Tøftfossen (WI4), Drivdalen

Despite seven days climbing in Oppdal I still hadn't climbed the classic Tøftfossen. I had planned to climb it with Anna two years ago but the cornice at the top of the route had looked massive from the valley and so we aborted a short way into the approach. On this occasion the problematic cornice was reportedly passable and with a perfect forecast the day looked ideally suited to something a little more alpine in character. Plus with Rick having travelled all the way from the UK we needed to justify the journey time with a big classic.

The only thing not ideally suited was the avalanche forecast. Or at least the avalanche forecast that I was reading. Troms warned of windslab but this was of course is not the correct fylke for Oppdal. Fortunately rational thinking trumped my poor geography and thus we went to take a closer look. After all everything in the recent weather pattern suggested snow consolidation. No wind, no snow, freeze/thaw temperatures, and plenty of sunshine. It was much the same today.

The approach was a little long-winded, firstly weaving its way up tree-scattered slopes before the angle eased back a little and the views opened up.

The valley approach

The first pitch was an easy WI2 solo. We roped up for the short second pitch, although this was also steady WI3. I had apparently forgotten how to sensibly place my belay stance in the haste to climb efficiently and consequently found myself directly under Rick and in the firing line. Fortunately nothing big came down and it was more the case of putting the hood up and looking down to avoid the chill of the cold shower.

Rick soloing the first pitch

Rick leading the second pitch

Only the third pitch put up any real resistance, although the ice conditions still felt easy for a WI4 by our chosen line towards the right hand side. It started relatively steeply but an open corner allowed me to bridge fairly effortlessly. Mostly the ice was the squeaky alpine neve type that nearly always bit first time and was a joy to climb. It was Chamonix-esque climbing in fact. Only near the start of the pitch did an axe fracture a large block overhead which then dislodged one of my feet from the ice to my surprise. It was out of character though and mostly first time placements ensured rapid advancement. By around ten metres the steepness began to ease off and I trended right following the line of least resistance. Midway up the pitch the difficulties returned to WI2/3 and focus switched to running the rope out as much as possible.

Rick at the belay beneath the third pitch

Me leading the start of the third pitch
(Photo by Richard Ashton)

The fourth pitch involved more steady WI3, beyond which there were just a few more easy metres needed in order to top-out through the non-existent cornice. I was somewhat baffled by the cornice reputation. The summit area forms a small horseshoe around the top of the route, meaning that if one aspect formed a cornice then surely another would have a tendency to scour? I think I'd be more worried about cornice collapse than about the exit at any rate.

Rick leading the fourth pitch

We topped out at just 1pm - the early finish a consequence of the excellent ice conditions that we were able to climb so efficiently. Fine views of the valley greeted us with my only disappointment being that there was not a herd of musk ox waiting at the top as I had envisaged (I have still yet to see any).

As purely ice climbing goes, the climb actually didn't strike me as an amazing line and with only one pitch putting up any real resistance the difficulties felt rather disjointed. If this line was at the base of the valley then I think it would be nothing special. What makes the route special for me though is its alpine character and high setting. Alpine routes after all often have a lot of easy ground interspersed with a few harder sections, and part of the joy of these types of routes is being able to move quickly. It seemed ideally suited to a fine early spring day such as this. It's worth mentioning that I'm certain we got optimal conditions as I have seen photos of the third pitch looking much leaner and tougher.

With not a wisp of breeze in the air we lingered on the summit a short while, taking in the view before we started our descent. This was easy since we were following neve for nearly the whole way until the treeline. Our loop back in a north-westerly direction provided some great views towards the route, where another pair of climbers were on the final pitches.

Top of the route

Start of the descent

View back towards Tøftfossen during the descent

Reflection time... Tøftfossen felt like the last big route of the season. Winter feels as though it is in its final throess but it would be nice to climb a few more routes next weekend somewhere, even if ambition levels need to be lowered a little. Despite the fluctuating temperatures this winter I feel like I've made the most of what's been available and at least I've visited a few new places. I started out just happy to be climbing again but I feel as though I've achieved some good ticks through the latter half of the season. Anything from this point onward is going to be a bonus.

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