At the beginning of February 2009 Markus Stofer and I went to Naeroydalen in southwest Norway. On a visit in 1999 I had noticed big icefalls forming in the fjords close to Gudvangen (Aurland). These are probably some of the highest in the world, falling over rock faces the height of El Capitan. Situated close to the sea, these walls experience conditions far from perfect for ice climbing, with the mild Gulf Stream and westerly winds preventing the waterfalls from freezing. However, temperatures down to -30°C this winter froze everything in Norway; it was the chance I’d been waiting for.
On the February 3 we made the first ascent, on-sight, of Into the Wild (900m, but 1,300m of climbing up to WI6+ X). This lies behind Gudvangen on the left side of the valley; as far as we know it is the longest pure icefall climbed in the world to date. Our next stop was Eidfjord. Here, the valley of Mabodalen is home to a number of fine ice climbs, perhaps the most famous being the Voringsfossen. When properly frozen, as it was this year, it is a classic 180m WI6. On the north side of the valley we made the first ascent of Landplage (240m, WI7-), a fantastic mixed climb with free-hanging icicles. This routelies close to Voringsfossen, and we red- pointed it on the 6th. The previous winter a team of Canadians was active in this area, climbing great routes from WI5 to WI6+. According to local climbers, when making the “first ascent” of a middle-grade ice route, you can never be sure that it’s not been done before: Norway has many good ice climbers, there are innumerable possible lines, and the sport is popular. Despite this, you will hardly ever meet anyone else, which makes for a more adventurous experience than climbing in the Alps.
Returning to Gudvangen, we tried to climb the outstanding line in Naeroydalen, which lies on the left side of the valley close to the Nasen road. Previously the ice had looked too thin to climb, but now it seemed possible. First we climbed up the lower 300m; the ice proved glassy but thick enough to warrant a serious attempt on the route. We rescheduled our flight home and started up the line two days later. The mixed pitches took more time than expected, and a temperature of -10°C made the ice even glassier than before. After climbing two-thirds of the face, the last two pitches in the dark, we had to give up and rappel.
Back home I could not leave it and immediately booked a return flight, this time with a Swiss friend, Roger Schaeli, to fulfill my dream of climbing the wildest waterfall of my life. However, our initial problems had nothing to do with climbing. During the flight most of our gear was left in Holland, then customs made a big deal of our equipment, and finally a mad driver almost killed us. We eventually reached Gudvangen and at 4:00 a.m. the following morning, February 19, highly motivated, began our route. The temperature was hovering around 0°C, just right. After a long day we succeeded with a redpoint ascent of Fosslimonster (800m, but 1,000m of climbing up to WI6+ M8+). This could be the longest icefall/mixed climb of its type in the world, a dream come true; such a perfect line of frozen water is unlikely to cross my path again. It was a wonderful combination of modern ice and mixed climbing, and a great adventure. Next day it began to melt; we’d been just in time.
Robert Jasper, Germany
The Norwegian Alpine Club later issued an "official statement" about climbing style that was published in AAJ 2009, along with a response from Robert Jasper. Click here to read both.