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

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

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