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Focus

Jul 22, 2018

Why We Need to Separate Friluftsliv from Adventure

The Scandinavian philosophy of friluftsliv focuses on enlightenment through spiritual oneness with nature. The contemporary context, however, misleads us into believing that performing adventure sports in nature is a means to achieve friluftsliv. To be honest, it really isn't.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

That summer, I thought I was on a hiking adventure like any other. In the clean air of wilderness, we hiked through rocks and green pastures while passing by streams of water under clear blue skies. Since the point of most hikes is to reach the top to see a panoramic view, I was curious about how this top would look like. I was with my host family and we didn’t speak the same language. With gestures and a few words, they had mentioned going to the mountains on the previous day. I said yes, obviously.

To my surprise, the narrow passage up the rocks covered in shrubbery opened up to a frozen stream. It was larger than my entire world, with no visible horizon. To a 15-year-old, it was a manifestation of “stairway to heaven.” This was the epic Briksdal Glacier in Norway.

Photo Credit: Christine Wang

At the time, I didn’t make much of my host family’s indulgence in nature and weekly trips to the mountains, lakes, glaciers, and forests of different kinds. I was a young student pursuing high school in UWC Red Cross Nordic and visited them occasionally.

Even in school, I didn’t understand the high emphasis on outdoor and adventure, the weekly skiing or hiking trips, or the importance of an entire week organised just for skiing in nature.

Then I learned about friluftsliv in Norway, which literally translates into “open air life.” That’s when I discovered a contradiction in its historical context and contemporary practice.

Friluftsliv appeared while I was digging further into the history of the Norwegian law allemannsrett. The law promotes friluftsliv and translates into “all man’s right.” Through the Outdoor Recreation Act, Norway institutionalized this law to give freedom and access to anyone who wishes to traverse the countryside and camp or picnic wherever, without having to worry about trespassing violations. The law encourages freedom with responsibility and gives free access to nature, while expecting a certain level of mindfulness and respect for the earth and the private landowners. The law has been a traditional right since the Viking period and was institutionally implemented under the Act in 1957.

Photo Credit: Vidar Stenset

As a concept, friluftsliv finds a significant place in Scandinavian history and culture, particularly in Norway and Sweden. This rich philosophy is deeply embedded in the pursuit of spiritual oneness between humans and nature.  It was popularized by writer Henrik Ibsen in his poem back in 1859, where he wrote, “this is friluftsliv for my thoughts,” while looking into the stove and sitting alone in a cottage amidst nature [1]. Later, ecological philosopher Arne Naess extensively wrote about friluftsliv in his books that focused on the positive spiritual impact of the natural environment on human beings and their evolution.

Both Ibsen and Naess highlighted friluftsliv as a state of mind which doesn’t necessarily require any physical activity. One can feel this “open air life” while doing nothing, and simply sitting and staring at the stove. All that is needed to experience this blissful state is to be in the context of nature.

That said, I’m not sure if the two thinkers would feel drawn to the interpretation and use of friluftsliv in the contemporary context. What I experienced in nature with my host family and at my school wasn’t friluftsliv. They didn’t promise that either. Many Norwegians and Swedes, however, are invited by commercial companies to experience this state of mind in nature with outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, and so on. But this sense of adventure doesn’t necessarily carry the true philosophical meaning and value of friluftsliv .

Photo Credit: Orca Tec

Changing contextual meaning may not be a problem for some who see a certain business sense in it. The idea of friluftsliv is attractive because it offers the possibility of enlightenment and higher consciousness. Surely, the ones who are invited to experience it in nature at a ski resort would be naturally drawn to it. That speaks positively of the customers who want to become better human beings. But it definitely doesn’t portray the resorts and tourism boards in a positive light. Such methods depict them as people who promote the wrong direction for the right goal.  A family at a ski resort may get really confused about why they haven’t felt friluftsliv yet. It would be a shame for them to sit around and wait for this philosophical state of mind to happen in a context that is far from it.

Personally, I am interested in the pursuit of both friluftsliv and adventure. But I think it’s important to keep the two separate and not use them interchangeably when it is convenient to do so. While reading more about this idea, I gathered that Scandinavian thinkers seem upset about the commercial sector using friluftsliv in the context of adventure. In the name of outdoor activities, the deeply philosophical experience is reduced to a superficial pursuit.

Ecology is one area where Scandinavia has much to offer to the world. In few countries like Norway and Sweden where laws are mindful of nature, using language and terms in the right context is an important social responsibility. Separating friluftsliv and adventure sports would only help clarify the means of achieving the two ends. Both are necessary and impactful on the body, mind, and soul in their own ways. With that clarity, people can be guided in the right direction to achieve the right goals.

[1] Friluftsliv: The Scandinavian Philosophy of Outdoor Life Hans Gelter, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

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Events

Mar 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

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The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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