Grøtesigene, Hemsedal

With a forecast of 1 degree on Saturday and 3 degrees on Sunday it was looking decidedly warm in Hemsedal. At least the temperatures had only risen above freezing early Saturday morning, so Anna and me expected some decent conditions for Saturday at least. The weather was overcast with not much wind, so hopefully any thaw would be gradual.

There looked to be a surprising amount of ice forming in the valleys despite the dry autumn. Nystølfossen in Grøndalen for example was looking as close to climbable as I have seen it, with just the section at the very bottom yet to touch down.

Murekløve (left) and Nystølfossen (right)

Little snow had fallen in recent weeks, which meant the south faces and mixed routes were looking particularly dry. Grøtesigene looked well suited to these conditions as I knew slacker sections became quickly buried after snow. The approach would also hopefully be much easier than the two hour slog up to Grøtenutbekken in thigh deep snow that I had endured a couple of winters ago. From the road the routes still looked thin to the naked eye but under the magnification of my camera there looked to be enough ice all the way up. The number three route was clearly the main draw as it was the most prominent and longest. In present conditions it was actually still three independent lines, with the right hand one looking the most impressive. We therefore headed for this. There looked to be no mixed climbing at the start of the route, which can sometimes be the case, so we left the rock protection in the boot of the car.

Grøtesigene icefalls from the roadside

Contrary to the Hemsesal guide we found a large parking bay beside the main road, slightly north of our intended route. The approach through the forest took us just over an hour and was pretty easy, apart from a little scrambling up through a band of rock, and a couple of wire fences to clamber over. The route looked all the more impressive once in closer proximity.


Number 3. We climbed the widest line of ice on the right.  

Much of the first pitch followed thin, gentle angled ice that was easy to climb, albeit different to protect in places and a little wet. I just managed to reach a belay at full rope length, although the ice was less than ideal. All three of my long screws hit air at about 3/4 screw depth, although at least they were adequately separated and so I was happy enough.

Starting up the first pitch
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

The second pitch looked a tougher proposition with a short section of vertical ice to begin. The ice was wet and screws were quickly hitting pockets of air, which didn't encourage Anna to push on. At first she backed off the lead. After pointing out the questionable suitability of the ice for abalakoving she found the psych to have another go. The axes were at least solid and after a bit more searching for a better screw placement she found the confidence to lead through.

Start of the second pitch. The first section of WI4.

We had brought fourteen screws, which normally would have been enough, were it not for every belay needing three screws in addition to planted axes. This left us with eight screws for runners, which wasn't a lot for 60m pitches if things became a little difficult. Anna's second pitch didn't go much further than 30m as a result. Fortunately the next pitch was steady WI3 with excellent ice conditions, which meant I could stretch the rope to full length. Another poor belay though with just two long screws, one of which needed a larks hitch due to the shallowness of the ice.

View of the Hemsedal valley from the top of the first pitch

The distance to the top now looked within reach but it was deceptively far with still a couple of pitches to go. More good ice and moderate difficulty followed on the fourth pitch however, so we were making good progress, albeit racing the daylight remaining. 

Anna leading the fourth pitch

The sun had already set ten minutes prior to me starting the fifth pitch, so I was keen to get going on lead. Fading light at the top of a 200m route wasn't the ideal way for me to get my first WI4 lead of the season under the belt and test my form and so consequently I was a little more tense than normal. The brittle ice at the start of the pitch didn't help matters. the change in ice conditions from wet to brittle suggested we had climbed right through the freezing level. I didn't bother with the torch, feeling enough twilight remained but this was possibly a mistake as I struggled to properly read the features of the ice. In particular where to kick in my front points. My technique as a consequence wasn't great, tending to trust my axes more, which I could better see better than my feet. I would sink both axes high up beside one another and then subsequently kick my feet higher. I was a little out of balance as a result but the high axes were a reassurance in the poor light.

Me leading the fifth pitch in twilight. The second WI4 pitch.
(Photo by Anna Kennedy)

With the steep ice dispatched I made a belay just ten metres from the top after somehow mishearing 'halfway' to be 'five metres' from Anna's direction. With climbing having been quite sustained and in poor visibility I had evidently lost sense of what a 60m pitch feels like.

Just a thinly iced gentle slab remained, of which Anna made easy work of, despite tying off the shallowest screws that I have seen in a long while. By my count the route was closer to 240m than the stated 200m.

Anna leading the final 10m of the route

With so many below par ice screws at the belays we didn't fancy abseiling the route. Instead we followed deer tracks northwards until beyond the icefalls from where we could descend from trees. We managed to walk partway down the hillside but then needed three short abseils from isolated trees in order to cross some icy slabs.

Regrettably we had left our walking poles at the base of the climb on the initial assumption that we would be abseiling the route. Consequently a tedious traverse back southwards across the hillside was needed in order to retrieve them. 

It was 8pm by the time we had reached the car. Somehow it had taken us 2.5 hours from the top of the route. Maybe in daylight we would have found a shorter line of descent, however everything was always in hand. We had certainly fulfilled the criteria to get a quality long route done during the better weather day and whatever we managed the following day would be a bonus.

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