By Caroline George
Adam and I decided to stay in Eidfjord after the rest of the group (climber Chad Peele, photographer Celin Serbo and rigger/guide Seth Hobby) returned to their respective homes. We had been in Eidfjord for a week and there hadn’t been a good window to climb Dr. Evil since we first spotted it on our scoping day last Monday. We tried on two occasions to climb this impressive and inspiring 500-600m long line but were shot down both times. Winds howled all week, the fjords have been constantly white-capped, and the surrounding summits have disappeared in the blowing snow. With the promise of good weather for the following week, I couldn’t imagine not staying to attempt the first ascent of this world-class route.
Adam and I therefore decided to stay an extra five days. The weather was looking good and we were very motivated … until we woke up to more snow the following day.
We figured that each day it snowed, we would have to wait out at least a day for the route to be somewhat climbable. Last Wednesday, we went on the route to climb what looked like the crux of the route, the first pitch—a 70m long vertical ice pitch offering everything from overhanging mushrooms to very poor and unprotectable ice, the whole topped by a hearty serving of spindrifts. The two steep first pitches led to a lower-angle gully system, which ended at the base of the huge and impressive headwall. Once at the top, I envisioned the view stretching out endlessly over snow-covered flat plateau and huge flat lakes.
The wind moved the snow on the summit and carried it down the face; the gully system in turn funneled the snow down the first two pitches, the only outlet to this loose snow. While we were climbing the first pitch, intense spindrifts kept hitting us, making the climbing difficult and tedious. It hadn’t snowed in the area in quite a while and we were surprised at the amount of snow that was nevertheless coming down on us. Belaying at the top of the pitch was painful. The anchor kept disappearing in the accumulating snow, and snow was blowing inside every open part of my jacket, making me instantly cold and wet. I felt for Chad, who was following the pitch and getting hammered by the intense snow coming his way. It was miserable … and it was neither a snowy nor a windy day! We knew that route would only be climbable on a calm weather day. We waited. We tried. We got shut down, over and over again.
The weather in Norway seems so unpredictable that even the forecasters can’t get it straight. We went to bed with a forecast for no wind and sunshine, and woke up to a forecast of gale-force winds and/or snow. And we knew that with each day of snow, our chances of getting on the route were diminishing. But we hoped and climbed other lesser objectives in the meantime.
Finally, we woke up to blue skies on Thursday. With only two days of climbing left, we decided to try. The forecast was again for no wind. We ignored the ominous whitecaps already forming on the water as we headed north on the ferry. We drove along the windy road that follows the shoreline. The red and yellow houses were covered in more than a foot of fresh snow, the roads were white, the cars buried, and the fields were hidden under a thick blanket of white gold.
We finally caught a glimpse of the route as we came to the end of the plowed road. There was no snow coming down the first two pitches but the headwall was lost in a sea of spindrifts. We heard the wind whistling through the trees. The forecast said there would be no wind today. “The winds are going to die any minute now,” I tell Adam.
Adam broke trail in knee-deep powder. We hadn’t seen the headwall since we left the car, as it was engulfed in a seemingly permanent cloud of snow. We knew the snow was getting deposited somewhere in the gully, but wondered why it wasn’t coming down the first two pitches like it was the day we were on it. As we came to the base of the route, Adam suddenly yelled down to me, “Avalanche! Avalanche! Hide! Hide!” I looked up to see this huge cloud of snow racing down the climb and coming towards me at full speed and force. I saw a rock and tried to run down to it, but the snow was so deep that I couldn’t move fast enough. Before I knew it, I disappeared in the remains of the avalanche. I couldn’t hear Adam for what seemed like the longest time. My heart was pounding. I yelled out his name. No answers. When I finally saw him peering out above me, I was so relieved. We ran out of there and back to the road for safety, just in time to get footage of a smaller second avalanche that went down the whole climb. Had we been anywhere near or on the climb, who knows what would have happened to us.
We leave in two days and it will take days, even weeks, for the route to be in condition again. We will be long gone by then. As I watched the climb get flushed by avalanches, I saw my dreams of this climb get flushed down with it. It no longer makes any sense to wait around for it. You dream, you hope, you try and sometimes, for reasons that are beyond your grasp, your dream will remain just that, a dream. You come to a country. You see a line. You want to climb it. But for all the required conditions to come together within the short amount of time in a defined location, you really need to luck out. We didn’t for this route. But we did for all the other amazing routes we got to climb. And seeing that avalanche and knowing how lucky we were not to have been in it, it wasn’t as hard to let go, and made me all the more appreciative of what we actually got to do on the trip. We are now all the more motivated to make the best out of the few days left to climb in Norway.
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