We pull into Ossa, a little hamlet across the ferry north of Eidfjord, sitting on the tip of one of Norway’s many fjords. A striking blue line peers from behind a rocky outcrop. We drive to the end of the road and the view reveals two long pillars of bright blue ice. The first one starts wide and narrows down to a long, steep and proud-looking pillar. The approach to it looks long and tedious, but we are certain this is a first ascent. Most of the climbs that have been achieved around Eidfjord are close to the road, and close to the town. This climb, however, is a solid hour away and in the middle of nowhere.
We hike 20 minutes up the unplowed road and see yet another line. This one is big. No, it’s huge! It’s THE line. It’s Dr. Evil!
We plan our week according to the forecast…for the best weather window to ascend Dr. Evil. Unfortunately, the forecast is for wind. Chad and I decide that Mini Me, being a little more sheltered than Dr. Evil, would be a great alternative. We hike up the trail and see a bridge that will get us across the canyon that is in front of us. Chad breaks trail up the mossy, snow-covered boulder field. Each climb so far has required some heinous boulder hopping on the approach. The wide slope we hike up narrows down to a deep and narrow gully. We gear up and climb over a few low-angle steps of ice until we are below the route. It looks beautiful. The ice is blue and shiny and it looks like it’s in great condition. I am so excited to get on it!
We drop our packs inside a little cave, take the ice screws and draws out of the pack, uncoil the ropes, and pack a small pack with food, warm drinks and a belay jacket for the climb. Chad starts up the steep wall. I feed him rope as he climbs out of sight. As I follow the pitch, I am surprised at how steep it is. Perspective always changes when you’re on a climb. As usual, I suffer from a bad case of “screaming barfies” (cold fingers) halfway through the pitch. I alternate hands on the upper tool and shake my hands so that blood flows back to my fingertips. It hurts. I keep going until I reach Chad, who is belaying me way left on the climb. He picked this spot so that he wouldn’t get shelled by ice as I led the next pitch. I give him the backpack, take the rest of his gear, and am shortly on my way. A long traverse right gets me to the base of the main pillar on the route. I am so excited to climb it. It’s steep. Just the way I like it. I progress steadily until a cracking sound stops me. Swinging into the ice often causes the ice to fracture, but the noise usually doesn’t last more than a second. I look down as the ice keeps fracturing from the pick of my ice axe all the way to my crampons. I know that pillar is solidly attached to the rock wall behind, but I can’t help wondering what is going on. Since no one has ever been on this climb before, the ice holds a lot of tension and that’s probably all this is… tension releasing. My heart is beating hard. But I keep going, hoping that it won’t happen again.
I belay on a tree at the top of the 70m rope stretcher pitch. This is the top of the climb. Above me are three more body lengths of very low-angle ice that won’t add anything to the route. I put Chad on belay. He starts up and I keep the rope tight between him and the anchor. Suddenly, the rope comes very tight. I wonder what happened but don’t hear anything for a while. I assume that he fell and will get back on the route. But there is no motion. Eventually, I hear Chad yelling, “I lost a tool! You need to lower me!” I am not sure what he means by that. We are so far apart that communication is difficult. Is his ice axe below him and can he reach it? Where am I to lower him? Suddenly, the rope is unweighed. Has he found a way to climb with one tool up this steep and blank ice wall? I thread the ropes and put myself on rappel to see what is going on. As I go down, I remove the screws I placed on lead for protection. Chad comes into sight and he is hanging from an anchor he built for himself in the ice. Chad being unable to climb the final pitch with one tool and unable to communicate, decided to remove himself from the ropes so that I could rappel. He is OK and I am relieved. We decide to go down. One of us summited and that will have to do. I go past him and build an anchor a little lower down. He raps down to me. And we head on down to our packs and rappel the gully.
Of course, it’s always nicer to share the top of a climb with your climbing partner. It would have made the climb that much more spectacular. It didn’t happen, but we still got the first ascent of this Norwegian gem together! This beautiful 140m WI5 route is my favorite one so far because it’s so esthetic and because of the approach, which gives it a great alpine feel.
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