Sunday, 8 June 2014

Overraskelsen - Direkte variant (n5+), Skogshorn

We referred to the route description:

"Follow <something> towards the right up to <something>. Thereafter little <something>, until left around the corner and up a short crack / <something>. Belay on the top of this."

...We were experiencing a few navigational problems due to language difficulties with our guidebook. Usually in such situations I would just look at the pictures except these were equally baffling. The sketch of the route showed a dotted line passing through an assortment of chimneys and cracks but nothing was really to scale or with any points of reference. If we were following a line of bolts then this may have been fine but we were on a trad line. The initial pitch was not installing great confidence in my route-finding abilities in particular. It climbed a relatively obvious broad corner system but was very loose and vegetated. The trick being not to fall off with a piece rock still in my hand. Not what you would expect from a four star classic.

Skogshorn, in Hemsedal, looked a great proposition in the guidebook with multi-pitch trad routes up to 400m high on prominent buttresses and ridges. What's more the mountain looked like a large scale Clogwyn Du'r Arddu, only it was South facing. The direct variation of Overraskelsen, which wound it's way up one of the central buttresses looked the obvious choice route.

Skogshorn
For the first handful of pitches we faffed for too long trying to decide which way go. We too often made belays two thirds of the way up pitches in order to discuss route finding. The hours passed by, clouds developed, the winds picked up, and by the sixth pitch it began to rain. We were now high on the mountain with still three pitches to go - including the crux seventh pitch. Fortunately the rock quality had improved markedly since the first pitch and the climb was developing into something worthy of classic status. Urgently I climbed a beautifully positioned steep slab pillar, pulling on prominent edges and not worrying about gear too much. Better to climb dry rock with few runners than wet rock with many runners I thought. The climbing was steady enough and for now the light rain was failing to gain momentum.

Easy third pitch
Climbing towards the leaning slab (left centre)
Photo by Anna Kennedy
Then the crux slanting crack on the seventh pitch - fortunately steep enough to shelter from the rain and short enough to be over in a jiffy. Still the rain fell... one pitch to go. This involved a downward traverse before gaining an open slabby corner to the top. Traverses... slabs... all the things I like to avoid in the wet. I needed to slow down and protect the traverse, although this was no easy task. Seepage spilled down the rocks but above the traverse there was plenty of gear to ensure I would not slip far. Some recent evenings spent unintentionally climbing in the rain in and around Oslo had prepared me well for these conditions. Anna joined me at the top. 400m of climbing were now below us. No time to linger. Besides I was too cold to linger, what with foolishly being under-dressed in just a t-shirt and shorts (warm weather had been promised throughout the day).

Final pitch - After the traverse
Photo by Anna Kennedy
We bore East over the loose scree that littered the summit plateau. Anna at this point concluded that epics always happened to her whenever she went in the mountains, after which the weather evidently took pity and changed for the better. Things actually became rather pleasant and we were able to relax and enjoy the wonderful summit views of the surrounding lakes. This was after all our first big rock route since arriving in Norway.

View from the summit
We swung South where the guidebook vaguely indicated a descent off the summit plateau was possible. We slowly descended between cliffs eventually to follow a broad, loose gully that needed care to avoid a tumble. Unstable rocks littered the slopes, needing little encouragement to dislodge themselves. Maybe 150m from the bottom we made a short abseil to span some particularly loose ground. Anna went first. She was barely 10m below when I lifted my bag ready for my turn only to watch a dinner plate-size rock beneath it dislodge and tumble South. "Rock, rock, rock!!" I shouted in a panic. But there was no time... Anna did a little jig on the rope to try and avoid it but she had a matter of metres to adjust. It crashed into her right knee and then continued to the bottom of the gully. Anna paused. "Why do I feel that should hurt more than is does" she grimaced. Amazingly she appeared largely unhurt. I couldn't help think thinking that maybe there would be no climbing tomorrow once the swelling kicked in.

We could see the gully dropping away at the bottom of the cliffs and so prepared ourselves for another abseil. Anna spotted some tat in some rocks and then to our amazement we spotted a couple of abseil bolts. After two hours of patiently descending loose ground with little opportunity for rappels we couldn't contain our excitement at this 'gift'. A single abseil and we were back on the broad slopes beneath the cliffs. There was still some more scree bashing to be done but we were now below the difficulties and it was just a matter of time before we were back at the car.

Never so happy to see an abseil bolt!
It was 9pm by the time I started the engine. Our wild camping spot lay a few miles away in a logging area infested with mosquitoes, so late evening cooking over a stove didn't appeal. In desperation we knocked on the locked front door of a Chinese restaurant in Ullsåk in the hope that they would serve us. We were in luck. And what's more the premises was licensed.

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