Rjukan Meet – 2017

Mission completed, Sir!!

Gaustatoppfossen Øst Dave

A successful Meet, despite the weather causing problems, which was often warm and damp at times and with little falling snow. The lack of early snow in the Vemork Gorge, especially, made access to the many popular routes more difficult this year. Although the river was sufficiently frozen, enormous blocks of rock in the gorge made travel to the ice routes quite awkward. Certain routes were suspect with melting ice, and there were unfortunately some retreats due to dangerous conditions.

However, the ‘Saboteurs’ were not put off, and despite some lost ‘effective’ days due to conditions. Very few team members complained, and as always, made good decisions each as to the locations. Where access was less problematic and better conditions prevailed, sometimes softer, more ‘wet’ ice would result in excellent climbing. The afternoon sun also caused some anxiety, with several large rockfalls from popular routes. Climbers had to be prudent.

However this paints a poor picture, but with experience, skills, good decision-making and some adventurous attitudes, many of the twenty-six member team were very satisfied with the climbing, and came home pleased. Others headed for the Gausterblikk Ski Centre and were equally happy.

Meal time German style

The team was organised with mainly CC and SMC members, but a good percentage were AC or AC aspirants, and the rest were a mixture of other senior UK Clubs, together with a visiting DAV team. My brother, Pete, who lives near Stuttgart, joined the Meet again, this time along with three German climbers, all friends and members of the celebrated German Alpine Club.

After various uneventful short-term flights from several UK airports, and a flight from Stuttgart, all to Oslo Gardermoen, we were all soon ensconced in (often uprated) hire cars and off across the surprisingly lightly snow-clad countryside to Rjukan. Conditions did seem fairly dry, with little snow around, and although giving quite easy driving for a change, scenes of less than usual ice on the approach roads gave uneasy thoughts.

The following days proved otherwise and the ‘Saboteurs’ action plan came good.

Once again we enjoyed the superb and much improved hostel facilities provided by the Gjestegård staff and Torbjørn, who unfortunately after organising the teams’ bedrooms so well and everything else we needed, on the last but one day of the Meet, he slipped on ice in the town and broke a leg! Peri organised a get-well card, signed by everyone on the Meet and this was delivered to Torbjørn in his hospital bed. We trust and wish he has a full recovery, although that’s two Meets in a row he has had the same incident (next visit we must take him some non-slip shoe grips)!

In spite of early arrival concerns in the obviously warmer conditions, team members often found adequate or near-perfect conditions (softer or more plastic ice). However, climbing at higher regions provided rock-hard ice with winds that kept days cool.

The Mountain crag referred to as Gaustatoppfossene was visited on several days by various teams of ‘Saboteurs’. The lure of colder conditions and better ice did persuade teams to this higher crag, but in reality the wind and often inclement weather, the rock-hard ice, and some alpine-style belays being required, made it an arduous destination for most. The Germans and Pete, however, breezed up everything.

There were days when the temperature had risen overnight, giving some routes a ‘wet’ nature, but conversely, temperatures often dropped overnight and this only enhanced the moods of team members in searching for good routes.

The Vemork Bridge routes surprised a couple of teams, one pair (Richard and Smiler) topping out on Vemorkbrufoss Ost (WI5) just twenty minutes before a deluge of water engulfed the line. It still is an unexplained occurrence, this spasmodic releasing of water from tanks above the gorge and down certain routes. The well-known (regular?) releasing over the famous and much sought-after route, Rjukanfossen (WI4), in the Upper Gorge, didn’t occur (or wasn’t seen to?) for some reason, although this area did produce several unfortunately warm and wet (route) days.

Most routes climbed in this Upper Gorge area were manageable though, with care.

Conditions in the Rjukan Gorge as a whole were more difficult than usual due the lack of snow, resulting in much time-consuming and awkward scrambling over uncovered boulders (some very large), the lack of snow giving none of the usually easy (and well tracked) level ground.

However, several bold teams ticked off various steep and difficult routes, like Sabotofossen (WI5), Verdons End (WI5, Trappfoss (WI4) and Juvlesayer (WI6), the latter route giving CC members, Robin and Paul, an unpredictably slow climb due to a party above them. This resulted in the only real concern for the Meet organiser and several team members not in their beds at 8pm. A small team did drive down to the Vemork Bridge car park, but just in time to avoid serious nighttime searching, while crossing the bridge looking for head torch lights, the installed rescue (call) system worked and the required mobile call to the hostel relieved the anxiety and the party were recalled to the hostel.

The climbing continued on all of the days available, resulting in good, single and multi-pitch routes, with many teams enjoying short and easy access to popular crags.

Brothers in Arms, Kong Vinter Rjukan

Our German guests were very strong, both in their climbing standards and stamina, completing more routes per day than most teams, and usually all of high quality. Notably, in the Kongvinter basin, where a trapped rope in the notorious crack at the top of the access point, caused Richard and Smiler a fair delay, while a climb was done by two of our guests, and the trapped rope released. It did allow Smiler to get up-to-date with Pete, at the bottom of this impressive basin. Pete now lives near Stuttgart, along with Marcus, Andy (Andreas) and Martin. All were very strong and good climbers. We welcome them (and Pete) back with us on any CC/AC Meet in the future. Pete is adamant, he’s just the driver!

We also wish Rainer (Raab) a speedy recovery, from the serious illness which prevented him from attending with the boys.

Geoff and Brian (both CC) did what they always do, quietly and without fuss, ticking off of several notable routes a day, although Trappfoss, then Rjukanfossen, proved a distinct problem (too much water on the routes) on one day.

A large contingent of CC and other Club members had a good day on the superb Tjonsonnstadbergfossen (WI 4), above the town. Climbing almost as long as it takes to type the route name, Richard and Smiler, in front of Tim and Brian S. picked the more solid direct line, Tim veering rightwards and leftwards of Richard’s direct line but still having fun climbing.

Helen (AC) and Alex (CC) followed a more vegetated line sometimes to the right of the ice, and when Smiler and Richard past them while abseiling through the trees, Helen and Alex took a wise decision to join the following group of team members descending. It was getting very warm, indeed, a substantial fall of ice occurred an hour later, somewhat further to the left of our route.

Having abseiled the descent, Smiler and Richard were soon down the track and into the town. Looking back from the garage, Richard managed a good telephoto shot of the abseiling group, still quite a way from their sacks.

James and Peter were last down, unfortunately and unknowingly, James losing a Nomic somewhere around the big rock crevasse. This loss not discovered until back at the sacks ☹.

Several of the (around ten) independently working teams, were climbing and socialising at various locations, taking slightly less-able climbers or newcomers to Rjukan, into their teams to achieve many wonderful ice climbs, having fun outings as threesome teams.

Any (so-called) rest days taken, usually turned into strenuous and (for some) less-than skillful days, Langlauf touring and on downhill skis.

Steve and Michael Jenkins had purposely brought their own skiing gear this trip. They had a few great skiing days and good days climbing as well, enjoying both activities. Peri and Astrid climbed well, but were frustrated with the conditions, and also hired skis on some mountain days, often accompanied by Lewis.

A notably quiet but effective team, Keith and Kate, worked all week through the Heavy Water guidebook, including many, very successful ascents.

With the warmer conditions, melting had accessed the bottom section of Top (WI5) in the Lower Gorge, causing it to break off, as it regularly does, and gave Richard Jolley a chance to shine with several consecutive dead-hangs on alternate axes until knees came to his assistance. Climbing throughout the Meet with Richard, Meet Leader Smiler was doing pretty well, seconding most routes due to his unfortunate recent health problems, but he opted out of this difficult challenge, and Lewis took up the mantle of repeating and cleaning the few screws from this well known (now WI 6) challenge. This difficult exercise was to be one of Lewis’ final ice- climbing days with the ‘Saboteurs’, before heading off into the wastes of Norway with his Ski Club for a further week.

No serious injuries or scares occurred, with only the one late-night concern, which was happily concluded without response to local authorities. Thanks must go to my fellow would-be rescuers on a very cold and dark night at the Vemork Bridge rendezvous.

All in all, a much better Rjukan Meet than pessimistic climbers had earlier warned us about.

At the hostel, the new annexe being built for us was not ready. This was being provided to avoid any possibility of us ‘destroying’ the hostel kitchen, so we were again allowed to use the highly superior facilities of the kitchen, and I felt, throughout each evening mealtime, the team held their heads up high and didn’t let the Club(s) down.

With the roads clear of snow (although it was coming soon) a more relaxed travel back to Oslo for most members was taken, on the 25th. This followed a morning’s (or longer) climbing before returning to the hostel to shower, pack and depart. Richard and Smiler had a rapid 2-hour return trip via Ozzimosis (the superb and steep WI4). Starting out early, they had the crag to themselves for most of the short time there.

All members flying out the next morning, on arrival at the airport, headed for the well-used and comfortable ‘doss’ behind the restaurant opposite Arrivals.

An uneventful return flight left most members very satisfied with a great Meet.

More next winter, we’ll see. Next visit? Who knows?

Smiler Cuthbertson

Thanks to Michael and Steve Jenkins for sorting out the images.

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