'For Adventures of a lifetime'

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Fine finale on For Alle Menn (For All Men)

Well that time has come when we need to pack our bags and head back to the UK to the glorious weather we are experiencing.  So today was the last day of climbing for Dean and I...Opening the blinds this morning the snow had once again come through the night (almost a daily occurrence) making us reevaluate our loose plans.  As breakfast came and went we notice the snow on the car melting away giving us some concerns about the quality of the ice we might find today.

It would have been quite easy to drive up to Krokan (again) and complete some of the steeper routes we still had in our sights but we agreed on Rjukan Central and the Tjonnstadberg Area for a change with the idea of having a look at For Alle Menn 3* WI5.  Dean was battling with a few concerns after him and his Dad had a mild epic on Klappfoss last year, on the decent to be more precise, but he took a deep breath, smiled and said ''Yup lets do it!''  So at the crack of dawn, ok so it was 9.45 am, we headed out (we were working on the fact we've started climbing really quickly).

Arriving at the base after the nicely warming hike in, two other Brit. parties were gearing up under Tjonnstadbergfossen the classic 3* WI4 route...Dean and I headed further over to the left to the cave at the base of For Alle Menn....What an awesome route it looked, steep with beautiful blue ice up both pitches.  It was Deans lead and he was keen to crack on with the first I pulled out of the cave on second the angle of the route hit me and I realised at that point that we were going to have to work hard if we were to get the satisfaction we needed after yesterdays disappointment.  The route climbs two walls of steepening ice with a short respite after one third height.  A little push is required to launch yourself up the last part which terminates at the base of a huge and steep ice column.  Dean was staring down at me proud as punch with his belay construction which included two bomber ice screws and a Abalov ice belay.  "Safer than the M60 this belay" he says.

A quick change of gear and it was my lead...Dean was babbling on about something or other but I was in 'concentration mode' as I looked up at the REALLY steep ice column above me.  The column was around 7 meters in height so I thought 10 moves and I should be at the top....surely I have enough strength for that.  I clipped the other Abalov and placed a screw and launched myself (without thinking too much) up the column.  Not many people had been up this ice column and the lack of 'in-situ." hooks for my axes worried me a little!  Not only did I need strength to hang on I also needed power to swing my axe and penetrate the bullet hard ice above me.  After placing two more screws I arrived at the point where the column finished and the snow slope at an easier angle started.  Somehow I remembered that I should place a screw as there didn't look like many opportunities above.

As I entered the snow gully above the memories of yesterdays 'snow swimming' came flooding back...I eventually tread water (snow) to the belay tree above and safety!  Dean soon joined me praising me for my 'Grande Cojones' and raving about the quality of the whole route.  We sorted the ropes for the rap off and descended directly back into the cave we had started Dean arrived I handed him a brew of mint tea and honey and we quickly packed up the rest of our kit, quite content by what we had achieved.

Conditions:  The ice on the lower part of the first pitch was 'dinner plating' quite a bit but this improved with height.  On the ice column on pitch two it was bullet hard and even difficult to penetrate.  The overnight snow didn't make the approach or the easy gully on the last pitch very easy...A little perseverance may be required.

What an absolutely awesome trip this has been and my thanks go out to Dean Dalton who has partnered me all week, never did I have any doubt in his abilities.  Ed. Dalton for all the banter and the craic through out the week and to John Beard who completed his first ice trip and shared an emotional roller-coaster with us all.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

What goes up sometimes comes down quicker!

If everything in life (climbing) went according to our plans we wouldn't learn a thing and in turn we wouldn't be prepared for the next time similar events occur.  Today was one of those days for Dean and I out here in Rjukan.  We made a decision that disappointed us, frustrated us and made us sad but at the end of the day we're happy with the decision we made and it was the right one...ultimately we are still here and alive to climb another day!

For the whole our trip Dean had kept quiet (until 4 days ago) that he was keen...very keen to get Juvsoyla a 3* WI6 route at the head of the Upper Gorge done after spotting it last year.  So since that point on I've been trying to psyche myself up into giving it ago, having never climbed a WI6 route before.  With the climbing we experienced yesterday I was also running out of excuses.   Even the conditions, weather and temperatures 'seemed' to be in our favor.

Walking to the route this morning, down from Vemork Bridge into the Gorge, not a lot was being said by either Dean or myself as we trudged past the awesome routes we had done yesterday, now a distant but happy memory.  We kept following the well trodden trail all the way up the valley to the point where the 'Snow Gully' which leads to the route starts. It was soon apparent that the easy walking we had so far encountered was about to stop abruptly .  The snow underfoot was soft and deep and the higher we made our way up the gully the deeper it got.  At one point I thought I was going to be defeated by the snow alone.  Each time I placed a foot it felt like the snow holding it was about to collapse and on many occasions it form of weight distribution was helping unless I was belly to the snow in a wallrus (a small one) like movement, swimming (more like drowning) my way up the slope.  Reassuringly Dean was also suffering and finding the going tough.

We reached the point where the gully steepened and the true climbing started.  Dean started the lead and was instantly aware that the ice wasn't very good taking many swings of his axes to make them stick and his foot kicking away the top layers to get any purchase.  I have started to become aware when things are not going well for Dean, I guess this is part of being tuned into your climbing partner, as he ascended I could tell he wasn't happy.  Of course you keep quiet wanting him to make his own decisions about the route.  The route deteriorated the further he ascended going from slushy crusty ice to rock with very soft snow on it.  Just before he was due to take a leftward traverse, Dean noticed an Abalov (an anchor in the ice made by threading cord through two holes made by two long ice screws angled to intersect with each other), he clipped this as an immediate runner but was then shut down by the lack of usable ice.  After a look down I knew I had to give him the option and uncharacteristically for Dean decided he back off.  An Abseil bumslide as far down the gully as we could manage put us at a point where we could swim down to the well trodden trail.  We both took a last look up at Juvsoyla almost within touching distance, knowing we wouldn't get another chance to try her again on this trip.

As a consolation we climbed Bakveien a supposedly 3* WI4 next door to the fantastic Nye Vemorkfossen we had done yesterday...Unfortunately for us the route was short lived and made us question its 3*'s?  Okay so it was a good way to get to the top without having to trudge our way up the slope leading to Vemork Bridge.

All in all it was a kind of adventurous day and as I have already said we were happy with the decisions we made.  Maybe the hardest battle of all is the battle going on inside your I being a wuss, am I just intimidated, am I making excuses about the snow/ice quality or am I just making sensible mountaineering decisions?

Last day on the ice tomorrow...who knows what we'll get up to.

Conditions: as above.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Fantastic Day!!!!

Nye Vemorkfossen WI5 (3*)

I'm going to cheat today by showing the video of me leading the steep hanging column of Nye Vemorkfossen  WI5 and some photos of us on Sabortofossen WI5....What a great day we've had!

Conditions:  With the drop in temperatures overnight the ice in the main was very good today, although we did find a lot of 'crust' on some pitches.  The routes are a little stepped out but this in no way affects the quality of the routes...Very quiet here in Rjukan today!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The return of the Krokan

Surprisingly for us all we woke to rain today...but this didn't dampen our motivation to get out especially seeing as this was Ed. and Johns last day in Rjukan.

With the temperatures hovering around 2 degrees in the town it seemed obvious to head up the hill and into Krokan again so that we could complete some of the routes we didn't manage to get done the other day.  Great plan...however, every ice climber in Rjukan also had the same idea.  The rain was now falling as snow and pretty much continued through the day.

As a team we walked in and turned left on the track to find almost every route had someone on them...slightly more annoying was the fact a lot of these were top ropes.  At the far end Dean and I left John and Ed. to get on with 'sorting Johns head out' while we went all the way back to the far right to see if there was anything free that we hadn't already done.  Unfortunately, there wasn't!  So back to the middle area where a few days prior Dean and I had spotted a route up a steep column to the right of Gaustaspokelse...This wasn't really what we wanted to warm up on but we were running out of choices.  Dean led the whole route well climbing two steepening columns with bullet hard ice on the top one just where you didn't want it.  I'm having difficulty distinguishing between Deans 'I'm cool' face to his 'Holy shit this is F*#@ing steep' face! Unnamed in the guide book we reckoned on a grade of top end forearms confirmed this!

As we were in the immediate area and were actually joining queues we decided to do Gaustaspokelse WI4 next which had a lot of water running down it the other day but today looked to be in great condition.  I quickly ran up this and we'll not mention the 'nearly' dropping of the ice screw :-). Ed. decided he was going to join Dean on this route so I brought them both up in parallel, both taking slightly different lines to each other.

Following a brew and a bite to eat Dean had spotted a mixed route he was keen to give a go, De Kaller Meg Fjard graded M7.  This route follows a rock corner with three bolt anchors to the right of Topp, the large sheet ice route next door.  The lower section was definitely the crux with Dean slowly gaining height with every contortion, eventually being able to slam his picks into the flat ledge of ice at the base of the steep column above...The next move he made wasn't quite as stylish and resembled a wallowing whale as he pulled himself to safety.  The upper section of ice was a pure pleasure still steep and with enough interest to focus the mind.  Once I had seconded and cleaned the route Ed. asked for a rope on Topp (shared belay) which give him very little in the way of difficulty.  A nice couple of lines to finish his trip on.

After the snowy drive back down the valley we stopped of for the now traditional coffee and cake a small treat for the effort put into the day.

A big thanks to John today who took most of the photos....and not a bad job!!!

Conditions:  ALL routes at Krokan were getting done and with a little drop in temperatures, even the the icicle in the Lucky Lisa  area would be do-able from the ground up.  The only inconvenience really is the depth of snow at the top of some routes.