04 July 2011

Finland Bouldering

Finland is not a place that would normally be thought of as a bouldering destination. With rolling to completely flat country side, deep mossy forests, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 188,000 lakes it is a challenge to imagine much there for the boulderer. It is even harder to imagine good bouldering when compared to other European destinations that actually have mountains to shed rock. Despite established bouldering areas that have existed for many years the place was largely unknown until one Nalle Hukkataival, a Fin, started climbing hard and the global community noticed. Images of single erratic blocs with beautiful hard lines started showing. At least for a few of us it became a destination to visit one day.
The Finnish country side. Boulders are out there somewhere.
For me it was a life list destination. My mothers side of the Family all still live in Finland. It is her first language. As a descendant of that lineage I thought it a good trip, one to touch my roots, and some Soumi stone.
A nearly three week visit to southern Finland has just been completed with my family. For the first two weeks it rained every day, but I did manage to visit, for a full day, one of Finland's best bouldering areas Mynämäki. It is located in southwest Finland in the Turku area. Later in the trip I was able to visit  three other areas, two in the Helsinki area and one close to Hyvinkää, just north of Helsinki. There is good information on climbing in Finland, though a bit dated in some cases, on Slouppi.
A quick note on training for this trip: Knowing my time would be very limited  for bouldering I trained for this trip differently than any other. For the the three weeks prior to the trip I trained my onsight/flash ability which is generally poor. Going to the Source Gym I would pick out problems while sitting on the mats. Not feeling holds, but just imagining things anywhere from a few moves to 70 moves, then getting on and trying as hard as possible. The theory was to be able to do things quickly, while maybe not as hard as possible, as hard as I could in a few tries. The week before departure I bouldered every day in the gym, beating my body to a new level of sore. The recovery would carry me to a peak right when my Finland schedule had me bouldering. It all worked really well and I was able to onsight or flash many problems up to 7c. I nearly sent an 8a at the end of a 6 hour session. Waiting all day for it to dry, with sore fingers, and a few damp holds, I finally gave it few goes using the training to it's fullest. All the moves went fast, another day would have been all that was needed. 
I also only carried a single small Metolius Sketch Pad. Many of the best problems had less than good landing and I was unable to try them because of the very limited landing. However, the pad is very light and made travel by train or auto, which happened every few days, very easy. The specific training also helped me be better set for the many different body positions and falling from unique moves, making the single small pad o.k. in most cases.
Early on in the trip we visited family living in the Turku area. Turku is a larger city (for Finland) on the southwestern coast and is a very old city. It is built on granite, from local granite, and is surrounded by granite. When you drive to the area you can tell right away that the deep mossy forests hide something. Trolls no doubt, but many boulders too. Completely surprised by the amount of rock I hoped for a break in the rain. The area contains around 350 problems and many projects according to the 2006 topo. I imagine the number is larger now and many of the projects are now established lines. Rock quality is good to great, with a bit of aggressiveness and bite to keep your tips hard. Boulders are erratics from the ice age and some are gigantic! There are no mountains at all, hills are very minor in the range of a few meters to maybe tens of meters, but the boulders sit there with no good suggestion of where they were born. Some the size of a barn can't be seen only meters from the road. The forest is thick and dark and full of mystery. It is some of the best bouldering I've seen in a long time both for quality, quantity, and of course location.  
Huge boulders sitting in the dark forest characterize Mynämäki bouldering. (Kivi 1 in Area 71 A of  Mynämäki)

Another big one. This one, Kivi 1 in Area 71 C.
There are many different sectors in the Mynämäki boulder fields, each with several bouldering areas inside each sector. Choosing sector (Area 71) because of it's proximity to Turku (other areas are farther down the road) and seemingly good variety of problems, we were not disappointed. In a pleasant surprise of timing we ended up with a seven hour session rather than the planned few hours. I climbed until my fingers were raw and my body too tired to finish a final 7a. One of the few times failing on a 7a was a good feeling!
One of the classics of the trip. Pienokaiseni 7b on Kivi 1, Area 71 C. The project to the left of this line, hidden in the shadow of the bulge is one of the best lines I've seen anywhere. It felt like 8a+/8b.
Marla climbing a nice little line she had to do, based on the similar name, Marja 5+, Area 71 B.
Another classic, Millyways 8a, Area 71 A.
Another view of Millyways 8a. I quickly figured the moves to a distinct crux move. The line works its way up from where I'm holding on, but for several goes I attempted to continue right through the entire steep portion of the wall. Only after exhausting myself did I figure out that the 8a goes up, not right at this point. Did the final moves, but could never get the fire lit to do them all together. The right version seamed to be 8b.
Marla picking forest strawberries along the farm road to Area 71. Finland is a country full of delicious berries. Strawberries and a few forest blueberries were our reward. Currents, cloud berries, and the prime of the massive blueberry crop come later in the summer. 
The reward of a long day

Midway through the trip I had a half day chance to visit this area. A "small cousin" of mine, Sakari, who is an avid orienteering expert knew the area and drove me out for a session. It turned out to be only five minutes from his house. This is a nice little bouldering are made of very well textured diorite. Of all the days in Finland this was the hottest and luckily it was the best choice for a hot day. The rock has an amazing texture! Even with sweaty tips and soft shoes holds felt secure. This could be an amazing place for slopers when the weather is cold. Some of the routes and roped projects looked really good! It is literally a road side area.
Sakari took me out for the day and also showed me the local crag Jaanankallio. It is a place I would like to visit again and with a rope too.
Sakari, my guide for the day at Piilolampi.
Hiekkakallio, the closest wall to the road at Piilolampi. This wall was packed with very high quality 6a+ to 7a+ problems. Not understanding the topo all that well I ended up doing a combination problem of a 7a and 6c that felt about 7b to me.
Osavaltiot had a number of good problems on amazingly textured rock. Urrpo! 7a was one of the best slabs I've done.
Hankki is a wall that is listed as projects from 7+ to 8+. One of the few times I wished I would have lugged a huge pad around was when Sakari and I stood under this wall.

A small island on the west edge of Helsinki that has a single boulder! With the guiding help of my mother's cousin Isto we visited this sea side boulder on my last day. It is said to have around 100 problems on, variations of course, but also some classic original lines. The rock quality is fantastic and the many problems are all high quality. One of the best moderate problems in Finland (in my opinion) is here, though it has a bad landing, and the location is amazing. There is a unique feeling while chalking up on the edge of the Finnish archipelago, as sail boats drift by and a cool sea breeze dries the finger tips. Really, a recommended location and being directly off a main highway it could theoretically be visited in a three hour session, say during a layover at the Helsinki airport.
Isto and myself standing by the Koivusaari boulder with the sea in the background. 
Another view of the Koivusaari boulder. Peppu sit start 7c is the problem in the center of the bulge and the hardest flash of my trip.
 The temperatures were absolutely perfect on the morning we visited this boulder. Knowing it was my final day in Finland and having ideal conditions I went to work Flashing everything I could. I managed to flash several 7a, 7a+, 7b, and a 7c in the hour and a half session.
Helsinki area is actually made up of three cities connected. Vantaa to the east, Helsinki in the middle, and Espoo on the eastern edge. My mother's cousin Isto lives in Espoo, so a visit to the local area was of course needed. Bemböle is small area of a few boulders and crags located in the forest between houses of a beautiful old neighborhood. Again, the rock quality was great and one of the single best problems of the trip was done as the final problem of my trip. Unfortunately, a portion of one the better walls was back filled with several meters of fill dirt. Somewhere around 8 problems were buried. The right side remains still, and is a good place to climb well featured and tall problems.
Napero Plus 6a, one of the best 6a problems ever!
My family timed the trip so that we could celebrate Juhannus (Midsummer festival) in the Finnish tradition. We loaded up all that could fit in two cars and drove out to the eastern lake country of Finland where the family have a few summer cottages. It is said that the majority of Finnish cities and towns and Helsinki empty into the country side at this time. It was obvious as we pulled into line with thousands of autos heading north out of the city. Maybe a few cars went south on the other side of the road. The lake was beautiful and completely peaceful. We spent three days gorging ourselves on wonderful foods like herring, salmon, potatoes with dill, breads, sausages, home picked and made current juice, Finnish Karhu beer and coffee. We rowed and sailed boats, kids fished, we took sauna and swam, and had the necessary bonfire on Juhannus eve. I also found some unclimbed boulders in the forest, but the rain kept them too damp. I did not get a first ascent in Finland. It was my only trip, ever, where I did not put up a new line. Obviously I will be going back to Soumi.
Getting our Juhannus fire stoked while the relatives cook traditional Finnish sausage. It is 10pm in this picture and full day light!
Juhannus bonfire across the lake. This picture was taken at 1am with the sun still showing color in the sky.


  1. Davin, that looks like a truly fantastic trip. I'm jealous - and it seems when I finally do another trip to boulder in Sweden again I'll have to include Finland for more than the one day 'booze cruise.' (Similar story - Mom is from Sweden.) Like so many hoped-for trips the itinerary keeps expanding all the time!

    Cheers -

  2. Chris, a Finland stop over would be well worth it.