The Lofoten Islands is an archipelago in the Norwegian Sea, a few hundred kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. Norwegian in every sense of the word, these islands are characterized by stunning waters, breathtaking fjords, a biting chill in the air and large expanses of uninhabited land. And amidst such an exciting terrain are the sheer granite walls and crags that presented me with a life-changing experience.
Despite having been an outdoors person in college, the trappings of a corporate job had lured me into a largely sedentary lifestyle, devoid of any physical exercise save for the occasional jog and the on-again, off-again gym routine. So when a friend proposed a week long, adventure-filled trip to the Lofoten Islands, I pounced on the offer immediately, excited for the thrill of adventuring in the outdoors. Anticipating the exhilaration that comes from physical exhaustion, I did not know how drastically my outlook towards adventure was about to change. Ultimately what I came back with was a transformed way of thinking and deep appreciation for power of the mind.
The itinerary was fluid, intentionally so. The only certainty was that we would (attempt to) conquer the Svolvaergeita or Svolvaer’s Goat, a mountain with two towering rocks for peaks. A passionate rock-climber, my friend’s primary motivation behind visiting these remote isles was to try and attempt as many boulders and routes as he could. I was iffy about whether I would be able to scale them myself, but I decided to try anyway.
We made our base in the main town of Svolvaer, where fishing cabins were fashioned into the perfect backpacker accommodation. August affords visitors snow-free hiking and climbing routes with the trademark long days of the region. The land was beautiful. With the summer coming to an end, the green carpets beneath us were making the most of their time before the frost set in later in the year, only interrupted by the clear blue waters of the Norwegian Sea and the craggy boulders which jutted out directly from the sea!
We set out the next morning for a crack at the bouldering hotspots nearby. I had climbed on artificial walls at the gym back home. But this felt decidedly different. There were no multi-colored handholds and footholds, no speakers blaring dance music and no-one else climbing with you. Just hard, grey rock, the sounds of waves breaking and dying out, and a cool sea breeze. After a few unsuccessful attempts at scaling these boulders, I was visibly frustrated. My friend, who was going about his routes calmly with no difficulty, recommended a different approach. I expected technical tips about climbing, but he instead stressed on the mental aspects of climbing and the virtue of thinking out your climb before every attempt. The next few hours saw me overcoming my initial issues with little to no changes in my technique. For such a bare-bones and physical activity practiced on the rawest and enduring features of the natural world, the importance of reflection and attaining an almost meditative state came as a major revelation. Sure, technique and strength mattered a lot. The climb was no doubt physically trying – my arms and legs felt like rubber by the time we left in the afternoon. But what I realized was that the key lies in seeing the rock face not as something you have to conquer, but as a worthy opponent that commands respect and focused planning.
We drove along the magnificent coast through the evening, followed by a campfire late into the day which extended way beyond 10 pm. The highlight of the day, however, remained the experience on the boulders by the sea. It wasn’t just a feeling of accomplishment at having achieved a target; it was as though I had stumbled upon a new way of thinking. I kept thinking about how differently I had approached the rock face, and the almost meditative state of mind that I had attained. Upon wondering, I realized that this was why I had to come thousands of kilometers away from home to Lofoten Islands – to be reintroduced to the power of my own mind. The sheer natural beauty and solace of the place combines with the challenge of the rock to culminate in a contemplative experience bordering on the spiritual. What’s more, that afternoon remained a highlight of the trip, and more importantly a turning point for me personally; the virtue of mind over matter had never been this resoundingly clear before!
The next few days were spent discovering and practicing on more rocks and caves along the shore. With every route I completed, the anticipation for the next set of challenges only grew. It was no longer just a physically taxing activity, it was an exercise in harnessing my powers of concentration and channeling them in a way I had never experienced before.
On the sixth and final day of our stay, we tried the Goat. The hike was an invigorating warm-up for the stretch of pure rock climbing towards the top. The mountain’s namesake horns are not for the vertigo-afflicted! The setting had changed from low-altitude boulders next to the sea, to terrifying heights with ample exposure to the steep drop surrounding us on all four sides. But the process of climbing was equally satisfying. Having seen me throughout the week, even my tight-lipped friend commented on my growth as a climber as I reached the top. After a highly enjoyable week in the midst of nature, the Goat was the perfect high – both literal and metaphorical – to end on, with stunning vistas of the surrounding town, fjords and the sea, beyond the chilling depths of the cliffs, and a calm but persistent hunger for more adventures.
Though the trip had ended, Lofoten stayed with me long after I returned. My interest in the outdoors had been rekindled and my tryst with climbing had begun. I longed to climb again and feel the rush of physical accomplishment, and more importantly, meditative peace. After taking a few short trips around the country and reaffirming my newfound passion, I quit my job and started a climbing gym, which allowed me to dedicate more time to getting better and planning the next trip. Apart from the gym, which is a local favorite, I also lead weekend trips and expeditions to experience the thrill of climbing in different locations. It has become a full-fledged passion – one that I don’t think will leave me anytime soon. And I have only the Lofoten Islands to thank for the week that was a truly life changing experience.
Just like my life-changing experience, there are many others who have been inspired by places to alter something about themselves, their lives and aspirations. You can log on to www.lufthansa.com/places to be inspired by some of these amazing stories of #LifeChangingPlaces.