Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Øvredalsrenna, Hemsedal

The pressure to get something climbed on Sunday was on after the volume of food consumed Saturday night. Half a box of ice cream, a large tub of cottage cheese, and a skolebrød were the trimmings to the main course of tacos. The reason for so much consumption related to the total lack of energy and fatigue during Saturday. Grand plans made on Friday had whittled down to getting nothing done the following day. The battery felt flat midway through the walk-in and by the time we were under a route I was ready to leave. Didn't see that coming...

Sunday morning I didn't feel a huge deal better but then at 5am on a Sunday things rarely do. Clearly I hadn't recovered from the previous weekend. The basic plan was aim low, take the walk-in at a gentle pace, and hopefully reach the top of something before the battery ran flat again. The fine weather a major motivator for trying again. The low of -22 degrees on the car temperature gauge suggesting it would certainly be cold enough.

The walk-in, with friends heading to Skurvefjell
Entering Øvredalen

As it happened we got an excellent short route called Øvredalsrenna climbed. I had backed-off the start of this route the previous weekend due to its poor condition but sensed a further week would be enough to sufficiently improve things should we return. Reaching my previous high point of 5m was an easy affair given that the first 5m were now buried under a funnel of snow.

Øvredalsrenna (again)

The lower portion of the gully was filled with ice but the character of climbing remained very much mixed. Thrutchy, awkward and cramped. The thin streak of ice generally wide enough for one crampon, which made for some interesting bridging onto rock. At times the ice was particularly thin, for which my roughly sharpened mixed picks were ill-suited. There wasn't much in the way of solid rock protection but surprisingly some excellent screw placements. Also some not so good screws where the streak of ice became really narrow.

The start of Øvredalsrenna (again)

The guidebook described the difficulties slackening off after the initial climbing but in current early season state the challenging climbing kept coming. Below half height the ice quality had transformed into one of the worst of types. Poorly formed snowy ice suspended above unconsolidated powder. Ice just a few inches thick and useless for placing screws into. I kicked my feet into where this ice commenced and mounted it but quickly the top sheet deformed and then fell apart leaving my feet momentarily scrapping amongst powder for footing. The ice a little higher, where my axes were placed, was fortunately better but still required a some delicacy. Towards the the centre of the gully the ice was best for axes but at the edges I could easily punch foot holes through the top layer, which felt secure enough to weight bear.

One of the falling blocks, which had collapsed under my feet, had unfortunately hit Anna on the back of the hand. Evidently her belay wasn't out of the firing line. At first there was concern that it was broken but after a little pause things began to improve and she was able to enjoy the climb.

Gear wasn't great after the initial good ice. A poor screw in hollow ice. A number 1 nut that seemed resilient enough despite not looking so. I spent a long time trying to seat a large nut only for it lift once into the moves. Another nut sitting a little too shallow for comfort. Nothing totally reliable and everything fairly spaced from one another. Much of the rock was too compact. To be fair, I passed what looked to be a solid large cam placement but we had left all the cams to minimise weight. Just nuts, hexes and tricams.

The upper half of route was largely ice free, apart from the occasional thin covering on rock. The snow offered little help on steeper sections and in addition to this some large black holes were appearing through the snow beneath my feet. Fortunately I was able to patch these with the snow that I was sweeping from higher up. A couple of steep steps proved harder than anticipated. The poor snow forcing me to commit to some very fun mixed moves with a nice blend of solid hooks and holds more delicate. The route was probably all the better for this and very Scottish in character.

Anna climbing the second of two awkward steps

The steep, interesting climbing only lasted for around 60m. I looked to have just enough rope to exit the main gully but chose to make a belay just prior. Partly because this was the first decent rock gear that I had placed since near the base of the route and partly because I was unsure how soon a belay would present once onto easy ground. The final moves at the top of the route heralded bomber frozen turf at which point I knew I was home and dry.

The belay just below the top of the route

I needed to continue up the broad snow slope for maybe another 40m until a belay presented around some large boulders. Maybe this is what qualifies the route as being 100m but really the main climbing is just 60m.

Easy ground above the main climbing

I don't really have a feel for M-grades I will admit. Partly because the few M-graded routes that I have climbed have felt all over the place with regards to grade consistency. With my limited knowledge I would hint that this was hard for M3 in current conditions. It felt Scottish Tech 5. Arguably V,5 with the lack of good gear but possibly more like IV,5 with better ice and good neve in the upper half.

Thus I managed to finish a route this weekend... In fact once on the route I had felt quite fresh. We even set about continuing up and over Nibbi in order to return to the car but later changed tack upon seeing how the easy the descent back to our tracks in Øvredalen would be.

The descent back to Øvredalen (the long way)
Moonlit descent

A trip to the legevakt on route home confirmed fortunately no broken bones in Anna's hand.

Next weekend is going to be largely rest. The mixed routes on Skoghorn I imagine will have become a little too dry for my liking and there looks still to be limited options for ice yet. A few photos below to illustrate conditions from last Saturday. Probably a good opportunity for me to have break. Then full gas the following week with a bit of luck.

Skogshorn Saturday morning
Lanciakaminen looking dry

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Semi-winter conditions on Siluetten

Getting some proper winter conditions this weekend looked too be a marginal affair but Anna and me were more than keen to try our luck. Hemsedal the natural place to poke around in high places. On Saturday however I managed just 5m of climbing before backing off due to cruddy ice. The route in question being Øvredalsrenna in Øvredalen. The light trickle of water behind the bad ice meant that much of the ground also wasn't frozen sufficiently. Elsewhere nothing really looked in proper winter nick and so we retired to the local swimming baths to review our strategy for Sunday.

My 'high point' on Øvredalsrenna

The biggest incentive for sticking around on Sunday was the fine weather forecast. Clear skies and freezing temperatures expected, so potentially a good day to be in the hills. Both Skogshorn and Skurvefjell had looked to be in a semi-winter state on Saturday. Fresh snow had fallen through the late morning and early afternoon but temperatures felt barely freezing. The harder mixed lines on Skogshorn would need to wait if I wanted the full winter experience. Better to lower the bar and finish a route and get the season kick-started on a positive note. Siluetten was the natural choice as I suspected it would be climable in any condition.

We did half the approach with the cat from Ulsålstolen before it got bored. Or maybe it just didn't fancy the loose slippery rocks for the remainder of the climb. A thin coating of snow covered the slopes beneath the cliffs but the cliffs themselves were looked fairly bare. It felt suitably cold at least and the beautiful sunrise that greeted us suggested a fine day in store.

Approaching the route

The summer and winter guidebooks show a radically different line for Siluetten and so I presume the route has many variations. The line that we climbed lay midway between these two described variants.

The lower rock was largely free of snow, and so we were spared the need to unpack the crampons and axes. Just boots and gloves required. Our line up the initial buttress largely involved steep scrambling with the occasional harder move. A strong, chilly wind picked up at the top of the first pitch and encouraged us to traverse a little bit rightwards across broken ground to find some shelter. Fortunatly the wind soon abated for the remainder of the climb.

View towards the central buttress from low on the route

At roughly one third height greater snow coverage was causing the rock to become a little more slippery and so we donned crampons. A short chimney offered a thrutchy crux in such conditions. Particularly with a backpack to further cramp my space.

The awkward chimney

The climbing then became much easier and we were able to move together for the next 100-150m to where the final section of ridge began. The clean sections of rock were snow free but snow lying on the less steep and sheltered ground meant crampons were still of benefit. Our axes were just with us for the ride though. The sunny weather allowed a couple of moves without gloves but these needed to be replaced soon after. The requirement for crampons at least meant we could claim a 'mixed' ascent.

Close to the top of the route
The final section of ridge

We finished the route just after the sun had dipped out of sight and so without lingering we started our descent whilst twilight lasted. We made the error of descending down the Eastern slopes, believing this would be a romp. It had been in May, when many people were skiing the slope, but in November it proved time-consuming and needed both axes and crampons for some steeper sections. We should have used the Milarenna gully in hindsight, which neighboured our route.

Conditions in summary were more alpine than full winter. Worth noting that my idea of full winter mixed conditions is based on a Scottish algorithm consisting of frozen turf, hoar frosted rock, and a sporting amount of snow coverage. It's probably harder to get this full mix on a south facing cliff, where maybe a period of less than perfect weather is going to be needed for such conditions. Hopefully in the next few weeks I'll catch Skogshorn at the right moment to get a good tick in the bag.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dry Tooling at Heggedal

The previous weekend had been a strong indicator that winter training should begin in earnest. I had managed just one rock route in two days due to wet rock. Ideally my winter preparation should have begun sooner but the fantastic autumn rock climbing conditions around Oslo and Drammen had prolonged my motivation for climbing in rock shoes.

Dry tooling hasn't really caught on in Norway and there is very little development. Heggedal looked the obvious place to start though. The local Drammen guidebook described it as a collection of ice and mixed crags but the simple topos suggested a handful of bolted routes might be possible without ice formation. I made further investigation with Anna and Stig.

We first visited a crag called Mullaveggen but the bolted routes here were under perpetual shower. How much this related to the overnight rain I don't know, however the cracked rock appeared otherwise ideal.

We moved on to another area called Buldreveggen. After a little searching along the base if the cliff we found the short wall containing three routes. They were vertical to slightly leaning, only about 6m high, but at least looked suitable to hang on axes. And dry.

We started with the awkward wide crack called Burka express, the easiest route on offer and graded M5. My onsight attempt proved an abysmal affair. Maybe futile in light of the amount of fallen leaves and dense moss that decked the upper half of the route. Much gardening amidst popping axes and skating crampons. Without lower-off bolts I topped-out onto soft forest slopes and delicately padded my way up the nearest tree.

With the route now cleared of vegetation we each practised it on top-rope. Quickly the moves linked together and after a couple of practise runs I cleaned it on lead. Some difficult footwork for M5 but I suspect the grade assumes presence of ice.

 Anna on Burka express
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
Burka express on lead
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)

The opening route had naturally raised my guard and so the neighbouring M7, called Haken, I tried on top-rope from the outset. It felt in fact only a fraction harder but more pleasant. Strong hooks, interesting reachy moves, and a balancy layback off a torqued axe shaft towards the top. Topping-out without lower-off bolts felt an almost impossible affair with little purchase from the smooth final rock or forest bed. The lead attempt would need to wait until next visit though.

Pleasant footwork on Haken
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
Midway up Haken
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
That was all we had time for but the place certainly warranted a return as the short routes contained a fair number of moves of sustained difficulty for their height. "Grades" and "lower-offs" were probably the keywords to take away. Bringing some hardware to knock together a temporary lower-off seems a sensible approach and grades need to be taken with a pinch of salt.