Looking for a half day ice climbing outing in Rjukan, Norway? The Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) treats you with both slab and steep ice and a narrow gully to finish everything off
Rjukan is one of the great places in Europe if you want to endure ice climbing on the same level as Ouray, Colorado or Valdez, Alaska. There are loads of ice climbing adventures and it doesn’t really matter whether you are a newcomer or a skilled ice climber. Rjukan is still worth a visit. The rather short and narrow norwegian valley features several landmark ice climbs such as Juvsøyla (WI6) and Lipton (WI7), but also lots of entry level ice climbing multi-pitch routes and numerous single-pitch ice crags. The approach to the majority of the routes are often less than 30 minutes and finding them is relatively easy.
The small village of Rjukan is not that amusing and only has a few cafés and restaurants as well as a few hotels and hostels. There are also some camping sites in the perimeter of Rjukan, where you can rent huts. Getting to Rjukan is easy. If you travel by air fly to Oslo and rent a car. Follow highway E18 onto E138 through Kongsberg and turn onto road 37 towards Rjukan. It takes about 2.5 hours from Oslo by car. Accommodation, eating and drinking in Norway is by no chance comparable with Italian prices should you have had the change to visit places such as the Dolomites or Gran Paradisio. A pint of beer on a restaurant or in a bar in Norway costs about 100 NOK, which equals 10.50 EURO or 9.25 GBP! So don’t expect to get hammered in the local bar – but you are not traveling to in Rjukan to get hammered anyway, right?
How to approach the Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4)
The approach to Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is pretty straight forward. Park at one of the parking lots downtown Rjukan close to the Kiwi supermarket or Best gas station. Look toward the northside of the valley, where you can actually see the huge waterfall and the different routes at the Tjønnstadberg multi-pitch ice climbing crag. The Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is probably the main attraction, but you will find other routes in the same grade such as ‘Lysløypa’ (WI4). There are also more difficult ones such as ‘For Alle Menn’ (WI5). Actually, there is a WI6/M7 called ‘Solfesten’ with a quite persisting roof that can be aided at A2+.
We parked at a small parking lot at Skriugata 2, 3660 Rjukan. From there follow a small dirt road uphill until a trail breaks into the woods along the hillside. Follow the trail. It bends left after approximately 150 meters and goes straight to the base of the crag. Approaching takes about 15-20 minutes from the parking lot.
Check out the video below to experience the Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) yourself before continue reading. You can also look it up on https://youtu.be/Jk15aG30qno.
Get ready to be blown away by the Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4)
Literally! The Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is indeed a heavily exposed multi-pitch ice climbing adventure. You can break it down to four distinct pitches that all has their different characteristics. The first three you climb a wide open face only protected by a tree line to you right. On a windy day you can really feel the exposure. We did for sure! At about 1:23 in the video above, you can see how my DJI Spark drone struggles keeping itself airborne while filming Søren and Simon, the two guys I’ve started partnering up with quite frequently. Besides them, Maria, a novice to ice climbing also joined us for the trip.
Speaking of windy conditions, due to the exposiveness of the Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) it can actually be pretty difficult gearing up at the base of the route. The routes starts up semi-steep snow slope (at least our climb, by it had also been snowing heavily in Rjukan just a few days before our trip), and with all the snow it was hard to find solid ground. Just to the right of the huge slab face that makes out the base of Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) you will find a small cave where you can gear up protected from the elements.
The first pitch of Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is a pretty straightforward slab shown on the picture above. We came late in the season, so a lot of steps had already been carved out making it quite low for the grade. You have to build you own anchor to get started, and you can see this in the video above at 1:18.
The slab consists of a series of bulges that most people can handle. It runs for about 30 meters and ends abruptly at a ledge with a wall of ice in front of you. It is pretty obvious. You have to build your own anchor, which is a deal for the complete ice climb. There are no bolted belay stations, so bring enough ice screws, carabiners and slings to build your own anchors. From the belay station the route goes right a long side the ice wall.
Enduring ice and snow slope
The second pitch starts with a short, but pretty steep section of ice. The passing is about 8-10 meters, where you traverse a few meters rightwards from the belay station and up from there. The difficulty from the first pitch definitely increases, but it is not hard.
When you have have conquered the steep section the rest of the pitch is straight forward ice climbing. You follow the ice slope up for another 30 meters climbing through huge steps and bulges just as the first pitch, but with a few very short steep movements of maybe 2-3 meters. It is a great way building confidence and learn how to lead ice climbing if you haven’t done that before. There are great positions to place ice screws from and due to the low sloping slab you can always put both knees to the ground to gain further stability, when placing you protection.
The pitch of Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) ends at two 6-7 meters ice pillars forming a cave between them. We actually met another team belaying from inside the cave! That did not seem like the most brilliant idea – the belayer had absolutely no conception of what the lead climber was doing as they had no visual contact or could hear what they were saying. I continuously heard them yelling “What!?”, “I can’t hear you!” and so forth. It was quite a sight though.
Steep ice pillars
The third pitch is what I would believe to be the crux. At least it was to us. Two immense ice pillars stands proud embracing the adventure Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) really is. In the video above you can see Søren belaying Simon on the third pitch at around 1:20. They look tough, but it is only a short section of steep ice, and they are pretty painless to come by. Belaying from just beneath the ice pillars is also great as there are plenty of room to stand. When the crux section has been achieved you move onto easier ground, which can also be seen in the video above, where Simon in the green jacket hammers his right ice axe into the soft ice and tops out at an easy snow slope around 1:25. From there it is an easy walk to the fourth and final pitch. You can set up a belay station just beneath the huge overhang to your right, which you can see on the picture below.
Step into the gully of Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4)
The fourth and final pitch of Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is a small adventure in itself. It starts off by traversing left onto the ice slab and then goes straight up, cornering into a frozen gully. You could probably place some rock protection in there such as small sized nuts just for the practice, but when we did the ice climb the conditions were right and the ice pretty thick. The gully might be around 15 meters in total, and you finally top out from the route when you are surrounded by trees. From there, build a belay station.
Descending from Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) is pretty straight forward as the route itself. You could either abseil through the tree line to you right (as the guidebook suggests) or scramble to your left until you reach a narrow trail that takes you further left until it starts descending down the woods. We did that. The trail takes a strong left bend after about 200 meters and then joins the trail that you approached the ice climbing crag from. Follow that to the back down to Rjukan.
Bring a full rack of ice screws and quickdraws. I would include at least 10 of each. All pitches are long, but even though the grade is low, you would still avoid run outs, right? The ice was pretty thick at most places and my rack included both 13 cm and 16 cm Black Diamond Express ice screws. The guidebook we brought with us on the trip, “Rjukan – Selected Ice Climbs” by Steve Broadbent, does not mention rock gear even though the last pitch up the narrow gully is pretty close to the rock – especially if the conditions are not perfect and the ice is thin. We didn’t bring rock gear, but you could probably place a few nuts in the gully. Whether it makes sense to carry the extra weight really much depends on the conditions. However, bring two 60 meters half ropes should you find yourself in a situation where you need to abseil as an emergency procedure, or a 60 meter single rope.
There are no bolted belay stations, so you should bring gear to build anchors in the ice.
So besides your abseil kit and breaking device I would bring:
- 1 x 60 meter single rope or 2 x 60 meter half ropes
- 1 x 240 sling for anchor building
- 4 x screw gate carabiners
- 10 x quick draws (preferably extendable alpine quick draws)
- 10-12 ice screws sizes in various medium sizes
- Optional set of small size nuts for the gully
The Tjønnstadbergfossen (WI4) four pitches ice climbing route near Rjukan is definitely worth a couple of hours of fun. You should be able to do it within 2-3 hours based on how much traffic you encounter on the route. Despite being a weekend, and Rjukan Ice Climbing Festival as well, we did not meet much traffic. We met two others team that had embarked just before us, but the wide waterfall left us plenty of room. The route features some really fun climbing on frozen pillars and steep sections, and finishes off with a narrow and rather short gully. This is an obvious beginners route and a nice way to gain confidence either leading or just climbing on ice. This was Marias very first ice climb and she did it rather well.