zaterdag 15 juli 2017

Update: Blåmann

Back in Tromsø the winter slowly came to an end. We got some good weather periods, in which we could finally go climbing outdoors in the rocks. The quality of the granite is superb and the variety big: you can enjoy some well-bolted sportsclimbing, multipitching on your own pro to even big wall like climbing on Blåmann. The rock features flakes and cracks in all sizes, as well as small crimps. Some late snowfall in the end of May made it at a certain point hard to decide whether to go climbing or skiing. Bad weather periods were sometimes badly needed to catch up with uni. In this period of the year there is also the midnight sun, messing up all your orientation about day and night but giving you all the time you have to play outside as it never gets dark anyway.

The midnight sun, just above the clouds

Slowly more and more snow disappeared and the climbing season was definitely on, spending every single day with good weather (meaning: no heavy rainfall) outside. Also on Blåmann the snow was melting, and at a certain point the wall looked free of snow and free of ice (as far as you can see that). Only a stable good weather window was lacking. With less than a week of time left in Tromsø before leaving for the summer holidays, Patrick and me decided to give it a shot. The weather forecast said that it might rain a bit in the night, but for the rest there was only little wind and not too cold. We packed our gear and hiked up to the base of the wall. We started climbing around midnight and climbed through the night, fixing the first 70 meters of rope. In the morning we were done with that and took a nap on the base. The next day we jumared up the fixed rope, with the goal to go in one push to the summit.

The first pitch, as the wall is north facing, you have only sun during midnight. Happy with the midnight sun! Picture by Patrick

The first pitch (the one we climbed during the night) was the most difficult one, and some (potentially?) loose rocks made it a bit sketchy. Small cracks were leading up, but without ice in them we could make much faster progress than in winter. The second pitch was a rather short one, and actually a bit harder then I remembered it to be. The aid climbing process sometimes felt frustratingly slow: finding a place to put some gear, do a good bang-test to see if the gear your placed is solid, put the aiders in the gear, walk them up without getting everything tangled and highstep as high as possible. I started skipping a proper bang-test, especially when I could see a nut or cam was good, and slowly but steadily we continued climbing up. Patrick took the third pitch, climbing about 45 meter to a stance. I jumared up with the backpack, and what a hell of a job that was! Completely exhausted I reached the belay.

Jumaring, what a struggle! Picture by Patrick

Happy to be climbing instead of jumaring I climbed the fourth pitch, again about 45 meters and again to a hanging belay (don’t expect luxurious ledges in the first part of the route, bring a belay seat instead to make it yourself comfy). The next pitch should lead us to a big ledge, and oooh we were looking so much forward to it. Patrick speeded up the pitch, climbing almost a full 80 meter, but no ledge became in sight. Instead of a comfy ledge, he had to belay from a dripping overhang. I continued, and about 25meter further there was a dream ledge. It felt big, it was in the sunshine and it was flat. We enjoyed the ledge for a moment, after which I continued climbing up. The aid climbing was not so difficult now anymore, and after another 40 meters I reached again a ledge. With the knowledge that the summit was within reach now and having the comfort of the ledge and the sunshine, I forgot already about the suffering I faced while jumaring. Patrick climbed the last 10 meters, after which we could scramble the last part to the summit. We made it! After 26 hours of climbing, Ultima Thule is down!

As the description of the route is quite marginal we decided to make a updated description of the route (in which we put some belays different then how we made them to have a bit more comfy belays and more logic pitches). Hopefully this will motivate more people to accept the challenge of Ultima Thule!

The complete route, open in a new tab to view it (wanted to upload the highest quality here)

Ultima Thule – 315 m
First ascent: Marten Blixt, Geir Andersen and Mikael Nilsen, July 1995
Gear: Triple to quadruple rack from small cams to #1. Double #2 and #3, one time # 4. Lots of small and medium sized nuts. One pecker might come in handy, but try to avoid it. In winter you’ll be happy with a lot of peckers and less cams.

Pitch 1: 55m (Different start than Kvaløya archives 2007 due to rock fall)
Start right of the big overhang 20 meters above the ground, under a small overhang. Pass the overhang on the right to a thin crack in a dihedral. Climb up the dihedral until you can traverse on big jugs to a dihedral on the left. Climb up this dihedral and continue straight up passing a small roof until you reach a belay under another small roof.

Pitch 2: 30 m
Traverse under the roof out to the right and climb up via thin cracks just right of the nose. Make a belay on top of the nose.

Pitch 3: 25 m (could be combined with pitch 2)
Traverse out right to a crack, climb up this crag and follow the easiest line to a slab with a portaledge bolt. In winter with icy conditions going straight up from the belay through a thin crack and traverse right later might be easier.

Pitch 4: 50 m
Climb up low-angled narrow dihedral, becoming steeper and wider. Follow the crag till you reach a small slab at the bottom of the ship.

Pitch 5: 40 m
Climb the dihedral right of the ship until you reach a small bulge in the dihedral.

Pitch 6: 60 m
Continue through the dihedral. Climb out on the left wall through cracks, passing a small roof and following zig-zag cracks. After these head for the crag a bit right to lower-angled terrain until you reach the master ledge. Enjoy the view.

Pitch 7: 55 m
Climb up the right-leaning crack from the middle of the ledge. Traverse out right on jugs to a big crack. Follow this up, passing a wide crag (# 4 cam) until you reach a ledge. Climb up the dihedral on the left side of the ledge for another 10 meter and traverse out left to a big ledge. From here you can scramble out to the left and up to the summit.

Update: Chamonix

In April we all met in the big playground of Chamonix, for a week training in especially classic alpine terrain. Together with Noël I arrived a few days earlier, so that we can already make some tours to get used to the height. We were very lucky with the weather and climbed the Cosmique ridge and the Chéré Couloir in the sunshine.

Line in the Chéré couloir

After this warmup we went to do the Migot Spur with the group, a classic line in varied terrain, and my first north face in the alps! When we got back in the valley, it started raining, and it wouldn’t stop for the coming week.

Bas in de Migot Spur

The high mountains became inaccessible, and we had to think about alternatives. One day enjoyed ourselves drytooling in the valley, but after this we decided to go to the Sudpfaltz in Germany. I felt sorry for leaving such a place of Chamonix, to go to do some sports climbing 5 hours further north. This is not where I came all the way from Tromsø for! Staying in the rain and doing nothing however is even worse, and fortunately the nature in the Pfaltz is really beautiful. Being in the sunshine and in a green forestry area was also a real pleasure, after not having seen anything green in Tromsø since my arrival there. I honestly never knew that so many different colors of green existed!

I am already looking forward to the next meeting with the expedition academy, hopefully then with better weather!

Update: Tromsø

It almost becomes normal that I start a blogpost with stating that it has been a while ago since my last blogpost, and to after that come up with some excuses (that usually have to do something with that I was too busy climbing). No excuses this time, just the promise that I’ll try to update this blog more frequently.

In January I was welcomed by a snowstorm in Tromsø. It was dark, cold and wet, everything I expected from a place that high north was true. The roads were fully snow-covered, and for a moment the bus from the airport to the student housing didn’t manage to get up the hill. Fortunately the bus driver was used to these conditions and after some trying he made it. The next few days it was only clouded and snowing, and I found it beautiful! Immediately in the first week there was the polar cup organized in the local gym. I helped doing some routesetting and already got to meet many nice climbers and enjoy some Norwegian waffles. I couldn’t have wished for a better start!

Climbing through the big roof to the first place at the Polar Cup

Later, the weather turned out that it could be good as well, making the famous aora’s (northern lights) visible and making Tromsø look even more beautiful. After two months without any sunlight, I woke up one day with the sun visible on the mountain, a few hours later my face was warmed by the first sun since what felt ages. I just couldn’t stop grinning and jumping around in the sunshine, the sun is back!

Hiking in the winter sun

Besides studying, winter life in Tromsø is full with cross-country skiing, ice climbing and randonnee skiing. Cross-country skiing became like a way of transportation for me, and especially after some fresh snowfall you can get literally everywhere on the island on ski’s. When the weather was bad, the climbing gym is close by university so many hours were spent there too.

But the presence of many great opportunities for outdoor climbing couldn’t make me stay just inside, even though it’s cold, snowy and icy on the rocks. Together with Patrick and Steven we decided to try the northface of Blåmann, the highest mountain on Kvaløya. It is a steep wall (85-95 degrees) and all the routes on it are aid. We planned to stay on the wall with a portaledge and took a lot of food and gear with us. And clothes, dressed like colourful fat polar bears we started off. After 4 days of hammering through icy splittercracks we made it halfway the wall. We were stuck there for several hours already on a single move, and decided to go back. It was lots of learning and a true adventure that I will never forget.

After Blåmann it was time to leave Tromsø for a week to go to Chamonix with the Expedition Academy! Next blogpost more…