Climbing is a mental game. You go practice at the gym and on boulders, and then take it to the cliff. Havukallio, close to Lahti is such a cliff. Top rope is a walk in the park compared to leading a sport or trad route. All goes well - until you fall.
It’s Friday night, ten past ten, and the sun is hiding behind clouds, but the ground, and more importantly, the rocks, are dry. Sami and I walk the narrow path to the cliff, between it and the field a ten meter wide strip of forest. We’re both the first time here, and both are immediately enchanted by the beauty of the place. Great routes catch our attention, and before we even pitch the shelters we take a look at the topo printouts and start identifying routes.
After we have our shelters up - I took the Hyperlite Mountain Gear UltaMid along to have plenty of covered space - we climbed up the cliff, and enjoyed the view. Rapeseed fields glow yellow in the dusk, while the birds sing around us, though the noise from the close by road disturbs this otherwise peaceful place. We identify anchors, try to guess to which routes they belong, and scramble the other path down.
It’s 23.30 as a group of eight pass us, inquiring in English about good spaces to pitch their tents. I show them a corner, and talk a bit more with Sami before I head back to the Mid with the intention to go sleeping. “Please come and join us at the fire” a woman invites me. I could lie awake under my quilt, or socialise. I pick the latter, and sit around the fire with the, as I find out, Estonian climbers who came for a climbing trip to Finland. We talk climbing, life, Estonia, Finland, Germany, and it’s past 2 when I finally climb in my bivy. A light shower around 4 wakes me up, but after I closed the door I go back to sleep and shall not wake up before 9 the next morning.
Sami and me make breakfast, and quickly settled on a route to warm up on this morning: Havuhormi, a 4+ Trad route seemed an easy enough route to start with. And so Sami leads it up, squeezes himself up through the crack and comes down again. I climb till the crack, collecting the gear, and then try to squeeze myself up. But it doesn’t work, I’m facing the wrong side, and can’t turn. So I get down again, belay Sami once more so he can collect the final pieces of gear, and then we move on.
Rakkauden Atollit is a 4 Trad Route, and again Sami leads and comes down. I climb it on top rope, the final move definitely is the crux, but it’s a fairly simple climb. I strap on my cams and nuts and set off. I set a couple of cams, and Sami laughs - “You forgot to place that one nut!”. Ah right. Well, gotta do with this cam now! I place a final nut and quickdraw before the crux and then top out. Well, that wasn’t too difficult! Full of adrenaline I come down - my first Trad Route!
The rest of our group have arrived by now, and more climbing commences. Everyone enjoys the superb climbing, be it sport, trad or top rope - good times are had. In the late afternoon a quick visit to the village of Hollola is made, to pick up water and a couple of beers - that’s definitely the cliffs short coming: No water source nearby. And on sunny 23°C days water is needed, plenty of it. After hydration is secured we return for more climbing, Kesän lapsi, Cure & Vanha vihtahousu are done, I try my luck on Nössö but can’t get more than a few meters of the ground. So it’s time to call it a day - over 10 hours surely are a good result for a day of climbing.
We barbecue, share food, drinks, laugh and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere of Havukallio. It isn’t often that you can pitch your shelter right in front of the cliff. I pull the guy lines a bit tighter, inflate the Klymit Inertia X Frame a tad more, and slide into my bivy, happy after this good day.
Sunday at nine I awake. There isn’t much movement yet, except the other couple which also stayed here and who’re already having breakfast. I get up, put the Sidewinder 600 in Esbit mode and have a few minutes later my hot cup of coffee and müsli ready. Others fire up their stoves and soon we all enjoy our breakfast. On such a short approach - maybe 300 meters from car to the crag - I didn’t go completely SUL: A few bananas, apples and a blood orange came along, for a healthy diet.
Then Andreas and I set off again. I lead climbing Rakkauden Atollit again, build an anchor, and belay Andreas up. After he’s down we take a second rope along so we can build an top rope anchor for an unnamed route, rappelling down so we can reach the two anchor points. We both climb it successfully on top rope, and then need lunch before we will continue. Strengthened, we try each to lead on a sport route, but realise that this unlisted route is beyond us today, and so we move on.
I lead the sport route Vanha vihtahousu, which I climbed in minutes on top rope the previous day, and get sweaty in the hot sun. I manage, after a few falls and curses, to clip the anchor at the top of the slab, and Andreas again lowers me to the floor. More adrenaline goes through me, and we are waiting to try Keväthuuma, which I would like to try to lead climb. There are plenty of people now at the crag, though, and so we spent much time waiting. After almost starting to pack up the route is free, and so I set off. It goes well, until I reach the ledge which goes up a chute. A rope is lowered directly down my route, and a guy appears above me. “I’m just gonna rappel down where you are, then you can continue” he calls down to me.
At 26°C in the sun on a ledge at about 15 meters height, I’m quickly starting to get thirsty. My mouth becomes dry like a desert, and I get a taste of how alpinists and Big Wall climbers must feel on climbs which are an enormous number larger than what I’m doing here. Finally the guy passes me by, and I start the chute up. Jamming gloves would have been useful, as I go up. I give it several attempts before reach crack where I can securely jam myself in. Trust in my abilities has disappeared by now. I’m thirsty, and feel this is beyond me right now - even if the top out is maybe just four, five meters away, and the terrain looks easy. I panic and tell Andreas I won’t make it. Sami and Timo get a rope and start the walk up.
Then, somehow, I decide to try once more. I don’t know where that sudden inspiration came from - maybe trust returned? It’s a mind game, after all. I hoist myself on the crack, there’s great hand and footholds, I place another 00 DMM Dragon Cam and then, maybe 50 cm above it, a #7 DMM Offset Nut. Clipped in. Save. It’s now just a slight traverse across the chute to the left, I place my hands, think that the hand holds are good, place my foot - and then things go too fast to recall.
I slammed rather unsoftly into the wall, the rope and the Offset Nut + Cam which I set just minutes earlier catching my fall. Three meters I fell down, I reckon. I’m destroyed. Andreas lets me down, and a few minutes later the rappel rope come down. I grab my Reverso, clip in, attach my Prusik with a screwgate ‘biner to a leg loop of my harness, and rappel myself down. Andreas, Anu and Sami are happy that I made it save to the ground. Battered, bruised the body, and also bruised is the ego. I was so close. I empty my Platypus and then drink two more litres, slowly getting my mind again together. That’s it then for today. The 4+ will have to wait for another day.
It’s easy to analyse this in retrospect. I probably should have top roped the route before leading it. I maybe shouldn’t have climbed the route that late in the day. I probably should have had something to drink with me. But I didn’t, and I still think it was a good decision. You learn from mistakes, and from mistakes like these you learn even better. I learned that my nut and cam placements were great. I learned that it’s not bad to fall on lead. I learned that maybe I should train the mind, as well as the body, more. And I learned that a group of friends, which have no problem to belay you for what seemed like a long time, and are happy to go rescue you, and then still go for a swim in a fine lake, are superb.