"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Trip Stats

Car stuck in snow: 0 (improvement on both previous Norway trips)
Distance driven: 2318km
Climbing days vs. rest days: 9:5
Whisky (bottles): Japanese 1, Scotch 1
Norwegian petrol station hotdogs: Jim 2, Nick nil
Dropped gear:
Jim: 1 screw, half a Norwegian energy bar (dropped while climbing)
Nick: 1 screw (climbing) plus 1 screw and 1 axe (walking off)
All retrieved apart from the energy bar - presumably taken by a Norwegian mountain shrew

Norwegian mountain shrew

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Day 14 - Hydnefossen

The climb is up in the cloud
Last night we were in bed by 9, but I woke an hour before my alarm, at 03:15. Tired, I growled a bit at Nick as we got into the car for the 2 hour trip to Hemsedal.
As we drove over the high pass between Lærdal and Hemsedal (c1200m) the temperature was at -2C. It had warmed up a bit by the time we had descended into the ski town but we could be confident that the icefall, high above the valley floor, wouldn't be pouring with water.
The guidebook says the walk-in takes 1.5 to 2 hours - longer if snow is deep. I wasn't looking forward to it at all. Nick spotted the start of the trail straight away, right next to the parking space we'd picked. We started out but after 50m we turned back to the car for our snowshoes. After that we made good progress, following boot and ski tracks up a snowed-over river bed that was obviously the run-off from the water/icefall. The gulley steepened until we saw the sheer mountainside looming up through the low cloud. Visibility was poor but there seemed to be ice to the left. We traversed a steep snow slope and found ourselves under the icefall, less than 1.5 hours from the car.
We geared up in a shallow snow cave then traversed further left to just beyond the lowest point of the great ice-sheet. To be honest at this point I'd have been more than happy if Nick had suggested aborting the climb and going home. I was at a low ebb: tiredness from my short night, combined with the poor weather conditions - which meant we couldn't see any more than half a rope-length upwards, my nervous snow-slope traverse, and the seriousness of the situation generally, all led to a moral wobbling on my part. But Nick wasn't about to suggest backing off, so we uncoiled the ropes, I put him on belay and he set off into the murk.
Two pitches followed, generally just off vertical but with several short vertical sections. The first pitch was of sustained steepness, the second wove its way up via grooves between funky ice features: bulges, ice umbrellas and curtains of icicles. The ice itself was harder than any we'd encountered so far on this trip. We'd been getting used to burying our axes in ice made plastic by the warm temperatures: this more brittle ice added spice to the climbing. A chip flew off and caused the bridge of Nick's nose to bleed.
Nick did all the leading, and on the hanging belays there wasn't much for me to look at. The world had shrunk to a few metres of grey mist, grey-blue ice, the odd patch of grey-white snow. No view at all. I passed the time by moving my arms up and down trying to keep warm. I couldn't do the full Belay Dance because I was hanging off ice screws. But as we gained height my morale lifted. It looked as though success was at least a possibility, and the climbing was excellent.
After a third 40m pitch Nick found himself just below a final short curtain of friable ice leading to the top, so belayed and brought me up. We then abbed off, pulled down and bagged the ropes, ate a cheese/chorizo wrap, and set off back down to the car. At one point on the way, Nick scared himself by collapsing a snow bridge over the stream.
Once down, Nick was jubilant that his improvised crampon repair (using cord) had held together, seemingly even more so than he was to tick this classic WI5.

Day 13 - Hydnefossen - strike that, rest day

The plan for today was to have a crack at what we expected to be hardest climb of the trip, Hydnefossen, a great sheet of ice above Hemsedal.

We packed our bags the night before. Alarms were set for 4:30. But in the morning Nick put his head around the door and said, "if we do the climb tomorrow instead, we could go back to sleep!" I readily agreed.

So, another rest day.

I read Ender's Game then we watched the film. The book is better.

I dared Nick to go and sit on the village jetty in his dressing gown. He didn't hesitate.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Day 12 - rematch with Langåni

The icefall had obviously suffered from the warmer temperatures since our last visit. From a mile or so across the lake, through binoculars, we'd seen a long horizontal crack in the ice about 190m up from its base, 3 quarters of the way up the climb.  We were in some doubt as to whether it would be safe to climb at all, but the thaw had narrowed our options for climbs to do, and so we decided to slog up and take a proper look before deciding whether to run away.

The Norwegian Is-klatring website I'd found mentioned it's possible to walk off from the top of the climb via a gulley a couple of hundred yards to the right, so, instead of carrying our packs up to the base of the ice as we would normally do, we geared up at the car, then plodded up the steep hill through deep snow and sliver birch groves, wearing harnesses and crampons and with our daypacs and ropes on our backs.

Once at the base of the climb we could see that the ice had deteriorated (we'd have to dig to place solid ice screws here and there) and we could hear the stream running under it, but the ice was thick enough to make imminent collapse seem unlikely.

So, off Nick went, this time choosing the easier, but still sustained, steep ice ramp to the left rather than have another encounter with the aerated cauliflowers in the centre of the face.

3 long pitches (55-60m each) brought us to a cave behind an ice curtain and under the final vertical icewall. The weather had deteriorated: clag had blown in by increasing winds, bringing rain, and water was trickling steadily off the long icicles above our belay at the cave entrance. On the last pitch we had passed long cracks in the ice on our approach to the cave. The climb was feeling a lot less friendly than it had done on our first attempt.

We checked our walkie-talkies were on, then Nick set off on a long, lonely lead to the top. Standing in the ice cave I couldn't see his progress but I could tell from the slower pace I was paying out the rope that Nick was finding the climbing more challenging.

As I stood there my nerves were set jangling by a loud, deep crack somewhere in the ice around me, that I felt through my boots.

By the time Nick had announced he was safely belayed to a tree at the top, my hands were chilled from water soaking through my mitts. As I climbed out onto the face, glasses misting from the rain, barely able to feel my axes but with blood slowly and painfully returning into frozen fingers, I wondered yet again why I put myself through this.

But at the top, as always happens however grotty the conditions and however miserable the climbing experience, the immediacy of discomfort faded quickly into the background, overtaken by satisfaction at our completing a hard climb. The top pitch was a fine lead by Nick.

Our plan to walk off down a gulley was swiftly torn up, after 100 metres "walking" - sinking to our thighs in wet snow every 3rd step - and so we followed our footsteps back to the top of the climb to abseil off instead. The four abseils that followed involved double abolokovs for protection in the softer ice, rope-pull-through tests before the second person followed, and care by the second to avoid dislodging icicle spears onto the head of the person below.
Abbing off. Nick playing up his exhaustion - a bit

It was 6pm by the time we got back to the base of the climb, and we needed our head torches for the walk-off. We'd set off up the first pitch at about 10 am.

Happy now - until he broke his crampon, again

Day 11 - rest day

Here are a couple of shots taken from our cabin living area. We didn't go far today.

This should be an ice climb

Monday, 24 February 2014

Day 9 - Stonndalen / Stonner?

We woke to rain and warm temperatures. The plan was to have another short day before having another crack at Langåni tomorrow, so we drove up to where we'd spotted MM's party parked 2 days ago. 
There had been snow at that level overnight, so we got the snow shovel out and exerted ourselves. The road was closed further up toward Hol by snow, and we didn't expect to see any passing vehicles that could help if we got stuck.
A short 10 minute walk-in brought its to the base of a bulge of grade 3 ice, which I led, up to the main event: 60m of WI4+/5 steepness. Nick dispatched it in good style remarking afterwards that, although it hadn't felt hard, it had needed his full concentration. It was certainly pumpy on second. (It's a good sign though that the pump is disappearing quickly).

Morning routine in Cabin 2

Hooray for coffee

Each day starts with green Japanese tea. My alarm goes off half an hour before Nick's for this purpose. Half an hour of slowly coming round, then it's a bowl of Norwegian Go'dag muesli (masticatorily challenging). 

Even without the chewy muesli, at this stage Nick and I are barely able to exchange grunts over the breakfast table.

Nick's aeropress coffee maker brings us back to life. It’s an fine device, simple and effective. With the Lavazza red label coffee we brought with us, it makes strong, aromatic black coffee with a kick big enough to dispel our morning sluggishness.
Then it's on with the base layer (top and bottom), knee pads, guide pants and windproof top. If we’re organised, we'll have packed our rucsacs the night before, with rope, crampons, harness, quick draws, ice screws, helmet, duvet jacket, 3 pairs of gloves and a daypack for the climb. All that remains is to fill the thermos (more green tea), pack lunch (tortillas with chorizo and cheese is our staple this trip) plus 2 cereal bars each, and pack a litre of squash, a walkie talkie, and camera.
Carry all to the car, and drive.

Day 8 - Laærdal / Heggfossen?

After a late start we drove to mid-dalen, parking immediately north of Tuftestunnellen at 10:00, then walked in for an hour to what we think is Heggfossen.
Upper Lærdalen
 From the base of the ice we climbed a pitch of WI3-4, and walked up a snow and ice bowl to the base of a fat pillar - probably WI4+ or just 5.

Tying tat around trees for abseils, we were back at the base of the climb in short order after 2 abseils - only to find the rope wouldn't pull down. So Nick reclimbed the bottom pitch, sliding a prusik up the ropes every couple of feet on the way up. Despite this, we were still back at the car for 14:00. Not bad going. A short day.

Day 7 - rest day

Our plan was for a short climbing day, but after a leisurely start and drive up the valley to Stonndalen we found another climbing party already parked by the climb we wanted to do. It was probably Martin Moran and his clients. (It was MM who provided us with his and Ari Paulin's PDF climbing guide to the area. His base for his annual trip with clients is a few hundred metres north along the fjord).

There were other climbs around - particularly Reppanutenfossen which was looking impressive but involved a longish walk-in - but seeing them on “our” climb was all the encouragement we needed to take a rest day. Our motivation to exert ourselves was weak after 6 days climbing on the trot.
So, back to the cabin for a shower, then a short walk to the Spa on the village square to restock our food supply - with this 1.2kg mega-pizza.
Considering things to do with our rest day, we talked idly about catching a ferry to have a look at the fjord (Sognefjord is the 3rd longest in the world), or taking the train up Flåmsdalen (the steepest unassisted train ride in Europe) but in the end our sloth won out and we settled down for a lazy day.
An hours's sleep was necessary after the pizza, then we watched 2 films, ate the second of the 2 spag bols I'd pre-cooked in England, drank a couple of whiskies, then bed.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Day 6 - Vang / Langåni

Colder this morning! On the descent to Vang
Yesterday on UKClimbing DanielJ gave us the tip that Langåni WI5 was in condition - so we embarked on another long drive. Temperatures were colder today - reaching -21C coming down from the high pass into Vang district. But as soon as we saw the climb, we knew the drive had been worth it.
The approach up wooded snowy slopes was easier as a previous day’s party had broken trail.
Langåni turned out to be a meaty classic with steep first and final pitches. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the top because the front bail of Nick’s left crampon broke so we had to abort.
Nick finding himself with just 3 points of attachment to the ice
Luckily the sports shop in Fagernes was able to provide a replacement.

The offending crampon bail

Borgund Stave Church

We found this strange old church on the old Lærdal Road. 

It was built in the C12th entirely of wood. It's a wonder it's survived so long.

Unfortunately it was locked so we couldn't go inside.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Day 5 - Gol

Today we spent a long time in the car, driving to Gol to do some climbing in the ravine at Golsjuvet. The climbs were short (less than 30m) but steep and good. Just down from us a man was teaching a couple of young lads to climb on top-rope.

Nick remarked that the venue was like a mini Krokan, then said that most ravines in Norway must look similar: sheltered climbing by a snowed-over river with rock walls and pine trees.
True, but in the North the ravines are places where wolverines roam.  You’d be very surprised to meet another person.
Actually it struck me today that much of Norway feels like the Canadian Rockies - in that you only have to wander to the next valley from the road to be in complete wilderness.

Day 4 - Lærdalen

Inspired by the lines we saw yesterday in the upper valley on our way back from Hemsedal, today we went in search of Lærdal ice.
We left the E16 after Seltuntunnelen and followed the valley bottom by the old Lærdal road. The ice at Hoggeberg was disappointing so we drove on, up past an ancient wooden (stave) church at Borgund and on again to beyond the junction with the Hemsedal road. Ulvisfossen was looking good in the colder air of the plateau (-6C) but we just added that climb to our growing list before heading back down to the mid-valley to try Seltunfossen, a WI4+ we'd spotted yesterday on the south side of the valley.
Seltunfossen WI4+

 The walk-in was mercifully short and was followed by 4-5 easy approach pitches leading to the main event, 3 good wide pitches of steep ice. 

The start of the steep stuff

As we were gearing up to start the steeper climbing I realised I'd forgotten to bring up the second rope. Aaaaarrgh!! Nick decided to climb anyway on one rope and I followed up, cursing my stupidity. The prospect of abseiling back down some 8 pitches with just one 60m rope didn't fill us with glee either.
But slowly the pleasure of the climbing took over. The ice was plastic, our axes were sticking well and we both relaxed into the climbing for the first time this trip. Less tension, no over-gripping, no pump. At the top we decided to try descending through the trees out to the side of the icefall. This proved a good decision and after a long, mossy descent and 3 short simul-abseils we got back to our packs at 5pm, 7 hours after leaving them. Not bad, all things considered.

Not sure what the helicopter was up to

Day 3 - Hemsedal

We were so keen to find some good ice that we set our alarms for very early, so early in fact that we found ourselves entering Hemsedal, after a drive of an hour and a half.
A dreamlike cavern in the 25km road tunnel between Aurland and Lærdal, on the way to Hemsedal

Initial impressions of Hemsedal was that the ice wasn't as plentiful as in other valleys, but as we searched we found some options. We opted for a couple of easily accessible single pitch WI4 climbs just east of the E16 behind Hemsedal Sentrum, Haugsfossen and Indre Haugsfoss. Nice climbing, particularly Haugsfossen, and I finally felt my climbing beginning to flow.

Haugsfossen WI4

It was odd seeing another team on the ice there - we've been spoiled by the two 3-week trips in the North, where didn't bump into any other climbers. 

Hemsedal feels completely different, unsurprisingly as it's a major winter sports destination within striking distance from Olso. A Ski resort requires hotels, gear shops and cafés. But I'm not complaining: it was a change, we did some good climbing and we identified destinations for another 3 days, including a massive icefall called Hydnefossen which, if we manage to climb it, will probably be the highlight of the trip: 160m of vertical WI5, a great wide curtain of ice with a beast of a walk-in.
On the way back we spotted big lines in upper Lærdalen, too. So things are looking up.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Norway 2014 Day 2 - First climb

We spent today exploring the area. We were cheered to find a sign at the roundabout outside Aurlandsvangen saying that the road to Hol was now open again. All the ice in Lower Aurlandsdalen was in poor condition - melting fast. The steeper falls are literally collapsing. But as we drove east up the valley up the road grew more wintry as temperatures dropped with the gain in altitude. The icefalls from Stonndalen eastward looked in much better nick.
We followed the Hol road as far as Strandavatnet, a frozen lake high on the Central Norwegian plateau which we'd dubbed the Magic Lake. The map shows very steep contours on the north side of the lake, above which sit lochans, so it had looked a likely location for good climbing. But it was not to be - massive long cliffs were there aplenty but without a single drainage line in sight.
So we turned back and drove back down the valley, parked up just by the road to the left of the western exit of Berdalstunnelen, and climbed a 50m WI4 in Stonndalen.
This was our first ice since Easter 2013 but, apart from over-gripping the axes somewhat (and consequently getting our forearms more pumped than was necessary) we got back into the swing of it fairly quickly.
From there we drove down to Flåm, thence climbed the little road up Flåmsdalen. More melting ice. A bit depressing.
Tomorrow we are going to drive further afield, to the higher end of Råsdalen (if the road allows), upper Lærdalen and possibly to Hemsdal. One of those is sure to offer good climbing.
60.907° N, 7.1862° E