Big wall adventures on Mongenjura, Romsdal, Norway.
It all started as things usually do, by a coincidence. We had been instructing at a beginners course at Tunaberg when fellow climber Kristoffer Urby mentioned Mongenjura, a "big wall" in Romsdal, Norway. It shouldn't be too hard he said, only Norwegian grade 6 (YDS 5.10a/b) at the hardest. Eleven hundred metres divided into 24 pitches filled with fun climbing, sunshine on the rock and great adventure! Only he failed to mention sore fingers, dehydration, loose rock, scarce protection and seemingly endless climbing
It planted a seed in my head and not long after I questioned my friend Nisse whether he was keen on coming with me to do the route. As it happened he had been wanting to do it for some years but hadn't gotten around to it. We started planning a little and not much later he produced a pack-list, and a topo showing how the route wandered up the face. The route is called The South Pillar and of course is a three star classic.. I started to read a little about it on the web and questioned people that had done it. We soon found out that two of the crux pitches had off-width sections, not the first choice by most I might add. What the heck, how hard could it be?! I figured I'd bring my HB #5 and we'd be all right. We discussed whether we should have equally sized packs or one small and one large pack with bivvy gear, food, extra clothes etc. Nisse wanted the former but I leaned towards the latter so that we could lead up the pitches lighter and safer. A big pack would also turn you upside down in case of a fall I reasoned. Nisse argued that a big pack would drain the energy out of the second on the hard pitches. We discussed what food to bring and how much water to carry. Not surprisingly we differed here as well. I wanted more food that Nisse where he figured we'd be all right with energy bars and snacks. To summarize the events things didn't turn out the way we had planned them. About a month before we were due to go Nisse was thrown off his bike and injured his wrist. Departure date was getting nearer and he wasn't getting any better. He decided to call off his part and stay home to heal.
About this time or maybe a little earlier Kristoffer Urby, who had planted this idea in my head called me and asked if I knew anyone who wanted to go to Norway during week 30. Well, I said, I was planning to go to Romsdal to climb Mongenjura that week. You want to come? I asked. He said yes on the spot. Soon another guy, Martin Johansson, joined up for the ride and only a couple of weeks before departure I managed to sign my buddy Per Landmark up as "my partner". He was between jobs and as always keen on climbing. The car was full. And wasn't it just..
A few days before departure Per and I met down at Kullaberg to decide what rack to bring and to get a few pitches in together before going on the "big one". We had climbed together the year before in Lofoten but we figured we needed to polish things up to work properly as a team. Day one we only did 3 pitches before we gave up after having climbed the last one in the rain. We argued it was good practice before Norway.. Day two turned out better and we went to the little crag Björnen for the first time. Only about 12-14 metres high but with plenty of routes in the same grade as the south pillar, i.e. grade 4-6, we started to climb all the routes from left to right. At the end of the day we had climbed 12 routes and thought we were happy with the rack and I was more used too all Pers gear. We would use mostly his and only spice it up with a few of my things (see pack list separately). Per had also gotten in some much-needed climbing quantity after having been convalescent most of the winter and spring!
The day after we headed north to Uppsala where our foursome would start the trip for Romsdal. Unfortunately Kristoffers Golf was the biggest car we could scrape together so in that we would fit. With climbing gear, camping stuff, food for a week not to mention beer! Pack it light he urged. When I suggested leaving the beer at home his voice stopped for a second on the phone. Sorry, leave the beer he said? I'd rather leave my tent! So the beer came. And so did the tent, but my god it was full!
We met at Kristoffers at nine on the Sunday morning and after having squeezed in the last item we headed off for 11-½ hour drive towards the Norwegian coast. It was a fairly painless though dull trip as car trips usually are. We discussed some tactics and whether to do the route early in the week or later after some practice on the rock since it was Per's and my first time there. We agreed the weather would have to decide for us. We arrived in the evening and decided to play it safe and camp at the Trollveggens Campground just below the famous Trollveggen, over a thousand metres partly overhanging rock..
It had rained during the night so we weren't really in a hurry to get up. Slowly we woke up and dug in to the food supplies Martin so handily had arranged for all of us. Some coffee and oatmeal porridge went down before we headed over to Hornaksla, not far from our campground. We went to warm up on Ingrid Espelid, a nice 3 pitch grade 5 route up a dihedral. This was followed by a much harder 2 pitch, grade 6 slab crux route, Hvordan Jordan. I barely made it across the last traverse and I shouted down to Per to leave the hex there for the next leader. Funnily Martin fell in that very hex.. I had done my good deed for the day. We figured 5 pitches were enough for the day and headed down on grassy ledges to the car. In camp we bumped into some people from Gothenburg and from them we gathered some more information about the route and also found out that the weather was supposed to be good for a couple of days and then get worse. It was now fairly late and the prospect of sleeping for only 3 hours before an alpine start and then maybe 20+ hours of climbing didn't seem like an option. We decided to sleep till nine, eat and drink properly before starting the climb around noon. I might add that we this same night had gone up to find the start of the route which wasn't at all that straight forward. To tell you the truth we weren't completely sure when we headed down from there but after having talked with the Gothenburgians we decided we were alright. I'd recommend anyone doing the route to carefully locate the start before you are supposed to get on it. It will save you time and maybe stop you from getting on the wrong route in frustration and impatience. Anyway, the plan was to climb 10 pitches that first day to a big ledge where we would make a bivouac till morning. We'd continue the next day and maybe top out around four. The descent would then take 2-3 hours in addition to that. We agreed on 4 litres of fluids and 6 Snickers each, lots of peanuts, raisins and some sandwiches for the evening. Martin also convinced us to bring some hot water for soup and cous cous. Per and I had one big pack weighing about 12 kg at the start and one small pack at about half that. All in all a good compromise I think. Martin and Kristoffer had a little less difference between their packs.
To jump a few steps ahead things went extremely well and according to plan but not without a few mishaps, some extra grunts and some luck I suppose. Here follows the climb itself.
After what seemed like a ton of porridge and litres of watering we finally stood by the start ready to go. I had already peed three times between the car and here so imagine how watered up I was, considering the hike in is roughly only 45 minutes on partly steep and slippery paths. Per and I would start since together we were the more experienced team. We would lead the way and make the route-finding decisions but stay in contact with the others in case of an accident. Per and I could communicate via radio and so could Martin and Kristoffer but unfortunately not between the teams. In case of emergency we could call via cell phone. The radio proved to be useful more than once and is something I'd recommend anyone on a long winding route like this. The wind and rock formations sometimes make it impossible to communicate and with 60 metres of rope out it isn't that easy to use signals either..
I set out and followed grassy ledges up and across a slab to a possible belay. I decided to traverse a few metres more so that Per could start straight up pitch 3. I had linked 1 and 2 together. Martin had started up a different way and set up belay a few metres to the left of me when I took Per up. We re-racked our gear, put all the gear at exactly the same place on both our harnesses so that we could move things over easily between each other, and Per set out on his first lead. Not without some apprehension I think. It was a short section of 5+ here and he was thrown right into it. He managed fine, but when he had put one of his off-set nuts in a crack and said; well, it will stay, it popped out just as he unclipped the gear-crab from it and it fell towards me. I remember thinking, better catch this one mate, we're not gonna go down to find it in the bushes, and the next second it was there in my left hand. Huh, close call. He finished the short pitch up a short left slanting dihedral and I followed up, now with the big grassy ledge traverse ahead of us. For this reason I had kept my approach shoes on and I set off to lead the way for almost 200 metres with short sections of scrambling and hiking. We did this simul-climbing with about 30 metres of rope between us, but maybe 15-20 metres would have been better. Halfway across I found two ropes hanging slapping in the wind above me and two black t-shirts laying there on the ledge. A little spooky to tell you the truth and not the best of starts. I couldn't help but wonder where the guys in the t-shirts had disappeared or if they were stuck higher up. The mystery was never solved but at least we didn't find anyone up there. I kept going and soon I was at the bottom of the next pitch, a 5- grassy dihedral. I couldn't find anywhere good to belay so I continued up some ways before I set up an anchor to bring Per up to me. He came up and passed me to get up to the first major section of "real" climbing. This was where the route more or less really started. I climbed up to the little cave-like bottom of the first grade 6 dihedral pitch. Water was pouring out of cracks and the air was moist. A pretty miserable place to sit in fact. I was well psyched up now and finally squeezed my feet into my real climbing shoes and re racked all the stuff to my harness. It was long pitch, almost 50 metres, with mostly hard climbing and tricky pro at places. The first part didn't leave me any pro and stepping up on loose flakes didn't feel that great. Soon I found good pieces though and I slowly made my way up the left slanting dihedral, sometimes on the face and sometimes lay backing and putting pro into the crack in the corner. For this pitch and another I had brought my "big mama" cam but I was saving it for the off width section only to find when I got there that it was too small! Shit, was my first thought. I stood there with my shoulder and back wedged into the crack trying to figure out how to make my way up the next 5 metres, without pro. Suddenly I feel my leg getting wet! No, I wasn't peeing myself, although I could have! I was squeezing my water pack mouthpiece between my back and the rock and the water was pouring out! Priceless water for the route just wetting the rock. My mood went even fouler.. Well, it is not going to get any better sitting here I thought. I'd best get my act together and climb up this monster crack. Looking around I found holds and steps on the outside and I started to make my way up by lay backing, stemming and doing pure face moves. I shot in a camalot 3 some ways into the crack and continued up. Found another piece on the outside and finally I was through the difficulties. Another 5 metres and I were up on the small leaning belay ledge. The prominent triangular roof above me looked less hard here than it had from further below, particularly since it was Per's lead.. From here there was no way to shout to each other in the wind and out of sight so I radioed to Per I was safe. He cleaned his anchor and started up with the bigger pack. I wasn't envious. He did well but struggled with the big dead weight on his back. When he came up he was panting and trying to catch his breath. Bloody good lead he exclaimed! Good job! On the ledge he calmed down and after a few minutes he set out to pull the roof above us. He was still tired from the last effort though and unfortunately had to hang from his gear to regain his strength. Third try he made it over on legs not a little wobbly but onto easier ground for another 40 metres. I wasn't looking forward to the roof with the big pack. I managed to make it over without hanging but with even shakier legs than Per I think. The pack seemed to pull me down towards the ground..
We were well over halfway trough our first day and we stuck to our time frame. I went round the edge of the pillar out of sight from Per. Many easy alternatives led up to two good ledges where I sat in the sun. Per radioed that he wanted 5 metres of slack on yellow. I obeyed without questioning but I remember thinking, "how odd". A little more he said. OK, take in on yellow only was the next order. I did as I was told and found out later I had actually made an assisted hoist without my knowledge! Martin had come off route despite Per telling him where to go and Per had thrown down a rope to him to help him out of his trouble. Good man! Per raced up in the evening sun and went up the next grade 5 dihedral quickly. I told Per we had to wait until we were in touch with the other team again, partly because we had decided that was how we were going to do it and partly because I wanted my HB #5 cam! We only had that one between the teams and I had left it near the top of the off width crack for Martin. My next lead and the final lead for the day was the second grade 6 pitch, also with an off width section. I wasn't going up there without my biggest pro. Finally Kristoffer arrived, with hellish rope drag (they were on a single rope), and he handed some pro over to me. I had also left the whole stance to Martin after the 6th pitch so there were a little more. I climbed up to Per and made myself ready for the last lead of the day, and the best it would turn out. I started up steep 5+ climbing for 15 metres, traversed right some ways and started up the much-feared off-width. The big cam fitted perfectly, thank god! Not being my speciality I slowly worked my way up by jamming arms and feet, stepping on the outside of the crack and on edges on the inside. I moved the cam up a couple of times before the crack finally got smaller and I set a bomber camalot 2 and 3 before sliding the HB 5 down the rope to the piece before the off width crack. Why, you ask. For Martin to use on his lead. I was going to instruct Per to place it at the bottom of the crack and leave it there for him. The pitch eased off and I got to a decent rest spot. I caught my breath and then went up a few more metres before traversing right again, slinging off a piton that stuck out too far and up the exit chimney. I placed a piece there and chimnied up to the top. After having set my belay I only had a couple of cams left and some nuts. All the draws and most of the gear were along the pitch. I radioed Per that he could take me off and I got the signal to bring the ropes up. Then he radioed that he was going to climb only on yellow first and that Martin was coming up on blue shortly after. It was getting late, it was after ten by now, and my guess was that Martin wanted to get up to our bivvy ledge quicker. Per hung once on the way up but Martin powered up like a steam train, not having to clean so much gear. When Per got up he started to sort the stuff through and to set up for the night. Martin finally brought Kristoffer up. He was a little worried that we would have to help him but Kristoffer did a great job and didn't hang once. Climbing with the lighter pack might have had something to do with it. The others started to rig a line to connect to whilst sleeping for the night while I took notes of the past events. Darkness was slowly falling when we had our sandwiches and drank some water. Around one in the morning we finally slumbered away, they along the wall and I on a flatter ledge just below them. I was in a bivvy bag but the others slept in raingear and extra sweaters or jackets. I think all of us were a little cold during the night (it only got down to about 8 degrees) and none of us slept all that well.. It was the first bivouac for all of us and we all had much on our minds I think.
Finally it was light enough to get up. I was up first and alerted the others that it was time. It was a little after four now but breakfasting and getting ready takes longer when you have to be attached to a line at all times and Per didn't start his lead until six. Having arrived up to the ledge the night before we all exclaimed what a nice crack lay ahead of us. But it is supposed to be a grade 5 I said. That looks much harder! But it was the right crack and it was a hard 5.. Per climbed out 45 metres before stopping to bring me up. I struggled up the crack where one of the ropes had got caught by a cam and couldn't be taken in until I loosened it. We switched leads a couple of times up uninteresting grassy ledges with some tricky route finding issues when we finally had to do what every normal man needs to do once a day. You're right. We had to go for a number two. When this was sorted Per continued up on a 10-metre traverse followed by a right slanting easy dihedral to a good stance. The next 5- corner looked great and I quickly led up to the crux pitch of the day, which had been reserved for Per. There were 3 options available, all grade 6:es. Per chose the middle one for good pro and a nice looking line. He cruised up it only to stop for pro and to think through some tricky moves at the crux. The crack was loaded with old pro and he clipped a couple of those. 50 metres later he called down that he was anchored. I took him off and prepared to climb up. I had just eaten a Snickers bar and I felt good until I started up the difficult pitch with the big pack! It was lighter now, granted, but still seemed to weigh a ton. I jammed and stemmed my way up. When I reached the two stuck cams I thought at first that the red camalot was Per's. After having worked it for a while I remembered that he had called down about two stuck cams where one was an old solid stem one. This didn't stop me from trying and when I managed to loosen up the camalot I tried even harder. After maybe five minutes of work (hanging off the top cam) it slid out and to my joy it was in perfect nick and fully operational. Our rack was even bigger. This pitch was followed by a couple of easier ones around 4+ and we quickly climbed on in the sun. It had come around the Pillar edge just as I had started out on the crux pitch with blessing warmth, which soon turned into sticky heat. The breeze cooled us off a little but much of the precious water slid down our throats during those long pitches of which most were around 50 metres. I led up two corners at 5+ to a good ledge. We hung around here for a while waiting to get in touch with Kristoffer or Martin again. It didn't take that long before Kristoffers head came into sight and we checked that everything was OK before continuing up the next grade 5 groove. Per sat on a little ledge when I came up and I re-racked just below him. It had struck me earlier, looking up the wall above us, that there must be a hidden way somewhere up there. The headwall looked massive and steep in front of us and there wasn't supposed to be anything harder than 5- ahead. I led up an amazingly steep 5- up broken ground on mostly big holds to a narrow ledge, where I traversed left across to a superb little stance where I could sit down and dangle my legs with 700 metres of air below them. Just then I felt great. Only 3 pitches to go, the sun was shining and I was feeling on top of the world. Per came up and went past after having taken the gear. Up a chimney-like corner on loose rock into a band of even looser white rock. He didn't feel all that great here with less than solid rock and not knowing exactly where to go. He found the hidden passage though and made his way up a loose hell as he put it. There was some hesitancy about where to go and there wasn't even a meter of rope left when he built his anchor. I slowly and carefully climbed up, trying not to disturb anything that would fall on to Martin or Kristoffer. But when I got up to Per and took off the pack it accidentally took my nut key and holder off my harness and they dropped down below to the sound of my loud swearing and shouting "rock". It wasn't at all clear where to go now but we chose to go right and up a little overhanging wall on big holds. I came up to flatter ground and a cave like area where I chose to go up left and belay Per. He came up and I could feel myself being a little slow in my head now from dehydration, lack of sleep and energy. Keep it up, I told myself. It ain't over till it's over, as they say. Per then went up and right on to what looked like a path and on to easier ground, where we choose to move together for a while before sitting down to wait for the others. We had finished the climb around five, meaning 29 hours on the wall with almost 8 hours on the bivvy ledge.
Eventually they came to where we were and we re-arranged our stuff for the descent. Kristoffer looked awfully beat and told us he felt the way he looked. But we held in and continued along grassy ledges and soon found a little melt-water spring where we could drink. This was what we all had needed the most, water! Together with some peanuts it put energy back into us and straight away we felt much stronger. Eventually we found the red marked path from the lake down to the road, which led to the church where we had the car parked. The descent took about 3 hours total and there were 4 happy chaps who came down and finally walked on flat ground. 35 hours car to car had taken its toll and we weren't just happy, we were tired too.. A king size bed couldn't have felt better than my Therma-Rest that night.
All in all a great route with a big-wall "feel" though with many ledges and much easy climbing. A serious yet manageable prospect for many trad climbers with a few seasons behind them. Just don't take it too lightly!
Peter North, Northbound Adventures