AUTHOR: Guido Unterwurzacher
PHOTOGRAPHY: Hannes Mair
February, and winter has its icy grip on the Tyrolean Unterland. Motivation for ice climbing is on a high, although temperatures as low as -25 °C make it easier to find reasons not to pursue a passion for ice.
Christian "Hechei" Hechenberger and I decided at short notice to book a flight to the far north, i.e. Norway, to visit our two friends Simon and Flo in Trondheim to find a 'dal' and do a 'foss'* or two. Our baggage includes the anticipation of a couple of icy adventures, ice climbing equipment, enough chocolate for about two years (thanks Hechei!) and my buddy Hannes Mair, who wants to capture our escapades on film. Three friends, unique waterfalls, no information, pure adventure, what could possibly go wrong...
February 8th — 07:00 am. We are sitting in the plane to Trondheim. Our friends told us we can look forward to sensational conditions, excitement levels are huge, we don't have any concrete ideas about what kind of ice climbing potential is awaiting us; we'll see what happens when we get there. Should be interesting.
After 3 hours we reach Trondheim, grab our hire car and make our way to Simon and Flo. They are currently studying for a semester in Trondheim — "Isklattring" is the name of the course, which has a lot to do with every configuration of steep ice and climbing, but not much to do with university, although they both take it pretty seriously. We quickly check the weather conditions and then set off towards Sunndalen, which is three hours away. In the dark we can faintly make out what is waiting for us over the next few days and Hechei starts to cry with joy ;-).
February 9th — "Amotan" (WI5+, 200 m) is the first fine Norwegian specimen to make the acquaintance of our nomics. An awesome place! From the top we abseil down the steep ice to the entry point and can hardly wait to get our teeth — or ice axes — into it. Suddenly we hear a loud cracking sound that gets louder and louder. I turn to the right and see a huge plate of back flushed ice break away and plunge into the depths about 100 m away from our waterfall. Wow, nothing like seeing how quickly it can all be over! We rapidly climb the "Amotan" and are totally pleased with ourselves. Perfect conditions, - 5°C, and we feel this wave of smugness. On the final few meters I manage to show Hechei how good I am at ice axe throwing. The whole 200 m back to the start — well OK, you guessed, I dropped it. Luckily I found it again and the tiring rescue work retrieving the fallen ice axe didn't spoil our elated mood.
February 10th — Hechei and I are standing at the start of a cool, elegant and thin ice line called "Pastise" (WI6+,160 m). Looks awesome because the second pitch starts with a 6 m long, thin, free-standing pillar and the temperature is around 0 °C, which means you are in for a free shower if you don't get a move on! We quickly put this ice gem behind us and when we have finished the climb even catch a bit of sun. Isn't life good?
February 11th — There is a change in the weather and the Gulf Stream is expected to convey higher temperatures into the valley of a 1,000 waterfalls. Nonetheless we trudge through snow flurries towards an impressive waterfall called "Emesis" (WI5, 500 m). The combined inconvenience of snow and wind cause us to daydream about a hot sauna or whirlpool, but the pain of numb fingers thawing out rapidly returns us back to the realities of our icy surroundings. Ice climbing is often best once it's over. The waterfall was amazing, but nothing compared to the hot shower afterwards.
February 12th — The Gulf Stream and the high temperatures forced us to rethink our plans. We packed our worldly goods and set off on the eight hour drive to Hemsedal, a well-known ice climbing mecca. Apparently the weather was better there, and the temperatures lower. The journey passed in a flash for me and Hechei while we indulged in a highly amusing and witty word game — for Hannes it was the longest road trip ever. When we arrived in Fagernes, we secured accommodation for the next few days straightaway while the ice giants grinned at us from above...
February 13th — "O'hoi!" (WI5), a nice 3-pitch waterfall, is on today's program, the perfect destination for birds that don't always want to catch the early worm.
February 14th — When we eyed the photo of the mighty "Hydnefossen" (WI6, 350 m) the previous evening, it was clear that tomorrow we had to be early birds to snap up this icy worm. The weather was fair to middling and windy; after a 2 hours' approach we were standing under this huge frozen monster and set about working out a logical climbing route. Hechei kicks off by climbing the entire length of the 60 m long rope. In the meantime it has gotten colder and windier and spindrifts caught by the wind are continuously showering us from above. We behave as though that is part of the action. Now it's my turn. The ice gets steeper and more cylindrical and the whole business takes on a new level of daring because in icicled terrain using ice screws as protection can be hit-and-miss.
The ice screw is set, but not for you. As the spindrift gets heavier and heavier it's now more like little powder avalanches, making progress a "flying blind" experience. My fingers are so numb that I can't even feel whether I've got the ice axe in my hands or around my ankles. Every time I want to look up the way I get taken by surprise by another load of snow straight in the visage — and the great thing is that after every meter of progress the whole rigmarole starts from the beginning again, except that the spindrifts are getting heavier and heavier. That's our status report so far.
Simon, Flo and Hannes must be having a whale of a time on the neighboring "sunshine route" (as we called it) because we could only catch sight of them momentarily before they were swallowed up again by the falling snowdrifts.
Hechei "took another look at his breakfast" at the belay point while my bloody nose and black eye as a result of catching a falling chunk of ice full-on summed up the "Hydnefossen" experience — making it a thoroughly unforgettable and unpleasant day out. Think positive: "At least it didn't turn out too warm!" The spindrift was sociable enough to accompany us for the rest of the climb and our frozen fingers even agreed to stay attached to us for a while longer. When we reached the exit point, we were actually overcome with joy to have completed this crazy waterfall despite the adverse conditions and we shouted to our buddies through the snow flurries whipped up by the wind. We met them at the top, although we had to look twice before we recognized them. These guys didn't look the slightest bit more laid-back than us, and there was another thing we had in common: a broad, frozen grin spread across our faces...
February 15th — We are back in the car, just raring to go. "Bakke-kollen" (WI6+) is the object of our desire, and the fact that the full length of the 200 m high waterfall only freezes every 10 years amplifies our motivation even more. However, it is pretty warm, almost too warm, and the "Hydnefossen" had made us more cautious. But we haven't come here to muck about.
From the road we check out a great route up the yellowy brown "Bakkekollen" through the binoculars and have to admit that the second pitch wasn't going to be doable due to unfavorable ice conditions. The ice is no longer attached to the rock and white snow patches and many thin icicles lead us to the conclusion that these facts are not encouraging. You have to have it in you to say no and so we decided to go and eat something instead. A cola and burger with fries heavier, but $ 25 lighter, we made our way back to our comfortable lodgings.
February 16th — "Langåni" (WI6, 350 m) is the name of today's waterfall that towers before us. Starting with a massive block of ice at the foot followed by very steep sections and a pillar waiting above with a 20 cm settlement crack, it looks like another adventurous day for us in the Norwegian wilderness. The coolest ice climbing action you can imagine — that's how we look back on this beauty, this time without spindrift or falling ice. But as our arms, legs and heads gradually run out of ideas, the rough and tumble of the many meters of ice over the last few days are starting to take their toll.
February 17th — We decide to drive back to Trondheim and 8 hours later reach Simon and Flo's student digs. Eat, drink and party.
February 18th — Today we are flying home. Before we leave we want to take a look around the university in Trondheim, which has turned into a spot recommended for "buildering", as they say here. On the way to the airport we agree that Norway is Europe's Canada: "ice climbing paradise" doesn't do it justice. Our 10 days have gone far too quickly but we were able to make the most of our time and collect some good info so we can look forward to the next trip to the far north. Now we are looking forward to home because it has just dumped a load of fresh snow there and as we always say: "There's always something that needs doing!"
So let's keep on rockin' in a free world!