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What It Takes to Complete First Ascents
Posted on March 2, 2010

First Ascent Guide Caroline George

By Caroline George

Completing the first ascent of a route means that you are the first person to climb the route … ever. That might seem obvious, but here in Norway, it’s all but a given. There are not many local ice climbers here, and those who climb don’t always communicate their ascents. This makes it hard for anyone to know what has or has not been done. Basically, the routes we have just climbed here in Norway are first ascents until proven otherwise, or until someone speaks up to the contrary. So far, we have completed three first ascents: Goldmember, Mini Me and Blue Steel. But there is one that we have all fallen in love with—”Dr. Evil”—a 500-600m long world-class ice climb north of Eidfjord. Time is closing in on us and conditions are not improving, yet we are still hopeful.

When you decide to attempt a first ascent, you are taking a risk, the risk that someone may have already climbed the route (which you find out later, or would show as you climb the route with anchors left behind) and the risk that you may not climb it. Indeed, with no information at hand, it’s hard to know exactly what gear to take, how long it’s going to take, how many pitches or what the approach is going to be like. The visual of the route will help answer a few questions, but not all of them. You might get on the route one day and realize that it’s bigger and badder than you thought it would be, you might not have the right gear for it, it might take longer than you thought it would, or a section might not be climbable. So you’ll have to come back, until you get it right. When I first saw “Dr. Evil,” I knew that this was the one line I wanted to climb on this trip and it’s been haunting me since. Although I know most of the answers to the above questions, we have been struggling with conditions.

First ascents also require mental and physical strength. With a guidebook, you know what’s ahead, what the next crux of the route is going to be, and what gear you’ll need. But with first ascents, you don’t have much information to feed your worried mind. You have to be ready for whatever is thrown at you. You overcome a difficult section, look up, and find one or more ahead. You are tired and you need to dig deep to push on. This is particularly true for longer routes. You need to be physically and technically strong enough to climb through the hard sections. It’s important that on the D-Day, you feel ready mentally, physically and technically.

To achieve this equilibrium, it’s important to strategize on the trip. Climb some established routes or do other first ascents, but keep in mind that there is a big day coming up and you need to be rested and motivated when it arrives. It also means looking at the weather forecast and figuring out what day is going to be THE day for the route. First ascents take strategy and the commitment that you will have done everything in your power to get to the top of the elected route.

Adam and I are still in Eidfjord. Since the rest of the group left, it’s been snowing heavily every day. Yesterday, we wanted to do the second ascent of a test piece route that was put up only a few days ago by world-renowned ice climber Will Gadd. We broke trail to the base and climbed the first two pitches in a full snowstorm. It was bluebird at the car, so we regrettably left our shells behind and got soaked. We tried to conserve energy for Dr. Evil today. Last night, the forecast was looking good but we had 4.8mm of snow by 4 a.m.! We tried anyway, but again got shut down by the weather, so we drove toward the only blue sky around Eidfjord and climbed a 240m WI5 route we had seen a few days prior. We were hoping it would be a first ascent, but we found some old gear on the route and my heart sank. Snow continued to fall on us all day long, but, we enjoyed an awesome day out on the ice nonetheless.

We have three days left to climb our “project.” The forecast is for sunshine tomorrow, but the forecasts we’ve been getting are unpredictable and after each day of snow, we need one day for the conditions on the route to improve. We will try again Friday. We strategized as best we could for this route, we took a risk by wanting to do it, and although we have been climbing a lot, we are still super-motivated to get to the top! Now, if only the conditions would improve. Stay tuned!

Author: - Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

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