Rjukan - An ice-climbers dream?
Alex Haken, February 2019
Rjukan is situated in the center of southern Norway. It has over 150 waterfalls and a (fairly) reliable winter temperature of about -5 to -25 deg C.
It is a relatively unknown place for most UK climbers, but with accessible climbs, even under heavy snow conditions, it is guaranteed ice climbing and well worth the trip.
My partners-in-crime are two friends, Andy and Mo.
This was our third year ice climbing in Rjukan and we are finally starting to know our way around.
Ice climbs are graded WI (Water Ice) and roughly a WI 2 is equivalent to Scottish Winter grade III and WI 5 is roughly equivalent to Scottish VII. We generally climb WI 3’s and 4’s and if Mo is feeling brave 5’s (as me or Andy won’t lead a WI 5).
The first thing to mention is that the Norwegians don’t grit their roads, they just scrape the snow off, put on winter tyres and off-you-go. The driving is the scariest part and probably more dangerous than the climbing itself!
The first day we took it (relatively) easy and headed for an area called ‘Krokan’ which has about 30 routes of single-pitch climbing. The air temperature was -11 deg C and with a strong wind coming down the valley must have been at least -30 deg C wind-chill. Low temperatures means brittle ice and I got a bloody nose from a rogue piece of ice. I had 5-layers on and still lost all feeling in my fingers and toes (I still have a numb finger now a month later).
The second day we headed to another popular area ‘Ozzimosis’. This is a mixture of single pitch and short multi-pitch routes. More ice to the face, this time resulting in a black-eye!
By the third day we were feeling we wanted to do something bigger so we headed to ‘Vemork’, which is best known for the site of the ‘Heavy Water PowerStation’ which was blown up in ‘The Heroes of Telemark’.
We climbed a classic multi-pitch ice route ‘Vemorkbrufoss Ost’, right under the PowerStation, and then headed back to ‘Krokan’ for a few more routes in the afternoon.
On the fourth day we climbed a big classic multi-pitch route right above Rjukan town centre called Tjonnstadbergfossen’. Another proper ‘Scottish’ route with most of the route covered in about a foot of powder snow. 4 pitches and then 4 full-length abseils back down again. Took the whole day to do. Knackered, so I took the 5th day off, and it snowed, and snowed, and snowed…
For the last day the temperature had risen to just below freezing and we didn’t fancy getting avalanched off any big routes so we went back to ‘Ozzimosis’ for some more single pitch climbing which we could abb off. Andy did a fantastic lead up the main waterfall and by this point in the week we were all feeling on-form and wished we could have stayed longer. I then came back to Scotland with temperatures of +10 deg C and no winter climbing to be seen….. roll on February 2020 when we go back to Rjukan again!