Norwegian mountains

Norway is one of the closest countries to Scotland in the world and it is only a short flight away across the North Sea. Many of us have seen images of Norway’s fjords and know that it is a beautiful country.

I have been fortunate enough to visit Norway on several occasions to go climbing or mountaineering with my Norwegian friend Anne-Marit Rødland. I seem to climb well with her as she loves slab climbs with few holds whereas I prefer the routes that have big chunky holds (which are sometimes a bit loose). She has introduced me to some great parts of Norway and I have reciprocated for her in Scotland.

Norway is an amazing country and there is still so much for me to do there. I first visited Norway for some rock climbing, then later underwent some telemark skiing training there prior to my expedition to Greenland. Subsequently I have been back for climbing, mountaineering and I must go back for yet more of these activities and skiing. Below is a brief summary of some of the adventures in the Norwegian mountains.

 

Store Trolltind (1788m), Norway – 5th September 2010

Europe’s highest cliff, the Troll Wall (Trollveggen), is very prominent and noticeable when you are in the Romsdal area. It forms part of the mountain massif Trolltindene (Troll Peaks) on the west coast of Norway. The Troll Wall is about 1100m from its base to its summit.

It is a very impressive wall when seen from across the valley. I have no aspirations of climbing the Troll Wall, however others have climbed it and been very lucky to survive to tell the tale. Gordon Stainforth’s new book titled “Fiva” gives a very good account of his near death experience on the wall.

Anne Marit told me that there is a route from the south west that we could use to walk up to the top of the Troll Wall. I was keen to do so as the only way to really appreciate how big a cliff is, is to stand at the top of it and look down.

We got up to the top of the Troll Wall without difficulty and then peered down into the valley a vertical mile below us. I could not stand at the edge of the cliff, but rather peered over lying flat on my stomach. It was a mighty cliff and I have a lot of respect to anyone that tackles and succeeds with climbing it.

I was not comfortable being unattached so close to the edge of this massive crumbling overhanging cliff but then I sat and watched some base jumpers with wingsuits on just simply throw themselves off of the top of the cliff like lemmings.

It was really impressive seeing them glide away from the cliff in their wingsuits and after what seemed like an eternity, they opened up their parachutes and got safely to the ground.

After watching this, we found our way up to the highest point on the massive and this gave an excellent view of the mountain and the surrounding area. We hadn’t carried enough water with us and ended up having to melt snow in a water bottle to quench our dehydration. We eventually got back to the car in the early evening using head torches – it was an excellent little adventure and gave me a great appreciation of the highest cliff in Europe.

 

Romsdalshornet (1550m), Norway – 4th September 2010

Romsdalshornet dominates the view from the Romsdalen valley. It is one of the best known mountains in Norway and plays a central role in the history of Norwegian climbing.

The first ascent in 1828 by Christen Smed and Hans Bjermeland was way ahead of it’s time, and few people actually believed it had been done until their cairn was found on the second ascent in 1881 by Carl Hall, Erik Norahagen and Mathias Soggemoen.

As the forecast on the west coast of Norway was good, and as Romsdalshornet is such an iconic Norwegian mountain, Anne Marit and myself headed to Romsdalen to attempt an ascent.

We opted for the Normalveien (Ordinary Route) rather than anything too technical – we simply wanted to get safely up and back down.

It was a steep ascent up from the car park to the col but as soon as we got to the col we were able to see the full extent of the Troll Wall lying in the shade. We were enjoying being in the Norwegian sunshine.

We proceeded up the ridge and at the appropriate time we roped up for the upper sections of the route. Most of the route is steep scrambling, however there are some fairly serious moves, where a fall would be fatal if not roped up. I was glad of the rope when the exposure increased significantly and we could see straight down to the Romsdalen valley below our feet.

We summited in sunshine, enjoyed the views then had four or five abseils to get back down to an area where we could then walk out from the mountain. As seems to be common for me in Norway, we ended up doing the final bit of the descent via head torches on, so yet another full day of quality mountaineering in Norway.

 

Galdhøpiggen (2469m), Norway – 19th August 2007

Galdhøpiggen is the highest mountain in Norway, Scandinavia and Northern Europe. It is located in the Jotunheimen mountain area. It was first ascended in 1850.

Galdhøpiggen had earlier been challenged for the title as the highest mountain in Norway by Glittertind, as some measurements showed Glittertind was slightly higher including the glacier at its peak. This glacier has, however, shrunk in recent years, and Glittertind is now only 2464m including the glacier. Hence, the dispute has been settled in Galdhøpiggen’s favour.

As part of trying to progressively do the highest point in every European country I was keen to reach the summit of Galdhøpiggen using a straight forward route.

We selected to walk in from the Spiterstulen lodge in Visdalen. Ascending Galdhøpiggen from this direction is the equivalent of ascending Ben Nevis from Glen Nevis in terms of total height gain. The ascent up Galdhøpiggen is about 1300m from Spiterstulen lodge.

The weather clagged in a bit towards the summit but overall some nice views of Norway were seen in the approach and descent from Galdhøpiggen and it was another great day out.

We were particularly pleased that there was a café at the top as we could get some hot refreshments and write/send some postcards from there.

 

Kyrkja (2032m), Norway – 18th August 2007

Kyrkja is a straight forward scree-covered mountain in the Jotunheimen region of Norway.

The weather forecast was for rain, light wind and low cloud for this day so we opted for this straight forward mountain. I had stayed at the Leirvassbu mountain hut the night before and this was used as the starting point of the walk.

Despite the rain, we set off around the lake and quickly made an ascent of the mountain. Despite the lack of views it was an enjoyable mountain and I saw my first ever lemming in real life on the slopes of Kyrkja.

 

 

Vestre Leirungstinden (2250m), Søre Knutsholstinden (2145m) and Vesle Knutsholstinden (2205m), Norway – 9th August 2003

From the campsite at Torfinnsbu, it was decided that we would attempt Knutsholstinden (2341m) via Vestre Leirungstinden, Søre Knutsholstinden and Vesle Knutsholstinden. We’d had a 14-hour day the previous day in the mountains but Anne Marit and myself felt strong enough to walk out to and up Knutsholstinden.

So we set off with youthful enthusiasm, filled up water bottles on the way and proceeded to gain height up Torfinnsdalen, where we then turned right at the big lake to head up to Svartdalsbandet.

From this col we then proceeded with ease up towards Vestre Leirungstinden. The route finding become more interesting and eventually we roped up and climbed up the upper reaches of the south ridge with a number of pitches on loose blocky terrain. It was a gorgeous day and the views around Jotunheimen are amazing.

From this summit, we got our first true view of what lay ahead of us to get to Knutsholstinden. It is only 2km on the map but it is a long way on the ground.

We carefully descended Vestre Leirungstinden and scrambled over Søre Knutsholstinden. I remember Anne Marit telling me that not many people do Søre Knutsholstinden due to the difficulties in getting there so I was pleased to tick off this minor summit.

We then had to rope up again and find a route up and over Vesle Knutsholstinden. At the start of this ascent I was getting very conscious of the time – it was already late afternoon and we were still a good distance away from the peak that we were aiming to get to.

Route finding in rocky mountains of Norway in the dark can be problematical so after we managed to safely negotiate our way over Vesle Knutsholstinden, we decided to try to descend down a gully. This had all of the potential makings of a major epic. We had no idea if we could get down this gully, nor what lay below us, but with only a few hours of daylight remaining we decided the best course of action was to attempt to go down it. Neither of us fancied retracing our steps and tackling some of the difficult terrain that we had been on earlier in the day.

On the map, the slope didn’t look too bad, there was just the odd one or two contour lines missing so concluded that hopefully we should be able to get down. So off we went. I had been used to UK 1:50,000 scale maps where the contour intervals are every 10m and in my mind I had concluded that one or two missing contours is only 10-20m of height and we had one 50m rope with us (the other had been badly damaged the day before) so we could safely abseil 25m (with the rope doubled and all would be ok). I had not realised that the contour intervals on Norwegian maps are 20m hence one or two missing contour lines means 20-40m and a 50m rope doubled just won’t stretch that distance. Ignorance was bliss and we descended down the gully towards Svartdalen.

It was a very steep and loose descent. Thankfully we were able to negotiate our way down and round numerous steep parts then we came to a very steep section that neither of us thought that we could safely down climb so we found a fairly solid anchor, set up an abseil and got close to the edge. The rope reached the ground again but once we had abseiled down then we were committed to getting out that way as there was no way that we could climb back up this bulge in the gully. With light against us, we went for it. Pulled the rope through and continued on our way down. Thankfully there were no other major obstacles and we somehow got down to the path in Svartdalen in the final moments of dusk.

It was then a long walk along Svartdalen to Torfinnsdalen and down to Torfinnsbu in the dark. After a 16.5 hour day in the mountains we safely got back to Torfinnsbu completely drained but happy to be alive. I’ll need to go back and attempt Knutsholstinden another day from another direction 🙂

 

Øystre Torfinnstinden (2120m), Midtre Torfinnstinden (2110m), Vestre Torfinnstinden (2085m), Torfinnsegge (1996m) and Kvitskardtinden (2193m) in Norway – 8th August 2003

To get my first Norwegian 2000m peaks, Anne Marit and I drove up to Bygdin in Jotunheimen and took a boat along Lake Bygdin to Torfinnsbu where camp was established.

On the morning of 8th August, we headed up to Øystre Torfinnstinden (2120m). It was a steep scramble and we had to do a lot of route finding to safely negotiate our way up this mountain. It was a glorious sunny day and the views were superb. This was my first real taste of mountaineering outside of Scotland.

We then proceeded to Midtre Torfinnstinden (2110m) and onwards to Vestre Torfinnstinden (2085m).

To move along this ridge, we roped up on numerous occasions and also had to abseil a few sections. After the first abseil had been done, we knew that we had committed ourselves to getting along the ridge to at least Vestre Torfinnstinden. Our ropes were long enough for the abseils (we had two 50m ropes tied together) so we made quick progress along the ridge.

From Vestre Torfinnstinden, as time still seemed to be on our side, we continued along the ridge a bit further over Torfinnsegge (1996m) and on towards Kvitskardtinden (2193m). Upon arrival here, it was late in the afternoon and we knew that we had to get down past the glacier and into the Langedalen for our walk out to Torfinnsbu before it got dark.

So without delay we retraced our step for a distance back towards Vestre Torfinnstinden and picked a line that avoid most of the visible glacier. With the glacier retreating here, a lot of the stones being walked on are completely unconsolidated and exceptionally mobile scree. This was my first ever experience of fresh glacial moraines.

We noted that we could take a short cut onto easier terrain beneath the glacier if we briefly crossed the glacier. Neither of us had planned to be on a glacier that day hence our ice axes and crampons were lying back at the tent. Och, it was only a short distance and all would be ok, wouldn’t it? A lot of mountaineers gain experience and learn from their mis-adventures. This I believe was one of those occasions. I have never been back on a glacier without crampons on my feet!

So we proceeded to gingerly make our way across the solid ice glacier and the covering of moraine in places helped give us some grip as the stones had melted into the glacier partially. We came to one final steeper section and thought that we were bound to slip/slide down that section so we looked for an anchor to just provide some support for a sort of abseil down to the solid ground a short distance away.

There was a suitable large boulder, probably weighing a couple of tonnes or more, conveniently placed nearby, so we tied the two 50m ropes together, bunged our now 100m around the boulder and I started to apply some weight to the rope to commence the descent. I got a bit of a surprise. With just a slight loading, this massive boulder started to slide on the glacial ice. It kept sliding, slid over one of our ropes and damaged it and then it kept sliding down the glacier. Conclusion – big boulders on ice are not good anchors. Carry an ice screw next time. So without any anchors we just somehow slithered our way off of the glacier and got down. You need experiences like these to teach you about how to be safe in the mountains. I haven’t made that mistake again 🙂

We eventually got back to the camping area in darkness after a very satisfying 14-hour day but with one rope written off.

 

“Just for fun”, on Troldhaugen, Nissedal, Norway – 4th August 2003

Having survived an ascent of Via Lara the previous day, it was decided that we should attempt another classic Norwegian rock climbing route in the Nissedal area of Norway.

The route that we selected was called “Just for fun“.  A 200m long route on solid granite, with occassional bolts for protection, and at the straight forward Norwegian grade of 4+.

The weather was warm and sunny hence the rock was also nice and dry. With the guidebook in hand, Anne Marit managed to locate the start of the route and we gradually climbed up it.

The route is mainly slab climbing, with plenty of balancing moves required, and just occasionally a crack in the granite would appear so I could relax again. I always like something to hold on to.

As we gained height, the views over the surrounding landscape of lakes, rivers, forest and mountains was spectacular.

Once we topped out on the route, I remember that we descended down through the forest and there were plenty of berries ripe for the picking so every few yards I was grabbing and eating more berries. What a way to live 🙂

 

“Via Lara”, on Hægerfjell in Nissedal, Norway – 3rd August 2003

If you have ever dreamed of long multi-pitch rock climbing on solid granite slabs then you simply must go to Nissedalen in Norway. I’d never heard of the place before I went. The highest rock wall in the area is Hægerfjell.

To start off my Norwegian rock climbing experience, why not start with one of the best granite climbs in the world?

Anne Marit suggested that we climb up “Via Lara“. It is a 10+ pitch rock climb of about 380m height gain on the 1022m high mountain of Hægerfjell. I’d never done a rock route of this length before, it was more than twice the height of the Old Man of Hoy on Orkney, but she was certain that we could do it, so off we went.

It is a normally a very popular route, but we were lucky to get it pretty much to ourselves (there was one group of climbers above us) and the weather was gorgeous sunshine.

The granite rock here is exceptionally solid so there was little risk of getting hit by rocks being dislodged above you.

The route itself is a traditional rock climb so as we climbed up the route, on alternative leads, we placed and removed our own protection. The route generally followed a good series of cracks going the full length of the crag.

However, towards the top of the route the cracks run out and the route becomes very slabby in nature and there are long run outs between protection.

As we got towards the top of the route, Anne Marit was on lead, and she had ran out a full 50m rope length without a single piece of protection. She knew that she was near the top of the route and could see a belay anchor a further 10-20 m or so in front of her but she needed more rope.  She ended up untying one of her ropes, I collected it, tied it to the end of the rope that I was belay her with, and she then proceeded up to the solid belay anchor. I was so glad that I was not leading that pitch as I would have been very concerned about having ran out more than 50m of rope without any protection as any slips would have resulted in a vertical fall of at least 100m.

After she had secured the belay point, I climbed up to join her and this reinforced my joy of not having had to lead that pitch. At her selected anchor point, it was safe enough for us to unrope and find our way off the mountain. We went via the summit of Hægerfjell (1022m) and finished the final few hundred metres of descent in the dusk.

This was an amazing climb and I was glad to have done it. Overall, we climbed the route in 12 pitches using our 50m ropes. It certainly showed me that if you can keep your head together then you can climb some very extraordinary things.

1 Comment

  1. Anne Marit Rødland says:

    Thank you for being such a great company on all these trips. I had great fun on all these trips and I have also learned a lot from you when it comes to mountaineering and safety work. I know you can always get me out of trouble 🙂 One of the things I remember really well was that my headtorch collapsed on our way out Svartdalen after a long day summiting several mountains. Svartdalen is “black valley” in english – yes very dark….. and it took ages getting back to the campsite in the dark.

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