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

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