A mixed team of attendees from several UK Climbing Clubs finally got under way after forty-seven spreadsheet issues for the travel and team arrangements, on February 19th
There were multi-choice departure airports being used this year, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Stanstead. Norway does seem an easy place to fly to and it seems no-one had any hassles on their planes. Arrival airports spread across the Norwegian countryside, Oslo (City) Gardermoen, Oslo Torp, and a new location, Oslo Rygge.
The usual arrival point (after many years) was Gardermoen and it didn’t disappoint the usual Edinburgh stalwarts, easy loading and landing, and rapid hiring of cars. It seems Ryan Air to Torp was also quite efficient for a large party of members, and the newly-tried Oslo Rygge proved an excellent service, even if it was a little longer car journey from Rygge to Rjukan for the two team members, these arriving a planned day later than the rest of the team. Once in arrivals, cars were sorted, stuffed with holdalls and rucksacks, and teams sped off into a slightly dubious night sky, having been primed by the Meet leader(s) with date which meant arriving just as a major holiday period was starting. Hence the traffic through Oslo was horrible, but the snow fell only lightly over the mountain section. Some cars were late arriving; it was the last snowfall we would see!
The Hostel was its usual welcoming self, rooms comfortable, clean and tidy (not for long), and keys were ready for all rooms on the foyer counter. For most, it was ‘straight to bed’.
Next morning, Saturday, with so many newcomers to the team, the breakfast room was noisy, with lots of planning where to go by members. There had already been a mention to a couple of members from Torbjørn, the hostel manager, that the breakfast would have a forty Kroner price increase this year. I hadn’t been told of this increase, and on arriving, hadn’t had the chance to discuss this with Torbjørn, as he’d soon left the building. Towards the end of the Meet, when members would start thinking of settling up, I managed to get Torbjørn to drop this increase! Success!
Condition on the ice routes were superb. Plenty of fat ice (apart from the top groove of Tracy’s Eyes (WI 3??) More like Mixed WI5)? The track in the Rjukan Gorge was good and direct to many lines, thankfully without much deep snow, and no sign of the river below it. Almost all of the usual routes were in great condition, sometimes a little brittle ice was encountered but in general, no-one could or did complain.
One of the main venues was the Vemork Bridge routes. The usually snowed-up and icy road down to and getting out of the Vemork Bridge car park was no trouble this season even without 4-wheel drive cars. There was no problem parking, in fact it seemed oddly quiet (and it was a Saturday after all)?
With the excellent conditions, we all got stuck in to some great ice climbing. One big disappointment was the lack of Ice Fest water piping on either sides of the Vemork Bridge again this year. Apparently the cost of installing the pipes for the great Sport Climbs festival of previous years on the near-side Vemork Bridge walls, was simply unaffordable again this year. Last year (or was it the year before?) locals were asking for a donation, and although I’m sure several of us regulars would have been happy to contribute, there was no such requests this year from the locals to get the pipes up and running. With super conditions, there was more than enough ice on classic lines to satisfy us.
Many of the Meet attendees started the Meet off at the dependable Ozzimosis, Several of the harder boys rattled off the bigger 4s at places along this hidden valley crag, like Ozzimosis itself, while many, including the newcomers to Rjukan, spent the day getting used to all the classic WI2s and 3s. All great single-pitch routes. Even the lower tier was giving steeper and longer climbs this year.
With a distinct lack of local climbers including the military personnel, we had a great warm-up day.
The Vemork Bridge routes, Vemorkbrufoss Vest (WI5) and Øst (WI4) were in superb condition and Meet members galore homed in to these routes, hoping to not get in a CC traffic jam. All three lines on the Vest side were climbed, all giving great circa WI5 climbing. The big fall to the Ost of the bridge was also superb.
In the Upper Gorge, the classic Tracy’s Eyes (WI 3) and the easier Lettvann (WI 2) had held onto some deeper snow but for most of the former route it was good ice underneath. There was a distinct lack of ice on the left-hand finishing groove, which proved exciting (and somewhat serious) for at least one party.
The bigger routes further up the gorge, like Sabotorfossen (WI5) and Blindtarmen (WI4) were climbed by CC members and the classic but previously banned Rjukanfossen (WI4) , now officially holding no danger from any water deluge, the route gave delightful climbing to several Meet teams, but also giving Peri Stracchino her introduction to air space for the first time at Rjukan. (Bruised but still happy).
Not wishing to be left out, Pete Frost had two falls off Verdens Ende (WI5) before the route finally gave way to Pete’s persistence.
Amazingly, even on a Sunday, Krokan was very quiet (again, no military courses) and many of the now classic lines were ascended by Meet members. The Bullen wall still provides some of the best steep and fun ice climbing with relatively little seriousness (‘top roping!’). In all we counted 5 lines on the entrance section of this superb one-pitch wall, of which many teams did at least four and even all of the lines. There were many other routes to the right and left of the Bullen area. Little information was received so far.
Both Bakveien (WI4) and the super Nye Vemorkfoss (WI5) had ascents I’m sure, but again, little information is available on CC ascents of these two superb routes. I’ll probably get to know more, once the Meet report gets out. Down the valley from the hostel, also proving worthwhile was the four pitch Bolgen area. Some teams were attempting the steep pillar of Tu og et Foster (WI4) attracted by the steep and final pillar but this pitch proven too brittle and dinner-plating, so abseils were called for.
The Jenkins family and others also had a couple of great days on the Gaustatoppen ski resort, justify the arduous task of adding skis and ski boots to their airline ticket costs. Michael Jenkins and Mike Pike , although experienced climbers but relatively new to ice climbing, showed a vast improvement in steep ice skills with several good leads -well done lads.
Smiler and Richard (Jolley) made the long-awaited break after seven visits (for Smiler) to Rjukan, by doing a three-day recce trip out west to Hemsedal. Arriving in the afternoon of Day 1, they located the Tourist Office and questioned the attendant about the nearest ice routes. The chap told them there were good routes up and behind the Tourist Office. However, rather than going back next morning, they decided to honour the assistance given to Smiler over many visits by ex-pat Brit, Ben Campbell-Kelly, and find (and photograph) an ascent of Ben’s 1976 first ascent of Flagetfossen (WI3). When asked, Ben had little memory of the route or the location? It still seemed a good and steady start to climbs over here?
Following the difficult description in Smiler’s (yet unused) Hemsedal Ice guidebook, the pair was soon floundering in waist deep snow. Eventually (exhausted) reaching a tree line, at an easier angle after a steep, extremely unpleasant and strenuous 200 metres of crawling upwards in deep snow, there was no ice in sight and nothing encouraging to lure the two climbers into further chaos, so a retreat was made to the car.
Next morning (Day two) the pair had a tourist day, after the initially long drive to Hemsedal and then the abortive attempt on Ben’s route. Richard drove over a stunning pass with unbelievable scenery to Flam, very famous for its fiords and boat trips in this west coast area. Returning in the afternoon past numerous very long (but also very broken) icefalls on both sides of the valley, one could tell it was much warmer over this side of Norway, but arriving back at Hemsedal, conditions seemed to have cooled down (or was it the late hour)? We would see.
Next morning we past the Tourist Office, heading for these unknown icefalls the official had spoken of. Wow. After a relatively easy approach along and up a well trodden path, there lay two sections of stupendous ice.
We had just one day to climb before returning to Rjukan, and Richard made the very best of it by excellent leading of the ageing Smiler up two sensational pitches of very steep ice called Haugfossen (WI4). In such sensational surroundings, the route was one of the best (Smiler) has done in Norway to date. I said ‘to date’, as there were several other magical lines on both sides of Haugfossen to go at next trip. And the whole of the rest of Hemsedal, Laerdal and Aurland is still to be explored.
Rjukan ice climbing is different every year, but the Gjestegård hostel is always wonderful, accommodating twenty-eight CC members on this Meet, including guests from various other senior UK Clubs, and a handful of non-club guests. Generally, we all had a superb time, enhanced by the quality of service provided by Torbjørn and the ladies at the Hostel. We had the perfect use of the large and well-equipped hostel kitchen) and the superb drying room, were real assets throughout the stay there.
(It seems the use of the kitchen in the evenings will no longer be possible on future meets. Instead, they’re building an extension (FOR US) with two rooms, one, a fully fitted kitchen and the other, a lounge and (evening meal) eating room. Breakfasts will still be as it always is, in the restaurant room.
by Smiler Cuthbertson
Images in main article courtesy of Colin Knowles