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Kurt Astner establishes new ice climbs in Norway

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Black Diamond athlete Kurt Astner took an ice climbing trip to Norway in March 2011, and recently sent us the following report of the stellar WI6 climbs he developed with his partner, Helmut Rauegger.

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Helmut and I decided on a jaunt to the high latitudes on very short notice. The year before when I was in California I was climbing with Dan and Janine Patitucci who also decided to come along with us on this trip.

This time ice climbing is the plan, which for Dan, our photographer, was a totally new experience for him. We just had a bit of beta and a map along on our way from Munich to Oslo and then on to Tromsa, Norway. When we arrived in Tromsa, we first hit a hotel were Janine had organized everything perfectly. After a wonderful breakfast we drive on somewhat icy roads toward Nordkjosbotn and then on to Lyngen. Janine had booked accommodation for us there.

We were planning ski trips early in the week and also wanted to scope out a few ice lines. Helmut only followed toward the end of the week. He could not get around an important deadline at work. It took us about three hours of driving to reach Lyngen, a hamlet of 100.

In the afternoon we started a small exploratory trip. It was 4 degrees above at sea level. Water is dripping from the roofs and the snow is of course heavy. We keep to safe terrain and  the temperature dropped quickly as we climb. It is 1,000 vertical meters to the top of this mountain. The view down into the fjord is huge. Ski trips are on the program for the next few days, too. On day four, we climb the 1,533 meter Daltinden over its NW flank. From the top I could see a very nice icefall. That icefall had caught my attention from Lyngen on the first day. However, I could only see its top part. But there is something to do there; it is safe and even in the sun.

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When Helmut arrives on the weekend, I can barely wait to get going on the ice. At noon the ferry from Lyngen to the other end of the fjord finally sails. After arriving in Olderdalen we let Dan drive us to Kafjordbotn. We decide on an exploratory trip. Dan and Janine are looking after the house that we rented from Graham. With skis and heavy packs we follow the snowmachine trail to the east. After about two hours we reach a creek bed that shows the entrance to a narrow canyon. Helmut has been voicing doubts for some time already. We won't find ice here. Those icefalls on our topo sketch must be somewhere else. Now I have to think of something. It just takes a little persuading and Helmut and I ditch our packs. Without gear we explore the narrowing canyon meter by meter. The rock walls get higher and higher and the passage narrower and narrower. Thin traces of ice make us curious. Onward it is, we are lucky to find good snow conditions. This would be a problem otherwise. We reach a spot where a crack is just a meter wide, enough to waltz through. The valley opens up a bit and after a few kickturns we see an exceptional icefall way back. A grin settles on our faces as we go on. Like on a stage,  there are several icefalls to choose from. Well that was worth it. We'll attack tomorrow.

Dan picks us up late at night. The house is perfect, he enthuses. Everything is great when we arrive. Janine has shown herself to be an excellent cook and made dinner for us.

We get an early start the next morning. We are at the foot of our project late in the morning. It starts steep right away, vertical ice from the beginning and rock hard. The wind blows snow up so we can hardly see anything. Ski goggles would be the ticket now. After a long 60-meter pitch I build a belay behind a free standing ice pillar. Helmut follows, the wind howling and bitterly cold. We take a short tea break before we carry on. This ice pillar rises perfectly vertical from the belay. The wind picks up again and makes it harder. It's a huge pitch, this one, 60 meters and totally vertical. I belay above the first step. Helmut takes the lead for the last 20 meters. At the top, we are more than satisfied. This was a great climb.


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We stash all of our gear at the bottom after rappelling. Because the weather is forecast to be good for the next few days and the temperatures are hovering in a wintry range we continue our hunt for ice. The other two icefalls are a bit easier but the following day ends up with nine pitches of medium difficulty climbed. A day of rest in our log house which sits right beside the sea follows three days of climbing. While the wind is ripping outside, Dan and Janine have not returned at 4 pm. They have gone on an XXL-size ski trip. Up and down the hill all day long, they end up with 2,000 vertical meters that night.

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Tomorrow I really want to climb that thing in the sun that met my eye on the first day. All the gear has been sharpened again. I like to do this fine work on rest days. A tough approach is in store for us tomorrow. So we indulge in a sumptuous dinner. Fish is particularly good here.

We depart for Skiboten by car early in the morning. An icy wind hits our faces when we arrive at the start. Dan and Janine sit in the car with their down jackets on. Helmut and I are determined that even today we won't be going with the wind. So we come back at night. The first bit was all right but as we gained elevation the snow got deeper fast. We had do burrow a real trench through this snow. Helmut shone once again breaking trail. It takes us a full two hours to reach the foot of the icefall. The wind has dropped too and soon we are climbing in the sun.


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After a short rest we climb over a large ice bulge to the foot of the two grandiose lines. I climb over mushrooms that have been worked by the sun already. The last 20 meters are sure steeper than they look from below. Just below a rock overhang I build a belay. From here we can see the big monster next to us really well. When Helmut joins me on the belay we study the line together. This icefall looks just great. You do need an eye for the good stuff, and a bit of luck!

Well we should finish climbing this icefall before concentrating on the monster. Another beautiful pitch brings us to the summit plateau. I drill a V-thread and down we go. We traverse to the right hurriedly and immediately climb underneath a safe rock overhang. The sun has been shining on the icefall for a few hours now. The ice shines blue like glacier ice. A steep ice bulge brings us to a good ledge. A Camalot goes in well here. The steep rock slab is awkward to climb. It looks harder than it is. Right on the fat mushroom I build my belay. Helmut follows and won't quit enthusing. Since we have climbed a number of well known icefalls together before, you get that kind of resonances.


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From the belay I traverse into the middle of this gigantic line. Another totally vertical section follows. The ice is of a quality I have rarely seen before. Every ice axe swing sticks. Exactly at the edge where the spring falls I build my belay. Helmut follows and I take a few more pictures. The view down into Lyngen Fjord, gigantic. The wind blows hard again, but that does not bother us. We still have the rappel anchors from earlier in the day. Another look around this fantastic area before we drop down again. The moon is in the sky and total contentment spreads inside me. I am happy about these days together in a still unknown area.


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Since we did not find any traces of previous ascents in any of our trips we name and describe our climbs. If they are first ascents or not might be difficult to find out. This winter we were the first visitors, that's for sure. The only mountain guide I met was Norwegian Hans Christian Wilson. Christian told me that hardly anyone comes to the Olderdalen area to climb. Not even he has ever been to the far side of the fjord. Only the more accessible stuff in Lyngen sometimes gets done.

First Ascents: Kurt Astner and Helmut Rauegger / March 2011
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