Lillesvullen (WI4), Svarteberget

I'm not usually one for 'copy and paste' climbing, however when I saw the photos of the ice routes beside Ål Ski Centre on Facebook they immediately moved towards the top of my 'to do' list. There hasn't been so many areas within driving distance from Oslo with good ice conditions this winter, which has lead me to repeatedly return to the same places. Gudbrandsdalen has had some excellent ice but too much of the same thing can quickly become boring. There's numerous parts of Norway that I have never visited though, for example everything west of Gol, so naturally I was keen to fill in some blanks in both respects when I learnt about the routes at Ål.

Lillesvullen, aka Le Petit Svull (WI4) was the easier of the two prominent icefalls in the area and so it seemed the obvious place to start for Anna and me. The harder Storesvullen could wait until Sunday.

Lillesvullen from the main road

It was a relatively short approach from the ski centre car park, initially following a broad ski trail until beneath the route, higher up on the hillside. We cut across a field and began to bash our way up the steeper forested slopes. Here the going became harder, mainly because of the volume of snow together with numerous large boulders to scramble over.

The route is either two or three pitches, depending on whether you include the initial easy first pitch or not. It's about 50m and WI2 and quite out of character with the steeper climbing that follows. We chose to pitch it with Anna leading.

Anna leading the easy first pitch

The real climbing began thereafter, with two pitches of sustained WI4(+) climbing. From the road the route doesn't look particularly spectacular but once stood beneath it all this changes. I led the first steep pitch, which was off-vertical for most of the way. Initially I followed large steps but by the second half of the pitch the climbing had become more sustained. The brittle, dinner-plating nature of the ice made for pumpy climbing due to the amount of chopping necessary in order to get good sticks. Sometimes I would need to quit chopping in one spot and switch to another, which also led to me getting out of shape a little. On many WI4s this would have been the crux pitch, however the next pitch would only be harder.

Me near the top of the second pitch

Relieved to have managed the pump and completed the pitch I settled into belay duties. Alone on my belay ledge my mind began to wonder. 

Like a virgin, hey
Touched for the very first time
Like a virgin
With your heartbeat
Next to mine

Whoa, ah

I had watched a music documentary on NRK a couple of nights previously that had included a lot of artists from the 80s and now I was paying the price. I don't listen to Madonna. At least it wasn't 'Let It Go' from Disney's Frozen, which had been in my head for much of the time that I was climbing Bjørndalsbekken last month.

Also occupying my thoughts was the volume of snow that had been falling since midway up my pitch. Falling snow has been a fairly rare occurrence this winter and quickly it was covering the bare easier angled sections of the ice. Once Anna joined me at the belay climbing was once again at the forefront of my mind.

Anna near the top of the second pitch

The start of the next pitch looked a tough proposition but Anna was keen to try and lead it. 'It doesn't look too bad' I commented, more for encouragement rather than matter of fact. The weakest line looked to initially be straight up the right side until some fissured ice at this edge of the fall necessitated a short traverse leftwards for approximately 5 metres to a faint open chimney feature. A short way up the pitch Anna clipped to an axe and rested, which marked the start of a sieged attempt up the steep sections of ice.

Anna at the start of the third pitch

Anna at the top of the steepest section of climbing

Anna was out of sight once she was over the steep, meaning once again there was just the rope tension and falling snow to occupy my thoughts. And Madonna.

Feels like I'm going to lose my mind
You just keep on pushing my love
Over the borderline

Higher up the pitch Anna ran out of screws but to her credit she lowered off a short way in order to remove a couple from lower down, thus reaching the top of the route.

The foreshortened view of the start of the final pitch had partly disguised its steepness. Even seconding the it was no pushover. Particularly the faint chimney, which was vertical for maybe 6 metres but made harder by its featureless nature. I gladly hooked my axes into Anna's placements where possible, given the tendency for the ice to dinner plate.

Even with the crux passage dispatched the climbing remained relatively sustained, albeit at a slightly gentler angle. Lots of chopping still necessary. At one point an axe dramatically blew from the ice without warning, together with a large dinner-plate. Fortunately my other axe was solid at the time. Relieved and happy to be at the top of the route we promptly abseiled it needing just one abalakov on the way, besides trees. 

If this route is a WI4 then it felt right at the top of the grade. There were no easy passages once onto the two main pitches. Conditions felt fat as well, although the dinner plating no doubt offset this. It was an excellent route, albeit not the eye-catcher of its neighbour Storesvullen. It's probably better than all the WI4s that I have climbed in Hemsedal (note, I've yet to climb Teigafossen), with the exception of Hydalsfossen, although that is a WI4+. Not bad creditials for a route that is equidistant to Hemsedal and that took me three winters to learn about. 

My bag buried under fresh snow at the bottom of the route


  1. Great account Lee. Well done both of you. Funny on the subject of catchy tunes, not sure if you've seen this:


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