Walk on the Wild Side (n6-), Skurvefjell

The guidebook described the Eastern part of Skurvefjell as 'løs' (loose) with 'dårlig sikkerhet' (poor protection). Still, this didn't seem to perturb us. Particularly given that our chosen route merited four stars in the local guidebook. It was presumably loose and a little bit dangerous in a 'fun' sort of way, like Wrecker's Slab for example... At nearly 300m height, the cliff certainly looked impressive and too good to resist.

The very pleasant walk-in

The first pitch gave an indication of what might follow. Compact rock with little in the way of natural protection. My first runner was maybe 12m above the ground. Where cracks existed they were nearly always associated with unstable rock. Already the climbing was feeling serious but after a couple more runners in succession I begun to feel happier. The first pitch weaved up and right and then back left so naturally I reduced the left rope runners as I approached the switchback. The first real alarm bell rang when I spotted a 30cm rock perched delicately over the pitch at half height from my belay. It hadn't affected me on lead but for Anna on second there was a chance that my left hand rope, which dropped more directly down to her to avoid rope drag, could ping the rock and dislodge it as she climbed from left to right beneath it. It was easy to overcome this risk by keeping the left rope slack. Fortunately it was visible from the belay but a warning of what was to follow...

Skurvefjell Vest (left) & Skurvefjell Øst (right)

An awkward, unproctectable short chimney followed... again feeling serious, particularly with so much rock still above us. The chimney also felt worrying hard for the grade, which didn't bode well for the crux in the upper half of the route. The climbing line traversed back right to follow a faint groove lace-able with good gear. Maybe nothing to fear after all...

That was until the third pitch when the climbing went from fairly solid but difficult to protect to loose and difficult to protect. Fortunately the climbing was easier but under the given conditions it didn't particularly feel that way. I mounted some rocky steps interspersed by grassy ledges, passing a stack of loose boulders to my right. Continuing up a grassy ramp with little sign of protection the main challenge proved was avoid slipping on the foliage beneath my ill-suited rock shoes. After climbing close to 60m with no adequate gear it was time to find a belay. Of course there wasn't one... Much hunting around followed before I settled for a couple of placements around a stack of blocks that optimistically looked as though they would stay put in the event of high loading.

More of the same for Anna and another 'optimistic' belay. The problem now was that the distinct crux pitch was to follow and I needed a stronger belay to heighten the head space. Plus it looked as though we needed to be further right beneath a faint groove from where the climbing from continue right. Hopefully in that direction there would be a better belay and less rope drag to follow. Delicately I traversed across in absence of runners, throwing loose rocks down the route as I went. This seemed preferable to potentially dislodging them whilst climbing and maybe losing balance. Fortunately the route weaved around enough to avoid the risk of rocks hitting the belays and needless to say there were no other climbers in the vicinity to concern ourselves with. After some patient searching I found an adequate belay of sorts and more ideally positioned for the climbing to follow.

The route

The crux pitch climbed the short groove and then traversed right beneath a shallow roof to a point where it could be breached. I found a strong nut placement in the initial groove, which helped with reassurance. Then some adequate cam placements at the back of the roof. I reached a ledge beneath where the roof needed to be breached and spent the next ten minutes fiddling with gear and stripping the loose rock from the cliff. With three runners in close proximity and the cliff tidied-up as best possible it was time to try to climb the thing. Cautiously I climbed the first few moves, testing each hold as I went but quickly got tired using this slow method and returned to the ledge. Climbing on loose rock was fine whilst the terrain was slightly slabby but now much more disconcerting with it becoming steeper. There was the need to climb quickly but this conflicted with the requirement to test every hold before committing. Second attempt I got higher but found only blank rock above me and no accommodation for runners. Again I backed-off to the ledge.

I followed the ledge further right to where the roof ended and a much larger roof commenced higher up. There looked a possible way through the roofs by climbing a slab beneath the large roof and then traversing back left to above the small roof. A large flake lay balanced at the top of the slab - too large to voluntarily displace. With a slightly dubious nut placed, I set about checking the rock to my left, where I would traverse in towards. It seemed largely stable but also fairly blank for the feet and not much to pull myself across with. At full reach I found a decent side-pull and mounted the exposed wall above the roof. tiptoeing across the small edges I found larger hand holds waiting and quickly the climbing became easier. The switchback through the roof had created too much rope drag but a good belay was at least at hand thanks to a solid over-head blue hex placement. Time to relax a little and take in the wonderful view of the Hemsedal valley below.

The remainder of the pitch was easy, skirting rightwards across slabby ground before climbing a short corner. There was little in the way of runners but at least a sound belay was waiting for me with a couple of cams at foot level.

Easier climbing on the upper pitches

Close to the top

Three pitches of easy climbing then followed, with the final two pitches weaving through a steeper final wall to follow weaknesses and avoid some seepage. It was 7pm by the time we reached the top. Looseness and lack of protection had significantly contributed to some slow climbing and overall the route probably deserves UK E1,5a due to both these factors. I would suggest the route warrants no starts rather than the full set awarded by the guidebook but that said, it did hold a certain character... at least for somebody prepared to sacrifice classic climbing for esoterica. It was certainly 'epic' and 'memorable', which is more than can be said for a lot of routes and no doubt it will stay in my mind after other so-called classic climbs have been forgotten. The scenery was also spectacular from our high vantage point. All things considered though, I won't be repeating it. But for anybody looking to attempt the route there has maybe not been a better time for a while... After personally stripping so many loose rocks from the route is is now VERY LOOSE as opposed to VERY VERY LOOSE!

Skurkefjell Øst


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