Kong Vinter, Rjukan

The weather had been particularly warm in Rjukan between Wednesday and Friday, peaking at about 7 degrees. Both day and night. Lots of sustained thawing and little time for a refreeze before the weekend. Prior conditions at the higher venues I knew had been lean but often good. Therefore we would need to play it safe with venue choice. In between climbing there would be some evening entertainment associated with the Rjukan Ice Festival, which would hopefully make up for any less-than-perfect ice.

Rob and Charlene were visiting from the UK for the weekend and keen to make the most of the conditions. Kong Vinter would be our plan A. It looked suitably high and sheltered and potentially a good option for avoiding the festival crowds, who would hopefully stay closer to Rjukan. Our plan B would be the crag on Gausta, which was likely in good condition, albeit not the most inspiring place. With little snow cover the approach would probably be easy.

The good news was that Kong Vinter had climbable ice. The bad news was that we was not the only people to anticipate this. We descended into the venue first, however soon it was draped in abseil ropes as climbers arrived in steady flow.

...Something not steady was the heavy flow of water descending from the back of the gorge. Its loud roar creating an unusual ambiance for an ice climbing venue. Large scattered ice blocks littered the floor beneath, suggesting dramatic collapse in recent days. What's more, the amount of water flowing beneath the ice immediately right of this running section made me wary of further possible collapse with so little time for a proper refreeze.

Kong Vinter seen from the approach trail

Large amounts of running water on the far left side

The recent warm temperatures and strong flow of water below the snow also made me very cautious about the snow pack conditions spanning base the gorge.Venturing too far didn't seem an attractive prospect and others evidently had the similar inclinations to stay local. We crossed to Kong Bore in roped fashion, as though crossing a glacier filled with hidden crevasses. The pack felt ok but it was good to be cautious.

Rob checking the snow conditions before we opted to rope-up


Kong Bore (WI4) largely avoided the crowds as nearly every other party headed either back up Kong Vinter or King Kong. One party tried Dronninga but backed-off from mid-height. From a distance the icicles linking the top section looked weak and were not touching down. Routes further right looked thin but climbable, however looked dangerous to approach through the bottom of the gorge for fear of meeting running water. Ab'ing directly into these routes looked perfectly feasible though.

Climbers on Dronninga (before backing off)
(Photo by Rob Goodman)

Rob lead the first pitch of Kong Bore, starting on the left and then swinging back right to follow the thickest build-ups of ice. I had the luxury on second of following a more direct thinner line up the middle. The ice was brittle, often fracturing unavoidably on first strike, irrespective of my swing strength. Charlene and the second of another team both climbed generally below me and were subjected to my barrage.


"Ice!!..."

"...sorry"

"Ice!!.."

"...sorry"

"Ice!!..."

"...sorry"


We didn't bother with the second pitch as it looked only about WI2 and would make our descent more protracted. Better to abseil from the nearby solid tree whilst we could still get down in one.

Rob leading Kong Bore


At least four teams were now climbing on either Kong Vinter or King King with others stationed at the base of the routes. Better to stay where we were and keep climbing I thought. Besides a narrower line of ice immediately left of Kore Bore, not covered in the guidebook, looked alluring. It entered an icy chimney towards the top and looked a little more Scottish in character. We had no rock gear but hopefully it wouldn't be too hard and I could always abandon ship if things got out of hand.

Climber on King Kong

Climbers everywhere

More brittle ice presented in the lower part but my screws felt vaguely ok, plus I had plenty of them. Higher up the ice improved and offered some strong features to facilitate first time placements. At two thirds height the chimney enveloped the route, and the ice quickly subsided. A sling placement over a wedged spike would be my last runner with 10-15m remaining. It didn't fill me with confidence either...

Some thin ice, maybe 5cm thick, still coated the surface of some rocks. Otherwise the chimney was dry, which meant I could sometimes get hands involved whilst slotting a axe to safely protect a difficult move. A worrying assortment of blocks guarded the exit but appeared frozen in place. 'Pulling hard' didn't seem a sensible approach and so I did my best to climb gently and back-and-foot and bridge my way through the final metres. Soft snow at exit forcing my to actually 'climb' my way off the route. WI4, M4 I reckon in current conditions but possibly more ice in the chimney under normal conditions?

Climbing the ice chimney left of Kong Bore
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

By this point climbers were quickly thinning out, with many settling for one route and then leaving. Rob lead a full rope length up the left side of Kong Vinter (WI4), after which I lead another line towards the right, deliberately making things difficult for myself with a steep finish at the top. By now the ice was a little more hacked after so much morning traffic but this at least facilitated first time placements and made for fluid climbing.

Not the best conditions in summary but we got the most out of the day and finite number of routes we climbed meant there is plenty for me to return for... next season.

Rob climbing a line towards the left side of Kong Vinter
Me climbing a line towards the right
(Photo by Rob Goodman)

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