Then and Now, Courtesy of the Ice Age
“Finnish bouldering is as good as anywhere, and there is a lot of it”, one keen climber summed up in the Finnish climbing documentary Cold Stone. It is easy to second that. You’ll notice granite blocks dotting the forest floor in most forests you go to. And with forests covering ¾ of Finland’s land area, there really are plenty of forests to go to.
The blocks are there for boulderers to enjoy, courtesy of Ice Ages. At several points in the Earth’s history, advancing ice sheets have chopped off chunks of Finnish bedrock and carried these blocks to new areas. After tens of thousands of years of scrubbing the bedrock, the ice melted and retreated, dropping granite blocks in improbable-looking formations, far away from their origin.
Now, with the forest growing on and around the blocks, their mossy camouflage mitigates the out of place impression. The moss also means that discovering, cleaning and maintaining the boulderable parts takes time and effort – and consultation with landowners about whether and how vegetation can be removed from potential new lines.
Luckily for present-day boulderers, much development work has already been carried out. As a result, there are now plenty of topos and beta videos available on the online database 27crags.com. For the history-thirsty, the Cold Stone–movie provides glimpses of the stories behind those topos. It recounts, for instance, how the boulders at Taivaskallio area in Helsinki began as practice routes for the very first Finnish rock climbers in the 1950s. It also tells how the development of Vaasa’s now-popular routes kick-started a systematic search for boulderable areas based on topographical maps.
Vaasa – A Festival’s worth of problems
On a sunny day at Vaasa’s Hautuumaa area, it is easy to understand what caught the eye of the area’s early developers. Just a short walk away from the decently-sized free car park, the luscious green forest contains dozens of boulderable rocks, mostly within close proximity to one another.
Some of the blocks are easy to find, like “Eurohamsteri” (you guessed it, that’s literally “Euro-hamster”), which stands basically right next to a road, but still manages to hide behind trees and bushes. But deeper into the forest, it gets trickier to locate boulders of interest, partly because the paths are narrow and disappear under ferns and bushes, and partly because it’s hard to distinguish so many granite blocks from one another. The interactive maps of 27crags.com help the navigation considerably, but it is not unheard of that even experienced Vaasa-goers get a tad lost searching for their projects.
Luckily Hautumaa area is somewhat familiar to many Finnish boulderers, because that is where many of us migrate for one spring weekend for the annual Boulderfest. Thanks to this free and popular event, there are Hautuumaa-experienced boulderers living far away from the western coast city of Vaasa. That means that even if you recruit your bouldering buddies at, say, Helsinki – that is, 400 km away from the city of Vaasa – you are likely to spend less time navigating and more time enjoying good beta than you would without a personal Vaasa-expert.
What is there to top, then? Judging by the number of ascents ticked on 27crags.com, the most popular sector by far is Überhänk. The name route of the sector is the star-rated Überhänk (7B), which, true to its name, starts with a smooth, steep overhang. The beginning of the route is literally a dark place, for there is not much room for sunlight in the cave-like start. To top, combine powerful overhang moves with a delicate sequence at the top. Bring a good spotter too, to avoid hitting the nasty, sharp rock standing right under the second half of the route.
Another well-liked Vaasa problem is the name route of Korkeajännitys sector. The name Korkeajännitys (7A+) is an untranslatable word play referring to the height of the rock and the fear factor that comes with it. The route is not just widely considered beautiful, it is also a prime example of successful consensus grading, with just one dissenting voice among 56 grade votes on 27crags.com – if you climb 7A+, this is for you. There are a bunch of other intimidating problems on Korkeajännitys, such as the satisfyingly scary slab Kontula (6A+) and Himmel (6C+), the difficulty of which can take even a high-level climber by surprise.
Vaasa also hosts a couple of explore-worthy circuits, which is still a rarity in Finnish outdoor bouldering. The circuits have been subtly marked on the surface of the relevant stones, so you can focus on climbing rather than finding the routes. On the other hand, when your ego is not desperately in need of a boost from sending something, it can be quite lovely to just lose your way in this green and grey bouldering forest.
Sisu is a Finnish concept that occupies an important place in accounts of Finland’s history, culture and in (some) Finns’ self-concept. It doesn’t have a simple translation, but it denotes, roughly, extreme determination and stamina in the face of a challenging project. It also connotes an attitude of working for something, not because of the rewards and recognition that follow from it, but because dedication to the work is itself valuable.
The centrality of sisu in bouldering may be part of the reason why the sport is becoming increasingly popular in Finland. (That must also be why the most famous Finnish bouldering competition is called Sisu Masters, and why Hukkataival has a project called Sisu). Whatever the reasons, bouldering is the most popular form of climbing in Finland, although all forms are continually attracting new enthusiasts. In his recent book, Saku Korosuo writes that climbing is likely one of the fastest growing sports in Finland and that currently there are around 50 000 people pursuing some form of climbing. There are a number of commercial indoors bouldering halls serving these people all around the country, and at least six excellent walls are located in the capital area.