Saturday, March 29, 2014

Haukelifjell Storm

4. - 7. March, 2014
Trolltjørn, Telemark/Hordaland, Norway

We arrived at Haukeliseter Lodge at around 2pm packed and ready for a few days of route finding, avalanche considerations, and most importantly skiing.  We sat inside and had a coffee by the fire while we waited for the others to arrive.  It isn´t very normal for us to start so late in the day, but a start time of 4pm was set so that we would be forced to find our way to camp in the dark.

The weather as we left the lodge weren´t optimal, with flat light making it difficult to see the contour of surrounding terrain.  Trudging on, the already grey sky slowly darkened, eventually leaving us in darkness.  Ironically our headlamps made it easier to see the surrounding formations.  Night had fallen long before we reached our camp and we were forced to set up our tents in the dark.  We made dinner and crept into our sleeping bags so that we would be ready for the next day.

As morning broke around us we crawled out of our tents to take a look at the surrounding mountains, in vain.  The low laying clouds made it nearly impossible to make out the surrounding peaks, but we packed our day packs and ventured out into the fog.  Getting oriented in the fog was difficult as we had to wind our way past craggy peaks following our compass heading the whole time.  Every once in a while the fog would lighten just enough to make out a ridge or cliff that didn´t seem to be where it should.  Progress was slow and the whole process was frustrating.

We arrived at our destination after a few hours and dug a snow pit to check the avalanche risk for our descent.  The pit doubled as shelter from the wind as we sat down and ate lunch.  As we sat there talking, the clouds lifted enough to show us the surrounding mountains.  The high mountains near Haukeli are incredible, if you are lucky enough to have a window with good weather.  Rays of sunlight shone through the clouds in the distance and the general mood of the group lightened considerably.  The good weather continued as we made our way back to camp, and we were finally able to actually see where we had set up our tents.  I had to chuckle to myself when I saw our camp, because we had chosen what must have been the windiest spot on the mountain to set up camp.  We spent the rest of the afternoon finding water and building a wall around camp in the hope that it would help protect us from the strong winds.

The weather the next day was less than optimal, but we headed out for the day nonetheless.  We had a nice solid pace the entire day, and visibility was just good enough to make out formations to navigate by.  At around 1 o´clock we were faced with a difficult decision.  We had made great time over the relatively tame terrain, but were now faced with a steep ascent into the clouds with a difficult descent.  There were mixed feelings about continuing, and we spent a chunk of time deciding what to do.  In the end we decided to head back to camp and dig in the snow.

The winds had picked up by the time we returned to camp and the weather gods didn´t seem to be pleased.  A quick check of the forecast showed a storm approaching.  We teamed up and built the biggest snow wall I have yet to experience, reaching upwards of 15´ in some spots.  After creating a labyrinth of snow walls to protect us from the oncoming storm, we decided to have a crack at building an igloo for our latrine.  The construction was quick, and before long we had a nice sheltered place to get out of the weather.

-     -     -

Haukeli lies on the border between eastern and western Norway, which means that it gets the cold weather from east along with the wet weather from the west.  The area is notorious for having truly miserable weather, and it has been used to prepare for numerous expeditions to the arctic and antarctic regions for over 100 years.  Bad weather is a relative term in the mountains, but when a full fledged storm is approaching there is really only one choice: get to a safer area.

We packed up camp the next morning and headed down the mountain.  The weather initially didn´t appear to be much worse than the previous days, but the weather worsened dramatically as we got closer to the lodge.  Sleet started coming down at a brutal angle when we were just a few kilometers from the lodge.  By the time we reached the protection of the lodge our clothing and equipment were completely drenched.  We sat inside and attempted to dry out before debriefing.  My jacket has been on its last leg for awhile now so it provided little protection from the elements.  I sat shivering, unable to regain my warmth.

Finally we piled into the car to head back to civilization.  There was only one problem.  The intensity of the storm had increased to the point that traffic was restricted to convoys lead by a snowplow.  We were forced to wait for nearly 45 minutes before it was our convoy arrived.  By this time the storm was so bad that visibility was limited to a few feet at best.  You could faintly make out the hazard lights of the car in front of us about half of the time.  The other half was driven blind.  Traffic updates let us know that our convoy was the last of the night.  The mountain was closed until the storm was done wreaking havoc.


Waiting by the fire with a cup of coffee

Dinner time in the dark

Testing the snowpack

The fog lightens up a bit to reveal majestic mountains

Our camp is down there somewhere

Spotted this line, not gonna say where it is

Camp life

Back to basecamp early? Why not try building an igloo?

Preparing for the storm

Basecamp or winter fortress?

The Igdo (Igloo Latrine)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rjukan Ice Festival 2014

21. - 23. February, 2014
Rjukan, Telemark, Norway

One of the great things about living in Telemark is all the amazing ice that can be climbed.  Even though we had an extremely mild season, there was still plenty of climbing to be done.  Possibly the climax of the ice season in Telemark is the annual Ice Climbing Festival held in Rjukan at the end of february.  This year I was able to make it to the festival and help out a bit.

There were vendors from several companies including Black Diamond, DMM, Grivel, and Petzl.  The first night started with stands with gear and representatives from the sponsors, along with a presentation by Martin Skaar Olslund, and up-and-coming climber from Norway.

Saturday was packed with guided climbs around Rjukan and multiple clinics at Krokan.  The main event was the Rjukan Open Speed Climbing Competition.  A fun speed climbing comp that is open to anyone who wants to give it a shot.  The day rounded out with an hysterical presentation by British bigwall climber, and humorist, Andy Kirkpatrick.  I cannot remember the last time I have laughed so much during a climbing presentation.  Andy is a great guy and easy to talk to.

Sunday was a bit more low key, with a few guided climbs around Rjukan, and two clinics at Krokan.  I was able to assist German climber Matthias Scherer with the advanced clinic.  Matthias is an incredible athlete, and it was truly a pleasure to have the privilege to climb with him.

The festival seemed to be a success despite that fact that there was little to no PR leading up to the festival.  We joked for most of the weekend that it was Norway´s best kept secret.  All joking aside, there was a sizable crowd at all of the events, meaning that the festival has been spread by word of mouth.  Always a good sign.

Opening of the festival with gear displays from different vendors

Krokan before the hoards arrive

Matthias Scherer leading Topp

Teaching the advanced clinic

Talking about protecting belays

Tor Olav Berg teaching the Beginners clinic

Learning to climb on Bullen during the Beginners clinic

Twins Heike and Tanja Schmitt teaching the Female clinic

Climbers enjoying the Kjøkkentrappa area

Three (!) parties on Kjøkkentrappa while another party tries Bored to the Extreme

Martin Skaar Olslund representing Petzl

Rjukan Open Speed Climbing Competition held on Bullen

Competitors wait their turn

Matthias Scherer explains multi-pitch ice anchors on the last day of the festival

Avalanche Exercise with Telemark University College and EMS

19. February, 2014
Lifjell, Bø i Telemark, Norway

EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE There has been a large avalanche on Lifjell with several parties involved!

This is how our day started.  An avalanche exercise with students from Telemark University College, Red Cross, the local police, and Norwegian Civil Defense troops is an annual occurrence in Telemark.  The different groups get to practice their skills and see how it is to work together to prepare for real accidents.

In addition to regular beacons and probes, we had the use of specially trained avalanche rescue dogs, and RECCO.  There was also supposed to be a helicopter, but they received a call to a real mission just minutes before their arrival.  We had tons of volunteers to help out.  Some of the first year and international students sat up on the hillside as avalanche victims to be found.  There were also CPR dummies that "required assistance" after being found.

It was a long hard day of trudging through deep snow, digging, and carrying heavy objects up and down the mountain, but it was also very enlightening.  All of the participants worked brilliantly together making the exercise a success.

Have fun and stay safe in the mountains!

Chaotic start

People start to arrive

Norwegian Civil Defense troops arrive and start setting up 

The Red Cross setting up their station

Seems more organized from above

There is a system to their madness

Packing up after a job well done

Debreifing after the exercise

Telemark University College, Police, Red Cross, and Norwegian Civil Defense

Monday, March 24, 2014

Winter Forrest trip with International Students

3. - 7. February, 2014
Lifjell, Telemark, Norway

This year I have been fortunate enough to work with the international students at Telemark University College in Bø.  I have helped out with a variety of activities such as game nights, christmas parties, and the occasional coffee hour.  As part of my course I am required to have a certain number of days working unpaid in the field.  I chose to partner up with one of my classmates, Krister, to act as instructor for a five day winter forrest trip with some of the international students in the surrounding mountains.  The trip entailed sleeping outside under improvised shelters made out of tarps, and preparing food by campfire.

Some of the students we noticeably nervous leading up to the trip, as some had never slept outside, let alone during winter.  Eva, a girl from Czech Republic, expressed concern after having seen a forecast of rain and inclement weather on the weather report.  We assured her that we would still be able to find enough wood to make fires and that everything would work out in the end.  The final day of the trip was marred with thick fog and strong, biting winds.  Most of the group was tired from several days with poor visibility.  Eva, on the other hand, seemed to have gained new confidence, leading the way with a persistent grin on her face.  Seeing her tenacity and new gained confidence felt great as an instructor.  It was truly a pleasure to work with this group of hard working students from around the globe.

The sun is shining and all is well

Diggin´ a kitchen

The fog sets in

Cabins near Kruvla

You can always build a fire.  Even if the wood is coated in snow and ice!

Not a terrible improvised shelter

Nice looking kitchen

Ice fishing?

Ice fish

Unconvinced of the merits of ice fishing

The expression says it all

The catch of the day... and some fish

What is visible is a winter wonderland

The forrest is eerily quiet 

The return journey

First time skiing downhill with a pack on

Unconvinced of the merits of skiing with a pack

I think I´ll have a sit

Krister looking on