Sunday, 29 January 2017

A 'Rest' Weekend... In Valdres

28th-29th January
NO CLIMBING! REST!
[Edit] Ok climb with Stig but nothing too hard or long

That was my calendar entry for the immediate weekend. The following weekend I would hopefully be off to Scotland for a week of climbing and so wanted to be fresh for that. Some easy climbing wouldn't do any harm though I thought, provided not too much travel or days too long. Maybe a good opportunity to explore somewhere new.

We headed to Bagn, where there looked to be a number of moderate multipitch options. In particular, the routes south of Bagn sounded interesting, although I had dismissed the possibility of climbing at Stavadalen as knew the south facing routes would be in a terrible state. They had been in a terribly skeletal shape when I had recce'd them a month prior.

We headed to Dammen area on Saturday, which I knew to be a reliable area from a previous visit just before Christmas. In particular a WI3 called

Gul Foss

looked worth the return visit. As the name suggested the ice was golden in colour and looked a little bit like candle wax at medium-close quarters. We parked on the main road, as with my last visit, although the access road on this occasion looked easily drivable.

Stig let the first pitch, initially up a steep 5 metre section before the angle slackened. Then slightly steeper ice near the top of the pitch whilst traversing towards the belay tree. We found some brutally brittle ice that tended to delaminate over a greater and greater area rather than simply dinnerplate, and by the time I had reached Stig's belay the ice below us looked the scene of a drive-by shooting. I led some moderate ice on the second pitch, needing little more than half a rope length to reach the top. The route involves two pitches according to the online guide, however the total length was only just over 60 metres. One very short abseil followed by one very long abseil returned us to our bags in good time for lunch. And to the shattered ice that now littered the surrounding floor.

Gul Foss (WI3)
Stig leading the start of Gul Foss
Me close to the intermediate belay
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
Me on the second pitch
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
With plenty of daylight remaining we set about finding another route climb. We spent a lot of time trying and failing to locate the route known as 'Fossen bortafor Dammen' further along the valley, eventually to conclude that it hasn't formed this year. To make the most of our time though we climbed

Dammen

, which I had already climbed just before Christmas. It looked in better nick now at least, with more ice build-up and less wet ice. It didn't climb better though, and despite my second pitch lead being standard WI3 I struggled with the brittle ice conditions. Particularly with getting my front points to bite. Instead they tended to chip away at the ice so that I never really gained purchase. Twice my mono points spontaneously and unexpectedly skated on the holds I had chipped -  something that had not happened all season. At least the ground was not very steep so merely a momentary annoyance. 

Dammen (WI3)
Stig leading the first pitch of Dammen
Me starting the second pitch
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
Temperatures first thing in the morning had been well into minus double figures, which I think was colder than forecast. What's more (although I'm guilty of not checking as regularly as usual) I think these temperatures had dropped from just above freezing a couple of days prior, so maybe this contributed to the ice's brittle nature.

Something remarkable happened Sunday morning in that it snowed fairly persistently. There's been hardly any snow for weeks. We spent Sunday morning driving up and down the E16 collecting Autopass points whilst vagely looking at possible ice hidden in snow clouds before settling for the prominent broad ice just south of Bagn called

Leite

. It's graded WI3-4 depending on the chosen line. In better conditions it looked as though many lines would be possible, although in current conditions the only continuous ice was up the middle. 

The first pitch began with easy WI2 slabs for the first 40m before ramping up for ten metres or so. I tried to climb a short section of 80 degree ice but after some persistent demolition I backed off at half height due to the ice being too brittle and fissured. I had to traverse further right instead to where the ice was slacker, now dealing with huge amounts of rope drag as a consequence of my sharp unplanned change of direction. What's more I dared not put any more screws in for fear of further increasing the rope drag. An uncomfortable belay on slabby hard ice awaited, where my left a crampon repeatedly and spontaneously slipped whilst belaying Stig up.

Stig then lead a short second pitch around 30 metres before belaying beneath a second short steep-ish section. Fortunately the ice was much more pleasant to climb and once beyond this easy angled ice led all the way to the top. I had been under the impression the route was west facing based on the simple map in the ice climbing guide. Closer examination of a proper map indicated it was south-west facing though, which maybe explained the poor conditions that we found.

Mission statement for the weekend completed though. I had come expecting a mixed bag of ice conditions and that is what we got. I've visited the areas north of Lillehammer forva number of successive weekends so it was good to switch to somewhere else and inject some variety. We managed some fun climbing regardless and, as hoped, nothing too demanding ahead of the Scotland trip. 

Leite from the parking spot
Me on the moderately steep ice that I backed off from
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
The ice I backed off from
Stig seconding easy ground on the first pitch
Stig near the top of the first pitch
Stig leading the second pitch
Me on the second pitch
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)
About to start of the final pitch

Monday, 23 January 2017

Hunderfossensøyla

Rob was due fly home in the evening, however we had until around 2pm to climb. Hunderfossensøyla looked a good bet as the routes were short but there were enough of them to keep us occupied. Also nothing too hard as we were both feeling a little tired.

The approach to the top of the cliff took less than ten minutes. We needed to abseil into the routes, which lay along the side of a wide riverbed, but with the easiest route being WI3+ we didn't expect any dramas in trying to escape. The main two lines at the ice crag were the left and right hand variants. The right one was steeper, with the ice stopping a good way below the top of the cliff, and we had no rock gear, so it seemed sensible to start with this. The plan being to climb to the top of the ice and then abseil from a couple of ice screws, which we would later retrieve on abseil.

Rob abseiling into Hunderfossensøyla
Hunderfossensøyla from the riverbed
I found the route quite pumpy because the knobbly ice formations strongly encouraged me to use the features for my crampon points, which were quite spaced low down. Some of my footwork was more what I would expect from a mixed route. I got a few easy slots, likely from climbers the previous day, but often needed multiple axe swings to get the picks to safely stick in the brittle ice. A couple of good ledges to the right allowed some partial rests. Plus with the route being quite short I could place ice screws at will. Even with rock gear the dry tooling section at the top of the ice didn't look that appealing as the rock looked flaky and loose. Given the drytooling part is graded 'M?' I suspect not many people bother with it. Rob then led the route sport-style with my screw runners still in place. Climbing the right hand line first worked out well, as soon after it was bright lit by sunshine and quickly looked wetter as a result.

Rob leading the right hand line
Next up was the easier left hand variant, which Rob led first. Again the ice finished below the very top, although from here it was much shorter and easier to escape. Again Rob ab'ed off from the top of the ice. Brittle ice, and wet sections that quickly filled in, meant that on my lead there were surprisingly few 'free' hooks available, and so it felt like a proper lead. Climbing above the ice mainly involved pulling easily on and slinging trees, whilst trying to avoid unstable earthy ground. Then some solid axes into the frozen ground at the very top. 

Rob leading the left hand line
Some pretty awful climbing at the top of the left hand line
Elsewhere the two remaining routes looked a little fissured and unconsolidated to contemplate leading, although would have been fine on a top rope. We were now out of time anyway, and so the last chore was to retrieve the ice screws from the right hand line. Drytooling my way out on top rope still looked a tricky proposition - partly because the ice screw placements were a long way left of natural corner to escape up. Instead I abseiled back to the ground, Rob dropped my the rope ends, and I climbed up the left side again. Climbing concluded in good time.

After some worryingly warm weather forecasts in the week leading up to Rob's flight to Norway we found some really good conditions on the whole for the four days that he was here. Perfect blue skies, hard frosts, and little wind. We managed some really good climbing and certainly made the most of what was on offer I think.  

The walk-out

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Adventure Part 2: OL-traversen

At first I misread the name to be Øl-traversen ('The Beer Traverse'), which was one of the things that first attracted me to the route. OL-traversen ('The Olympic Traverse') is still an excellent route name and presumably in connection with the Olympic ski slopes at Kvitfjell directly opposite.

I really like traverses! Partly because of the level of exposure relative to the grade, and also because of the head games involved as a result of traversing sideways from gear. The hand drawn topo and notes for the traverse was out of format with the rest of the guide, which suggested not many repeats. The route as a whole looked an adventure, which naturally attracted me to it. 

After a long outing at Sørstulen the previous day, an easy approach for this outing was most welcome. The hillside looked fairly dry from the road but the ice in the upper half looked passable, although a lot thinner than in the guide. There were a few variations in the upper half so hopefully one of them would go.

The upper pitches viewed from the road
Thin ice conditions but we were confident that a line would be possible
The first pitch was steady WI3, and so a good warm-up, although I could feel some tiredness in the limbs from the previous day. Brittle ice made it slightly harder than typical to get my points to stick, but where the ice was thin and discontinuous the frozen leafy hillside poking through was far more accepting as a substitute. Then towards the top of the pitch the ice temporarily stopped and I found myself clambering leftwards over/through a tree in order to reach the tree best suited for the belay.

Rob organising ropes beneath the first pitch
Climbing through the tree near the top of the first pitch
Rob was getting the 'good' pitches today, which meant his leads were the second pitch (the traverse) and the fourth pitch. Whether the traverse would be the good pitch was yet to be seen as we knew it would be loose to some degree. A fairly obvious traverse line lay just above the belay, at about 1/3 height of the large pine tree described in the guide (note that the topo shows this to be more like 1/2 height), and so we were confident this must be the way. Really there looked only be one possible line as above, and below, the cliff looked too loose to contemplate. No sign of the loose block described in the guide near the start of the traverse, so presumably it fell off. With little sign of snow or ice on the pitch so Rob packed the crampons and axes and removed his gloves.

A little bit of back and footing between suspect rock and the tree was needed to gain the traverse proper, although the moves were easily protected with slings around its trunk. Once on the traverse proper Rob looked a little nervous but cautiously started moving in the direction of a large suspect block somewhere between 5-10 metres to his right. Some gear either side of it possibly calmed the nerves. Then some more delicate moves to reach a tree at about 3/4 distance, crossing a snowy patch on route, whereby Rob needed to drop to his knees on to stop himself slipping underfoot. Finally a tricky bridge across a corner to reach a final tree on a large belay platform. The only runners being around the suspect block and the tree in the corner. His steady, quiet progress had made it look technically not too difficult, which was reassuring for me on second.

Rob near the start of the traverse
Near the end of the traverse
Then it was my turn to remove my gloves. Seconding the traverse probably wasn't much easier but probably less mentally taxing, knowing it was possible for Rob and therefore hopefully for me. Gaining the traverse was simple affair with the slings overhead, but once these were removed then my next points of protection would be the gear either side of the suspect block. Immediately I needed to commit to using a smaller suspect block underfoot, which naturally made me wary of removing the last sling from the tree. After some reorganisation I managed to fashion a new sling placement to protect me stepping safely onto it. Then it was time to remove the sling and head in the direction of the large suspect block. Falling was obviously out of the question as I would pendulum underneath it and load it. Rob would have had the same situation on the far side of it of course. Once at the large block the only way to really bypass it was to layback off its back edge and walk the feet around. At least I would be unlikely to end up underneath it now were it to dislodge it. Probably the thinnest moves were just beyond the block, although the edges and crimps were always positive for the hands. At one point I instinctively reached for my chalk bag when feeling a little gripped, of course to immediately realise I wasn't wearing it on a winter route in -5 degrees. I managed to cross the snowy patch without resorting to using my knees, which was a minor victory, although struggled to read the moves around the corner, where there was the need to step down to slightly lower foot holds. In the company of slung trees I felt much more at ease though.

Rob at the belay on the far end of the traverse
It's really hard to grade the difficulty of the pitch in the conditions we found. Technically it was only around n4 with a little snow to contend with (compared to the quoted grade M5 in the guide). If I tried to apply a UK adjective rock grade to the pitch then it becomes really difficult. There's lots of suspect rock but HOW suspect is really difficult to quantity, given nothing is outright loose. If I could hit everything with a sledgehammer and then rewind the clock then I could probably give the route a grade. It's obviously not a pitch to take a fall on and test what little gear there is, and definitely a pitch where both climbers need to be equally confident and adept. For me it was still type 1 fun though. 
I'm not sure of the rock type incidentally, but the edges and more solid sections reminded me of basalt, whereas the looser sections of the cliff (away from the traverse) almost reminded me of shale. 

The unusual nature of the route continued and soon we found ourselves moving together along much easier, albeit moderately steep and frozen, hillside wearing alpine coils. Not something I usually do below the tree line.

The continuation of the ice was fairly obvious once beneath it, although it was not in great shape. Two independent lines were normally possible, with left line going at M3 & WI3/4+ and right line at WI4. Right had sounded more interesting and consistent, without a graded line of weakness and strength. Clearly it wasn't in condition though as the start was dry (although it might have been possible to traverse in from a short way up the left branch) and the steeper ice towards the top looked patchy and weak.

The left line looked a good substitute, although the thinly iced rocks lower down suggested gear might be hard to come by. It proved to be the case with merely a few saplings slinged in first half of the pitch. It seems I missed a solid large nut placement though, maybe because I had all too casually ruled out rock gear in my mind due to the ice conditions. There was just one steeper awkward section to contend with so the seriousness was kept in check, although the rest of the pitch maintained interest. In many places the ice was just a few centimetres thick. Just thick enough to moderately chip into, but still thin enough for the rock to retain its features and demand that features be properly used. Towards the top of the pitch mediocre ice screw placements started to become available, although I needed to climb close to a full length of rope before any adequate ice presented for a belay. Even then I was right in the middle of the ice and in the firing line for when Rob started his next pitch.

The thin ice pitch above the clouds
Rob's final pitch started quite steep but that marked the last of the difficulties. He needed to lace the ice to begin with to avoid a potential fall landing on top of me but at least not too much ice rained down on my exposed position. Soon Rob had moved a little left, which allowed me to relax a little more and take in the wonderful views of the freezing fog in the valley and setting sun over the ski pistes of Kvitfjell directly opposite. The WI4+ finish described in the guide unfortunately looked in too poor state for either of us to fancy leading it, so we bypassed it to the left. Then some easy bush walking above the ice and soon we were on flat enough ground to dispense with climbing gear. A pretty epic day almost concluded.

Start of the final pitch
Sunset over Kvitfjell
Fortunately the descent was a straightforward affair as just a few hundred metres north along the top of the cliff we arrived at a DNT marked trail that led all the way down the hillside, leaving just a short walk back along the road to the car.

What OL-traversen had lacked in classic ice and mixed climbing it make up for in the adventure department. Not let down by the traverse not being in 'mixed' condition. I think I even climb the route again were I to see some fatter ice conditions on the upper pitches. Particularly given the different finishing options available in the upper half.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Adventure Part 1: Sørstulen

For me I'm nearly always aiming for a roughly linear relationship between cost and distance traveled versus the amount and quality of climbing done. When I used to drive from London to the Scottish Highlands and back in a weekend the eighteen hour round-trip naturally meant we had to go as 'big' as our sleep deprived bodies and conditions would allow. I've only ever got on a long haul flight for high alpinism and on the flip side I travel a maximum of about one hour to go bouldering. Consequently there are no plans to visit Hampi in India. With Rob visiting from the UK for a long weekend the plan was of course at the relatively 'big' end of the scale rather than roadside ice cragging. Options were limited though due to many areas experiencing warm weather in the days leading up to the weekend. The general lack of snow and thin conditions further limited options.

Plan A had been Jukulkula but with a plus degree forecast from Wednesday into the weekend, together with clear sunny skies, it didn't look a good time to be climbing south facing ice. By far the coldest area within sensible reach of Oslo looked to be the stretch of Gudbrandsdalen between Biri and Ringebu. Ringebu in particular looked to have the best combination of good routes at the right grade, although the only long routes to speak of were at Sørstulen a little higher and further east. It looked an interesting place to climb with three long steps of ice on top of each other. There looked to be a temperature inversion at play and it was forecast to be three degrees at Sørstulen on Saturday, however I was confident that once down in the gorge we would lose a couple of degrees again. Virtually no wind expected, and probably not much direct sunlight in the gorge, so any thaw would probably be very gradual. 

Getting to Sørstulen sounded a challenge in itself. First there was an (extortionate?) 300kr bom to be paid at the start of the road, then the possibility of needing snow chains and a shovel. To reduce the financial burden of visiting the area we joined forces with Anna and Espen. With three largely independent routes leading up from the base of the gorge we hopefully wouldn't restrict one another's progress. Access proved easy for my VW Passat and there was no need to don the chains for the relatively steep set of switchbacks up the hillside. Even a small parking area was ploughed. Then reaching the top of the routes was an easy crossing of a neighbouring long field. Knee deep snow but it was largely unconsolidated.

The approach
The descent into the routes was pretty epic and needed four abseils, totalling around 200m, down the central ice line called Godis before the climbing could even begin. Quite intimidating knowing we needed to climb back out again but also very exciting. I can't ever recall making such a long rope descent prior to the start of an ice climb. In any form of climbing only Verdon Gorge has matched this length, although that was on bolts. We used trees for all but the last abseil, which needed a couple of screws but we used these for the first belay on the way back up.

Espen on the third abseil 
The third abseil gave me a real fright. I declined to kick off a large dripping icicle a short way down the abseil for fear that it might land on my ropes below and damage them. Instead I carefully bypassed it but then found my shoulder easily knocking off smaller sections on the way past. Once below it the rope started to leverage into the side of the icicle. I feared it might break off with me directly below with little that I could do about it due to now being on a hanging abseil. I should in hindsight have pulled the rope back up whilst above the icicle and then kicked the icicle off. At the next abseil point I found a suitable hiding place in a small icy hollow and got Rob to kick the icicle off on his way down. It crashed down the length of the route quite spectacularly.

We opted for Godis, which was the WI3+/4 central line, whilst Espen and Anna opted for Lettis (WI3+) to the left. The third route called Hardis also looked fantastic but a little too hard for me. It's graded WI4+ but looked solid WI5 in current conditions, with a steep twenty metre curtain on the second pitch that lacked much in the way of features.

Rob led the first pitch, which only really had one line that wasn't wet, starting on the right hand side and then swinging left in the upper half. He made swift progress so there was little idling time for the rest of us at the bottom. Because the climbing line switched from left to right we needed to move together for the final five meters or so in order to reach our pre-placed screws for the belay.

Rob starting the first pitch
Rob near the top of the first pitch
A short scramble up the ice was needed to reach the second steeper tier of ice. This had an incredible setting with three broad lines of ice standing side by side, hemmed in by towering rock buttresses. Not only was this the steepest and most attractive pitch but it also had the best ice. The steep angle and lack of natural ledges reminded me of Hydalsfossen. The ice was mildly wet but this insured nearly every placement was solid and first time, which made the climbing efficient and particularly and enjoyable. I even found myself climbing a steeper line than necessary simply because my sticks were so easily attainable and solid. What's more the screws felt equally good.

Even the tree belay at the top of the pitch was excellent, set on a broad platform with a great view back down the ice. A real amphitheater feel.

The second tier ice
View down the second pitch from the belay
The next pitch was a short gully of ice that reminded me a tiny bit of the second pitch of Sabotørfossen, more for the environment than for the actual climbing. It wasn't that hard but added further colour to the route.

Rob beneath the cauliflower ice on the final pitch 
The ice on the final pitch was quite different in character with some giant cauliflowers and weird large crevices in the ice. At first I tried to follow these features but struggled for good ice screws and so moved further right onto steeper but more compact ice. Increased brittleness on this pitch meant the climbing was more time-consuming due to a lot of hacking needed to remove poor surface ice, however the finish line was now in sight.

Near the top of the route
Anna and Espen meanwhile had needed to join Godis on the final pitch due to the last pitch of Lettis being too wet to climb. They managed to take a line further left, meaning our lines were still independent except for the first pitch and the last few metres of the last pitch. 

From bottom to top Godis had been excellent climbing for over two hundred metres in a spectacular setting. Definitely WI4 in current condition. The word 'classic' sometimes gets overused. Sometimes 'classic' climbs can leave me feeling underwhelmed, having often failed to live up to the high expectations that they set. This route was the total reverse in that I expected a good route but got one of the best ice routes that I have climbed anywhere.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Espedalsrenna (WI4/M4), Espedalen

Plan A had been an attractive two pitch WI4 called Skoroa, which was fairly high on the hillside, however from the road it looked worryingly steep for the grade and reminiscent of Grøtenutbekken's crux pitch in the upper half. Matias and I didn't bother to march up the hill to check whether it was within our abilities. Espedalsrenna was the natural substitute. It was only a single pitch but it got two ice creams (the equipment of stars) in the guide, plus I do like a good gully. If the climbing was over too quickly then we could always go to Helvete afterwards.

View of Skoroa (WI4) from the road. Looked steep for WI4!
We very carefully parked the car so as not to get it stuck in the snow as had happened yesterday. We blocked the drive to a hytte in the process but clearly nobody was visiting for the weekend.

We messed up the approach by following by tracks into the trees just north of the parking area. The tracks brought us to beneath the larger ice route of Sprenabekken again, which then meant a moderate traverse along the hillside via some fairly deep snow to reach our desired route. We actually found two routes, since there was an obvious independent ice line to the right of Espedalsrenna.

Matias at the belay beneath Espedalsrenna to his left
Espedalsrenna reminded me a little bit of the first pitch of Bakveien in Rjukan in the way it curved around the corner out of sight. The style of climbing, sunny aspect, and the high setting over the nearby broad lake reminded me equally of an ice crag just south of Alta called Solisen

The steepness throughout the route was not that great but the neighbouring leaning roof made the climbing cramped if not careful. Often I would need to jointly climb and traverse steeper sections rather than mounting them directly, else be lured under the roof. It maybe made the route slightly more technical and sustained for its steepness but still felt fairly easy for WI4. There was also no expected mixed climbing on the route unless stepping on a rock counts as M4. Maybe we had better conditions compared to typical, or those of the first ascensionists. 

Espedalsrenna was great route and generally in excellent condition. Despite being one pitch it was better than any given pitch on Sprenabekken from the previous day. The ice at the start of the route was a little wet and higher up it became surprisingly hard. So much so that on a number of occasions I struggled to get to threads of my ice screws to bite. It felt pretty hard as well when a block unexpectedly bounced off my lip. The sheltered roof also meant no snow on the bulk of the route, which came as a welcome relief after the previous day's snow clearing exercise.

The route was close to a full sixty metres but no need to break it into two smaller pitches as suggested by the guide. The top twenty metres was a gentle gradient and relatively straightforward, with just a moderately steeper last few metres. An easy abseil from the tree belay brought us back to the base of the route.

Easy ground in the upper half of the route
Matias then led the route to the right whilst I belayed in bright sunshine, no wind and around -15 degrees. Fine weather. It was around WI3+ with an interesting finish trending right at the very top.

Matias leading the bonus ice to the right of Espedalsrenna
We finished in good time, which gave me a chance to check out the ice further down the valley in daylight during the drive home. Earl Grey was looking better than last visit but there was still an absence of ice in the middle section that looked potentially problematic. Earl Grey and Skoroa seem the obvious routes to return for maybe I'll wait for a little beta to lure me back first, else wait for another year with more reliable conditions.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Sprenabekken, Espedalen

I had visited Espedalen just before Christmas but the multipitch routes were in terrible condition following a number of warm weather bouts and inverted temperatures. Part of the second pitch of Sprenabekken in particular was clearly running with water from the roadside. On that occasion we had settled for a cragging day at Helvete. There looked to be some excellent routes to return for though once conditions improved, so I placed it on the 'to do' list for January. With generally colder, more stable temperatures since the New Year a return visit seemed in order.

It was my partner Matias's second day on ice this season due to university work taking up much of his free time. Sprenabekken seemed well suited as only the second pitch of three involved any real difficulties, and with a fairly short approach we would hopefully have it boxed off in good time.

View of Sprenabekken from the road
Fresh snow had fallen on Tuesday and Wednesday but the approach was fairly easy despite a good volume of fresh powder. We slightly lost our way after following some partially filled-in tracks but a short traverse along the hillside brought us swiftly beneath the ice.

Sprenabekken at closer quarters
We started up the left side with the general plan to slowly traverse in towards the steeper ice on the right side, ensuring the belays were not in the line of fire. The first pitch was a steady affair and Matias did a good job of leading nearly a full rope length. The ice was a little wet in places, and intermittently coated in a crispy layer of snow that needed to be cleared to find better ice beneath. The belay itself was particularly wet underfoot and not somewhere I wanted to hang around. At least the belay screws looked ok. 

Matias leading the start of the first pitch
The second pitch of Sprenabekken proved a time-consuming affair. The first half was technically easy and followed a gentle slab in the direction of the steeper ice. Much of the slab was covered in a top surface that needed to be entirely stripped in order to find better ice. A thin layer of hard icy snow covered a semi-consolidated layer of icy snow, which covered 2cm of air, beneath which lay decent (ish) ice. The layer of air meant everything above it was highly prone to cracking and collapsing and so it all needed to be cleared.

View of the second pitch from the belay
I probably used the back and sides of my axes more than the picks during the first half of the pitch to beat and break up the surface ice. The whole process of excavation was actually quite satisfying and absorbing though given the predictability of the layers and it was quite easy to clear relatively large sections at a time. An irrational thought briefly entered my mind that the entire suspended sheet could unexpectedly avalanche in one fell swoop but this felt unlikely in practice.Progress was rather slow and workmanlike - the loose equivalent of gardening a rock route on lead.

The human brøytebil
The layer air, above which everything needed to be stripped
When I did use my picks they bit easily into the excavated wet ice below, although it wasn't great for screws. Instead I needed to rely on sporadic slightly steeper ice that were not covered in the rubbish ice.

Once in closer proximity with the steeper section it was clear that I needed to take it at its slackest angle at the far right. Other parts were dripping wet and out of the question. A couple of hard but hollow ice screw placements along the base was my only consolidation. An axe strike into the slabby ice beneath the steep wall caused water to spurt gently upwards like a burst water pipe indicating the amount of water pressure below. The route evidently had a strong flow of water that probably didn't appreciate the numerous aggressive warm spells over the previous month. The mixed ice conditions actually reminded me a little of when I climbed Rjukanfossen many years ago, which similarly had also had similarly unusual conditions and much running water below. 

Midway into the second pitch
The steeper climbing on the second pitch. The only dry ice was the slacker ice at the far right end
I had hoped the ice conditions would improve once it became a little steeper, however there was still much rubbish to clear on the flatter surfaces. At one point the ice was no more than 10cm thick, beneath which flowed water, and so needed extra care. The steeper ice was also often brittle, meaning the top surface needed to be hacked away to find better ice deeper down. One small pillar barring my way in particular needed full demolition after the first hit over the top of it caused the whole pillar to turn pale. Another party appeared at the bottom of the route around this time. Not surprisingly they kept on walking!

Screw protection throughout the pitch was mediocre, which made good sticks all the more essential. At least the climbing was not particularly sustained or pumpy so I could be extra patient in achieving these. There were also plenty of good rests on ledges left behind after the excavation of softer ice. The guide description gave the route WI3+/4 but by our line it was no more than WI3+ with the steepness often moderate. Some of the ice formations were still in quite an early developmental stage but bridging back and forth to avoid the steeper or chandelier'ed sections made things more interesting.

Matias above the steeper ice at the top of the second pitch
The final pitch was an easier affair with about 20 metres of actual climbing followed by the same distance walking. I made the mistake of putting my foot in water ankle deep right at the top though.

Not the best conditions in summary but perfectly climbable and still enjoyable. The easier than expected climbing was a little bit underwhelming however. The unusual ice conditions definitely added a degree of esoteria though and made the route maybe less easy to forget in the process. Needless to say the route is thoroughly ploughed for the time being, provided you stick to the same line. 

We abseiled from a large tree beside the route, along the true left side of the ice, and over a short rocky cliff to another tree. After our second abseil we only just managed to pull the ropes down. It needed Matias to prusik himself to the pulling rope and put his full body weight behind it to get them moving. In hindsight we should have used cordelette around the tree in question. A short third abseil then brought us to beneath the ice.

View of the crux ice during the abseil
In the UK there is a saying that some things come in pairs, for example buses in rush hour, and this was true with respect to car problems. The last time I had visited Espedalen we had experienced wheel problems and then a flat battery. A matter of metres from the last incident, and in a different car, we again had wheel problems. Firstly the car became stuck in snow, then the snow chains broke but luckily just in time for us to shift the car back onto the road. Evidently the broken chains had caused some minor damage to behind the wheel as now a constant grinding noise emanated from the it. I don't know much about cars but the car was steering ok and braking fine and there was no smell of burning so we just continued as normal, albeit with slightly higher levels of anxiety. Climbing to continue as normal the following day.