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Sixty seven years ago the small town of Rjukan in the Telemark region of Norway was some of the most desirable real estate on the planet. Home to the Vermork heavy water plant essential to the Nazi’s nuclear weapons programme it was the scene of several daring commando raids before the production facility was finally destroyed in nineteen forty three by the “Heroes of Telemark”
Nowadays the Rjukan Area in Norway has become well known in recent years as a world centre for ice climbing and its magnificent waterfalls which give a high concentration of ice climbs of all difficulties. The waterfalls vary from short half-pitch exercises to long eight hundred metre full day outings and most are easily reached by short approach walks.
This small industrial town lies in a deep valley hidden from the sun during the winter months. A dark cold place, to live but perfect for providing the stable conditions required for ice climbing.
Twelve of us arrived at the Gjestegård Hostel the temps when we had landed at Oslo was minus twelve degrees but strangely it was an almost tropical minus two here in downtown Rjukan.
Depite arriving in the early hours of the morning we were up early and keen to start climbing. My partner for the week was Nigel Hooker who works as a mountaineering instructor in the UK. I had not climbed with him before but we were an even matched pair soon slotting into an easy rhythm swinging leads all week.
It was our intention to climb some of the bigger icefalls in the main pass during our stay. As we don’t have many frozen waterfalls in York we visited a smaller easy accessible area called Krokan and had a practice session getting used to ice axes, crampons and placing ice screws as protection on steep ice.
Gradually through the week we stepped things up moving onto the harder and bigger waterfalls until finally we stood underneath one of the most impressive waterfalls in the valley directly below the old Vermork heavy water plant, aptly named Sabotørfossen.
This photogenic three pitch route is on the cover of the local guidebook and is regarded as being the best route in the area, it was our number one objective for the trip.
The first pitch was a fifty metre ‘phat’ icefall, it had an easy line on the right but Nigel took a steeper line to the left making it a lot harder.
The second pitch was my lead, the direct opposite of the first, it gave a sixty metre run out with only just enough ice meaning you often had to improvise, using the underlying rock to make progress.
Nigel had the third pitch another fifty metres of steep, brittle chandelier like ice that required a very gentle touch.
Eventually we topped out and found ourselves in the footsteps of the commando’s wandering round the old heavy water plant, today the place was deserted and we soon found our way back down to the valley unchallenged.
The current climbing guide for the area is Heavy Water - Rjukan Ice, published by Rockfax .
Anyone wishing to take part in any mountaineering activities should be aware that these activities are inherently dangerous and as in the article you may have to make critical safety decisions based on your own judgement every time you climb outdoors.
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