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.

2 comments:

  1. Nice to see a repeat. Before I wrote the guide only short text existed. "Take the ice on lower left, then traverse, then up the highest ice. To improve the guide we had to find a possible route, and we did it after work with headtorches. So I to draw the traverse later. Fornthe pine I believe its says 2-3 meter up then to right. The stone was verglassed so we hadbto mix climb it. Good fun, a small adventure route indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice to see a repeat. Before I wrote the guide only short text existed. "Take the ice on lower left, then traverse, then up the highest ice. To improve the guide we had to find a possible route, and we did it after work with headtorches. So I to draw the traverse later. Fornthe pine I believe its says 2-3 meter up then to right. The stone was verglassed so we hadbto mix climb it. Good fun, a small adventure route indeed.

    ReplyDelete