Saturday, 31 December 2016

Øvredalsbratta (WI4)

It was around +7 degrees in the valley and +1 degree on the summits the previous day so Anna and I knew we needed to go as high as possible. We also knew from before Christmas that the valley ice was already in poor shape. With easterly winds forecast up to around 17m/s with possible snow flurries we expected the weather to feel Scottish. No point in dodging such weather given we planned to visit Scotland in just over a month. Øvredalen seemed the obvious choice due to the high elevation and hopefully some degree of shelter. On a very optimistic note, with the following day in mind, a late start would also allow us to check the minute potential for any mixed conditions developing. 

The rock on Skogshorn looked totally dry from the toll road with only the very tops of sheltered aspects showing any genuine sign of winter. At least there was no need for a pre-dawn start the following day on New Year's Day. The toll road was equally dry and we were able to easily park in the pasture at the very end of it.

A dry parking lot
My first visit to Øvredalen had via knee deep powder, so the approach this time around was like a walk in the park. There was a little pot holing to do places whilst in the trees but once the valley opened out the snow generally lessened, although was still a lot soft from the previously warm temperatures. The wind wasn't that bad either, particularly once in Øvredalen.

Not much snow on the approach
View towards Skurvefjell
Øvredalen
Øvredalsbratta was purely an ice climb in current condition, followed by an easy scramble to exit the route. The well defined channel of ice snaking down the rock looked to me the spitting image of the second pitch of Orion Face Direct on Ben Nevis, which naturally made me keen to lead it.

Øvredalsbratta (WI4)
Orion Face comparisons were quickly forgotten once the climbing was underway though. Much of the ice was brittle, although this had been the general theme for a few weeks now. Some of the ice was close to perfect though with my picks easily biting first time. Often when least expected, such as on blank vertical surfaces. It was a really interesting pitch with a fairly constant level of difficulty. Nearly a full 60m to my belay.

The main pitch of Øvredalsbratta
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
I hadn't bothered to bring rock gear, which made my belay a bit more challenging. Just a sling over a loose block, frozen in place but probably less than half my body weight. Plus a good seating position on an upwards slope with which to create some resistance, a bit like a bucket seat. Two feet pressing against some rocks in opposition (admittedly one of these was the frozen block but at least everything was acting in opposition). My axes planted in neve behind me. It actually all felt pretty solid.

My sling'ed belay block
Anna did a second pitch of sorts, which was more of an easy scramble to where we could gain a snowy ramp descent. I was amazed by how little snow was present in the upper part of Øvredalen.

The upper part of Øvredalen looking very dry
Our casual start meant no time for another route. Øvredalsrenna however looked completely different to when I had climbed it early in the season in November 2015. The short mixed chimney at the start now completely banked out with ice. A friend who climbed it the following day described the route as being "like butter, but no ice from halfway up the gully".

Øvredalsrenna
A pretty easy day all in all. I didn't anticipate visiting Øvredalen so late in the season but it's good to keep getting stuff ticked despite some pretty miserable conditions.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Birifeltet

Our day was as much about the climbing as it was about getting to the climbing. Morning plans were sabotaged by our car. The plan had been to drive to Birifeltet to break the journey home but after less than half an hour things started to go wrong.

Firstly a slushing noise coming from the back left wheel that sounded like rubbing snow, except it wasn't going away. Peering under the back of the car we noticed a loose piece of rusted metal on the inside of the wheel frame. We took the wheel off and removed it. Fortunately there looked to be nothing structurally wrong with the wheel so we continued on our way.

We found this behind the wheel
At least we would have done, were if not for a flat battery due to leaving the headlights on. We had no jump leads in the car and there was little sign of traffic. For the first half hour the only two cars that past us was the same car travelling in opposite directions, without jump leads. We gave it a little longer and then bit the bullet to call the breakdown company. Of course as soon as we did that a car stopped soon after.

By the time we reached Birifeltet there was only a couple of hours of daylight remaining. It was another cool looking gorge, although with less ice and atmosphere compared to Helvete. There was a lot of ice with no obvious lines but at the left of the crag we found a good looking short line directly beneath some lower-off bolts.

Birifeltet
It was Anna's turn to lead what was a fairly hard pitch around 4/4+. Firstly a steep wall and then a steep narrow pillar. The pillar in particular was quite technical due to its narrow size and weak ice either side, although the sketchiest part was mounting the shelf between the bolts and where the ice stopped abruptly. I had the 'joy' of reaching the bolts after Anna had abseiled from a couple of screws at the very top of the ice. It was best described as gravelly choss, which was covered in a layer of frost but seemed barely frozen. It reminded me instantly of chalk when at its most chossiest. I dug my points in as best I could then tried to move my crampons up the ice a little higher. To make things worse the thinning ice at the very top of the route had a tendency to fracture and chip away. A little high I now found a protruding block amongst the choss that seemed to not be loose and so with all four points trying to pull evenly as possible I rocked over the top of the route onto the shelf and threaded the bolts.

Anna leading the steep lower wall
Climbing the pillar
We climbed the line once more each on toprope, just to the top of the ice, for a bit more of a workout before pulling the ropes down and driving home. 

We did more short routes than I would have ideally liked over the previous week but that was dictated by the conditions. I think we did a good job overall to keep climbing in new places despite the mid-trip warm spell. At least we maintained a good level of difficulty when limited to single pitch, which wasn't a bad thing early season. Hopefully there will be some stable temperatures from this point forward to allow for some longer routes to be climbed.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Helvete, Espedalen

Espedalen proved to be a mixed bag with conditions. The longer routes in the area had been the main draw for me, however Sprenabekken was thin and full of holes, and the middle section of was running with water. Earl Grey was totally void of ice in its middle section. Skoroa looked the general right shape to be in condition but it was impossible to properly confirm whether this was actually the case due to the greater distance from the road. Given the poor condition of Sprenabekken and Earl Grey, a long walk-in for a closer look at Skoroa didn't really appeal.

Sprenabekken (WI4)
Earl Grey (WI3+/4)
The real surprise of the trip though was the half kilometre long gorge at Helvete, which was packed with ice along both its sides, creating a very atmospheric setting. At one point the gorge walls closed and became more bowl shaped, approaching the shape of a slot canyon.

A scene from a Ridley Scott movie
The online guide that we were using did not describe routes individually, so after a little exploration we just picked lines based on aesthetics and challenge. I was more drawn to the isolated lines on the north and east side, in particular some of the brownest ice I have seen anywhere. The broader sections of ice were of less interest to me as they lacked obvious lines and likely changed formation based on ice build-up.

Ice on the South side of the gorge
We started on the wall of brown ice that descended into the more enclosed part of the gorge, directly beside the staircase leading from the car park. It was steep in its lower half before the angle eased back. Its lower half was possibly the most brittle ice that I had ever climbed with some huge dinner plates resulting. At one section in particular I needed to down-climb one step and move to the left in order to flick off a thick, loose top layer of ice. Heavy enough to either knock me off or damage my ropes otherwise. Fortunately the brittle ice difficulties were offset by some small hooks from a previous ascent in recent days. A good WI4 line despite the ice conditions.  

Anna beneath the first route that we climbed
Me leading the brittle ice on the first route
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Top of the steep ice on our first route
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
Anna had hit the wall today and so it was my lead again. Another brown icefall further west on the same side of the gorge grabbed my attention. The steep middle section had an obvious weakness towards the left hand side, via a faint chimney. Climbing this proved trickier than expected because the ice to the left was too chandelier'ed and weak to use my left crampon on. As a consequence I was a little bit cramped, or out of shape, as I worked my way up the steep section. Again the ice was brittle, which slowed the progression. It was the steepest route of the day, about WI4+, and definitely the best route that we did in the gorge. Anna on second had the steepness combined with hot aches to contend with, so I got off easy.

Hot aches!
Anna abseiling from the second route that we climbed
There was time for one more route before sunset. Another aesthetic line further west was the obvious choice and looked not too difficult. The easier angle and lack of concave features meant more dinner plating though and a stupid number of axe swings. At least the ice was predictable in so far as it either exploded or didn't. Not much middle ground. The footwork was also not too tiring as the amount of hacked ice had created some moderate sized steps. Probably around WI3+ but I suspect it eases to WI3 with greater ice build-up. On second, every axe strike of Anna's echoed off the opposite wall.

Our third route
More brittle ice hacking
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
With so much ice in the gorge it would have been easy to have visited the following day as well, however I think we did the best lines in current conditions. Apart from what we climbed, there were also some nice looking pillars but they looked too wet and fissured to contemplate leading. Helvete + one of the longer routes seems a good pairing for when I'm next in the area though.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Dammen, Valdres

I bought an ice cream the previous day as a silent protest towards the latest bout of warm weather. Hemsedal was looking in spring condition with little snow in valley. Even the ski pistes were developing green patches. It was time to leave. If we had brought our rock shoes with us then I think would have managed a rock route on Skogshorn or Skurvefjell no problem. 

Our plan was to relocate to Espedalen, where over last month the warm spells looked to have been more moderate, although the latest one looked have been just as bad. The day's strategy was to drive in that direction until something wintry presented on route. Then hopefully we would get some climbing done, although we anticipated needing to lower the levels of ambition. 

Hydnefossen looked in terrible shape as we left Hemsedal. Midtlinja had totally collapsed and was now running water, and routes further left were in no better shape. It was evidence of just how destructive the latest wave of warm temperatures at higher altitudes had been. It was also further confirmation that we were making the right decision with relocating. 

Hydnefossen in terrible condition
Fortunately there was a lot more snow cover as we dipped into Valdres. Along the E16 tree branches were still white with frost and temperatures seemed to be keeping to below zero. Unfortunately a thick fog was limiting our ability to properly assess conditions but around Bagn in particular it seemed generally cold and stable. Furthermore the small blobs of ice along the road looked dry and compact.

Out of curiosity we made a short detour to check out Stavedalen. Temperatures climbed from -3 in the valley to +3 as we climbed through the band of cloud and popped out into clear sunny skies above. The south facing ice at Stavedalen was not surprisingly in poor shape but at least it gave me a reference point of conditions for when planning another visit this winter. Clearly there was no need to rush back in any great hurry.

Stavedalen in lean condition
We hadn't been able to see the ice routes around the dam near Bagn from the E16 due to fog but it seemed a definite cold hole and worth further investigation.

We didn't fancy taking our car partway down the 1km approach road to the barrier due to the road's moderate steepness and snow/ice cover. Instead we parked in a lay-by a few hundred metres down the road.

The way to the ice routes followed a ploughed track for 2km beyond the barrier that was easy on foot. The first small icefall named the 'liten foss ved kraftlinje' in the online Valdres guide looked to be in condition but too short to be worth stopping for. Further along the track another route called 'Gul fossen' looked in good nick, as did another fall a little further along. We were keen to continue to the tallest route in the area known at 'Dammen' though, which sounded the most impressive.

Gul Foss (WI3)
Ice between Gul foss and Dammen
The first glance that we got of Dammen suggested the start was too chandelier'ed and steep to contemplate. The waterfall was much broader than I had expected though and with a little more exploration around its base we found a climbable line up the left hand side.

Dammen. We climbed the ice at the far left.
The ice was wet but easy to climb and fine to protect. Harder than the quoted grade WI3 in current conditions but probably still only WI3+, as there were some good resting points. Maybe WI4 if it were Rjukan! There was still some wet chandeliers to deal with but they be easily skirted. My first pitch was only 30m to the top of the steep section but an obvious isolated tree was the logical place to make a belay.
First pitch of Dammen
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)
The steepness on the second pitch slackened off but ice became more of an unknown quantity. Hollow sounding ice and plenty of silent water running behind it encouraged Anna to stick to the right edge of the fall where the ice seemed thicker.

Anna leading the second pitch
Two easy abs from trees brought us back to the base of the route, capping a good day's climbing. Given the warm weather the previous days we found pretty decent ice conditions, although we had fully expected to have to drop a grade in order to get something done. The area seemed a good place generally to head for when searching for trapped cold air during rapid warming so can see me making a return trip at some point.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

-4 Degrees and Raining in Golsjuvet

We were running out of climbing options around Hemsedal with yet more warm weather on the way. Temperatures were forecast to climb into the positive numbers today, particularly at altitude, with +9 degrees expected on Skogshorn's summit. There looked to be a big temperature inversion on the way and therefore it looked best to go low and sheltered in order to find the trapped cold air. 

Golsjuvet looked the obvious option but obvious option would inevitably by the busy option. Since it looked like Hemsedal centre would stay below freezing until around 1pm we optimistically stopped by Rjukandefoss first on the off chance there were leading conditions. The ice in the base was unfortunately wafer thin so we turned south and headed to Golsjuvet. 

Rjukandefoss

It was -4 degrees and raining by the time we arrived at Golsjuvet. A pretty grim combination. Evidently the warm temperatures had already moved in at higher altitudes. Given the warm forecast for the following days we were keen to take advantage of the remaining freezing temperatures though, despite the torrid rain.

Single pitch cragging never encourages me to leap out of bed at any speed and race to the crag. As a consequence there were already four top-ropes in place by the time we arrived with about the same number of lines in some sort of condition. A lot of the ice was fissured and wet, which didn't encourage leading. I wasted a good while trying to set a top-rope up over the Vårspill ice before giving up due to the Trapp/Tripp routes becoming free. This ice looked ok to lead compared to everything else, mainly because it was less steep.

Anna led a line approximating to Tripp, although finished right of the bolted lower-offs via couple of ice screws. I seconded the route and then made an awkward traverse across to the bolts. We then top-roped Trapp, which was too thin in the upper half to encourage either of us to lead. It wad actually more fun to top-rope anyway because it allowed us to try the really delicate structures directly under the abseil bolts. Firstly a short column less than 30cm wide, followed by a short hanging curtain that needed delicate crampons to avoid kicking it down (The features are visible in the left side of the below photo). Not really steep enough to build the pump significantly due to some good rests but quite technical.

Anna leading Tripp at Golsjuvet 

We climbed until dusk, with temperatures holding in the blue numbers. Our time around Hemsedal looked to have concluded prematurely though. We had planned a week's climbing in the area but after just three days we were out of options, other than more top-roping in Golsjuvet. The immediate warm weather and already thin conditions had encouraged us to cut our losses and move on in hope of better conditions elsewhere. 

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Undocumented Hemsedal Ice

The valley ice around Hemsedal was in terrible condition. In Grøndalen the start of the second pitch of Vøllokula had partially melted away, the easier right hand side to Murekløve looked too thin to climb, the Snusveggen routes had looked good a couple of weeks ago, however were now also too thin. Nystølfossen had dramatically shrunk also. With other routes in Grøndalen it was a similar story. Ice close to Hemsedal centre looked no better. Kyrkjebønsstølsfossen and Grøtenutbekken looked too damaged to climb and Grøtesigene looked partially melted and shrunken. Maybe Haugsfossen and Flagetfossen would be ok but we were less inclined to further investigate routes that we had previously climbed. The faces on Skogshorn and Skurvefjell also clearly had no winter conditions after weeks of dry weather and warm weather bouts.

Short of options we decided to check out an ice line that I had seen a few weeks ago besides the toll road leading to the Øvre Lauvdøla / Botnajuvet area. It had already been fairly thick on that occasion and hopefully it had weathered the warm spells. It wasn't in the Hemsedal Ice guide but looked enough of an eye catcher to warrant a visit. Fortunately the line looked in good condition from the road, although the lower part looked sparse of ice and too easy gradient to bother with.

The obvious icefall above the toll road

We made a scrappy scramble over rocks and through bushes a short distance right of the ice and then traversed in along an obvious snow shelf. A short 30m WI2 pitch then took us to beneath where the steeper started. By now the sun was hitting the route and out of precaution Anna needed to cover the belay screws with snow to avoid them melting out.

The first pitch of easy ice
Anna beneath the main pitch

The next pitch looked impressive at close proximity, although the vertical sections of ice were unfortunately too wet and weak to climb. Where the ice became off-vertical the quality improved.

The obvious weakness extended up the right hand side via a faint groove in the ice. It looked as though an interesting line would then allow me to gradually trend leftwards into the centre of the fall via a weakness through some steeper pillars. Sadly the ice became far too brittle at this point, which forced me to traverse back out right to where the ice became a little more stepped and forgiving. Otherwise the ice was in good nick, with my axes easily biting. It proved to be an excellent pitch of WI4 with continued interest throughout. The second pitch being about 55m to a tree belay immediately above the ice.

Start of the main pitch
Easy ground, close to the top of the route

Three easy abseils from trees brought us to the base of the hillside. We found some new abseil cord level with where we had started our climbing, however it looked as through these previous climbers had only climbed the easy ice below this point (there were clear crampon and axe marks in the ice below but not above this point). Nevertheless I doubt this is a first ascent. The route is quite obvious from the road and I would be surprised if this were not climbed when more awkward to reach routes in the nearby gorges have been. Despite the lack of guidebook coverage it was an excellent final pitch of ice. With better ice build-up the 85m that we climbed would increase to around 140m, although the lower ice would be easy WI2 and would likely become quickly buried under snow. Despite getting a route done it begged the question as to what we would be able to climb during the rest of the week. The warm front expected the following day would after all only worsen conditions further. We began to hatch plans for a possible early exit. 

Sunset from the top of the route

Friday, 16 December 2016

Skyrvedalen, Hemsedal

Four days of warm weather earlier in week had lowered our expectations as to what conditions we would find. There had been at least as many cold weather days since, although conditions remained very dry.

I was interested to check out Skyrvedalen as I got the impression very few people visited the valley. There looked to be selection of moderate routes with which to hedge our bets, a couple of which we could maybe we link up. The limited snow cover would hopefully make the approach easy. Hopefully the high elevation would yield some conditions otherwise at least provide an indicator to the alpine conditions on the far side of the valley.

We were greeted to beautiful sunrise and fine views during the walk-in. The approach followed a 3.5 kilometre track that was easy underfoot due to the limited snow cover. With a 4x4 and chains no doubt we could have driven the whole way, alas not with our VW Passat estate.

Sunrise over Veslehorn/Storehorn
Early morning fog over Skurvefjell and Skogshorn
Close to the head of Skyrvedalen

Not much ice was present in Skyrvedalen unfortunately. The ice on Skyrvedalsbekken was too wet and fissured to contemplate, and the route called Lands End was absent. There were smatterings of ice elsewhere but nothing substantial. 

Skyrvedalsbekken (WI3). Too wet and fissured.

The WI4 called Veis End was at least present, although the easy lower half had partially melted away. In effect the route was a couple of isolated short easy steps of ice between dry ground followed by maybe 30m of more sustained WI4 climbing. Anna was feeling unusually weak and nauseous but wanted to try and lead the pitch regardless. Things started well but soon she needed some rests. The climbing was actually very good whilst it lasted, although a little underwhelming as an overall experience by Hemsedal standards.

Veis End (WI4). Note the bare patch.
Anna leading the main pitch of Veis End (WI4)

Far more spectacular were the views across the main valley. Throughout the day a thick carpet of cloud clung the base of the valley, providing some breathtaking views towards Skogshorn and Skurvefjell. Their south faces now looked totally bare. Visiting Skyrvedalen had certainly confirmed that there would be no foreseeable mixed climbing conditions in the area, based on the current forecast, which first looked to be getting warmer before things cooled down again.

Sunset over Skurvefjell and Skogshorn

Going high evidently wasn't the answer, which wasn't a big surprise given the freezing levels had been way above the summits the previous week. The routes at Skyrvedalen didn't look to have the strongest flow of water and therefore maybe not the most resistant. It was a good information gathering day nonetheless and a new corner of Hemsedal, plus it was of course good to get a route ticked. It was day 1 of 7 of our pre-Christmas ice climbing trip so not a bad marker to lay down all things considering. 

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Hyllebekken (WI3), Valdres

It was +4.5 degrees in Hemsedal centre Sunday morning. Even high up the forecast looked warm. According to Yr.no it was colder in Oslo centre than at Kongsvoll, although there didn't look to be a temperature inversion at play in Hemsedal itself. It seemed a good day to drop the level of difficulty and be conservative with objectives. The forecast indicated it was colder in the valleys further east and I had been keen to climb in Valdres for a while. Fagernes was supposedly -1 degrees and the WI3 icefall called Hyllebekken seemed a good bet, given its large volume of ice and consistent gradient that would make it more resistant to warm temperatures. The broad scale would also mean that Anna and myself could share the route with Espen and Emmi, who were sharing our hut, without knocking ice on top of one another.

It was 0 degrees as we skirted Gol, then +2 degrees over Golsfjellet. By the time we had reached Fagernes it was -2 degrees and the plan looked to be paying off.

Hyllebekken

We headed for the upper part of the icefall, which seems to be what most people climb and what catches the eye from the road. Espen and Emmi climbed the left hand side of the icefall whilst Anna and me took the right side. Midway of the first pitch one of Anna's crampons snapped in two as a result of the heel bale being too slack. All credit to her that she managed to put it together and adjust the fit without resting on the rope. All about the clean onsight! 

Anna replacing her crampon midway up the first pitch

Anna continuing up the first pitch after the crampon failure 

The climbing was a relatively easy affair with two crampons attached, although Anna was feeling pretty tired from the previous day's climbing. Oddly enough I was actually feeling fresher. The ice was soft enough for my points to easily bite first time, which meant I could climb my second pitch at good speed when my turn came. There was water running beneath some parts of the ice but given the icefall's size there was no cause for alarm.

Top of the second pitch

It was 2.5 pitches to the top, with the third pitch more of an exit pitch. We chose to abseil down the true right hand side of the icefall rather than walk off, as we had left items at the base of the route. Three easy abseils from trees brought us to the starting point.

The climb had a great setting overlooking the outskirts of Fagernes. Made all the more special by a beautiful sunset as we repelled the route. 

Back at the car it was now a staggering +7 degrees, although by the time we had reached Bagn a short way south the temperature had dipped to -4 degrees. The dashboard temperature continued to fluctuate for the remainder of the journey home.

Sunset over Fagernes from midway up the route