Sunday, 21 December 2014

Brudetrusa (WI4), Oppdal

After a long day and late finish on Kongsvollfossen the previous day we were keen for a slow start and definitely something less ambitious. There was plenty of ice close to the roadside but Brudetrusa was the obvious eye-catcher. It's slim winding line looked striking for the grade and was recommended by the guidebook for climbing during early season whilst thinner. It was after midday by the time we were gearing-up beneath the route but with just a long single pitch of climbing there was certainly less urgency compared to the previous day.

Roadside ice

The base of the route was broad, funnelling into a narrow, weaving channel of ice higher up. At times the ice was hard work to find secure placements due to it cracking and dinner-plating. Particularly when featureless and off-vertical. The right side of a broad tier lower down was especially prone to break-up, requiring patience to find some solid placements. As was the very top of the route. My time chalk climbing at Dover had drilled home the discipline of committing to holds only once I had full confidence in them.

Leading the lower tiers
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

The route was a matter of meters from the road and I had never climbed a route so close to passing traffic. I naturally wondered what the reactions of passers by would be. What was the ratio of admiration to disinterest to those that thought we were reckless fools? Regardless of this, it was probably a bad route to leave myself hanging upside-down on an ice screw with so many passing eyes.

The difficulties and interest were fairly uniform with steeper sections being relatively short-lived. The broad tier lower down and a short pillar close to the top offering the primary difficulties but it's generally sustained nature made it feel middle-of-the grade WI4. Ample ice presented all the way to the top, which allowed free placement of ice screws. In the upper half the route narrowed to take on the character of an ice gully. I belayed off a tree at the top of the route and reflected on it being probably the outstanding single pitch of ice that I had climbed to date.

(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna was feeling tired from the previous day's outing and only at the last minute did she make the decision to second the route. Maybe my vocal appreciation of the route helped. As it happened she cruised the route and really enjoyed it. It capped-off two excellent days ice climbing Oppdal. Somewhere that I can already see becoming a firm favourite during winter.

Very roadside

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Kongsvollfossen (WI4), Oppdal

Climbing the full length of Kongsvollfosssen seemed a totally achievable proposition for the darkest weekend of the year...

In truth we didn't really consider climbing the full length until we set eyes on it, at which point it looked too good to refuse. Plus starting the steeper climbing at three pitches from the top just looked like cheating, given the vast amount of ice extending below this point. Our after 9am start was maybe a little bit late for a 400-500m route but I was feeling confident that we would climb the easy angled lower slopes quickly if moving together.

Kongsvollfossen viewed from the road
(Photo taken the following day)

A steep section of ice marked the start of the climb, barely more 100m from the road. I chose an easy line to the far right in order to climb fast. With more time it would have been fun to have climbed a harder, more direct line but my time felt limited. The climbing eased above this point with just a couple of short WI3 steps to overcome. This was fine because the difficulty would be gradually increasing the higher we climbed. Despite the relative technical ease, the climbing remained continually interesting due to the awesome spectacle of the route, along with its Alpine nature. I was also enjoying the low-level tension bubbling inside me as a consequence of racing the hours of daylight remaining.

The first pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

I made a belay after approximately every 100m so as to replenish my screws. The ice took whatever length of screw came to hand first, although often the ice was quite hard. Regularly the ice would dinner-plate, which slowed progress somewhat. Sometimes the ice was wet despite the cold temperatures. On one occasion I struck water beneath the ice, causing the water to pump onto its surface like damaged plumbing. Overall we were making good progress, reaching the start of the steeper ice with just 3-4 belays on-route. With about 300m already climbed Anna was looking tired but keen to push on.

The upper half of the route
Easy-angled ice

The time was already approaching 14.30 but we had just three pitches to go. The sun was close to the horizon so after a quick stop for food and drink I was on my way again.

The centre of the icefall had provided the best ice for belaying but the easiest line lay to the right where it looked steady grade 3. I starting climbing the centre of the icefall regardless through general reluctance to make a detour. Soon I found myself forced to do so due to steepening ice that hinted at becoming thinner out of sight ahead. I begrudgingly traversed right across much steeper ice than had I done so initially. I stretched the rope to full length and the made a belay. A beautiful sunset was breaking out across the head of the valley to my right. Beautiful sunsets of course signalled the onset of approaching darkness but the top of the route looked only to be only be another 30m away... or so I thought.

The first of the steeper pitches
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Beautiful sunset from belay
Anna approaching the belay

I traversed easily up and left, following a natural ramp that skirted beneath a wall of red rock. This I assumed would lead me to the exit of the climb but instead it lead to below a formidable-looking crux of hanging ice, which looked another full pitch of climbing. 60m of rope had already passed so I would need to belay Anna to me first. She looked mortified to learn of more climbing. Already she was feeling drained and what followed looked clearly harder than anything previously. By now it was dark so it was time to find our head torches.

Surely the top of the route?
...Nope. The final pitch

The ice on the right side looked easiest. It would prove to be wet for the most part, which meant easy axe and screw placements but maybe slightly less inherent strength. Some stepped sections low down were easier than anticipated. Then a short traverse right and up another step. Steep ice presented above. A moment of concern arose as to whether it touched down sufficiently and was thick enough to climb. Then a better a view. It was climbable but looked hard, although a natural chimney offered an obvious escape.  I placed my longest screw at the base of the chimney and cleared a couple of fragile sections of ice from the chimney. I sunk my axes easily into its right side... maybe too easily I thought. Bridging my feet awkwardly on the fissured ice, I moved my axes higher. I could feel the tiredness in my arms but soon the difficulties were dispatched. Then the realisation that I was finally at the top of the route. It was 5pm - about 7.5 hours after starting the climb. It was one of those routes where you want to punch the air with your fist at the top. Definitely a 'classic' and one of the best ice climbs that I've done to date. We'd followed the easiest line but this certainly warranted WI4 with current ice build-up.

Battling the crux

Anna joined me at the belay in equal elation, albeit a slightly more tired format. She's actually dispatched the final pitch with remarkable ease from what I could tell. We paused at the top of the route to eat and drink. The descent lay some 1km to the South via a long traverse along the hillside. Navigating in the dark would make finding the descent line more difficult but no doubt the clear skies would aid matters I considered...

Top of the route

...Soon it began to snow horizontally. Things became 'Scottish'. Not to worry, as it was still rather mild compared to an average bad weather day on the Cairngorm plateau. The problem was that our guidebook only offered a photo of the descent, which was of little help in poor visibility. We headed blindly South, following the tops of the red rocks. A couple of times there looked to be footprints but these soon evaporated. The skies momentarily cleared, during which I thought I spied an steady slope ahead and below. We descended in its direction only to meet with steeper ground, littered with loose rocks beneath a thin cover of snow. We back-tracked and traversed further South.

Soon an icy cliff above us forced us to change tact and descend a little. This seemed the moment to try and descend more directly. Things were initially straightforward until a rocky corner blocked our way. It looked too difficult to down-climb so we set-up a short abseil from a couple of tiny trees in close proximity. A funnel of snow lay beneath the corner on generally flat ground, so I consoled myself that there would be a soft landing were the trees were not up to the job.

Once below the corner things generally became progressively easier. We needed to make another short abseil of maybe 10m but for the large part the descent involved lots of snow, turf and rocks underfoot with small trees to weave through. We needed to go slow because of so many hidden rocks and needed to keep our crampons donned due to the sporadic presence of ice. The crampons were particularly troublesome over the rocks and maybe we should have taken them off sooner were the transition to less frozen ground not so subtle. Gradually the trees became bigger and more widespread until they constituted a thin forest. The car headlights from the road below became bigger until we could see the tarmac. By the time we were actually standing on it it was 9pm- a round-trip of twelve hours with the descent taking over three hours. Definitely 'epic'. Based on observations the following day I suspect we started our descent too soon. It worked out fine but no doubt the forest descent was slower going compared to the recommended more open ground. We hadn't discussed Sunday's plans but it would more than likely be an easy day...

The descent

Monday, 15 December 2014

Torsetfossen (WI4), Hemsedal

Murilo was keen to maximise the short daylight hours with as much climbing as feasibly possible. Langesetfeltet sounded a sure bet given it's Northerly aspect and high altitude. There looked to be numerous short climbs around 4/4+. Of course we needed the approach road to be open in order to get anywhere near the climbs and as it turned out it wasn't. Nevertheless the morning detour provided some inspiring views of Hydnafossen.


Inspiring view over with, we needed to find a plan B. Luckily formulating plan B's was becoming second nature in recent weeks. I knew Torsetfossen had been climbed around 10 days prior so this seemed like a good choice.

From the car park the route looked to have a couple of really steep sections. With half the walk-in completed the route was still looking rather steep and slightly intimidating. Only when in direct proximity did the line of weakness present. A lower tier had an obvious channel that would hopefully facilitate bridging, whilst the upper tier looked to have a welcome escape on the right in order to avoid some intimating ice pillars.

Beneath the route

Murilo led the first pitch, which proved not only steep but also exhilarating. Fortunately the channel offered some great stepped bridging to facilitate rests. Furthermore some positive hooks presented towards the back of the channel where the the ice was not fully formed. The downside was that the screws proved harder than expected to place due to the general lack of compact ice. A couple of screws placed low down was followed by a barren patch without gear until towards the top. Murilo looked a little tense but the climbing at least always looked in control.

Start of the steep climbing
Nearing the top

He made a belay between the two tiers from where I led the remainder of the route. The difficulties through the top tier proved much briefer than below, although lacked screws again where most needed and maybe the ice was a little less cooperating. Only after I'd given Murilo a small black eye from falling ice did I cut my eyebrow in similar manner. I arrived at a rather dubious belay consisting of a pair of ropes hanging from a tree high above, which joined at a heavy duty maillon. One of the ropes was encased in a pillar of ice. The ends of the other rope, which was free of the ice, were not looking in best of condition but at least everything looked well frozen in place.

Top of the second steep section
Our frozen rope belay

Above us lay a narrow gully, which didn't look overly difficult, or in particularly great condition either. We decided to climb it nonetheless in order to make the most of the day. As it happened the climbing was rather taxing but enjoyable with some proper Scottish moves. I was presented with an assortment of thin ice, deep snow, running water and rubbish ice screws. The steepest section of ice was particularly problematic as I didn't trust the ice above for fear of both my axes simultaneously ripping. And so I back-and-footed my way up the adjacent walls on small blobs of ice in order to gain enough height to revert into to bridging position and gain the step. It felt maybe M5 but probably much easier were the ice reliable enough to simply heave on. Also probably much easier for the second who could heave and hope without needing to worry about that laughably poor ice screw below him.

View up the gully...
...and back down

The gully petered out after thirty meters and so we set about abseiling from whence we had come. We
convinced ourselves that the frozen maillon belay would be ok for this purpose but prudently we backed-up it up for the heavier climber to test it out first (me of course). Soon we were back at our bags and content with having ticked an even better route than yesterday. It all boded well for what might follow in the coming months.

End of the abseil descent

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Haugsfossen (WI4), Hemsedal

We had lost the best part of a day's climbing due to Murilo's flight from the UK having been delayed as a result of the air traffic control computer failure. He landed on Saturday at 4pm instead of the planned Friday at 11pm but at least this meant a drive to Hemsedal at a sociable hour with no need to sleep in the back of the car on route as originally planned. Sunday morning we were feeling fresh and after my first winter outings the previous weekend I was feeling ready to start ticking some better known classics in the area.

It was another cold day in Hemsedal. Haugsfossen looked in a climbable condition from the road and so begged for a closer view. Fortunately we were not the first to do so this winter meaning there was an easy trail through the snow to the base of the route. Also helped by the reduced snow cover compared to last weekend. The left side of the icefall looked thin but there was an obvious channel of well-formed ice towards the right side. Elsewhere Indre and Ytre Haugsfoss were looking too thin to contemplate.

Haugsfossen (left) and Indre Haugsfoss (right)

Beneath the route

I led the lower half of the fall, which was beautifully formed. My axes bit into the ice with ease. Cauliflower formations often offered strong natural hooks between them. The narrow passage of thicker ice forced me to follow a line rather than me dictate my passage, which made route-finding a more interesting affair. Steep climbing was interspersed with more gentle breathers. For the large part the ice was thick enough for long screws, although a couple of brief thin sections still existed. Here water flowed without noise behind the ice like a silent movie. This contrasted with the high-pitched atmospheric twangs of tiny snapping icicles as I made space for my axe placements. I made a belay at about half height so that we could equally share the lead. 

Leading the lower part of the icefall
(photo credit: Murilo Lessa)
Midway up the icefall

The angle in the upper half of the icefall eased off generally with just a couple of steeper sections. Extra care was needed at the icefall's head, where the ice became much leaner and the snow much deeper.

Close to the top

We finished the route in good time and so optimistically hoped to squeeze in a second route in before dusk. The problem was that there was nothing worth leading in the immediate vicinity. We drove to Grøndalen and marched up to Helgesetbekken but by which time it was 14.50. Already the light was flat and fading as it had been snowing throughout the afternoon with low snow clouds lingering. More to the point the route didn't look something that we were going to quickly run up as the lower half looked particularly steep (certainly not a 3+ in current form). We thought better of it and went for a coffee instead like true hardened climbers. All the more motivation for something challenging the following day though.

Helgesetbekken. Not WI3+ currently

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Øvre Lauvdøla (WI3), Hemsedal

Our initial plan was to try the climbs at Botnajuvet but having descended most of the way into the Lauvdøla ravine we decided to switch plans. Partly because there was still a lot of running water running through the ravine and partly because I could sense that Anna was finding the approach a little too protracted, given the amount of snow we were wading through in just our boots. We still needed to cross the water and then ascend back up the other side of the valley, which was looking a big day out currently.

Descending to the Lauvdølejuv ravine on route to Botnajuvet
(Shortly before aborting)

We turned around and ploughed back uphill with the plan to head for the moderate icefall called Øvre Lauvdøla, which was relatively close-by as the crow flies. The problem for non-crows was that we were on the East side of the Lauvdølejuv ravine running North-South and we needed to be on the West side. The ravine also forked a short way south with our climb lying in the far right hand branch. There were no presenting opportunities to cross to the other side due the ravine being hemmed in by steep rock walls. Further to this our map showed the water in the left-hand branch turning sharply Eastwards a little further South so we were likely walking into a dead-end. We cut our losses and headed back to the car knowing that we could cross the water at the bridge adjacent to the car park, which was incidentally what the guidebook advised anyway. It was 11:30 by the time we returned to the car. A round trip of around 2.5 hours and quite a few calories burnt. Time for some early lunch. At which point I couldn't help but notice how much colder this spot was compared to the previous day.

Second attempt we crossed the bridge and then cut west as indicated by the guidebook. As it happened the left-hand branch of the Lauvdølejuv ravine continued further south beyond where the stream cut Eastwards but by this point it was shallower and much easier to find a way to descend into and out of. Then more bashing through snow and trees to the ravine where our route lay. I had entered into my phone the coordinates of the route but as it turned out the route was actually a few hundred metres further South along the ravine on the Western side. 

We descended into the ravine whilst there was good opportunity, which was a mistake as the water running through it was only superficially frozen. Unexpectedly the surface ice would crack, at which point I would throw myself forward onto all fours in order to spread my load. Anna resorted to crawling on a couple of occasions. All good fun but in hindsight the easier option would have been to follow the East bank of the ravine until directly opposite the the icefall and then descend via another easy slope.

Descending the ravine to our route

Preventative measures to stop the ice breaking

The good news after all our exploration was that Øvre Lauvdøla was looking in surprising good shape for so early in the season. I eagerly geared-up for some long overdue climbing.

Our route

The ice was pleasantly thick although proved much harder work compared to the previous day. No doubt due to the higher altitude and generally colder temperatures than at Grøndalen. Often multiple swings would be needed to adequately pierce the ice and gain purchase although the ice was partially cooperative by not dinner plating overly. Needless to say all my ice screws felt totally solid. The climbing was enjoyable although a little short-lived to really stand out. It was just what was needed for the first weekend out though, given that the goal was primarily to find climbable ice. It's a shame there was not more ice in the vicinity as I had quickly warmed to the secluded feel of the ravine.

Placing ice screws at will

Anna tried her hand at leading the route as well but wasn't liking the hardness of the ice and so ab'ed off from half height. But only after yelling some expletives at her ice axes that I couldn't possibly repeat here, all of which had no effect. Anyway, this meant I got to climb the route again for extra mileage points and Anna got to second it, which she managed without drama.

Anna leading the route

There seemed a remarkably easier way to return to our car verses how we had approached. From the top of the route we crossed the fence and followed a gentle SW-S-SE curving arc towards an isolated hut besides the cross-country ski trail. From here it was an easy walk along the piste back to the car park. 25 minutes total.

So two routes in two days as planned. Just what the Doctor ordered and a good foundation for another foray next weekend.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Bøttnebekken (WI3), Hemsedal

The previous Saturday I had failed to get anything climbed...

The initial plan had been to try Demonstranten on Skogshorn but we had started too late. Getting the car stuck in the snow hadn't helped matters. Then there was the snow, which was deeper than expected. But apart from these mild excuses the main problem was that we had underestimated the time needed for the approach and started far too late. It was already 9am with the start of the route feeling a long way off and the parked car still relatively close. We conservatively opted to bail whilst we still had an alternative and attempt to find some ice in the valley.

...The problem was that we didn't have a plan in reserve and didn't know the area particularly well. We flicked through the guidebook looking for options. Flagetfossen looked a possibility but we couldn't find the route (we were looking to the right of Flagetfeltet rather than to the left). Then we drove to Haugsfossen but the top of the route looked a bit thin. Then Golsjuvet but both the river and routes were only partially frozen. By this time it was after 2pm so we headed home. It had been a fun exploring the area nevertheless and I anticipated I would be back in the weeks to come anyway.

Understandably this weekend I was keen to 'get something done'. Bøttnebekken sounded a fairly safe early season choice. It was also the closest route to our hytte in Grøndalen and also close to the road, which meant we had the luxury of waiting until sunrise to properly view the route from the car door before committing. As it happened, we failed to spot the route due to the amount of snow coverage in the upper half, however things looked positive due to the amount of ice that the nearby route called Helgesetbekken was holding.

Bøttnebekken looking nondescript from the roadside

We made the short bash up through the trees with relative ease. Bøttnebekken looked thin but unquestionably climbable. There was running water towards the left-hand side but up the centre the ice looked adequately thick and stable. It was time to rack-up and get the winter season started...

Anna beneath the route

The initial steep section provided some enjoyable bridging and firm axe placements before the steepness eased back to a slabby angle. Then some plasticy white ice that felt great for axe placements but quickly cracked and collapsed under the weight of my crampons. Gear in the lower portion of the climb was limited to a few short screws in selected places but their spacing felt sufficient enough for comfort and my axe placements were always solid.

The winter season begins...

Easy angled ice

Then at about 20m height I placed a couple of long screws in a more ample flow of ice to steady the boat. From here there was a short traverse out left and up to another short steeper section. This one was maybe slightly harder than the first one but overall the climbing felt steady. Where the route eased back to slabby climbing the ice often thinned out and became buried under a coverage of snow. This was particularly true above the second steeper section, where a little hunting around was needed in order to find sufficient purchase.

Anna led the final section of ice to a tree belay at the top. From here we were treated to a great view over the valley under clear blue skies. Very unlike my last winter outing I thought!

The view

We made the descent by foot back to our bags via gentle slopes to the left of the route. By this time it was around 1pm. Possibly time for a second route but it would be tight. Better to go for a drive and check-out options for the next day we thought...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Skagastølsryggen (n3+), Store Skagastølstind

Our 1am arrival at Turtagrø wasn't ideal preparation but my first glimpse of the Northern Lights on route had made it all worthwhile. We had originally planned to walk a short way towards the Tindeklub hut that night and camp in its vicinity, however now our thoughts were only concerned with immediate sleep. We promptly pitched the tent a short distance from the car park and crashed out. Four hours later the alarm sounded.

This was my partner Christian's third attempt at Skagastølsryggen, the long northern ridge extending from Store Skagastølstind, which includes the subsidiary peaks of Nordre, Midtre, and Vesle Skagastølstind. With no snow expected on the ridge and a fine weather forecast there was no reason for failure on this occasion in my mind, provided we were committed and organised.

The Tindeklubb hut beneath Skagastølsryggen
There was little in the way of ascent or descent once the ridge was gained via a loose rocky gentle slope above the Tindeklub hut. Much of the ridge involved easy scrambling, without much exposure or need for a rope, which meant we could make gold progress. Our only reason to stop was to take in the outstanding views either side of the ridge.

The climb to Nordre Skagastølstind
View to Søre Dyrhaugstind from near the start of the ridge
View back along the ridge to  Nordre Skagastøltind
Clouds below nearby Maradalsryggen
Just a couple of sections caused us any technical difficulty. The first of was an n3+ pitch in order to gain the summit of Midtre Skagastølstind. Technically it was easy but was made more difficult by the vegetated, damp conditions. I tried to climb in rock shoes but the slippery ground forced me to switch to my mountain boots midway. Reading the easiest line also less straightforward as anticipated and time was wasted traversing to an alternate line further left low down on the pitch.

View back to Midtre Skagastøltind
Store Skagastøltind with Vesle Skagastøltind to the left
The second harder short section at Halls Hammer, on the shoulder of Vesle Skagastøltind, also felt decidedly difficult for its modest n3 grade due to my choice of footwear. I was wearing rigid B3 boots in case I needed to don my C3 crampons during the glacier descent. Now presented with a short exposed slab, I found little in the way of edges to gain purchase with my boots. Add to this the exposure, where one slip without a rope would mean a tumble hundreds of metres to the glacier below. Had I been able to smear properly then no doubt the climbing would have felt easier. Really I should have changed into my rock shoes but didn't bother for need to be quick and bad experiences with them below Midtre Skagastølstind. Instead I climbed like a beginner, over reliant on arm power to get me up. We further made life hard for ourselves through trying to be quick by not unpacking the rope. Instead we simply placed a cam in the middle of the difficulties and clipped to it with a long sling as a sort of back-roping exercise. All our trust in one cam. It all felt a bit sketchy trying to claw ourselves up and off the slab but managed nonetheless without too much drama. 

Climbing the n3 cracks at Halls Hammer
Once above Midtre Skagastølstind the difficulties were largely over. We stopped to take in the classic view of Store​ Skagastølstind from Vesle Skagastøltind, before making the enjoyable final scramble from the notch of Mohns Scar to the summit, reaching it by 5pm. We had had perfect weather throughout the day and naturally had great views once on the highest point. 

Store Skagastøltind from Vesle Skagastøltind
The descent proved a tedious affair due to a party of three ahead of us taking ages to complete the first abseil. What's more they only had a single rope, which further slowed their progress. We managed to negotiate way past them on the second abseil provided we left our half ropes in place for them to use. They would then return the ropes once we were all down at the banda hut, where Christian and me had planned to spend the night.

We had packed as light as possible, hoping to use some sleeping bags at the banda hut and then continue our traverse via the neighbouring peak of Søre Dyrhaugstind the following day. Unfortunately only one sleeping bag was available and we quickly concluded that we would need to push on down the glacier and back to Turtagrø the same evening. As a consequence the time we gained from overtaking the other party was largely lost from waiting for them at the hut in order to get our ropes back. 

Sunset from the Banda hut
We were back at the Tindeklub hut by about 9pm. Feeling exhausted we stopped to make a brew and cook some dinner. By 11pm we were back at the car, which completed a 17 hour round trip. Not surprisingly we were in no condition to climb anything the following day. Despite the ridge being technically easy it was a fancy alpine experience, particularly because of the amount of time spent at high elevation. Before we had even finished the climb I had started to plot a return to try the even longer Maradalsryggen.