Norway - Call of the Ice part I

The first episode of the Ice Climbing Trip to Norway that our athletes Matthias Scherer, Tanja Schmitt, Heike Schmitt did last January

Text by Matthias Scherer and Tanja Schmitt

Climbing ice on the coasts of Norway has its specialities: Due to the closeness of the sea the icefalls near the west fjords are bent to the sculpturing hands of those powerful forces. Massive storms, high amplitudes in temperature and a fast building and freezing process combined with long spells of warming and rain lead to insane ice creations, especially when the water volume is high, the pressure immense and the whole waterfall drops over a black stone cliff hundreds of meters into the depths.

Huge medusas looming above us. We all know that ego will end here and the ropes connecting us will be more than a colorful piece of modern climbing equipment. The look above me is overwhelming. Row after row icicles are hanging above me creating an 8 m overhang. The line we are climbing is 300m high with at its heart a 150 m high pillar with massif overhanging sections. Situated in Gudvangen on the Svartberg. Water is pouring on me and freezing right away on the outside of my clothes.
It's - 15 C today. Extremely chandeliered ice is leading me for 15 m up to the overhanging section. No possibilities for protection so far. In a little better ice passage I can get a screw in, before I can hook into the fragile sculpture of the first row of the medusa. I know that the screw below me will not hold much and every movement, every breath becomes from now on wonderful real. I squeeze myself into a small room between the medusas. Meter long daggers above me block my way. There is no other way then to clean them, to fight my way through. All the broken pieces are hammering down on me. A nearly men seized icicle gets surprisingly loose and hits me like a ram. My helmet takes the main shock. The ice is exploding and the debris is battering my arms and legs. I see stars and my head is growling. In the coming weeks my arms, back and thighs will be a big hematoma. But the passage is free. On a sheltered place I can put a belay.

Tanja and Heike are coming up. A deep look into each other's eyes and I start into the next surreal pitch. Incredible ice formations towering over each other with careful placements for the tools and few protection are leading to the final medusa: A five meter big leaf leaning out against all laws of gravity. I am climbing up in between this leaf leaning with my back onto this fragile creation. Expecting every moment that it might break off. Finally I reach the point where I have to get out of this ice chimney and pull out on the top of the medusa. The leaves continue above, they are covered by a crust of bad snowy ice and so I can only hook my tools into this hyper fragile inconsistent matter.

I jam my right knee under the medusa while stemming in a weird move my left foot on top of the outside leaf. I have to put now my weight on this left foot. My last screw is over 10 meters below. Between me and the void is just this sheet of ice. I try to get more weight onto my tools, but they are ripping through. I hammer them in again but there are only these thin sheets of ice. No secure placement. Nothing to hang on. If the left foot blows I will fall... With all lightness I can create I slowly bring my weight on the left foot. Fully on guard I stand up and I can get my right foot over the lip into the frozen puff pastry above. Some meters higher another haven of shelter in a cave for the belay. Days are short in January in Norway and in the fading light I climb the next pitch. Compared to the pitches below it feels nearly normal with its only two meter overhanging sections. Finally there is a 'regular' freestanding pillar at the end of this pitch which is connecting to some more vertical but solid attached ice above. While Tanja and Heike are coming up night is on us. In the pitch dark we climb the last easy pitch. We are standing on top of this monstrous line. We see the lights of the road far below us. We are happy to be here. Tanja and myself had the chance to have this view some years before from the top of Kjerrskredskvelven. But we were missing our companion in arms. To share this moment, this ascent today with Heike is the best for us and far more important then just ticking another line.

Next morning we are in Måbødalen. We walk around a still unfrozen lake above boulders and rocks until we reach one of the many 300-400 meter lines, which shine in a bright yellow. Heike sets out for three long pitches of solid ice. Temperatures have risen enormously resulting in a constant dropping from above and little runlets on the ice. The warm spell does not bother those icefalls in the gorge too much and has the advantage of the ice becoming a bit more smooth. On the steeper parts the ice is not so brittle anymore making the structures much more trustworthy. Heike runs the 60 meter ropes fully out and we’re starting to sweat as we gain vertical after vertical. The last three pitches are Tanja‘s responsibility. There´s one sweet pillar to climb and a sea of ice to follow. The last pitch becomes interesting again with funny ice features to climb before topping out at the end of the gorge into a wonderful birch forest. By looking around we notice once again what an amazing place this is, with these colors of black and toffee-gold all around us and those beautiful trees. Truly a winter dream! We hug each other. We´re all beaming with energy -this country has burnt it´s archaic energy deep into each of our souls! Another great trip to Norway with a week full of climbing awesome ice lines has come to an end - we will come back!