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