Gaddfly 2005 #4, Norway, February 10-21.

New routes and reflections on climbing big routes.


I spent the last ten days in Norway climbing with Andreas Spaak, a Swede gone Norway native. It was a solid outing, one of those rare trips where there's a lot of challenge but also some tasty success. I went to Norway to climb big new routes, and Andreas and I managed to do two in the "Mo" valley (I'll figure out the real name later, it's confusing). Both are as good or better as anything I have climbed anywhere in the world. From the car to to the top of the routes is over 1000M with at least 500M of good climbing on each, so get your hike on, file your picks and give 'er, these routes are two of the finest I've ever climbed. Now I know what it was like to drive the Icefields Parkway 30 years ago, or see Bridalveil in Telluride as the first ascentionist. I still can't believe these routes weren't climbed (and maybe they have been, things are pretty loose in Norway, but our best info says they haven't), they are so damn good! I'll be heading back next year to climb with Andreas and the Hemsedal crew for sure. I'm writing this on the flight home, muscles and mind sore but happy. Thanks to Andreas, who made it all happen, and Bjorn Kruse, Grom, and the many Norwegian locals who made the trip so good.

We based out of Bjorn Kruse's house in Hemsedal, about three hours northwest of Oslo. Hemsedal is a jamming ski town, with more ice around it than anybody could climb in a week. There's a great little mixed area down the valley called Gol if a steady diet of big ice routes starts to seem too heavy

I'll write more complete route descriptions later, I just wanted to get this down before my find leaked it all out leaving only the feeling of climbing big new routes... Andreas will likely remember it all better than me. Each route took two attempts to complete, we just couldn't get used to the scale and difficult climbing.

"Mo" Valley

Off the E16 on the way to Laerdal. Look for signs for “Mo,” and work your way south through town toward the sharp valley to the south. One hour from Hemsedal.


Fokus: WI 6 X, 500M,

FA: Will Gadd, Andreas Spaak, February 16 2005

Second major cleft in the "Mo" Valley. Slip-sladdle your way up the talus field for 30 minutes to the start, casual. If the ice came in fat and smooth this could be a fantastic WI5 outing, but we didn't have those conditions.

P1: WI 6, 60M scary, glass houses of icicles, dangerous but good.

P2: WI 5, 60M, left leaning ramp to base of pillar.

P3: WI 6, 60M scary pillar. Like slamming your tools into a tower of beer bottles held together with rubber cement and hope. Satisfying.

P4: WI 4?, to gully.

Alternative approach to upper tier, AKA “E16 to Hell:” It’s possible to avoid the first four pitches and scamble up the treed slabs to the south of the route, see descent notes below. Just the upper section of this route alone is well worth a day, some of the finest climbing around.

Upper Tier:

Follow gully up to the big tier above. 30 minutes, couple of small WI2 steps.

P1: WI6, 60M. Icicles from hell, very little protection. Be bold or be backing off.

P2, WI 5, 100M Big long pitch, simuled to ledge.

P3: WI 5, 60M Took us to the start of the Mr. Death pitch.

P4: WI 6, 50M, Mr. Death. There is NO good reason for this icicle to still be hanging. Think about being under it for the last couple of hours.

P5: WI 4/5, 60M, Out of right skull to top. We had a difficult exit from the skull but the rest of the pitch is easy.

Descent: Walk south for 100M, scramble down through trees with a couple of short raps off trees to the edge of the cliff band, one 40M-wrap takes you to the spine that forms the south side of the bowl. Follow this spine down, generally trending a bit skier’s left. Some down-climbing and messing about will be required but no raps are necessary. When level with roughly the halfway point of the approach talus field go north along a well-treed ledge that leads into the talus field. You can always rap directly down the route, which is probably easier.

Name note: You’ll need some Focus for this route… the top just seems a long way off, and if the lower pitches are in grade six icicle condition you’ll get focused in a hurry.


Morke Mannen: 500M, WI6, M8

FA: Will Gadd, Andreas Spaak, February 19 2005

The Morke Mannen is the "dark guy," a very old description sort of meaning Satan. Seemed appropriate as we did the upper bit of this route in the dark and it did indeed feel somewhat satanic with the wild ice shapes, amazing.

As you walk up to the start of the route notice how the first step looks aesthetic but rather short and easy. 60 meters later note that the first pitch was a rope-stretcher 60M, a lot steeper than it looked, and that you’re still a pitch from the top of the first step... Get used to the feeling, this route is somehow just steeper and bigger than it looks, and the top looks steep and big to start with.

1:20 from car, straight up first major gully.

P1: WI 5, 60M Nice pitch to cave belay.

P2: WI 4, 60M To gully

Walk 30 minutes to upper tier, one short WI2 step.

P1: M8, WI6, 70M Mixed pitch, bolted, trend left. Six good bolts and a pin gain the upper tier of this monster route.

P2: WI 5, 90M Monster pitch up deceptively steep ice. Belay in cool cave.

P3: WI 5, 60M To first big ledge, belay left.

P4: WI 5+, 50M

P5: WI 5+/6, 60M

Descent: Five 60-70M rappels straighten the line out and bring you back down. There are lots of cave tiers on this route, it sure would suck to be hanging below one and unable to reach the next ledge… Two more 60M raps for the initial gully section..



Things I learned (and re-learned) while climbing in Norway:

I was motivated to write this on the flight home while thinking about the trip. Some of it is redundant, but that's the way of the world for me, I have to re-learn things regularly.

  1. The main difference between grade 5 and grade 6 water ice is not the degree of steepness but the quality of the ice. A grade six pillar that’s seen a bunch of ascents can be a comfortable grade 5. The same route done fresh can be nightmare-inducing. For this reason all ice grades are basically meaningless. Describing the condition of the route means more than a number in the guidebook. A 60M pitch of fresh WI 5 is worlds harder than doing 10 pitches of warm, well-climbed ice in Ouray or 20 in Hafner. Swing, swing, swing again, make it good. In 500M of ice you can easily swing 5,000 times.
  2. Psychological damage is cumulative over the short term. After leading so many run-out sketchy pitches my mind is shot, as is my body. Maybe I'm getting old...
  3. Technique matters. Without the techniques developed over the last seven years I could not have climbed these routes. The tireder my muscles felt the better I climbed.
  4. Big ice routes are very alpine in nature, meaning they demand a large skill set and total focus to climb well. I’d never really thought about how much my partners and I understand and do automatically on routes until climbing with a partner, who, while rising to the challenge and doing a fantastic job, had not been through the Canadian Rockies school of climbing. There’s an art to keeping the momentum ball rolling uphill all day, but if you keep it rolling and both give 100 percent effort then the momentum helps you roll over the obstacles. I did not understand how much I was asking of Andreas until I thought about what I was expecting--not everybody is used to slurping gels at belays and moving without stopping. He did a solid job while learning a lot in a short time and was a pleasure to climb with, a real first-rate fun partner.
  5. Good headlamps (and a caving background) have really helped me feel comfortable climbing and moving in the dark. The Xenix IQ is amazing, the bright beam easily reaches 60M to the ends of the rap ropes and the LEDs allow it to last forever. Best new product of the year for sure.
  6. I’m done with leashes for technical ice climbing. I can lead wet, scary WI6 in the dark, the Viper Fangs are good enough. The harder and weirder the ice is the more I prefer leashless tools. I put my leashes back on for one hard day and was lost, especially on ice where there are limited placements. The freedom to match and switch is worth it, you can move your body into the best position for the tool rather than either using awkward body position or having to make new placements--difficult to do when there aren't any. I'll still use leashes on big cruiser routes, they add security, but for any sort of technical climbing I'm staying leashless.
  7. Each of these big routes looked horrendous from the road, and were horrendous to climb, but if you just keep chipping upward you’ll reach the top. The entire route is too much to think about, just go until something stops you.
  8. Shortcuts are not. Clean your screws immediately, untie frozen knots, keep your gloves dry, replace your headlamp batteries, keep it FOCUSED.
  9. Starting really early into unknown terrain is far better than descending late down the same. On the other hand, it's better to have climbed a route than not...
  10. Most packs are far too heavy. Carrying 5 pounds of pack is just crazy unless it's filled with bricks or somehthing requiring heavy fabric. I'm going to work harder on packs.
  11. Really light Gore-Tex is good for wetter ice climbing, Scholler is less good. I’ve been using Scholler on my legs and often my upper body in the Rockies, but here you want Goretex, there is a lot more water around and the additional humidity prevents Scholler from drying as fast it does in the Rockies. A typical sprint through a sprinkler that would dry in 5 minutes in the Rockies won’t here. I wore RHO fleece on my legs and LT tops, approached in this "underwear" outfit then put on the Gore Tex outers, good combination.
  12. Temperatures of -5 to +5 with high humidity are actually a lot harder to stay warm and dry in than -20 to 0 with low humidity. Nothing dries, everything gets wet, systems are more important in "mild" temperatures than cold temperatures.
  13. I’m done with vertical mono-points for hard ice climbing. They are a junk show for climbing really fresh ice. Ice on mixed routes often forms slowly and has good density, fresh ice is just too hollow for mono-points, Sabretooths work far better. I’m going evangelical on this, I just had my vertical monos rip too many times to ever want to use them again.
  14. Vegetable ice is nasty, no matter what vegetable you’re dealing with. If it’s cauliflower, mushroom or onion skins it’s going to be engaging.
  15. Plastic Alphas are very comfortable, waterproof and pretty good for big ice routes, but I really need to develop better waterproof footwear in the future. My feet were never cold, but I would have liked something even lighter.
  16. I still really, really like ice climbing, even after 20 years of it. Every year I learn something new, refine my systems and discover a facet of the ice jewels we're prvileged to climb. In Norway I saw ice in spectacular formations I'd never seen anything like before, and had the privilege of climbing them with a good partner.