Storesvullen (WI5), Svarteberget

Storesvullen had looked too good not to return to the day after we had climbed the neighbouring Lillesvullen. It looked close to my limits but evidently in good condition and definitely worth a try. Particularly given the approach wasn't too long. If Anna and I were overly intimidated once beneath the route then we could always run away to the single pitch ice/mixed crags of Rjukandefoss or Golsjuvet and still have plenty of time for climbing. The first pitch looked as though it would be the crux so it would be immediately obvious as to how hard the climb would be.

Storesvullen

The approach, despite not being that long, wasn't exactly a walk in the park as there was a lot of snow and many boulders to clamber over. Once at close quarters though the first pitch actually didn't look too bad. The lower quarter was an easy angle and the hard climbing looked to be over once about 70% up the pitch. In essence the difficult climbing looked to only last about 12 metres. What's more the ice looked well featured and full of cauliflowers. In summary it was clear that we were not going to be heading to Rjukandefoss.

The approach

Beneath the route

The first pitch was surprisingly steady. Even on the steepest ground it was easy to find natural hooks, which minimised effort to get good sticks. The cauliflowers also made footwork an easy affair. In fact their horizontal surfaces were so broad at times that I would have benefited from the first set of crampon points back from my front points being a bit sharper in order to fully capitalise. The hardest aspect was finding good ice screw placements but even this was a fairly simple with a keen eye. The pitch reminded me of the crux pitch of Nye Vermorkfoss at Rjukan - both in the style of climbing and because I talked a lot to my belayer during both these pitches. Not a gibbering wreck-type of talking, more of a calm manner to keep myself settled by describing my observations and actions. The lack of pump meant there was no need to hurry the pitch. As expected, the upper part of the pitch was easier, and allowed me to move my weight primarily back onto my feet. Carefully I traversed left until easier ground lay overhead for me to continue upwards.

The first pitch

Anna and I had planned to swing leads with Anna leading the easier sections between the obvious steeper ones. In reality this didn't really work out because once above the initial steep ice it was a 30 metre plod through easy angled snow to find a safe belay on the far left. From here the steep ground pretty much started immediately again. Anna led a pitch that was maybe 10 metres but it was more a way of reorganising the ropes ready for me to lead again rather than spend ten minutes faffing with ropes. 

View of the remaining ice from above the initial steep section

The next pitch looked to have its line of weakness up the left hand side with more of what had gone before. In reality the ice was past its best and much more fissured, which made adequate screw placements a rare phenomenon. Screws were either hitting air pockets, were near to fissures, or in undercut ice. Nothing to install confidence and as a result I found myself placing more screws at close proximity in an attempt to find something vaguely reliable. At least the climbing was under control for the moment, mainly because of the ample natural hooks for my axes, although the footwork was more akin to mixed climbing due to the reliance on jutting features in the absence of any compact ice. One section, which was slightly undercut and particularly fissured, meant I needed to climb through a bulge in the ice. Above this the ice became even more fissured, untrustworthy, and was completely unprotectable. Now a fair distance above my last reliable screw I changed tack, bailed from my original line and set about making a rising traverse rightwards to the centre of the fall where the ice looked more compact and blue. Initially the ice remained unprotectable but after a few metres it improved sufficiently to start placing adequate screws. Not surprisingly I made up for the lack of adequate protection which had preceded. With all the concerns over decent screws I found myself prematurely running out. I managed at least to avoid a uncomfortable hanging belay by moving my last screw progressively higher until a comfortable ledge was reached a few metres further. I was still maybe 15 metres below the ideal belay spot beneath the final steep ice pitch but that at least this meant a little more leading for Anna.

Me leading the second steep pitch

Anna seconding the second steep section

Anna finishing my pitch off
The final steep section reminded me a little bit of the start of Vøllokula. In a similar way I managed to bridge much of the steep ice, only this time I found my legs becoming progressively more outstretched in order to maintain opposition. At their widest span my calves were screaming with lactic acid -  something I haven't experienced this winter. What's more my biceps were starting to cramp - a first - after three sustained pitches. Reluctantly I pulled out of my bridged stance and and took up the weight on my arms instead. A few moves higher and I was able to break left onto easier ground. Above this there was just a short section of maybe WI3+ before the top of the route was reached. I was tired but very happy to have completed the route after leading all the hard ground. By the time we had started the abseils dusk was upon us.

Me leading the final steep section of ice

View back down to Anna from the top of the steep ice

I've seen this route quoted as WI5 on 27crags but I can't decide if the route was a genuine WI5 in easy condition or a WI4+. WI4+ seems an underused grade compared to WI4 and 5 (at least in Norway). It feel as though 4+ has a smaller bandwidth, and of course many routes can also easily change by half a grade depending on conditions. If the climb was in Rjukan in then it would certainly be WI5. I haven't felt like a WI5 climber this season and therefore maybe doubtful to say this was a WI5, although I could be simply doubting my abilities rather than the route. I started the winter season a little on the back foot, however I've got stronger, lighter and fitter as the season has progressed and my technique has certainly improved. I think I really need to climb more WI5s in order to properly comment on the grade of this route though. What wasn't in doubt though is that it was one of the highlights of my winter season. A true classic.

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