Bjørndalsbekken (WI4)

Ice conditions! The routes close to Sjoa had some of the best ice that I had climbed this season. It was far from perfect but much more homogeneous, fatter, and less damaged than the vast majority of routes to date. Bjørndalsbekken was just a short drive from where we were staying and so found its way to the top of our list. Little snow made the approach fairly easy in all respects.

The route from the approach

This was Stig's first proper ice route of the season (his only previous route this winter being 'Ut i vår Hage' on Skurvefjell, which had lacked any ice). The (optimistic) plan was that I would lead the easy first pitch to give him a chance to warm up and find his ice climbing skillz, and then it would be over to him to lead the steeper second pitch, which proved to be the crux.

The ice on the first pitch was rather wet and soft. Not ideal for monopoints, particularly if there were similar conditions on the steeper ground to come. The ice curtains above the pitch were running with water but the right side of the fall where we were headed looked much better. Fortunately the ice firmed up with height.

Me leading the first pitch
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)

The second pitch was actually pretty tough I thought, and at half height Stig stopped to make a belay due to a combination of rapidly depleting screws and rapidly increasing lactic acid in his calves. Once I had joined him at the belay the 80+ degree ice formations above, shaped like chanterelle mushrooms and full of air, looked rather intimating. No doubt the ice would provide lots of good hooks but it looked weak and susceptible to spontaneously fracturing underfoot. Plus quite likely no reliable screw placements. Around the corner to the right the ice looked similar angle but a tad more filled in and undoubtedly our best option.

Stig starting the second pitch

The weak ice above Stig's belay

My axes found their mark pretty easily but the footwork was hard because of the early stage ice formations didn't offer much in the way of compact ice to tap my crampon points into. Instead I relied on small natural ledges, which felt a little insecure at times. Screw placements were indifferent, often hitting pockets of air. Consequently I found myself closely lacing the section of ice through mistrust of what I had placed beforehand. I found the climbing pretty pumpy but under control. It wasn't dissipating through shaking out but it wasn't getting significantly worse either, so I just pressed on. 

Starting the crux ice
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)

At the top of the steep ice the conventional second belay in the ice-formed cave was too chandelier'ed and wet to take screws. At least I now had half a rope length with which to continue. I traversed easily leftwards along a sloping ledge towards the centre of the icefall, at least now able to place my screws more sparingly. A short steep icy corner allowed fairly easy bridging upwards to another big ledge that was ideal for a belay.

Stig joined me looking pretty exhausted so I gladly led on, following a rightward slanting weakness. After about half a rope length the natural weakness headed back leftwards, directly over my belayer. The ice was now dry but becoming more brittle with height, and so the sensible thing was to make another belay to spare my belayer from being showered with ice.

Start of our fourth pitch
(Photo by Stig Jarnes)

Stig near the top of our fourth pitch

Stig had another go at leading, however his calves were soon suffering and so he retreated back to the belay. After some minor faff to generally reorganise the ropes I was off on what would hopefully be the final pitch.

Stig at his high point on the fifth (final) pitch

The pitch was harder than expected. Partly because of the fading light but mainly because the ice high on the route had now become very hard and brittle. I was struggling to gain purchase with my front points whilst the other points were prone to skating on the flatter surfaces. What's more, anything remotely blank or convex promptly shattered in response to my axe strikes. Often I would need to give up and try somewhere else, and sometimes I would find myself getting out of shape as a consequence. Getting my axes to bite into the larger flat shelves was a particularly problem and led to repeated bashing. It made what should probably have been an easy final step into quite an undertaking. I even contemplated making a belay to give myself a break from the repeated hacking. I was pretty tired towards the top of pitch and found myself muttering words of encouragement to myself to keep me going.

It was largely dark by the time we were both at the top of the route. Undoubtedly the best routes I had climbed this winter with constant interest throughout of the route and some pretty sustained climbing beyond the first pitch. It's probably one of the best WI4s that I have climbed in Norway in fact (the guide gives the route WI3+/4 but it was definitely WI4 in current conditions). I'm usually not one for selfies at the top of routes but this one deserved one I thought.

Top of the route

The guide description suggested either an abalakov descent, which we didn't fancy due to the wet ice lower down, or abseiling from trees a little further south. Trees sounded the better option, however the trees beside the route looked sparse and we were little more cautious due to the lack of visibility. We completely overlooked the actual recommended trees to use in the guide's topo! Instead we followed the hillside for a few hundred metres further south to where the trees looked to thicker but in reality we couldn't see enough to really be certain. At a point that 'felt' right we started our abseils but after just 30m we met with an expansive overhanging cliff top with no clear bottom in the dark. The ropes were at least audibly hitting the ground and so I headed into the murk down a free hanging forty metre abseil to investigate. We met with slabby ice below the cliff, which meant an abalakov thread was needed to go any further. My 1kg heavier bodyweight meant that I got to go first. I continued down over another shorter overhang and onto a smaller easier angled neighbouring ice route to the one we had climbed.

At the bottom of the 40m cliff

Towards the end of the abseil I managed to reach a tree above the ice on its far bank. I thought trees would hasten matters but it was more the contrary. At every opportunity the ropes would catch on branches, meaning I spent most of my time untangling ropes and throwing them a matter of metres (generally into the next nearest branch) rather than actually abseiling. The slack angle of the hillside also discouraged the ropes from sliding anywhere but the regular short, severe drop-offs prevented us from simply down-climbing. It somehow took us about two and a half hours to make the full descent and in hindsight we should have just abseiled the route (or read the guide description properly and used the recommended trees, which would only have been three abseils to our bags. At least we were sharing the hut and so were grateful to have dinner on the table in time for our late return.

(A slightly blurry) view back towards our route from the abseils


  1. Epic text. I've upgraded the grade to WI4, since its one of the more sustained routes in the area, and also got several others commenting it.


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