreigners described as “flatland”. As any tourist coming there for the first time, I was astounded by the combination of mountains and fjords, raw nature and seemingly never-ending possibilities for trad climbing. When I woke up from my tent on the first morning, I felt like my understanding of climbing had already expanded overnight by 1000%. There was just so much of everything: cracks, cliffs, mountains, and more was to be found in every direction I looked upon. I was somewhere that seemed like the exact opposite of where I was coming from.
During the following years, I guess I fell a bit like in love with the climbing in Norway. The bad weather and limited information on climbing just made it taste better: I wanted my crush to have some edge.
I spent the better part of my holidays gradually learning to climb these cracks, that I adored, and learnt which kind of lines were my thing. I climbed the classics I was capable for, and discovered lines that I could dream of climbing someday.
As a slow learner, there was a lot to dream of. But while browsing through the guidebooks and making notes of lines I’d like to try, I noticed they shared something in common. Most of them were first ascended by the same guy.
One of the Doseth´s clasics
“You wanna come up here and try this?”, the voice above me asked.
“Yeah, sure, I guess it’s me who wanted here in the first place”, I replied, feeling my fingertips getting sweaty at the same second.
We had spent most of the morning bushwhacking through something that felt like a jungle on a 60-degree slope, never knowing for sure we were headed in the right direction because of very limited visibility in the dense bushes. I felt I had ants under my sweaty t-shirt, ants in my trousers, and all different kind of Norwegian flora inside my shoes.
It was all part of a classic I wanted to experience. Vågarisset, a 45 meter offwidth, loomed high above the popular bouldering and cragging venue that is called Paradiset, something that may sound a bit of an exaggeration but is not. Although Vågarisset is easy to spot from down below, its approach is far from easy. After hours of bushwhacking, my partner Riku Lavia was now confronted with the intro pitch, a mildly graded handcrack that proved that none of Hans Christian Doseth’s routes were “a walk in the park.”
What was it with that guy? He seemed to have bagged a number of beautiful and hard first ascents in Norway and Sweden before he was even 22 years old. All of his routes, that I had had the opportunity to try, were of the highest quality of climbing I knew. And his lines certainly had an edge, as if all of them hided some kind of secret that wouldn’t unveil itself until you were fully committed with the climb.
We changed the lead, and half an hour later I anchored myself one pitch higher, just below the wild and wide offwidth that we were after. As I belayed Riku, I heard him talking with himself, now with the safety of the top-rope: “This pitch is good! Like surprisingly good, considering it’s the approach pitch!“
“Yeah, I know, it has Doseth’s name all over it!”,
I replied, and continued by saying that in my book it meant quality-guarantee. During the past years, it was something I had learned the hard way: his lines were never illogical, or never anything other than full-on high quality crack climbing. They always went up the most beautiful features and cracks, and had never disappointed me. Although successes were rare, I had returned to campground always with a big smile on my face.
Doseth’s ascents were easy to find from the guidebooks, but any deeper information about this particular climber was harder to find in English. I knew he was born in 1958 in Romsdal, Norway, and that he was killed together with his climbing partner Finn Dæhli, during an expedition with Stein P. Aasheim and Dag Kolsrud on the Great Trango Tower (6286 m) in Karakoram. Together they established the Norwegian Buttress, the first route to scale the massive east face of the mountain.
Before turning 23 years old, Doseth had already done several first ascents on the Trollveggen, Romsdal’s north facing big wall, and introduced new level of difficulty in climbing both in Norway and Sweden. During the early 1980s he visited the northern end of Norway and established lines that later on would keep me inspired for years.
It’s a bit difficult to imagine somebody solely by climbing routes that had apparently attracted that person, but one thing I was sure about was that he had an eye for beauty. Doseth’s routes had played a big part in my slow progress of learning the dark art of crack climbing, and I celebrated every time when I was successful with his routes.
As Riku reached me at the belay, we took a moment to eye the widening monster above us.
“Shit, looks scary!”, I said, now even more aware of my limitations as an off-width climber. My pre-climb Google search hadn’t had the calming effect on my nerves that I had hoped for, with alarming descriptions surfacing such as “Norway’s most beautiful sandbag”, and grade approximations ranging from 6+ to 7+.
Although I had one of Doseth’s 7+ under my belt, the Thanatos, I was now feeling pretty sure that the handjamming I had experienced then had nothing in common with the fight I was about to enter.
I hung my hope on modern technology and clipped camalots worth of hundreds of euros to my harness.
“If things get spicy, I’ll just shuffle and climb basically on a top-rope, right?”
I said, knowing Riku would say yes just to calm me.
“Yes”, he said, and I started to climb and felt a bit relaxed after all the pre-climb anxiety. The crack didn’t get much bigger than a number four C4, and because of the mellow angle I could imagine myself mastering the skills necessary for this width. After a while of grunting and fist jamming, I reached a very old bolt, clipped it with a screamer and continued feeling positively surprised. “Looking good! Go get it!”, I could hear Riku cheering, and I thought for a second that maybe, after all, maybe it would be possible that I am really sending this much appraised piece of rock.
I reached a chockstone, slung it with a fat nylon sling, and jammed myself on top of it for a little break. I assumed that the chockstone had been the last of piece of protection when Doseth had climbed this, and wondered in astonishment the guts of that man.
See, I knew that the ledge was there waiting, 15 meters or something above me, and I knew it could be climbed, and I had a #5 Camalot now in front of my face. But Doseth, 36 years ago in this very same spot, he had stepped on to the unknown, probably very well aware of the fact that he would not get any protection in because of the width. I felt small.
And I felt even smaller when I tried to continue. After trying every trick I knew to make upward progress on the steepening crack, I could hear myself thinking: “Shit, you’ll have to layback”. It was the only thing left in my bag of tricks, and I surely didn’t want to res
ort to it. It would mean the Camalot wouldn’t go up with me, and there was no way I could shuffle it inside the parallel-leveled crack.
Ten minutes later I was hanging on the rope, which now had a mild scratch on its sheath. I guess my commitment wasn’t the same kind of commitment that the crack had witnessed decades ago. To be honest, my commitment had meant that I had wished my foot to slip better sooner than later, thus making the fall more comfortable. How the hell had he climbed this thing with nothing except the chockstone? The run-out would have been massive.
After leap-frogging my way to the top of the pitch, I marveled on Doseth’s talent. After all, I guess it was the reason I loved his routes. Trying to climb them offered me a view into true skill. I imagined him as a true rock climber, somebody whose ability didn’t come from endless physical capabilities but out of skill to maneuver the rock with least effort. Something that I called beauty when I saw it in somebody else’s climbing.
Returning to the campground, I felt satisfied. I had experienced this multiple times before, usually after a first encounter with Doseth’s route. I knew the crack would stay there, and I knew I would return.
In the meantime, I just had to get better at climbing.