We had a fantastic time living and climbing in Rjukan in January/February this year. Rjukan has become one of the most popular ice climbing destinations in Europe and for good reason. There are reliable, high-quality ice falls all within a few miles of the town centre and the temperature during January, February and into March rarely rises above freezing. There is plenty to choose from including pure ice and mixed routes of all grades to accommodate the beginner through to expert.
During our time in Rjukan we learned some valuable lessons, some whilst climbing and some about just being in Norway.
- Getting to/from Rjukan is simple without a car. We flew into Oslo Gardermoen, got a train to Oslo Central (90kr) then a bus to Notodden (440kr return). From Notodden, it is another hour or so to Rjukan (146kr).
- Believe the hype, food and drink is super expensive in Norway. A loaf of bread can cost £3, a small can of beer £2 and £1.50 for a tin of beans. We are considering paying for an extra bag on our flight next year and filling it with food! If you want a drink during your stay, grab some at the airport duty free, it is literally a third of the price of supermarket booze.
- We flew with Norwegian Air into Oslo Gardermoen. They were pretty relaxed about weight limits and our blatantly oversized bags (I was also wearing a great deal of clothing). The flights cost around the same as some other cheapy-airline alternatives. We’ll fly Norwegian again.
- If you’re spending any time in Oslo it’s worth knowing that there are large, secure luggage storage facilities in the Central Station. The lockers cost around £8 for 24 hours. They even have ski lockers there!
- You quite simply have to visit Rjukanbadet – a swimming pool (with slides), gym, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, all under one roof! If that wasn’t enough, there’s an external pool complete with a steaming hot Jacuzzi overlooking some of the ice falls in Rjukan centre. This is a must on a relax day, you will feel utterly rejuvenated.
- To get the most out of the ice do some hanging from your ice axes. Better still, get your crampons on, find something to dig the front points into, put your axes up high, and practice moving up and down on them. Our calves and arms burned like hell when we first arrived and unfortunately for us, it took about four weeks for them to get used to it!
- If you’re staying in Rjukan for any length of time, it’s likely you’re going to get withdrawal symptoms from the sun. Many of the climbs in the valley do not see the sun for months upon end. We found that doing a south-facing climb up into the sun every five days was essential for morale, vitamin D and sanity.
- The scale of most icefalls is deceptive. This is generally only discovered once your three pitches up and you’ve run out of rope.
- The steepness of most icefalls is deceptive. Again, this is generally only discovered when you realise your ice axe is behind you as you overcome what looked like a slabby pitch from the bottom.
- Get into the habit of placing a screw just before pulling up onto a shelf. On more than one occasion the top few layers of ice came away as we moved up and onto a shelf. The ice on the top should always be treated with extra caution as is it likely to be weaker and more susceptible to shattering.
- We are used to sticking to the snowy sections in Scotland or the Alps but on pure ice, it is safer and easier to avoid snow. It took us a long time to drop this habit.
- If you’re tiring and need a break, cut a small step or ledge with one foot. Twist your foot and bring your heel to the ice to rest those calves!
- Take two base layers – one for the approach, the other to climb in. By changing these over at the foot of the climb, you will have a dry base layer to climb in so your sweat won’t freeze and you will stay warm!
- There is a free ski bus that plies the route between Gaustatoppen ski centre up to Vemork. If you don’t have a car, this is an excellent (and free) way of accessing many climbing areas including Ossimosis, Rjukan Centre, Lower Gorge, Upper Gorge and Krokan (with a bit of a walk!).
- Always take hot water, not cold. Many climbers in our hostel would take cold water on their first days climbing and then have nothing to drink all day because it had frozen.
Rjukan is definitely the place to go for ice climbing but a trip here definitely takes some planning. It is expensive in Norway but it is possible to keep costs down by sharing food, drinking in moderation (Rjukan is definitely not a place to come for a week of partying) and finding some cheap accommodation. The Old School Hostel is where we stayed – friendly, reasonably priced (for Norway!), and a relaxed atmosphere. Is also has a sauna!