We’d had a few days off climbing and were chomping at the bit to get back out onto the ice. The view from the gym window taunted us with numerous classic climbs within spitting distance. The external Jacuzzi at Rjukanbaden (the excellent leisure centre) had been a great place to watch other climbers ascend the mighty falls all around Rjukan centre. On several occasions we watched on, waiting for our turn to get back on it.
We teamed up with Neil, a cracking guy from Malvern. He had been coming to Rjukan for a couple of seasons now and had a great deal of experience on ice. We planned to climb as a three, with Neil doing anything that looked a bit spicy!
Finding the approach was our first challenge. Rjukan is not a big place by any stretch of the imagination, but we needed to be sure we were climbing in the right place. After much deliberation and car moving, we picked up a trail climbing diagonally behind the town hall. We stopped in a perfect bivi-cave to get kitted up and made our way to the beginning of the climb.
Tjønnstadbergfossen is a 3-star waterfall which is graded at WI IV. We had the climb to ourselves as Neil led up the first pitch. The ice was feeling pretty good, solid yet not too brittle. Our axes and crampons felt good as they bit into the ice, Danny and I followed soon after and joined Neil at the belay.
“The sun – where have you been?”, I shouted as I pushed on over a small bulge. Danny and I had been in Rjukan valley for about four weeks and had not felt the suns’ rays for what seemed like an eternity. It offered a little warmth which helped, but psychologically it was a real boost. As we caught our breath, we examined the gloom that engulfed the town centre below which wouldn’t see the sun for several months yet.
There were some pretty steep sections to come. On the third pitch I was sure I would fall, my hands began to give way and I started to get “gammon-hands”. This is when your hands become like useless lumps of meat, incapable of holding on to your ice axe, let alone make an accurate or effective swing into the ice. It is caused by simply being tired. I braced myself, tried to calm down and rest on my axes. I brought my feet up but by this time my calves were screaming at me, pleading for a rest. Somehow I managed to scrabble my way up, more by sheer stubbornness than skill.
The final pitch led underneath an imposing piece of exposed rock from which hung some pretty lethal icicles. After sorting the ropes, I led up and away, skirting the rock on the left hand side. I stopped just past a huge icicle illuminated by the sun’s rays. Below lay the town centre, still in shadow. The contrast was remarkable and I took some time to admire my surroundings before topping out next to a tree.
We walked up slightly to the left of the climb then picked up a footpath which led right back down to the path we had walked in on. It had been a brilliant day, with varied ice conditions, fantastic climbing and a well-earned sandwich stop in the sun!