On the first week of March we made a weeks assault to the ice climbing paradise of Rjukan, southern Norway. The concept of the trip was familiar from my Vaasa years and now introduced to the Kotka-posse, which has seen the development of few quite eager ice climbers during the past (still ongoing?) season. The ten of us, out of this number six ice climbers, had a convoy of three cars, taking the ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and then enduring the tedious if easy ten hour drive to Rjukan. A weeks trip from Sunday to Sunday left us with four full days to use for ice whacking. It’s a bit of a lousy ratio and I know many people fly there from Finland but with cars the costs stay reasonable, the packing is less of a hassle and you need a car at the venue anyway. Plus it’s a tradition.
Our accommodation was at the also-very-traditional Loftstogo-cabin at the Rjukan hytte og caravanpark, simple but nice, another budget travelers choice. The Bolgen area ice falls are directly opposite the hyttepark and shining white in the clear night of the arrival they spelled promises for the days to come.
The white promise was snow. Apparently we drove the clear skies away with our arrival and the next four days weather was: snow, more white stuff, [pyy:da], let it snow let it snow let it snow… Good news for Tapsa who had sense enough to take his fat skis with him and heading most of the days to the slopes and off-pistes of the nearby mountain Gaustatoppen. For us fixed on ice climbing this meant endless trail breaking to the less frequented falls, and even to the frequented ones since the old trails vanished with each days new dump. On easier angled sections of climbs the snow covered ice quite efficiently making climbing and especially protecting more of a challenge. But on steeper stuff it didn’t really matter. Just added a bit of alpine feeling in the form of small spindrift avalanches during the climbs.
First day we spent, again traditionally, in Krokan area doing some single pitch ice and mixed for warm up. This is a good place for honing skills for longer falls especially when the group hasn’t done multi pitch stuff together, as was in our case. The climbing itself in Krokan is somewhat uninteresting while the ice has been chopped into veritable ladders, making the steep WI5 pillars to feel more like WI3. But it’s easy to gather meters there and for the more ambitious there are many fine looking mixed lines in Krokan.
The rest of the days were spent in various team combinations on the various classic and prosaic multi pitch routes of the valley. Upper Gorge area became my personal favorite. Somehow I had skipped this magnificent section on previous visits even though it has suitable routes for almost every level from the easy angle WI3’s at the beginning (coming from the Vemork bridge) of the area to the near-mythical Lipton, WI7, at the far end of the gorge. Liptons crux pillar, so we heard, had fallen down recently so we could excuse ourselves and leave it to another visit… The ones we did there included Saboteurfossen WI5, a route I had wanted to do for a long time and which didn’t disappoint, and Blindtarmen WI4, a nice “surprise” since this wasn’t on any to-do list but which packed a great combination of alpine-fell ground to two pitches and giving my first Ablakov retreat as a cherry on the top. From Vemork bridge area I have to mention Tungtvann WI4 which has a really nice 2nd pitch although the first required once again more of snow ploughing than ice climbing skills.
In Bolgen our not-so-alpine start gave our choice of routes, Bolgen and To Menn og et Foster, to more early-bird teams but the leftovers Plaster på Såret (very fitting!) and Isfest, both WI3, proved worthwhile too. If the first mentioned are indeed much better as the guide book promises, I’m sure to try to get on them later on! The otherwise incredibly good and informative guide book (nowadays in App form; I have the traditional book and they still sell the book in Rjukan) showed some flaws in Bolgen giving the length of the climb as two pitches while we climbed four full 60 m ones on Isfest. The same problem I have seen before on longer routes and it has been reported by others too, so not (only) a question of our poor route finding skills… Just good to know that you might need to prepare for a longer outing than the guide book suggests.
Giving that our team was on average not too experienced in ice climbing, especially multi-pitch, Rjukan offered us a fine collection of adventure (and sport, see previous post). The venue is in my opinion suitable also for practicing ice climbing with its various single pitch areas and easier multi-pitch outings. Our team ticked several “first-times”: first time on ice multi-pitch, first time on multi-pitch, first time climbing ice (!) and so on. Obviously caution is due when heading for longer routes. Even though the town is right under you at the bottom of the valley, you’re pretty much on your own on the wall if the sh** hits the fan. Though you might get some unexpected help from the valley floor as our team on Fabrikkfossen came to notice. Their abseil in the dark after the seven climbed pitches was kindly helped by spotlights from the town! Not sure if this was just regular decorative lighting of the fall or was it actually to help our guys up there. In any case, it was a nice add to the already very welcoming attitude to ice climbers you encounter in Rjukan.
We’re determined to return.