The last two days have been action packed here at the Motherlode in the west of Norway. So much ice, so little time. Yesterday we headed down into the canyon with the intention of climbing the biggest rig in there but found it too dangerous, sun baking off ice on slabs and trying to kill us. Run away...
Tuesday: Second Choice, WI7+, 300+ Meters.
The second most tasty-looking line looked like an easy approach to a very steep wall with icicles. We had no rock gear, but headed up anyhow. The approach alone was 200M, and lots steeper than it looked--we roped up in a hurry, the overhanging wall above made the angle very deceptive down low. The icicle wall was a rare thing in ice climbing--a steep, gymnastic wall but with only natural ice gear (we didn't have any rock gear). It started with a small steep roof with screws low enough that you'd bounce hard off the ledge if you fell, then more stubbie screws and onto a frightening hanger with more groundfall potential. For some reason I was fired up on it and had a go while Andreas offered useful advice. After an hour of climbing up and down to unlock the opening crux moves and make very shallow ice placements while hanging in space later it was done. I'd call it WI7+, I don't think I've ever used that grade except as a joke before, but this was the real deal. Powerful, delicate, intense, it made every other "WI7" I've ever climbed irrelevant. Many mixed routes call the icicle at the end WI7, but the reality is that the icicle usually isn't very hard and has good bolts to protect the climber if it breaks. This didn't. It was cool to be doing dry-tooling style moves on ice (only one drytool move). A figure four would have been useful, but I didn't want to fall 6M onto the ledge in a figure-four position so burned a stupid amount of energy locking off. The last three pitches were all fantastic--a highlight was a belay on a rock spike (good cracks for rock gear too, we just didn't have any, so the spike was some sort of gift!) behind a huge sunlit curtain, then punching a hole out of it to climb on up. As my friend Chris Santa says, "Today was one of those days where some stuff fell off the all-time top ten list." Andreas followed it all without falls, he's climbing well.
I think my week in Scotland fired up me up climbing something like this with only ice gear. Bolted it would be just another route--a lot of climbing this grade with some safety margin comes from having the fitness to climb solidly in control on powerful, technical terrain. I felt like I was using my drytooling fitness developed over the winter to keep things sort of sane. I don't generally like climbing dangerous routes, but the wall was so very cool that it seemed worth it. There are hundreds of potential mixed lines here to bolt, but it's relatively rare to find a wild ice climb that can be done on pure ice gear. With rock gear you could make it a little bit safer, but unless a pillar of ice forms it will always be sporty. I'll post location details later.
Wednesday: "Insant Classic, WI5, 300+Meters"
We rapped back into the canyon for another go at the sun-baked rig, but Andreas wasn't feeling well and I was feeling worked from yesterday's sports action so we ended up doing a fantastic 300+M line at about WI 4+/5 (Andreas rated it Norwegian 5+, I think Canadians are generally conservative on their water ice grades). It was the kind of line you know people will groove on in the future, it's well-protected with good positioning, we dubbed it an "Instant Classic" and laughed all the way up it...
We only have one more day here, and the choices are just so damn hard. There's a big Polar Circus style line up the valley that needs to be done, as well as numerous other lines up to 600M anywhere between WI3 and WI?? We heard from a near-local that some of the easier lines in the lower canyon have been climbed, which is good to know--this place has more good ice climbs within 20K than the entire Parkway in Canada, I fully expect it to become a destination spot in the future. I'm already planning my next trip, yeah!