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Georges Take on Vøringfossen, Norway’s Esteemed Waterfall
Posted on March 5, 2010

By Caroline George

The forecast this morning is for sunshine and no wind. We drive to climb Will’s route, a 400m long WI5+ climb, but the wind is blowing snow so strongly that we can’t even make out the road. The summits are again lost in a cloud of snow. The forecast was wrong yet again, and it’s time for us to move on from Eidfjord. But we still have one climb that we are hoping to achieve—Vøringfossen.

Vøringfossen means “esteemed waterfall” in Norwegian. I first catch a glimpse of this 600-foot-high waterfall as Adam and I are headed to climb the neighboring Fosslifossen. The roar of Vøringfossen—a semi-frozen waterfall, rages so strongly that we can’t even hear each other as we stand side by side. I haven’t seen many similar climbs in my life. The Chute de Montmorcency in Quebec and Bridal Veil Falls in Utah are the only ones I can think of. The Chute de Montmorency is a huge waterfall that doesn’t freeze in the winter, but the walls on its sides do and are climbable. Bridal Veil Falls doesn’t have as heavy a flow. Vøringfossen really looks like a crying bride’s veil, with the veil (its ice walls) on each side and on the forehead, and the face is wide-open free-flowing water. Water just pours down from the “forehead” in such a powerful way that it makes the canyon floor vibrate. The ground is littered with huge ice boulders, which gives it even more of an unwelcoming feeling. It gives me the creeps. No wonder it hasn’t been climbed, I think to myself.

We go back to the hotel, pack our bags and make a reservation in Gol, which is halfway between Eidfjord and Oslo, near Hemsedal, where there is a world-class ice climb we really want to do before we leave. Vøringfossen is on the way out of town in the direction of Gol. We drive up the road winding through the Måbødalen valley, east of Eidfjord and park at the seasonally closed Vøringfossen Cafe. Three 70m long rappels get us to the bottom of the wind-sheltered canyon where Vøringfossen is located.

From the bottom of the rappels, we hike a few minutes up canyon to the base of this deafeningly raging, mouth-gaping waterfall. It looks like it might eat me alive, yet I am comforted that it looks exactly the same as it did when we were last down in the canyon a week ago. With all of this flowing water and warmer temperatures, I expected drastic changes. We gear up in a sheltered alcove to the right of the climb. Adam leads the first 70m pitch and builds an anchor level with the “forehead” of the waterfall. The rope comes tight and I start climbing. I hear water running behind the ice I am climbing on. Although I know water isn’t going to burst out at me, I still try to climb as fast as I can, trying to run away from the noise, the water and the sound of blocks falling from the hole in the “forehead.” The pitch is very wet and I am overwhelmed by the loud roar. Seeing Adam’s smile above me is very comforting. He doesn’t seem to be concerned.

“Follow the line of least resistance, I don’t want to be on this climb for longer than I need to,” he says as he hands me the rest of the gear, puts me on belay, and sees me on my way up the second pitch. The climbing is harder than it looks, but it’s also less wet than it’s been until now, which is a sign that the water isn’t flowing as hard right below the ice I’m climbing on. The climbing is much easier to the left, but that would mean getting too close to the main waterfall so I opt for the harder section to stay as far left as I can. One more pitch takes us to the top. But the adventure doesn’t end here. We have to hike up a long riverbed to exit the canyon. We decide to stay roped up for this section, as there are huge pools of deep and dark moving water along the way that we have to somehow contour. I can’t even fathom the outcome of falling into one of those pools. The banks are frozen however, and we find a way around them and out of the canyon. Our car is waiting for us at the top. We warm up in the now glowing sun.

After getting worked over by weather the past couple of days, I feel a great sense of peace and satisfaction for having done what seems to be the first ascent of Vøringfossen—one of Norway’s most-visited waterfalls. It was an intense experience. It’s eerie and disconcerting to climb up a medium that, although you know it should be solid, somehow feels like it could just disappear from under you as you climb it. That’s the thing with high-volume waterfalls. They are scary. But when you push through your own level of comfort, you feel an even greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Vøringfossen is indeed the “esteemed waterfall.”

We drive on to Gol, through a vast desert of white snow dunes. Tomorrow, we will climb one of Norway’s test pieces, a 170m long route. Stay tuned!

Author: - Friday, March 5th, 2010
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