Once upon a time, in an icy northern land far far away; the MMC took crampons and axes, and went off to play…

The meet took place near the town of Rjukan.  Two huts were prepared and provisioned for our team of nine.  The larger hut was in the ski resort of Gaustablikk, in the shadow of the famous Gausta mountain (more on that later), and to get there required a trip of about 1km vertically from the town of Rjukan.  Naturally this involved a cool mountain road with icy switch backs that all but Chris and Ollie’s rented Toyota Prius’ could cope with (more on that later too!)

First to arrive, mid-blizzard on Saturday evening, were Nick and Lily.  Having no clue where in the ski resort to find the hut they asked a friendly Norwegian (to be honest, they all seem friendly) for directions:  “Keep driving, it’s about 5km more, it’s clearly signposted” they encouragingly told us.  After much searching we did find it, but with no sign of the (ahem) sign.  In the morning it was apparent why…the sign may have been clear but the six-foot snowbank in front of it was somewhat of a hindrance to its legibility.

On the up-side, it would have been worse if all that snow was still on the road

Charmian and Ardrian did not have such excitement to get to their hut as they stayed in Rjukan, a town famous for being the location of the Heroes of Telemark raids and for being in shadow for six months of the year.  That is until they built mirrors on top of the hills to illuminate it during the winter – or at least on the 5 days in winter when the sun shines!

With ice conditions apparently sub-optimal, on the first day a trip to the high altitude venue of Gausta was mooted.  This 1,883m peak is reportedly Norway’s most popular mountain since it offers views of 1/6 of the country.  It also has a funicular railway built inside it and is the finish of the world’s toughest triathlon (the “Norseman”, look it up).  However, the idea of ice-cragging there, along with any pretensions we had about climbing the mountain, were abandoned with the news that the avalanche risk was higher than it had been in years.  Plans therefore changed into a trip to Krokan.

Gausta mountain will have to wait for another trip

Ice, ice baby

Krokan is probably one of the best “ice-cragging” venues in the world (at least that’s what the Oxford Alpine Club guide says and I’ve no basis on which to disagree).  The venue is accessed by a 10 minute stroll from an amply large carpark and has an excellent range and number of routes.  It turned out to be our playground for the whole week being suitable for the full range of ice-climbing experience we had in our group: complete beginners and relative novices.

Krokan all over the world – Ice “water lilies” on the pleasant walk-in

I jest! In truth Chris and Joe did a great job putting up routes and Charmian and Ardrian made good use of the experience they gained prior to the meet.

Carlsberg doesn’t do ice climbing, but if they did they’d probably come to Krokan

Some highlights include Un-named 1; Un-named 2; and Un-named 4-6 plus another route we couldn’t work out the name of.  It might have been Un-named 3. On this pillar route Joe received the advice from fellow climbers that there was no point knocking in an ice-screw for protection on the pillar as either (i) the act of putting the screw in would damage the pillar such that it could collapse or (ii) falling on said hypothetical ice-screw would likely pull the pillar (and its multiple tons of ice) on top of the unfortunate climber.  Joe therefore soloed the pillar and saved protection for higher up on the route.

Ollie on “Un-named [x]”

The only difficulty with so many great routes is too many flipping climbers on them kicking and cutting bits of ice off.  Stef found this out the hard way (literally) when a football sized piece careered off the crag and into her legs.  To her great credit, in spite of the serious pain this caused, it didn’t distract her focus on belaying the likely miscreant.

Chris puts up a route

Charmian watches a carefully kicked crampon into place

Alternative activities

Being a ski resort, the natural rest day activity was to drink in the après-ski bars.  However, what with beer in Norway being worth its weight in Cobalt (not Gold, I know, but it’s true statement at 2020 prices).  We were forced into other ideas.  One such option was to go skiing and most of us tried both cross-country and alpine skiing during the course of the week.  Gaustablikk is justifiably famous for its cross-country trails which wander round the frozen lake that sits astride the resort.  However, our inexperienced legs and arms rebelled against such strenuous use and bizarre “fish-legs” positions.  Letting the lift take the strain in alpine skiing (and snowboarding) proved to be much more fun.

Going downhill fast can be fun outside of a mountaineering context

Even this activity had its risks, though.  After a particularly joyous red-run, Chris found himself snowboarding towards the lift queue at a non-optimal light jogging speed.  Caught in-between rows of skiers lining up for the queue he was unable to carve a turn and lose speed in the conventional manner so he opted to place a gloved-hand on the ground as a rudimentary brake.  When this failed, he glided past me towards the head of the queue.  At this point a most extraordinary thing happened – I found I could hear Chris’ thoughts like an audiobook:  “Oops, travelling a bit quick; no problem, will just raise my right hand and gently come to rest behind this skier; Woah! That’s a teenage girl I’m about to slap on the arse; drop hand and prepare for collision!!” [close enough – ED]

Reassuringly expensive…

Nick and Lily also attempted Norway’s longest toboggan run albeit without a sled.  This proved to be an enjoyable walk until the track iced-up so much it was impossible to walk.  Pride was swallowed and we slid on our bottoms to avoid injury.

Lily eventually got a chance to sled – aided by Chris and this fully winterised St Bernhard dog

While the majority of the group partook of the downhill skiing, Matt and Ollie kept the faith with Krokan and spent the penultimate day in relative isolation from us.  Somewhat alarmingly, Ollie sent the below text at about lunchtime.

Emoji’s can be misleading

Although it seemed rather out of character for Ollie, we debated whether the “stream of tears” emoji was supposed to indicate to us that Matt had seriously injured himself with the icy plunge.  We therefore decided, after half an hour or so, to check that everything was ok.  It turned out all was well – Ollie had been crying with laughter and Matt was out of the river and climbing.

Matt enjoys “Un-named [x]”

But not happy with one mishap in the day, the troublesome twosome then couldn’t ascend the switchback roads home.  By this time in the evening, none of the rest of the group were sober enough to take to the road in a rescue mission but fortunately another friendly Norwegian was on hand to provide a tow.  Only problem: no tow rope.  Never mind, slings are strong right!?

Slings are strong – but not car towing strong…

With a huge dump of snow overnight, the main activity on the final day was to exhume the cars from their resting places and get them road-worthy.  This achieved, we trundled back to the airport and home.  Many thanks to Joe for organising this trip and to everyone on it who made it such fun.  We are tentatively planning a follow-up trip in February 2021 so watch this space for details!