Updated: May 17
Insights into Norwegian ice climbing in Rjukan: where to go, what to climb and how to prepare, a trip report by IFMGA guide Akio.
After climbing in the Westfjords region of Iceland last year, Carl and I were looking for something similar in quality but fresh in landscape and culture. We had heard rumors of the ice climbing in Norway and, after a bit of research, settled on a week long trip to Norway's Telemark region. Here lies the small industrial town of Rjukan, an ice climbing mecca for Europe and one of the most varied and reliable venues in Norway.
Climbers above Rjukan, Norway
Flying to Oslo was relatively easy, with only two short layovers from our small airport in Billings. Once we landed, we hopped in our well equipped rental car and drove about 3 hours to our cabin in Gausta, a ski resort village on the plateau above the Rjukan/Tinn valley. Although the drive was mostly in the dark, we couldn't help but be impressed by the snow, ice, and lakes alongside the road. On the final few turns leading to our home for the week, our headlights passed over many large flows of water ice giving us just a hint of what's to come...
Some of the 4-7 pitch climbs, seen from the drive to town.
On the first morning, we fought off the jetlag with a few cups of coffee while enjoying the mountain view of the namesake for the ski resort, Gausta. After breakfast, we headed down into the valley to start our scouting mission and check conditions.
Countless moderate multi-pitches
Dropping down, the valley was shrouded lightly by an ephemeral layer of clouds that, when patient enough, would offer quick glimpses of most routes. It was magical and we were pleasantly surprised to see that almost every route listed in our guidebook was not just in condition but fatter than the photos! We were also happy to see that the snow wasn't too deep and avalanche paths were few and far between, making navigation a bit easier.
Plenty of hard climbing as well...
After checking in on most of the major formations, we settled on a warm up lap up the moderate classic To Menn og et Foster, a 6 pitch WI4. The 15 minute approach made for a casual outing, and we enjoyed the low angle long pitches on plastic ice.
The next day we heard about a minor epic from some British climbers that resulted in a stuck rope and lost pair of tools. Thinking this would be another great warm up, we offered to retrieve their equipment and climbed Bolgen, a 5 pitch WI3.
Breaking through the clouds 3 pitches up
We were back on the ground by 10:30 and returning the gear by 11, so we made the quick drive to the Upper Gorge to check out some of the steeper ice. Walking under the former Nazi heavy water factory was a bit of a trip. The short 10 minute descent into the gorge brought us by nearly a dozen classic routes, all 2-4 pitch routes in the WI2-6 range.
The Upper Gorge with Juvsøyla (L) and Trappfoss (R). Note the climbers on Trappfoss.
We settled on Trappfoss, a classic 4 pitch WI4 with a commanding position above a narrow spot in the canyon. It also allowed us a chance to check conditions on the neighboring Juvsoyla, an even more spectacular 5 pitch route beside it. Trappfoss was excellent and we took a slightly more challenging line to give our Swedish friends space.
Pitch 3, the money pitch, on Trapfoss
The next day, we rested our bodies and took care of work at our cabin on the ski hill. We got a quick tour of the local hospital due to a minor medical concern and received some doctor's orders to enjoy a beer. Across the street, we found a pub and made sure to enjoy a few pints.
On Thursday, we woke up early to fresh snow and headed straight to the Upper Gorge. Surprised to see so much snow on the rappels to Rjukanfossen (a classic 3 pitch WI3), we opted to approach via a non-technical descent and see what looked good. We started up Nye Vermorkfoss, a fun 3-pitch WI5, but the crux was not quite in safe conditions. Bailing, we made quick work of the neighboring Bakveien (also a 3-pitch, 3 star WI4).
Bakveien in thin conditions
Once back on the ground, we decided that this might be our last chance to climb something harder so we ought to check out Juvsoyla. While making the 10 minute walk to the base, we were surprised to see 2 parties on this 5 pitch testpiece. After approaching, gearing up, and climbing a moderate pitch towards the base, we were free of overhead icefall and started up this spectacular route.
Carl cruising up the first steep pitch, about to reach the hanging belay
The guidebook gives Juvsøyla a generous WI6, but we found it to be in fun and classic WI5 conditions with two sustained, steep, and wildly exposed crux pitches. We topped out with plenty of daylight and found ourselves walking back to the car satisfied after a few days of enjoying perfect ice in a spectacular setting.
Climbing up the last few meters of Juvsøyla
Feeling tired after a couple of big days, we decided to dedicate our last day to exploring Oslo before heading on to the next adventures. The 2.5 hour drive was much more scenic in the daylight and we were in Oslo by mid day. This gave us time to walk around town, enjoy local food, and tour one of the many museums before checking in to our hotels and beginning the next journey...
All in all, we were pleasantly surprised by Rjukan's wide variety of climbing and stable conditions. Access was very easy by our Montana standards, food was delicious in the ski town of Gausta, and the locals were very friendly and accommodating. The climbing venues offered everything from casual cragging to stunning multi-pitches in a variety of elevations and aspects. On top of that, Rjukan is only a few hours from other world class climbing locations, allowing for spectacular mini-trips if one was to make the extended stay... That being said, I believe there are over 200 routes in the immediate area!