Pastorale Først Sats (M3+), Skurvefjell

I missed virtually all of last winter due being totally wiped out by fatigue. Much of 2016 has been a slow recovery and for a long period I suspected moderately serious winter climbing might be a thing of the past for me. I've really improved in recent months but a steady return to winter climbing was naturally top priority. Plus I was happy just to be climbing anything at the start of winter so the psych for harder stuff wasn't there. No doubt that will change as I take my health and fitness more for granted.

After a big dump of snow last weekend together with strong winds I was hoping that there would be some favourable mixed conditions after a week of consolidation. I wasn't expecting much ice up high after such a dry autumn so it seemed sensible to stick to something that didn't rely on ice formation to meet the grade. Pastorale Først Sats on Skurvefjell Vest looked a good route to cut my teeth on as it was only 120m high and described as well-protected in the summer guide. This was also the first time that I was climbing with a new partner Alex, who himself had been on a slow road to recovery from leg injuries recently. 

A fine still morning greeted us. Much of the snow on the approach looked to have been scoured by the wind through the previous week. Apart from some locally deep drifts of snow the approach was straightforward, albeit fairly long.

Approaching Skurvefjell

We climbed the route in four pitches, partly to try and share the difficulties evenly, although the first and third pitches, which I led, proved to have the harder more interesting sequences of mixed climbing. We didn't bother to rack screws, although there was some useful ice in the chimneys. A thin coating of ice in places made protecting some the cracks harder work, particularly at the start of the third pitch, but otherwise gear was good.

Start of the second pitch

The snow was entirely unconsolidated but thankfully it was in manageable amounts. Often it needed to be swept to find gear and axe placements, which slowed progress a little. It certainly wasn't a semi-drytooling exercise and definitely full winter conditions.

My lack of mixed climbing and drytooling in recent years felt evident throughout both my leads with progress a little more hesitant and less instinctive than expected. It's something I want to get back to doing more of this season as it's what I enjoy most.


Top of the third pitch

We made steady progress although my focus at belays was on eating, drinking and layering up more than the typical to keep my energy levels up, rather than racing to keep the dead time at belays to an absolute minimum. After a casual starting time we topped out just as the sun had dipped below the hills and proceeded to descend under twilight.

The exit

Despite my layoff and previous uncertainty as to whether I'd return to this sort of climbing it felt strangely business as usual at the top of the route. I didn't even register the milestone. It was almost as though I had not missed a day's climbing in the last year. Climbing often generates that sort of bubble for me whereby all external life events disappear to the back of my mind.

In light of the strong easterly winds the previous week, wind slab was at the forefront of my mind when it came to the descent. In particular I was also concerned about the tops of sheltered southerly aspects behind the Øst and Vest buttresses acting as a trap. I'd climbed on both buttresses during summer of 2014 and vaguely remembered the decent down the west side of Skurvefjell Vest being much broader and shorter than the descent from Skurvefjell Øst. Hopefully the smaller Vest Buttress would also provide less shelter. Otherwise plan B would probably have been a long trudge east over the tops of both buttresses towards the mouth of Øvredalen. Fortunately this was never called for as the descent was relatively easy with just a few patches of moderately deep snow but no slab formation.

Head torches on we started the return trip. It's good to get the first winter route under my belt so early in the season. Hopefully it marks the start of a long winter.

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