Rjukan Part 2: Verdens Ende (WI5)

The only WI5 that I had yet to climb in Upper Gorge was Verdens Ende, so this was Plan A for Sunday. Plan B was something nearby that was free of climbers.

We opted to abseil part way into the western end of the gorge due to the unpleasant combination of powder snow concealing sporadic sections of hard ice on the descent. The last time that I had descended this way was following the fatal accident on Lipton in 2015 and it was difficult not think back to that terrible day. I had no interest in returning to the rocks beneath the climb where we had made futile attempts to save the Italian climber's life.

This end of the gorge felt a world apart from the climbing busyness at the Vermork end with not a footprint to be seen. Rjukanfossen looked fat but Lipton was almost entirely absent of ice. Verdens Ende had seen better days with the ice on the first pitch looking eroded and hollowed out in the middle section. The route looked as though it had suffered some major thaws without the right conditions to fatten it back up again and fill the holes. The climb looked doable nonetheless and at least the ice well frozen and dry (unless Vermorkbrufoss Vest yesterday).

Lipton wasn't formed

Jacob beneath Rjukanfossen

Verdens Ende (WI5). Note the poor condition of the first pitch

The first pitch proved serious affair. It started regularly enough with a short steep wall on the right side which led to a large shelf. The first challenge was not to disturb a large adjacent dagger of ice to my right. It was large enough to trash my ropes (and possibly my belayer) were it to detach so we paused to relocate everything to the far left hand side of the gully beneath the route.

The large ledge was generous enough for me to have comfortably stopped and eaten my sandwiches on had I chosen to. Much of the steep ice above this point was hollow though and far too thin for ice screws. Repeatedly I would thread a screw where it hinted at being homogeneous enough only to hit air at barely half depth. In fact there was so much air in the ice that I could poke my arm though large gaps up to my elbow and feel around behind. Much of the ice in front of me was merely a facade. It was heavily featured but structurally weak. In fact it was easy to smash small structures from the route. I had visions of foot holds breaking or axes ripping and if I was going to continue then at the very least I needed reliable protection that wasn't already below my feet. 

After much hunting for a decent ice screw placement I gave up and concluded the route was unjustifiable to continue. Backing my own ability was one thing, pushing on without comfortable control of the risks involved felt a step too far. Particularly with ground fall still a potential factor once I climbed higher. In the back of my mind Will Gadd was telling me 'you're really stupid if you try climb this!' 

The next problem was of course how to descend - given there was nothing to abseil from. I placed some cord around a small column but that alone was insufficient. I hunted again for a screw placement but of course hit air. Then a little higher to my surprise I found a 16cm placement that sunk fully. No doubt it was surrounded by hollow ice but it was enough to give me the boost of confidence needed to try and lead on. Abalakoving from hollow ice wasn't a vastly more attractive option anyway. 

A good high axe placement to begin with lifted the confidence further. From here there were some easy but suspect undercut footsteps to commit to. To limit the impact of them fracturing I fastened a sling between my harness and my high axe. It was slack enough to remain passive whilst climbing but short enough to quickly catch me were my feet to expectedly get some air time (a technique I used to often use on trad chalk). It would also allow me to quickly sit on the weight of an axe should I need to. From the suspect footholds it was really only a couple of moves up and left until I had a left axe slotted into better ice. In spite of this my undercut feet made the climbing feel steep but I needed to remain composed and get an ice screw placed before continuing any further. The pump was building in the forearms but at least the ice was more homogeneous now and seemed to be easing up in steepness. Patiently I laced the top section of the pitch to compensate for the dire protection that had preceded it.

Near the top of first pitch
(Photo by Jacob Jutrem)

I paused to give myself a pat on the back at the top of the steep ice before continuing up the easy snow gully, trying to maximise the pitch length but ultimately needing to backtrack a little in order to find a decent ice belay. 

The next two pitches continued up the gully in a similar vein with intermittent steeper sections. The climbing had become surprisingly alpine in character and rather enjoyable despite the lack of technical challenge. 

Jacob leading the second pitch

Starting the third pitch
(Photo by Jacob Jutrem)

Jacob at the top of the third pitch

The ice consistency on the last pitch reminded me of Rjukanfossen as it had the same crusty feel to it. It was easy to kick into but probably not the best for screws. Ample water ran beneath the ice, which was also consistent with when I climbed Rjukanfossen. One sunken screw spouted water from its end. Another was impossible to clean out due to the running water having set hard the ice within the shaft. It would need to thaw in the boot of my car instead.

Jacob leading the fourth (final) pitch

Despite the route not being in decent condition it definitely added to the adventure. A bit of type 2 fun always ensures a route stays in the mind for longer. It also proved to me that there is still plenty of adventure to be had in Rjukan, despite so many routes being well travelled. Next time I'd like the make the line and location of the route the adventurous aspects rather than the quality of the ice. 

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