Winters past and Summers to come

Researching an idea for a trip to its northern coastline, I couldn't help looking back over some photos taken in Norway, during a bitterly cold week in February that provided my first real experience of pure ice climbing. Before then, my winter climbing had involved the mix of névé and frozen turf so typical of routes in the Lakes and Cairngorms - my usual destinations. This however, was something entirely different. In many ways, it was more akin to cragging, single pitch routes dominating the agenda. 
Entirely unlike the winter mountaineering days at home, borne out of a necessity for height to find suitable conditions, here we stepped from the door into temperatures that averaged -15C. Which was cold even for Norway in February, the norm in this area at that time of year being -8C. After the UK winter of 2009/10 (when temperatures in the Dales fell to -17C) and to a lesser degree the two that followed, it seems less remarkable, but we had yet to experience such prolonged cold at home at the time of this trip.
And of course it was the reason we were there - except that such severe temperatures (as low as -25C on some days) simply make the ice brittle - disconcerting when another 'dinner plate' shatters beneath the pick and calves tire, crampon clad boots feeling cumbersome, clumsy tools when more used to the delicate precision of rock shoes. But that delicate finesse is essential on pure ice - more so the colder it becomes. 
I found the climbing hard. And at times disconcertingly insecure - the delicate tap of the pick so unlike a bomber axe placement in good névé or turf. An accident or two didn't help, one of our group breaking an ankle on the descent following an impromptu solo. Another unfortunate breaking a leg in a nasty ground fall, landing as he did on the remnants of a collapsed icicle, some two feet in diameter. Arriving at the scene immediately after the fall, we helped as best we could, trying to keep the casualty warm - that afternoon was -18C if I recall correctly - until he was airlifted from the bed of the gorge, the frozen waterfalls adorning either side forming the routes that minutes earlier had seemed so tempting. In fact, having walked in, we decided to climb anyway, though enthusiasm was somewhat diminished that afternoon in particular.
It was an eye opening trip and looking back over the guide books, there seem to be so many routes that look so good...perhaps I will go back but first I hope, in Summer, to the coast.

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