Rjukan - An Ice Climber's Dreamby Tom Atle Bordevik Oct/2010
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To many foreign climbers Norway is known for Romsdal's Troll Wall (which now is sadly loose after several major rockfalls), the glorious granite of Lofoten and, in winter, an endless supply of frozen waterfalls.
This is of course a gross simplification of what really exists in Norway, but the frozen waterfall part is spot on. Due to its renowned wet climate Norway offers an incredible amount of climbed and unclimbed waterfalls. The most accessible waterfalls have mostly been climbed, and there are a couple of venues that have gained more popularity than others. One of these is Rjukan in the middle of the southern part of Norway.
Rjukan is situated in a valley, and the town centre sees no sun during the winter months. The location also contributes to a stable cold climate and the valley almost comes with an "ice guarantee". This location coupled with lots of waterfalls running down from the mountains above makes this a perfect arena for the game of ice climbing.
The Rockfax guidebook to Rjukan describes 171 waterfalls. One of the reasons for the popularity of Rjukan is its accessibility and density of waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls described in the book are reached via short and uncomplicated approaches.
Rjukan offers lots of variation with waterfalls from one to 17 pitches in length, and difficulties ranging from WI 2 (Water Ice 2) to M10 (Mixed 10). You can find one pitch mixed climbs with little or no ice on them or you can seek out long fat and slabby waterfalls. The variation of the climbs makes it easy for the visitor to adjust the level of intensity and suits ice climbers of all capabilities, whether you are a novice or a professional.
Krokan is found at the top of the valley and offers a one pitch ice crag with routes in all difficulties - very popular and sometimes crowded at weekends. The main attraction of the crag is the wide range of difficulty and easy access offered.
Further down you'll find the Gorge which offers atmospheric climbs in a fabulous setting. The gorge is divided into three areas which are called Upper Gorge, Vemork Bridge and Lower Gorge. Here you will find the world famous climb Lipton (WI 7), and several other climbs of more amendable difficulty. The walls of the gorge are practically laced with classics, and you tend to feel small when you are navigating the bottom of the Gorge.
Around the Rjukan Centre the valley opens up and offers long climbs of mostly reasonable difficulty up to 800m long.
Above Rjukan centre you'll find the Gaustatoppen area with a couple of short waterfalls and a dramatically placed amphitheatre towering 800m above the town. A little navigating is needed to find the right way, but the reward is great. This is perhaps Rjukan's most exposed waterfalls.
Further down, towards the lake of Tinnsjøen, the hillsides are covered with ice of mostly amendable difficulty with the occasional desperate climb in between. These areas are Svadde and Bølgen. Sandwiched between those you'll also find the Ozzimosis area with its high concentration of easy one pitch waterfalls and the unbeatable 5 minutes approach making it very popular.
There are a couple of amphitheatres around Tinnsjøen (lake) that offers some of the same kind of magic you'll find in the Gorge. Mæl, Jailhouse Ice and Kong Vinter areas are all very worthwhile destinations. The chances are good that you'll be there alone as well. This is in big contrast to Krokan which can be crowded, especially at weekends.
Finally there are the Presenil and Hovinbøle areas. Presenil has got loads of lines that we do not think has had an ascent yet, it is up for grabs, but is protected by some approach and they are exposed to the sun. Hovinbøle offers two long waterfalls which involves some navigating and approach.
Rjukan is also famous for its World War 2 history and the brave actions performed in the area which were immortalised in the film Heros of Telemark. You can read more about the WW2 history at the tourist offices web pages.
The town was originally built up around a large industrial company (Hydro) but in recent years the industry has been built down dramatically. This has led the town to find other ways of making an income and they have started work towards marketing Rjukan as a tourist objective. The area has lots to offer with the mighty peak of Gaustatoppen (1883m) towering above the town. There is a very good skiing centre located there which draws lots of visitors and there are also lots of off-piste possibilities in the area.
When do I go?
As previously mentioned, most of the waterfalls at Rjukan are protected from the sun. The earliest ascents recorded at Rjukan have been done in the beginning of October but this month is obviously not a good choice. If you want the best conditions, with stable ice that has settled, you should consider mid December to the end of March, with February as prime time. January has got short days, but mostly good conditions. February is much like January, but also provides longer days. The average temperature for January and February is -6.5 C to -7.5 C, but you can encounter -25 C or less if you are unlucky. Periods of extremely cold weather are usually not long (2-3 days).
Who flies where?
Ryan Air offer cheap flights to Norway from Stanstead, Liverpool, Newcastle and Glasgow/Prestwick to Sandefjord airport Torp (referred to as Oslo airport Torp by Ryan air). Ryan Air do have a limiting baggage allowance though of 20kg max (hand and hold baggage) with the excess being expensive. From Torp you can choose either to go by bus to Rjukan, or more practically hire a car. Driving time from Oslo Torp is approximately 3 hours, and from Oslo Airport Gardermoen it is 3.5 hours. It is good idea to buy a road map, which is obtainable at any petrol station. Be aware of the need to take care on some of the roads, and Road 37 in particular, if you are not used to driving in winter conditions with special winter tyres.
Norwegian Air have equally cheap flight fares and 2 x 20kg allowed plus 10kg carry-on baggage. They fly to Gardermoen which is just as easy to get to Rjukan from..
Where do I stay?
There is a variety options for accommodation in and around Rjukan. The Tourist Office is a good place to start. It is a good idea to book your stay in advance and this is especially true around the weekend late in February when the Annual Ice Climbing Festival is held (varying dates each year). Easter is also crowded and so are the Norwegian winter holidays (usually around the last week in February, first in March). With the exception of these dates it is usually easy to find accommodation. Also check the Rockfax web site for more accommodation possibilities.
Shopping and Prices
You will need some Norwegian currency - Kroner - but often you will be able to pay with a credit card. Rjukan is a small town but most of what you need is available within the town. There are supermarkets - Rimi, Meny, Prix and Kiwi - which will provide food, beer etc. Liquor and strong beer must be bought at the Vinmonopolet which is a government-controlled alcohol outlet. The price of alcohol in Norway is high due to taxes. Generally the prices in Norway are high and this is especially true of dining out. There is a restaurant at the Park Hotel Rjukan and fast food on the opposite side of the road. There is also a Chinese restaurant.
Heavy Water - Rjukan Ice (Dec 2005)
The fine waterfall and ice climbing to be found in the Rjukan Valley of Norway. A full-colour guidebook with 128 pages and all the usual Rockfax features.
Other Information Sources
Rockfax Web Site - www.rockfax.com
Tourist Office - www.visitrjukan.com
Web cam -www.telemark-opplevelser.no
Mountain Environment - www.mountain-environment.com
www.iceclimbrjukan.com - www.iceclimbrjukan.com