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.

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