Rjukan, Norway: An Ice Climber's Dream
To most foreign climbers Norway is known for Romsdal's Troll Wall (which is now sadly loose after several major rockfalls) and, in winter, an endless supply of frozen waterfalls. This is of course a gross simplification of what really exists in Norway, but the frozen waterfall part is pretty much correct. Due to its renowned wet climate Norway offers an incredible amount of climbed and unclimbed waterfalls. The most accessible waterfalls have mostly been climbed, and there are a couple of venues that have gained more popularity than others. One of these is Rjukan in the central southern region of Norway. Rjukan is situated in a valley, and the town centre sees no sun during the winter months. The location also contributes to a stable cold climate and the valley almost comes with an "ice guarantee". This location coupled with lots of waterfalls running down from the mountains above makes this a perfect arena for the game of ice climbing.
The Ice Climbing
The Rockfax guidebook to Rjukan describes 171 waterfalls. One of the reasons for the popularity of Rjukan is its accessibility and density of waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls in the Rockfax 'Heavy Water' guidebook are reached via short and uncomplicated approaches. Rjukan offers lots of variation with waterfalls from one to 17 pitches in length, and difficulties ranging from WI 2 (Water Ice 2) to M10 (Mixed 10). You can find one pitch mixed climbs with little or no ice on them or you can seek out long fat and slabby waterfalls. The variation of the climbs makes it easy for the visitor to adjust the level of intensity and suits ice climbers of all capabilities, whether you are a novice or a professional. Area overview taken from the Rockfax 'Heavy Water' Guide, © Rockfax.com.
Krokan is found at the top of the valley and offers a one pitch ice crag with routes in all difficulties - very popular and sometimes crowded at weekends. The main attraction of the crag is the wide range of difficulty and easy access offered. Further down you'll find the 'Gorge' which offers atmospheric climbs in a fabulous setting. The Gorge is divided into three areas which have been named Upper Gorge, Vemork Bridge and Lower Gorge. Here you will find the world famous climb Lipton (WI 7), and several other climbs of more amendable difficulty. The walls of the Gorge are practically laced with classics, and you tend to feel very small when navigating the bottom of the Gorge. Around the Rjukan Centre the valley opens up and offers long climbs of mostly reasonable difficulty up to 800m long. If you are trying to squeeze in as much climbing as you can there is actually some waterfalls that are lit up with lighting cannons during the night. Above Rjukan centre you'll find the Gaustatoppen area with a couple of short waterfalls and a dramatically placed amphitheatre towering 800m above the town. A little navigating is needed to find the right way, but the reward is great. This is perhaps Rjukan's most exposed waterfalls.
Further down, towards the lake of Tinnsjøen, the hillsides are covered with ice of mostly amendable difficulty with the occasional desperate climb in between. These areas are Svadde and Bølgen. Sandwiched between those you'll also find the Ozzimosis area with its high concentration of easy one pitch waterfalls and the unbeatable 5 minutes approach making it very popular. There are a couple of amphitheatres around Tinnsjøen (lake) that offer some of the same kind of magic you'll find in the Gorge. Mæl, Jailhouse Ice and Kong Vinter areas are all very worthwhile destinations. The chances are good that you'll be there alone as well. This is in big contrast to Krokan which can be crowded, especially at weekends. Finally there are the Presenil and Hovinbøle areas. Presenil has got loads of lines that we do not think has had an ascent yet, it is up for grabs, but is protected by some approach and they are exposed to the sun. Hovinbøle offers two long waterfalls which involves some navigating and approach.
As previously mentioned, most of the waterfalls at Rjukan are protected from the sun. The earliest ascents recorded at Rjukan have been done in the beginning of October but this month is obviously not a good choice. If you want the best conditions, with stable ice that has settled, you should consider mid December to the end of March, with February as prime time. January has got short days, but mostly good conditions. February is much like January, but also provides longer days. The average temperature for January and February is -6.5 C to -7.5 C, but you can encounter -25 C or less if you are unlucky. Periods of extremely cold weather are usually not long (2-3 days).
Rjukan is also famous for its World War 2 history and the brave actions performed in the area which were immortalised in the film Heros of Telemark. You can read more about the WW2 history at the tourist offices web pages. (Click the location map thumbnail to the left for a larger view, © Rockfax.com). The town was originally built up around a large industrial company (Hydro) but in recent years the industry has been built down dramatically. This has led the town to find other ways of making an income and they have started work towards marketing Rjukan as a tourist objective. The area has lots to offer with the mighty peak of Gaustatoppen (1883m) towering above the town. There is a very good skiing centre located there which draws lots of visitors and there are also lots of off-piste possibilities in the area. Because Rjukan is trying to develop tourism they are very welcome and friendly towards visitors and accommodation is usually no problem to find. A useful place to start is the web pages of the tourist office.
How to get there
Ryanair.com offer cheap flights to Norway from Stanstead, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow (Prestwick) to Sandefjord airport Torp (referred to as Oslo airport Torp by Ryan Air). From there you can choose either to go by bus to Rjukan, or more practically hire a car.
The Guidebook (Out of Print)
The guidebook, Heavy Water - Rjukan Ice, describes 171 waterfalls across the area with full-colour photo-topos and detailed maps. This guidebook is the first Rockfax printed book to a Norwegian area and their first venture into Water Ice climbing. Areas reresented include: Krokan, Upper Gorge, Vemork, Lower Gorge, Rjukan Centre, and many more. The author of this article, Tom Atle Bordevik, is one of the authors of the book.
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