|Rjukan Ice Climbing Page
|This page offers information about ice climbing in the Rjukan area in southern Norway. Since about 2005, Rjukan has become known as Northern Europe's
premier ice climbing venue and is visited by climbers from all over the world. In the month of February, there can be several hundred ice climbers in the town. The
area is also a good base for cross-country skiing with many kilometers of marked trails - including onto the vast Hardangervidda plateau. There is also an alpine
skiing centre at Gaustablikk. I first visited Rjukan in 1998 and interestingly, most first ascents here were not made until the 1990's with only a handful being
climbed before this. Since 1998, I have been active in putting Rjukan on the world map and have climbed here on numerous trips, most recently in 2012. As there
are so many routes, it is well worth training for a visit here to get most out of a trip - though there is certainly more ice than can be climbed in two or even 10 visits!
|Stable cold conditions usually prevail, however in January 2005 there was a warm spell that put climbing on hold for a while, here in Krokan below.
|An alternative to the abseil from the bridge is to walk into the gorge from the
north east corner of the car park before the bridge. Left, walking down into the
gorge with the icefall Host directly in front. Host is a good long single pitch WI 4
icefall that finishes by the railings on the road, which allow you to abseil in.
When climbing multipitch icefalls you must be able to set up an adequate belay
on the climb and protect the stance when the second becomes the leader. On
some of the icefalls you may be able to use the rock walls or trees alongside,
however, there are many occasions were you will need to be competent at
setting up a hanging belay on ice were you have to think much more about
equalising the anchors and about potential fall factors as the second leads off
on the next pitch. Below left, equalised screws with the rope neatly coiled over
the sling and the rope clipped into the upper screw to reduce the potential fall
factor when the second leads off from the stance. If you are looking for
somewhere to practice multi-pitch techniques on easy ground then 100m to the
left of Vemork you will find a large open grade 2 icefall. The icefall can be seen
easily from below and is called Susse's Veil after my wife and offers many
variations with some short steep sections. Below, Abalakov anchors are an
essential technique for retreat or descent from icefalls. A single Abalakov is
usually strong enough, but for 3-man teams two anchors can always be drilled
about half a meter apart and joined in a central abseil point using a single 3m
length of cord. A hook is essential - home made hooks work just as well!
|The gorge below Vemork is another popular climbing area. By the Vemork bridge there are several excellent falls. The pictures below are taken from the bridge, left
is Vemorkbrufoss Øst (WI 4) and right, Vemorkbrufoss Vest (WI 5), both 2 pitch routes with easy access by abseiling from the bridge.
|Below left, a little further downstream is the magnificent multi-pitch waterfall Trappfoss (WI4) which is an eye catcher from the road above Våer, especially by the
bend at Svingfoss. To its left, the obvious pillar is Juvsøjla (WI 6). These falls are best approached from by the road tunnel mentioned before. At the top of these
routes you can continue up through the trees to catch the forest track back down to Krokan. Further downstream is Vemork (below right) with the excellent Nye
Vemorkfoss (WI5) that finishes just to the right of the museum. For this and other routes follow the gorge from the car park by the Vemork bridge.
|Above, a little further upstream you will find Jomfrau (WI 4) and to its right, Fyrstikka (WI5) - here as seen from the approach. Below left, leading the central line on
Bullen and right, Jomfrau seen from below with its steeper initial 12m or so before it eases off to easier ground up to the anchor.
|Below, my favourite axes and 30cm of fresh snow - so although everybody makes sure they have the right gear for climbing, the right transport is also vital.
|The first guide for ice climbing in the Rjukan area 'Isfører for Rjukan' was compiled by Jon Haukåssveen in the mid 1990's. Jon, who lives in Våer (pronounced
Vower) a few kilometers west of Rjukan, has been the pioneer in this area and he has been the first accensionist on many routes. After visiting Rjukan several times
in the late 1990's, I made contact with Jon with the aim of producing a new guide with maps showing the location of the routes and access. The first guide was
without maps and it was pretty impossible to figure out the location of the routes from the descriptions. We sent photographs and drawings backwards and forwards
and this resulted in a 'summary guide' which I made available on this site in 2002. It could be used alone or as an excellent companion to Jons' descriptive guide,
which was available in Norwegian at the time. More recently, Jon has launched a new website and a company called Telemark Opplevelser. Prior to the 2003/04
winter season, Jon sent me corrections to the 2002 guide, including correcting the location of several routes and a couple of grade changes. I have also had contact
with Andreas Spak, another local, who has been pioneering new hard mixed and dry-tooling routes. Andreas' ambition has been to establish Rjukan as Northern
Europe's number 1 ice and mixed climbing playground. Andreas has an impressive website and guides in the area. My latest summary guide from 2005 contains
155 routes from WI 2 to WI 7 (water ice grades), mixed routes to M 10 and dry-tooling routes to D 10. There is also the odd aid route. Many of the icefalls are
photographed on this page and will aid you if you are visiting the area for the first time. The summary guide can be downloaded below as a pdf file:
Download the Rjukan Ice - A Summary Guide here
In December 2005 a new guide to the Rjukan area "Heavy Water" was published by Rockfax. The guide is written by Jon Haukåssveen and Tom Atle Bordevik and is
in the classic Rockfax format with descriptions of 171 icefalls and mixed routes and plenty of colour photographs. This guide is recommended as the perfect
companion when visiting the area, well done Jon and Tom! For those of you eager for more information straight away, then read on...
Getting To Rjukan
Rjukan is located 175 km west of Oslo, 370 km east of Stavanger, 290 km east of Haugesund and 175 km from Larvik. You can sail to Stavanger from the UK and to
Kristiansand, Larvik or Oslo from Denmark. However, the quickest option is to fly to Oslo or Haugesund, then possibly take the direct bus from Oslo or hire a car.
You will need a car to get around the area if you do not want to be limited to the routes close to the town centre. The vast majority of the routes are all within 20 km of
the town. Rjukan is located on the main road number 37 in a deep narrow valley, in fact the town doesn't see the sun for 4 months of the year. A few kilometers west
of the town, the valley narrows to a deep canyon - Maristjuvet. This is where the village of Våer and the Vemork meseum are located.
|The Ice Climbing Season
Due to Norway's position in northern Europe and its exposure to the North and Arctic seas it produces excellent conditions for ice climbing and a long season.
Precipitation during the autumn on the fells from low pressure weather systems originating in the west give the amount of water required and then long periods of
cold weather due to high pressure systems sitting over the land mass during winter driving cold air down from the Arctic produce fantastic frozen waterfalls which
can be up to several meters thick. The first routes in Rjukan are climbable from late October (those high on Gaustatoppen) and there are many routes still in good
condition (those on the north facing side of the valley, especially Krokan and Ozzimosis) until late March. Visiting the area in December/January can be a very cold
affair, with short days and temperatures regularly below -10 degrees. Visiting in February and early March gives the advantage of slightly higher temperatures and
more daylight. In late March the number of ice falls in condition is reduced and higher temperatures can make approaching routes difficult or even dangerous.
Driving & Accommodation
Choose accommodation in or near Rjukan to avoid driving long distances each day. Remember winter driving in Norway is different to driving in the UK. They do not
use salt on the roads but grit. Also, Norwegian law states that your car must be fitted with tyres that give adequate grip. Hire cars will be fitted with winter tyres and
all vehicles must have snow chains should conditions dictate that drivers use them - it is therefore necessary to carry a set (for 2 tyres) in the boot. The road to
Gaustablikk and near Våer is quite steep and can be very slippery. For accommodation, check out the Rjukan tourist office for links. One possibility is Rjukan Hytte
& Caravan Park, 7km north east of Rjukan centre. They have good cabins which are cheap and you can also camp here and use the adequate facilities. Staying up
by the Gaustablikk ski area will cost you quite a bit more. There is also Rjukan Hytteby in the centre. From the 2006 season, two newly refurbished apartments in
the village of Våer overlooking Vemork are available for rent. They are owned by a group of English climbers, see their website at Rjukan.co.uk for more information.
Other Activities, Cafés & Gear Shops
If you get worn out ice climbing then Gaustatoppen offers easier winter mountaineering. The mountain, at 1881m, allows views of 1/6 of Norway on a clear day. The
top is a narrow ridge and the major flanks offer good grade I-II ground. Watch out for high winds, predominantly from the north-west, as the ridge is very narrow in
places with steep drops off to both sides. At the SSE end of the summit ridge there is a DNT hut which has a small winter room open all year round. In the area
there is also skiing at the ski centre and endless opportunities for snowshoeing or cross country skiing. A visit to Krossobanen which is open all year, even if just
for the view, is well worth it, as too is the museum at Vemork. For a day off then there is a good swimming hall in the centre of Rjukan at "Rjukan badet" and a
couple of good cafés including "Café Nyetider" on the main road in the very centre of town, close to Intersport which stocks all the winter climbing kit necessary.
Below, Café Nyetider and Intersport in the centre of Rjukan - both well worth a visit.
|The Climbing Areas around Rjukan
The area around Rjukan has been divided into 6 main areas from A to F as
described here and shown in the drawing. Rjukan town centre is in Area D.
Follow the road 37 west from Rjukan past Våer and through the Maristjuvet
tunnel. Park at Krokan Fjellstue just after the tunnel on the right. For the Krokan
area follow the small road opposite towards Gausdalen for 300m before
dropping down through the trees to the left. Alternatively, turn left at the wide
open area after 200m and follow the small ridge leftwards to the frozen
riverbed. This area is perfect for beginners as many of the routes can easily be
top-roped. For the Arne area follow the main road about 50m towards the
tunnel and then follow the tourist path for Rjukanfossen. For routes in the upper
gorge, you must walk down or abseil into the canyon near the road tunnel, or
walk up from the bridge at Vemork (see Area B).
Area B is located near Vemork in the gorge. Drive to Våer and follow the road
towards Arbejdesmuseum Vemork, park in the car park before the bridge. It is
possible to get into the canyon by abseiling from the bridge or walking down
from the north east corner of the car park. Here there are many classic routes.
Area C is between Våer and Krosso. Parking is along the main road 37 in the
marked places. For routes on the south (shaded) side of the valley it is
possible to walk from Vemork or Rjukan along the disused railway.
Area D is between Krosso and the eastern side of Rjukan near Svadde. There
is ample parking in Rjukan, such as near the youth hostel for routes on the
south (shaded) side of the valley.
Area E is from the area west of Svadde to 7km north east of Rjukan. Access to
many of the routes is along the road to the Gaustablikk ski area. The collection
of routes at the second hairpin bend are excellent. Some of the routes are in a
great mountain location on the northern slopes of Gaustatoppen.
This area covers the large area around Tinnsjø. The area is not well described
in the summary guide but has in-fact seen several areas been developed since
2005 especially above Mael, which is clearly visible from the valley.
|Below right, climbers on the bolted line just to the left of the not-fully-formed icefall Tipp (WI5). Below right, to the right of Tipp, the 28m high icefall Gaustaspøkelse
(WI4) with a tree branch at the top of the waterfall. Unfortunately in recent years the branch has got broken off, as at one time it went right across the top of the
icefall and in lean conditions is was necessary to climb under the branch. The top of Gaustaspøkelse is often near vertical.
|A little further downstream from the Arne area, the river flows over Rjukanfossen (WI4) and into the gorge proper. The gorge is called Marisjuvet and is named after
the story of Mari who allegedly followed her love to her death by jumping into the depths of the canyon. It is possible to walk to the Rjukanfoss viewing area from
the car park at Krokan Fjellstue, mentioned above. Although you cannot see Rjukanfossen from directly above, you get a good view of Lipton (WI7), arguably the
areas' most challenging icefall. Also, it is possible to access the upper gorge from along the footpath - often with an abseil to start - and it is a good idea to put
crampons on before starting the descent as it is often icy. Alternatively one can descend from the track that runs alongside the road tunnel. Other good routes in
the upper gorge include Verdens Ende (WI5) and Juledagsfossen (WI4). Below left, Lipton, which gets its name from the colour of the ice and right Rjukanfossen.
|Further down the valley and lining the hillsides are a significant number of half and full day excursions available by climbing some of the icefalls that are between 3
and 17 pitches long. Most of these icefalls are substantial and therefore allow you to choose the line and thus grade, usually WI2-3 with shorter sections of WI4
should you choose the most difficult line. The popular long icefalls such as Fabrikkfossen attract many parties in good conditions. In the gorge itself, then there is a
good area called Hjemreisen, 3km from Rjukan centre towards Våer, with many single pitch icefalls and on the hillside above you will find Rånabergsfossen and
Kaminfossen, both of which can be recommended. If you intend to climb routes on the north (south facing) side of the valley, then intend to visit before February.
|If you fancy a mountain day then the short icefalls of Gaustatoppfossen are in a fantastic location high above the valley floor and are the icefalls that form first and
melt last. Allow 60 minutes to reach the falls from where the road splits between Tuddal and Gaustablikk - ideally have skis or snowshoes in soft deep snow
conditions. From the parking spot by the road junction, follow the Tuddal road for 400m to a single cabin on the right. Turn right and head through the birch trees
towards the icefalls which can be seen on the rock outcrop by the power lines. The falls are single pitch and offer about 8 climbing lines. However, they are
exposed to the wind which can make these icefalls unclimbable. Below, the summit of Gaustatoppen taken from Rjukan Hytte og Caravan Park. The icefalls can
be seen on the dark rock outcrop just below centre frame. A fantastic day out under a blue sky is to ascend Gaustatoppen and make a traverse of the ridge. It is
possible to ascend or descend the wide gully directly above the icefalls. It is about 1000m of ascent from the car park.
|Rjukan is very famous for several other reasons than its ice. In 1897, Rjukan Hotel built a small hydroelectric power station utilising the waters of the river Månå
prior to where they flow over Rjukanfossen. The remains of the power station can be seen where the climbing area Arne is located today. The electricity was used
to give lighting for the hotel and its billiard lounge at a time when most European cities in the world still did not have electricity. In 1902, Sam Eyde bought the rights
to Rjukanfossen from local farmers in exchange for having the bridge across the gorge rebuilt. Eyde was involved in developing methods of producing fertiliser
using air and arc-electricity. During the following decade, Eyde was influential in starting the company known today as Norsk Hydro and the building of Rjukan
Salpeterfabrik and the hydroelectric power station at Vemork (pictured above). In 1911, Vemork was the worlds largest hydroelectric power plant. The first salpeter
(saltpeter) or Potassium Nitrate (KNO3) was shipped out in 1911 via a purpose built railway and ferry connection over lake Tinnsjø. The town of Rjukan was built
up around the influx of workers, numbering over 10,000 in the valley by 1920. By 1927, Ammonia was also being produced in Rjukan and in 1934 a new factory
was completed in front of the Vemork power station. This new factory, which required large amounts of DC power for electrolysis, produced hydrogen which was
transported by pipe to the other factories in Rjukan lower down the valley. Interestingly a byproduct in this factory was heavy water or Deuterium Oxide (D2O).
|A Little History
|In 1940, during World War II, Norway became occupied by the Germans. The
German interest in the production of heavy water made Rjukan a well guarded
facility and heavy water production was focus with a production level of 12 tons
per year - the largest production in the world at the time. The German interest in
heavy water was its use as a neutron moderator in nuclear reactors for the
production of weapons grade plutonium which in turn made the production of an
atomic bomb a possible reality for the Nazis and could end the war in their favour.
Norwegian intelligence made the allied forces plan an attack on the hydrogen
factory. The first attempt in 1942 began with deployment of a 4-man forward party
(code named Grouse) in the mountains which was followed up the arrival of more
troops from Britain. However, this failed almost before it began when gliders
carrying the troops crashed in the Hardangervidda mountains. In early 1943 a
small team of Norwegian commandos (code named Gunnerside) were dropped
by parachute and joined the original 4-man forward party (now referred to as
Swallow). They were successful on the 27th of February 1943 in blowing up the
electrolysis equipment in the basement of the hydrogen factory at Vemork.
Unfortunately, the Germans seem to have been prepared and quickly installed
new equipment that had already been produced in Berlin. Production of heavy
water was soon up and running again. In November 1943, the allies bombed the
Rjukan valley from the air, dropping over 700 bombs, most of which missed the
hydrogen factory but claimed many civilian lives. The raid, however, made the
Germans abandon further heavy water production and they then planned to move
the stocks they had by heavily guarded train to Mael and the FS Hydro ferry over
Lake Tinnsjø. On the night of the 20th of February 1944, the ferry was sabotaged
with a bomb - thus sinking the remaining quantities of heavy water.
In 2005, a barrel was recovered from the lake bed. Analysis showed that the water
did in-fact contain higher concentrations of heavy water and the measurements
tallied with the original factory logbooks. However, it is now known that the
amounts were only enough for research and that the Germans were not close to
developing a nuclear bomb. The whole story is told in the great film "The Heroes
of Telemark" which is great viewing for an evening on any ice climbing trip.
|Top, The Heroes of Telemark film poster. Above left, a capsule of heavy water in the museum at Vemork. Above right, the hydrogen and heavy water factory at
Vemork in 1935. This factory was demolished in the years 1971-73 when Norsk Hydro's activites in the area were reduced and the factory became obsolete.
Below left, one of the turbines and generators at Vemork. Below right, the distillation equipment for the production of heavy water in the museum.
|Below, the impressive main hall at Vemork. The museum is open year round and well worth a visit. The current active power station is inside the mountain.
|Below, one of the barrels recovered from Lake Tinnsjø and right, the ferry terminal at Mael with wagons that were used for transportation of up to 95% strength
Nitric Acid in pure aluminium tanks. The ferry Ammonia also stands in the dock - a sister ferry to the FS Hydro, which was used in the film.
|Arne and Krokan Areas (Area A)
|Above, the climbing area Arne in Area A - follow the trail from the parking at
Krokan Fjellstue to the "Kraftstatjoner" - the remains of the early power
station on the edge of the river above Rjukanfossen. The route Arne (M9)
was put up by Stevie Haston in 2000. Left, from the small bridge over the
river between the Krokan and Arne areas - Hydro are currently building a
new dam and sluices here (2012). This bridge is good access to the lower
(downstream) routes at Krokan - cross the road from the parking at Krokan
Fjellstue and follow the first track 250m downhill to the bridge.
Below, the first icefalls furthest downstream at Krokan - between the
aforementioned bridge and Kjøkkentrappa. The two leftmost icefalls in the
picture are not in the Heavy Water guidebook but offer good grade 2/3 ice all
be it only about 15m high. The pillar that touches down in the centre is an
unnamed grade 5 and the right hand icefall is an unnamed grade 2.
|Above, having fun on icicles towards the end of the season - note the water behind! Below, on the unnamed routes grade 5 (left) and grade 2 (right).
|Below, a little further upstream is the icefall Kjøkkentrappa (WI4) found opposite the Fission Bowl with its two dry tooling routes.
|Below left, the Fission bowl with ropes hanging from the lower offs on the two bolted routes. Below right, Topp (WI 5). The lower part of this fall often collapses
mid season leaving an entertaining 4-move mixed start. The end of the ice where it has broken off is about 1m out from the rock wall behind.
|Below, a picture of Gaustaspøkelse and climbers on the popular Bullen (WI3) at the end of the season - as seen from the approach before dropping down to the
riverbed. One gets an idea of the size of the icefalls when there is a climber in the picture - a 60m rope is necessary for most routes as they are close to 30m high.
|The Marisjuvet Gorge (Area B)
|The Lower Gorge and Rjukan Centre (Areas C and D)
|Certainly, if it is overcrowded by Vemork or at Krokan then you should consider some of the fantastic alternatives. If it is short routes you are after then try the
Ozzimosis area by the second hairpin bend on the road to Gaustablikk where there is parking space for 3 cars. Here there is a small ravine just over the road barrier
with routes offering many possibilities around grade 2 to 4. The icefalls are also reliable until late in the season. Below left, Ozzimosis in misty conditions and
below right, on Klassisk 4 in thawing temperatures in mid March.
|Gaustatoppen (Area E)
|Above left, gigantic amounts of hoar on the rock and above right, standing on the summit. Below, looking back along the ridge to the communications tower. The
view is reportedly some 60.000 square kilometers on a day like this.
|Above and below, the icefalls of Gaustatoppen. There are arguably about 8 lines available and there are bolted top anchors above the central and right hand routes.