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A few notes about Zapffe

 - from "Mountain Pioneers with a Sketchbook" by Lena Fauske and Øyvind S. Bruland

Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990) was the philosopher, humorist and mountaineer, who wrote his Candidate of Law Paper in rhyme. During his studies in Oslo he made acquaintance with Arne Næss and learned climbing at Kolsås. Back in his hometown, Tromsø, he succeeded in more than 20 first ascents. Zapffe was an outstanding character in the Norwegian climbing scene with his many literary contributions and humoristic drawings. This is what he said about climbing “… a sport for individualists, original characters and outsiders. A sport related to other sports in the same way as champagne is related to bock beer, and for this reason it can never be a sport for the masses in Norway. And who could seriously think of bringing the masses to places with hardly enough space for one single seeking soul?” 


Zapffe is especially well known for his literary descriptions of climbing. In several essays and stories he speaks subtly and humorously of his escapades in nature. His essay "Stetind" first appeared in the 1937 yearbook of the Trekking Association. The mountain is described as a giant, titan, majesty and horn of hell: "an anvil upon which the gods can hammer." In 1904 Slingsby himself had failed to become the first to climb Stetind: "The ugliest mountain I ever saw. There is nothing like it in the world." A picture was taken of the peak in 1904 that crucially prompted the Norwegian climbing trio of Schjelderup, Bryn and Rubenson to become the first to ascend Stetind 30 July 1910.

Several of Zapffe's essays are collected in the 1969 book "Barske glæder" ("Rough joys"), among them "Stetind" and an extended, previously unpublished version of "Fire Korstog til Piggtind" ("Four Crusades to Mt. Piggtind"). This selection is regarded today as classics that opened the world of the mountains of North Norway. Through his writings Zapffe has united northern Norwegian humour with an authentic intellectual's clear thought and sharp pen. He himself never climbed Piggtind, in spite of his four attempts in winter to reach the top - the first time during Christmas of 1922. In fact, the first successful winter ascent of the peak took place as late as in 1971.


Text is published with the author's permission. Click here to find the full version of the text:

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