Thursday, 12 February 2015

Normalveien (WI4), Isberget, Alta

A three pitch route called Normalveien at an area called Isberget was high on the agenda during our trip to Alta. It looked an amazing line from the topo and even better in the flesh, winding its way up the type of cliff face usually reserved for much harder routes. The other routes on the cliff side were not fully formed and we were uncertain about the first pitch of our chosen route due to forest cover obstructing our view. The walk to the base of the route was however relatively short and initial impressions were that the route might be climbable. There looked to be a thinner ice towards the top of the first pitch but definitely worth a closer investigation.

First pitch of Normalveien

The climbing moved between steps and ledges. The easy angled sections and shelves were banked-out with unconsolidated snow. I needed to methodically sweep this in order to discover the contours of the ice beneath. On steeper sections the ice was a little fissured, encouraging me to be conservative with screw placements to guard against the unexpected. The combination of snow sweeping and regular screw placements made for progress slow and sieged.

Me versus snow
Midway up the first pitch

Towards the top of the pitch the ice narrowed into a pair of columns. They had looked steep from the ground but manageable. At closer inspection the ice looked brittle and 'flash-formed', with holes running through like a honeycomb. The left-hand column in particular was best not interfered with. The right.hand column was consolidated enough to have a try but finding screw placements looked an optimistic affair. The best I could do was to place a couple of screws at the base.

I sunk an axe into a small area of dense ice at full reach, climbed up to it and bridged wildly against a blob of ice on the neighbouring right wall. Then the challenge of finding a higher axe placement. The ice shattered and cracked wherever I aimed due to its fragility. The only patch of decent ice appeared to lie where my existing axe rested and I blowing my sound placement in the process of trying to find second was of real concern. With fading arms I backtracked down to my two screws a metre of so beneath my feet. The column didn't seem on. Concerns were also rising in my mind about the ice immediately above, which looked steeply slabbed and featureless and likely thin. Better to know when to quit than to push on regardless. I made a belay so that Anna could climb up to join me. Then we escaped the route with an abalakov.

Definitely one to return for if ever I am in the area again.

Wild moves for WI4
Before (left) and after (right) the snow-sweeping

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