Climbing at Death’s head mountain

Problem number one with Tomás is procrastination. My dad’s nickname from me is mañana, Spanish for tomorrow, because that’s when I do things. I start a lot of projects and they all reach around 70% completion before being put on the long finger. Cursory self-psychoanalysis says that I hate to complete tasks as it ends any chance of working on them, and I prefer to eternally contemplate and meddle with a partially complete project that has the potential to be perfect, rather than complete a project and make permanent its flaws.
For example my MYOG bivy-bag has been used in rain and shine, snow and ice, igloos and mountains, but is still not finished, the head-end is still open, ending with long excesses of fabric (I’ve started to dual-use it as a pack-liner as shown above so I can leave the Klättermusen Mjölner liner at home, another hundred grammes saved). This procrastination is also why I was typing posts about ski tours and snow-tracks with fingers that were red-raw from a weeks rock climbing in boiling Swedish summer weather. The trips were long over but my lazy ass kept putting off the write-ups. Help is at hand though, and the first few spring-trips are being written up.
I and some friends headed out to the Gritstone cliffs near Dödskalleberget (Death’s head mountain). We decided to camp in the area and try and get the first outdoor climbing of the year on. It was partially driven by my recent purchase of the prestigious Stockholmförare climbing book. This ancient and legendary climbing bible has been sold-out for time immemorial, those lucky enough to have dog-eared, yellowed copies would treasure and guard them carefully, lending them selectively among their closest inner circles of friends. Recently it was updated and reprinted so I picked up a copy. It was an eye-opener to me about just how many beautiful climbing spots there are within a half-hours drive from Stockholm city centre. It has all the best good outdoor bolted and trad routes laid out, directions to and from the cliffs, as well as lots of information about camping possibilities or potential friction between the climbers and local property owners. Dödskalleberget is highly recommended in the book, along with the neighbouring cliff, Gritstone.
Dödskalleberget lies a little south of Stockholm city, in Tyresö. Two months ago I was skiing over the frozen sea in the Tyresö archipelago, checking out old cold war harbours made for American destroyers. Now I was getting fried by the sun and watching heat waves boil through the air above the cliff face.
The problem with Dödskalleberget and the Gritstone cliffs is access, both have a lot of summer-house owners in the area that are sick of climbers wandering around their local forests. Camping was heavily regulated and a small strip of beach was marked for tent use.
Personally I dislike these prepared camping spots, it feels so forced and rigid to set up camp in this posted off area. The main attraction of hiking for me is to have that feeling of independence, to know that I can decide when and where I sit down and set up my little tent. But when there seems to be so much animosity between the home-owners and the climbers, there is no option but to suck it up and stay in the little tent-prison. Plus it had a fantastic fireplace right beside a sandy beach, so what more could we have wanted?
The Griststone cliff had a route we wanted to try, but it turned out to be a bitch to find. We spent hours trying to match a bolted cliff-face to the route-map in the book, before realising we were nowhere near the right spot.
The right cliff found, I headed up to the top with Mikey and set up an anchor around a decidedly frail looking tree. The first tree I picked was even more pathetic, and Mikey asked me ‘Do you really want to trust your life to that tree?’. No, not when the question was phrased like that I didn’t.
I approached climbing as I did skiing, by trying to get as advice when possible from people that know how, but also turning to and getting a few books to flick through. One of these, Freedom of the Hills, is a stunningly in-depth encyclopaedia of climbing knowledge and is where all the techniques I have of setting up anchors came from.
This was just two slings, around the tree, and a locking steel carabiner to put the rope through. I got more advanced on a different route and tried two slings around a tree and one looped over a rock spur, but got a lot of grief from my climbing partner Jenny because the rock spur part looked ‘very creative’. On this trip I had just one tree as an anchor and one locking carabiner, but have since been told it’s always best with two trees and two opposite-facing locking carabiners. My problem is a lack of long slings, only one tree was close enough to the cliff edge to be useable as an anchor. Next time I will have a few 4 metre slings with me. And more carabiners, it seems the number of carabiners you need is N+1, where N equals the number of carabiners you have.
There’s a big difference between reading up about anchors and double-fisherman’s and Prusiks and Bachmann’s and all that shit, and actually trusting your life to it all. I fuck things up a lot, so when death is on the line I force myself to pedantically check everything three or four times, but still, when I finally lean back over the edge of a cliff I do tend to get a little nervous about how little climbing experience I possess. Having said all that, there are few thrills in life as electrifying as that first rappel down a cliff off your own anchor.
We’d wasted a lot of time finding the place, so only got a few climbs in before it got dark. Nothing to be sad about though, the setting sun was still powerful enough to warm us, the cliff-face felt alive with the stored heat of the day, and the budding trees and twittering birds and smells of Spring on the air were enough to exhilarate us all, setting us smiling at each other like we couldn’t quite believe life was being so generous to us. I hate Spring because the pollen rapes my nose, but at times like this I can see its attractions.
I belayed with a Petzl gri-gri 2 (185 g). We previously had just an ATC (Petzl verso, 57 g), but at an outdoor fair in Stockholm I picked up the gri-gri at a bargain price to check it out. I heard a good horror story from a friend on why he changed from an ATC to an automatic belay device. He was belaying a heavier partner, who was lead climbing. The first bolt was kind of low, and the climber took a long fall, his fall pulled the belayer straight into the wall (instead of up off his feet if the first bolt had been higher), and the belayer took his hands off the rope instinctively to protect his face. The climber started to drop like a stone to the ground, but the belayer managed to grab the rope and slow the fall enough that the climber wasn’t hurt. The belayers palms were burnt to shit though. Falling rocks or a bee attack, dust in your eyes, itchy balls, ennui, receiving a text message, or remembering a funny joke from the night before, all of these things can cause you to involuntarily let go of the rope and endanger your climbing partners life. And hence the gri-gri.
It felt more finicky to lead climb with though, hard to feed rope through rapidly when clipping, although it looks so easy when others do it. Nothing a little practice won’t cure.
As the dusk came on and stars began to appear in the night sky, I climbed up one last time and did a quick deconstruction of the anchor, an exhilarating abseil down in the dark and a tired, satisfied walk back to the tents.
Later that night we had a beautiful sunset and some fantastic Chili sin Carne, made in the loveable Trangia 4.5 litre ‘Billy‘. It’s obviously a ridiculous piece of equipment for one or two-man trips, but once you start having four or more, nothing is easier or more fun than a big group-made stew or chili in one of these cavernous pots.
Dödskalleberget was too big to scale on this trip, with only novice climbers and a single 50 m rope to play with, but it’s carefully noted down in the yearly planner as an attractive place to return to and conquer at a later date. Mañana mañana!

10 thoughts on “Climbing at Death’s head mountain

  • May 9, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Looks a great spot. We should sort a date for me to come over and impose on your hospitality for a weekend, and I'll bring extra gear and ropes!

  • May 10, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Sounds like a plan Toby, send me over some potential dates and we can sort something out?

  • May 14, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Great trip report Tomas, you're writing is full of wit and a joy to read as usual.

  • May 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks Joe!

    And to Steffen, who's comment got deleted for some reason in the recent Blogger shitstorm. I like the mantis fine. Really stiff for toeing on holds, but less good for smearing, I think the rubber might be a little harder than most? I also think they are comfortable and generally leave them on all day rather than taking them off for belaying like some people do. I did a few years of muay thai though so I am not sure my feet have many surviving nerve ends.

    How the hell did you spot them?!

  • May 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Oh. Cool, you did see it. I thought it might have been you who got rid of it.

    I'm a rookie climber and don't know about the hardness of the rubber either. But it's supposedly called "FriXion RS". I think many others use Vibram?

    I'm looking into getting a pair of climbing shoes and this model in particular. That's why i asked. Until now I've borrowed an old spare pair of my climbing partner – Rock Pillars Pearl IIRC. I wonder if you/one would progress out of a shoe like the Mantis too fast?

    It's funny that you wonder how i spotted them. Try looking out of your window, red building a cross the stree, third floor. Yes that's me with the Nikon 80-400mm VR. Well… I saw them in this post of yours:

  • May 16, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Not sure about progressing out of them too fast, I don't think I've progressed enough to see that. I only started climbing late last year, and have progressed from whatever I started on to my current level, which is barely making a 6c+ top roped, and onsighting a 6b.

    Personally I dig their comfort, I don't like the idea of torturing my feet in some super aggressive shoes, I'm worried I might start to dread the actual climb if I'm going to Pavlovian-condition myself with Chinese foot binding torture.

  • July 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences on this blog!
    Please get further advice on setting solid top anchors, belay anchors etc. Do not rely on a single anchor nor on a single piece of equipment because rock, trees, and equipment do fail regularly, believe me. Use double or preferably triple connection points., for instance with a cordelette. Buying extra meters of slings, static rope and other protection equipment is a cheap insurance to stay alive. Climb safe, have fun, and live long!

  • July 28, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for the advice Anonymous!

    I am looking at this post and cringing, it's only a few months old, but these days I have 5 metres of webbing and a 240 cm cordelette for rigging up anchors. Hopefully I'm a lot safer now than I was then, and thankfully I made it through the learning phase without any falls!


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