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.