Then we were ready to leave. Me, Anders, Mette and their cute baby Emma. We are going to the Jotunheimen National Park, more specifically to the Hurrungane area. Anders and I are going to climb the beautiful mountain called Store Skagastølstind.
Anders is strong making the tracks in deeper and deeper snow. Using our ice axes as support we slowly but steadily make our way upwards.
We had been waiting on weather during the weekend due to winds up to 54 knots (29 m/s). The forecast told us that Tuesday would be a good day for climbing. A day with both clouds, sun, dry and just nice. Temperatures would be (and was) around -5 to -10 degrees (23 to 14 degree Farhenheit). This would be good since Anders’ hands are not made for winter climbing.
The road led us to Lærdal, reaching Sognefjorden. We take the ferry over open waters towards the village Sogndal. We arrive in Sogndal, but stop briefly before continuing driving towards Hurrungane.
Now this is not the first attempt attacking Store Skagastølstind during winter. There have been several attempts. It is almost a yearly activity with little time and harsh winter conditions. In the past we have attempted the climb in strong winds as well as in very poor weather. The difference this year is the time available for the project as well as premium conditions for such a task. The ever present risk of an avalanche is not considered high for us, the sun will be joining us and the winds are showing only a small breeze. This could be the day!
We press on, but it is not the best feeling with avalanches going off in close proximity..HMK
So here we go. A quick stop in Gaupne to let Mette and Emma get housing for the night, and then continue up to the starting point at Turtagrø. Arriving at Turtagrø we put up our tent, pack the final gear and make everything ready for next day. At 20:00 the lights goes out and sleep commences. To be honest we did not sleep to much the first hours thinking about the task ahead.
04:00: We start skiing up towards the hut of the Norwegian Alpine Club (NTK). Continuing past the hut we continue towards “Bandet” located at the foot of the mountain. At 08:00 we arrive at the stone cabin at “Bandet”. Here we grab some food, rig up the last of the gear, install the crampons on our boots. Once again we are prepared to attack the mountain head on.
At 08:30 the climb starts slow for my part with Anders taking the lead. He is strong making the tracks in deeper and deeper snow. Using our ice axes as support we slowly but steadily make our way upwards. The sun is out now and takes small peeks at us in between the clouds making it pretty warm and cosy going up the mountain side.
While crossing one of the steep snow fields a thundering noise hits us. An avalanche is rushing down on the other side of the valley. This could be a reaction to the sun’s heat and conclude that the area we are walking in is as stable as it can be. We press on, but it is not the best feeling with avalanches going off in close proximity.
Finally we reach the slabs which are located directly below the couloir we are going to climb. The slabs are covered with ice and snow which is great for climbing. In this area some climbers choose to use rope and protection. Since we do not usually do this neither summer nor winter, we charge on “free climbing” with our crampons and ice axes to save time. Again we are slowly climbing upwards, meter by meter / foot by foot / axe by axe. Here we could have saved some time by choosing a route closer on the left side of the slabs.
In the couloir.
Slowly reality hits us, but still we continue..HMK
At 12:00 we reach the top of the slabs and arrive at the ‘’Andrews’’ couloir. This is supposed to be our route of the day the last 2-2.5 pitches to the top. The couloir is slippery rock going all the way up with no ice or snow on it, only in the cracks.
At 12:30 we have just started to climb. Now this is where it gets tricky for us. It does not look good. We do not possess the skills for this winter climb. Slowly reality hits us, but still we continue. I start sliding on the rocks in the couloir and we understand that this is not as easy as we thought. We evaluate the situation and even how bad it feels to turn, it not a question of if to bail but when to bail. Let me emphasize – time was not the issue here. Good climbers with only 2 – 2 ½” pitch to go would have been able to climb to the top, make a rappel and be at the base of the couloir pretty fast (fast is relative term).
At this point we do what we need to do, climb our way down belaying each other alpine style. Arriving at the slabs area we make a rappel and make our way to “Bandet” at the foot of the mountain again. The weather is great with the sun shining, sending bits of ice from the mountain raining down upon us. It is such a great day, but we are of course missing that bonus of getting to the top.
At 16:30 we arrive at “Bandet” having used a lot more time than first expected. We re-pack our rucksacks, put our Randonnè skiis on and leave once again the mountain which repeatedly has said that we are not up to the task. To still have light we make our way down to Turtagrø enjoying some great skiing arriving at our car approximately at 18:00. It is nice when able to ski down the mountain making it a quick return. We pick up Mette and Emma, and leave knowing we will return for this winter climb again.
..we will return for this winter climb againHMK
In retrospective it is easy to say we should have pushed on to the top anyway, but I am still confident that is was the right decision to bail in the couloir. We know what is required more than ever, which either can motivate or discourage us. We like to keep motivated, so I hope that we will have a lot of fun along the way till the next time on the mountain.