Saturday, 31 January 2015

Murekløve (WI4), Hemsedal

Murekløve had looked in fine condition when I had last visited Grøndalen but on that occasion I had favoured the classic Vøllokula. Naturally Murekløve was on the short-list for this weekend. Something a little bit more mixed was also under consideration, however routes such as Ønderdalsdiederet and Teigafossen were holding too much snow to make any proper judgement as to their condition and wading through deep snow for a closer look naturally didn't really appeal. I was a little bit wary of Grøndalen's SW aspect, however the ice on Murekløve looked to be in decent enough condition, although the easier pitches looked to be partially submerged under snow. Elsewhere neighbouring Nystølfossen looked to have melted-out a little since last visiting but Vøllokula was particularly fine. In the main valley Grøtenutbekken was also still looking in excellent shape.

Murekløve from the approach - first pitch largely hidden by the trees

Approaching Murekløve took nearly 1.5 hours due to deep snow, although we were always making steady upward progress.


The first pitch climbed a relatively sustained slab that culminated in a short wall. It was by far the hardest climbing on the route with a much easier gradient to follow. The ice was maybe a little bit thinner than expected, smooth, and starting to show early signs of sun exposure. Generally fine for climbing though and easy to protect. With so much climbing in recent months I was more than happy to take the back seat on this occasion and offer up the main pitch to my partner Matias. It proved deceptively steep, subtly ramping up with height. On second I looked down at midway to see the ice dropping away at a surprising rate. A half grade easier than Vøllokula I would say though. A good pitch.

Matias leading the first pitch

I definitely got the duff lead... The second pitch was largely buried in snow and what ice exposed itself needed little encouragement to dinner plate. Often cleanly on first strike and without warning. Somehow most of it missed my belayer. The snow on occasions was deep enough to prevent my front points penetrating the ice, which meant a little care required in light of the snow's semi-consolidated state. On the plus side I did at least manage to run the rope out nearly the full length, followed by some faffing time trying to find decent ice for a belay.

Second pitch... the ice disappears

Back to the ice... The third and final pitch was much better with less snow cover. At least apart from the final section, which needed the top surface clearing to find something better. Matias ran the rope out full length to the top of the route from where we made three rapid abseils from trees lining the route. Then back to the car by sunset to conclude a steady day's climbing.

Final pitch... the ice is back

The route was likely in better condition a few weeks ago before the heavy snowfall but  given our desire to get a long-ish route done of moderate difficulty it was probably as good as was on offer... apart from Vøllokula of course. Plus it would contrast well to the planned cragging day to follow.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Nye Vermorkfoss (WI5) & Svingfoss (WI4), Rjukan

After pushing my grade the previous weekend and then falling off I was naturally feeling a little bit conservative with my ambitions for this weekend.

...That was until around the middle of the week when I started flicking through the Rjukan guide and talking to people. Many of the WI5s looked very amiable and realistically within my leading ability.

Nye Vermorkfoss had looked particularly doable the previous morning and not much harder (if at all) to what I had already lead this winter. Plus many of the routes in the Upper Gorge looked to have seen plenty of traffic, which would likely soften the route's difficulty. I also knew that Anna wouldn't begrudge me if I chickened out at the crux, which meant no reason not to give it a go.

As anticipated the main pitch proved straightforward with a sequence of well formed troughs with which to bury my picks. A split running up the centre of the column further aided matters by allowing me to bridge my feet up either side whilst keeping my hips beneath my arms. Keen for no more silly business I patiently laced the steep ice with screws. If anything the short pillar that immediately followed was maybe harder due to actually needing me to swing my axes.

Anna leading the first pitch
The crux second pitch
Anna made fine work of the pitches either side of this. The first pitch was still a little lean but passed without drama. The final pitch steady and enjoyable. Neighbouring Bakveien also looked to have had plenty of traffic despite the lean appearance of the first pitch.

We finished the route at 11.20am, which left plenty of daylight remaining. Keen for an easy day we drove to Svingfoss to conclude the weekend's proceedings. 'Drove' being the appropriate word, given that it lies directly beside a hairpin bend. There wasn't a huge amount of the ice but what existed was in excellent condition, firmly biting my axes mostly first time and offering enough depth to sink screws.

Abseiling from Svingfoss

We wrapped things up early but with the intention to return again in just a couple of weeks to continue matters. Hopefully by which time there will be a little more ice to encourage me to venture to parts less familiar to me.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Trappfoss (WI4) & Kjøkkentrappa (WI4). Rjukan

Things became somewhat crowded on the second pitch of Trappfoss. Three leaders (which included myself) had confidently anticipated climbing independent lines but in reality much of the ice was poorly formed except a narrow passage, which now created a bottleneck. We had all converged and were now hanging from belays. That is except for me who arrived last on the scene and had to make do with a couple of poor screw placements out left. Rather than test them fully I gripped my axes and waited for the congestion to clear. Add to this group one of the climbers on second and we had what probably constitutes a party in Rjukan.

Anna climbing the initial ramp pitch on Trappfoss
Party time. Note that I (left) can't properly relax due to poor screws and feet
I was reluctant to climb left because of poor ice and above me lay the neighbouring belay screws, which I wanted to give suitable breadth. I patiently waited. When things began to clear I reached out right to place a long screw on the far side of a pair of legs and then carefully traversed around.

Finally some space to climb.

Reaching for me screw placement

...That was excluding two pairs of half ropes and various runners to navigate through. I climbed the pitch in poor style with most of my movements focused on not putting an axe through someone else's ropes (that would be embarrassing) whilst trying to step over quickdraws - seemingly positioned in key locations to try to trip me up. I would find myself performing high foot manoeuvres, or placing my feet in unnatural locations so as avoid ropes and gear. Despite these antics there was jovial spirit on climb with plenty of chit-chat and healthy level of courtesy towards one another.

The quality of the ice was indifferent although easy. Made simpler by some moderately stepped ice from previous parties. Sometimes the ice was brittle, which meant a fair amount of ice raining down on Anna, who was belaying at the top of the ramp. Other times the ice became thin, although mostly it was fine for screws. The angle eased back towards the the top of my 60m pitch, which meant more snow and less ice and not the best of belays. Then a short 20m pitch leading out right to the top of the route.

Climbers on neighbouring Juvsøyla

It was too late for a second route in the gorge so we marched through the forest to Kroken via a beaten trail. Kroken was not surprisingly packed. No doubt partially due to some of the lower venues having yet to come into condition. I made a quick ascent of Kjøkkentrappa, which held some good ice on the left hand side, before hitching a lift back to the car at Vermork Bridge.



And so ended my first day in Rjukan in five years. The volume of climbers in Rjukan is quite staggering compared to the rest of Norway but there again my first trip to Norway was also Rjukan. Elsewhere in the country it's not been commonplace not see another climber for the whole weekend, yet today I found myself lined up with three other people midway up a pitch. The increased numbers in Rjukan definitely makes for a more sociable trip although it compromises the adventure for me somewhat. In moderation that's fine and I'll happily take my readily bashed trail to the base of a route without complaint every so often.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


We were both feeling pretty exhausted after yesterday's effort so headed to Golsjuvet for a few hours cragging. I started on line close to Tripp (WI4). I was probably to the right of the actual line due to there being no ice directly beneath the lower-off bolts and instead abseiled from an Abalakov thread.

Next up was Normalveien (WI4), which looked good value for the grade and fairly uniform in steepness. The ice on the left hand side was of worrying wet consistency. Andreas's first axe caused a horizontal crack maybe a metre long along the base of the icefall. Thankfully the ice on the right side was better formed, drier and also hooked-up, meaning minimal impact with the axes was needed. We each lead the route, then top-roped it for extra mileage. Second time around I hooked the whole route without swinging an axe.

Start of Normalveien 
Midway up Normalveien

The Upper Sector of the crag was looking good for some steeper climbing but we were keen to make an early get-away. Plenty to return for next time I don't fancy walking to far though.

Lower Sector
Upper Sector

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Grøtenutbekken (WI5), Hemsedal

'Jesus Christ' I muttered to myself at the sight of the mound of snow waiting at the top of the short pillar. It was stacked easily 50cm high. Too dense to swing my axe through but too soft for my axes to bite. I urgently began hacking the heavy snow from the slab but I could feel the pump building. My bent posture over the slab meant it was difficult to rest my arms and if anything I was probably over-gripping due to not trusting my foot placements.

Then I was off...

My last screw was level with my feet but I fell maybe 10m. A bruised left elbow and hip but otherwise was fine. I caught a glimpse of ice screws bouncing down the ice, presumably they had blown during the fall. I looked up to see that all had all held. Instead my front ice screw clippers were empty, somehow opening themselves during the fall. Then there was the mystery of where my ice axes lay. They weren't on the ends of my leashes, which were now wrapped over a shoulder and in perfect condition. All that I could assume was that the cordelette on the ends of axes had blown... a likely possibility, given that I had been guilty of not replacing them in years. They would probably have checked my fall otherwise. With no axes I made a belay with my remaining screws to bring Andreas up to me.

I was a little shaken but ok. My initial reaction being largely disappointment. 'I blew the onsight'... and on a classic route as well.

Andreas disassembled his belay whilst I did some maths. Two runners below me, four runners above me, Andreas's two belay screws, my two belay screws, and two on my harness made twelve so at least we had enough to continue the route. Three screws by my calculations would be at the bottom with our bags. We probably started with more than we needed anyway...

Andreas at the first belay before the fall. The foreshortened pile of snow can be seen between him and the top.

Andreas took over the lead, climbed up to my high point, then continued the snow sweeping. A large mass of snow crashed down and onto my back and neck. Its impact heavy enough to give me pins and needles simultaneously in both hands for about 10 seconds. Then a belay. Fortunately my axes were resting in the ice at his feet. With my tools lowered down to me I climbed easily, albeit a little cautiously to the belay. This time mounting the slab with ease.

The route from the base

No doubt I would have surmounted the slab first time without drama were it not for the awful exit. Not that I can blame conditions as it was my lack of reserves that let me down. The pitch had only been grade 4, a grade that I had been cruising this winter. Stacked on top of a pumpy grade 5 pitch, which preceded it, and my stamina was found wanting though.

Andreas leading the first pitch (WI5)
Feeling the pump

Thin curtains of ice draped overhead. It was impossible to climb directly up, the ice looked too thin out right, so therefore further left needed exploring. I was not surprisingly feeling a little bit more conservative about leading what could potentially be WI5 and also thin. The soreness in my left elbow was affecting my swinging power a little. Andreas's leading psych waning a little as well but it was still stronger than mine, so I was grateful that he was happy to lead on. 'I love thin ice traverses' he sung to himself as he moved out left. Evidently feeling gripped, judging by the three screws placed barely 50cm apart from one another. Up and left found a weakness in the curtain that lead up and back right. The type of pitch that I would have normally enjoyed leading under normal circumstances in retrospect.

Navigating through the thin band of icicle curtains

We knew the following pitch would be steep and craning our necks to the right confirmed this. The ice went straight up but at least a groove running up its centre looked to offer a weakness. I had approached the climb with the view that I would try to lead grade 5 if feeling confident but deferring was definitely my only thought at that moment. My elbow was better but I lacked the experience at the grade to make a judgement as to whether I could lead it without falling. I belayed beneath an impressive icicle, suspended overhead. Best not think too much about when these things fall down...

Andreas made fine work of the pitch. When my turn came I needed to rest and shake-out after nearly every advancement with my axes. In spite of this the pitch felt in control on second with some good natural foot ledges and even a leg and arm jam behind a fin of ice a short way up. We had finished up the steep ground on the right-hand side, which would usually be mixed but currently held enough ice not to need any more than a helping hand and foot on the adjacent rock in order to balance through the narrow section.

The final steep pitch. As steep as it looks

From here easy ice continued for about the same distance again but with the time being 15:30 and all the hard climbing below we opted to abseil the route on Abalakovs. Plus I can climb the length of the route next time when I've managed it in better style. Then back down the trail that had taken us two hours to re-break from the roadside.

Summary time:

1/ Great conditions, albeit a thin in places. Apart from some large accumulations of snow on the easier ground. Certainly one of the best ice lines that I had ever climbed. Sustained and always interesting.

2/ I need to get stronger and improve my steep ice technique if I hope to advance my leading grade. Work my weakness rather than just continually onsighting a lower grade that I am comfortable with. I hate to use the dirty 'top-rope' word but practising steep ice beyond my leading capabilities on top-rope is probably what I need. I've not climbed a WI5 in five years but have been onsighting WI4 since then (although mainly focusing on Scottish mixed). Back in the UK I would primarily use South Coast chalk as a training ground during autumn and winter. Often just low-level traversing and fighting the pump. The luxury of living in Norway is that there appears to always be conditions somewhere, which means no 'training' and just 'performance'. I need to get that training aspect back.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Overraskelsen (WI4), Oppdal

Yesterday's morning drive had indicated a lack of ice formation in the Oppdal valley. This I presumed related to dry months a preceding winter, rather than through lack of cold temperatures. There appeared to be routes in condition higher up the hillsides but the massive dump of new snow with winds the previous day had left us wary about venturing anywhere near deep snow and particularly wind slab. West-facing aspects sounded the safest bet - reinforced by the cornice rimming much of the opposite side of the valley.

A route called Overraskelsen, between Bjølla and Kongsvollfossen, sounded a good option and looked to be in condition from the road. It lay not too far above the E6, meaning not too much wading on the approach. The route consisted of three pitches of discontinuous ice climbing stretching up the hillside but looked a suitably adventurous outing.

We waded through the knee deep snow to the start of the route from where Anna led some short steps of ice to beneath the first steep section. The guidebook stated WI3 but in current conditions it certainly warranted WI4 and proved to be the crux of the day. The right side of the icefall looked to be the weakest aspect but this finished beneath low hanging tree branches, which repeatedly upset my axe swing right when I was on the steepest ground. I frantically pruned them back with my gloves and pulled through on the frozen turf above the ice.

The first steep section
Beneath the blocking tree
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

It was then maybe 150m to the next major section of ice, via a couple of moderate steps. The walking between ice wasn't hugely detracting from the route as it actually heightened the adventure and built the anticipation for the next pitch.

The ice was proving to be very hard and nowhere was this truer than on the second major section of ice. Often the ice would dinner plate and skate down the icefall and zip over my belayer, who was fortunately tucked under some steep ice out of harm. Sometimes my axes would bite perfectly first time and also offer perfect monopoint placements for my crampons subsequently. The pitch was graded WI3 and felt about right for the grade.

The second section of ice

The final pitch of climbing was maybe another 80m further up the hillside. The route's name translates as 'The Surprise' and, given the difficulties on the first steep section, I was moderately concerned as to what it might involve. The pitch was only 15m high but graded WI4. Of course if it was also a grade harder then it would prove quite an undertaking for me.

A steep pillar guarded the way but fortunately on its right hand side there was the dihedral described in our guidebook, which looked fine for the grade in current condition. By now dusk was close at hand so I was keen to gear up quickly and move. As the route steepened the ice accepted my axes at first attempt, my tips biting easily into natural slots in the ice. Towards the top I found a wild bridging move off some neighbouring rock, and then solid frozen turf above the ice. A good final pitch to a really good route.

Beneath the final pitch
Heading for the dihedral (out of shot)
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

I belayed Anna from a tree off to the right which offered the only opportunity for natural protection. By the time she joined me it was 16:20 with light diminishing quickly. We attempted the described descent further North but the snow was dangerously deep and bottomless and on open 40 degree slopes. I repeated sunk to my hips before turning back. We instead opted to abseil and down-climb the route, which was a straight-forward affair, given the number of sturdy trees lining the route. No need to shout 'rope below' on this route I thought...

Sunset from the top of the route
Torch light descent

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Nybegynnergjellet, Oppdal

Snow snaked and weaved across the road in front of the car as though it was haunted. The thermometer had showed -22 degrees when we had arrived in Oppdal kommune the previous night and although it had warmed to approximately half that figure snow was now falling heavily and blowing across the valley, making for some very wintry conditions. A day for finding some short routes close to the road and saving the bigger effort for the following day when the snow would largely have abated.

View of Drivdalen from Nybegynnergjellet

We paid a visit to the quarry at Skiferbrudd but were disappointed to find no climbable ice. Nearby Bratt'n i Gjelet looked to maybe be climbable but the build-up of ice was impossible to gauge through the blizzard and we weren't overly motivated to climb the ravine for a closer inspection. We drove back South back options as thin as much of the ice. Brudetrusa was still looking fine but we had ticked that on our last visit. By late morning Bjølla had a pair of top-ropes hanging down the right side it, with the left side looking too thin to lead. Snatching some routes at Nybegynnergjellet looked the best option.

Nytt på Nytt & Diederet at Skiferbrudd looking non-existent 

We made the mistake of trying to park on a flat area beneath the ice routes and immediately wedged the front end of the car in deep snow. Some passers-by tried (and failed) to help us move the car before a snow plough appeared. The driver promptly directed the extraction like a professional, without the need for a tow, highlighting some winter skills of a different kind that I am lacking...

We bashed up through the trees towards Gjelisen (WI3) and Rampa (WI3+) with the hope of climbing the pair of them before day's end. Rampa was an attractive icefall that funnelled into a steep finale. It was only 25m in length but offered some interesting moves for the grade, particularly in the upper half. We then abseiled down Gjelisen and promptly climbed that before daylight was out. The route was more of an easy-angled ice bashing affair but a good opportunity for some extra mileage. The gentle gradient naturally meant that it was accumulating a lot of snow on its surface.

Then the retreat back to our cabin at Furuhauglig, and the comfort of warm showers and radiators.

Steep finish to Rampa (WI3+)
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Vøllokula (WI4), Hemsedal

I had parked the car beneath Vøllokula last month but had been slightly scared about the prospect of climbing the initial intimidatingly steep pitch in less than perfect conditions. I had been laid up through much of the autumn with a pulley strain and was lacking the mileage that breeds the confidence to back oneself. With a few more weekends under the belt the car was parked beneath the route again and this time the psych was there. From a distance the route looked in fine shape and completely free of snow.

In close proximity the ice formations on the initial vertical section looked in less than optimal shape after the recent thaw but there was ample ice. The left side of the fall looked the most favourable for screws, with the possibility to bridge the first few metres. I inched my feet up either side, finding easy first time axe placements. Then as the bridging moves subsided so did the good axe placements. All too readily my axes would crack the ice and cause it to change colour without actually gaining purchase. Rather than dinner-plate, the area would simple radiate outwards in the direction of my other axe. With a screw placement close at hand and no natural rests forthcoming, the best thing looked to be to push on hastily with as much delicacy as possibly. As the steepness eased back the ice became difficult to gain purchase, requiring repeated chopping motions, which built the pump.

Climbing the initial vertical columns

Only once over the top did I realise the upper half of the pitch was no pushover either. It looked to have some good intermediate rests but this disguised the general steepness. The problem was that my arms were feeling the effects of what had just gone and not making great effort to recover despite some vigilant shaking out between moves. I worked my feet higher, letting them do the work where possible, whilst seeking out rests. Cruelly the ice started to break up again as I was reaching easy ground but by then I knew I had the pitch in the bag.

Near the top of the first pitch

Anna looked a little weary upon joining me but generally cool. Only when part way up the second pitch did the cogs start to fall off due to fatigue. The defining moment possibly being when she lost her temper with one of her axes for becoming stuck in the ice. She belayed after 30m, after which I finished the pitch up some fine ice in the centre of the fall. The first pitch but notably steeper but the interest certainly remained throughout the route. Were it not for the preceding pitch I'm sure Anna would have otherwise cruised the second pitch.

Anna starting the second pitch
Top of the second pitch

We rap'ed from a small tree to midway and then Abalakov'ed from there to the ground. It rounded off another fantastic weekend in Hemsedal. Many of the routes in Grøndalen are now looking in really good shape, and maybe beg for another visit before the end of winter.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Flagetfossen (WI3+), Hemsedal

Getting the car stuck on 10 degree ice wasn't the ideal way to start the day. Temperatures in Hemsedal had rocketed in recent days, peaking at around 6 degrees, leaving sheet ice on many of the side roads. Performing a simple 3-point turn had left my wheels spinning on an upward slope with a barrier immediately behind the car. Fortunately a couple of climbers of Cambridge appeared at just the right moment to lend some weight to the back end and shift the car from its predicament. They were planning to climb the same route, which meant for the first time this winter we would have company on the route. Only once the car was properly parked were we able to admire the beautiful sunrise to the East.

Sunrise over Hemsedal

Prior to the warm spell the temperatures had been low so I was anticipating plenty of climbable ice. Particularly in light of the fine climbing that I managed during my last trip to Hemsedal three weeks ago. Temperatures had dipped below zero the previous day but probably not enough to halt the running water I thought. With all this in mind it seemed sensible to be a little bit more conservative with objectives. Flagetfossen seemed a good choice given the short approach, sheltered setting and ability to place rock protection in the event of thin ice.

I had tried and failed to find the route during late November, largely as a result of overlooking the coordinates in the guidebook. Funnily enough our premature trail into the woods looked to be getting repeat ascents, emphasizing the importance of not trusting those that went before you to know the way. With coordinates entered into the phone the approach this time was remarkably easy.

The route


Anna's initial comment a short way up the first pitch was not particularly positive but at least she wasn't deterred. An initial ice step was flowing with water down its centre and immediately left the ice was saturated. It dinner-plated readily, or possibly more to the point fell apart. Fortunately the initial ice step wasn't a representation of the route as a whole and immediately afterwards the conditions improved and became a drier affair. Easy climbing led to steeper ground and then a belay on the right at 50m where the ice readily accepted a couple of long screws.

The wet step
Top of the first pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

Things remained largely dry for the second pitch, which continued up a brief steep section before easing back again. Steeper ice spanned the centre of the upper fall and looked enticing but I chose to follow the easier icy chimney to the left-hand side, which I hoped would provide more character. The chimney was fun to climb, with as much bridging and back-and-footing as my arms desired, without any great technical difficulty. It was wet towards the top but this was easy to avoid.

Top of the chimney

Anna led a final pitch up ever decreasing ice, with little in the way of gear. An optimistic nut low down, a poor ice screw at halfway, and a sling around a tree towards the top was all that was on offer but at least the gradient was easy for the large part. We made an easy descent from trees to the base of the route. Considering the 3+ grade, the route was technically easy but the difficulty was offset by wet ice low down and the thin ice high up. And of course I can always return for the steeper finish up the centre of the fall...

Ab'ing the route with the chimney to the left
Another view of the route