Pete Rhodes was the winner of the November leg of our Adventure Challenge. He recently embarked on his solo adventure to the Troll Wall in Norway.
Here Pete gives an account of his trip:
It began with a surprisingly easy three day drive, leaving Penrith via the Channel Tunnel I stopped near Bruges on the first night. From here a 13 hour push meant that I crossed 3 countries and arrived in Gothenburg around 9pm for tea with a friend and night out of the confines of the van. From here the speed dropped slightly on the less populated road but I cruised up Scandinavia and arrived in Romsdal just after the sun had set.
As I pulled in to the lay-by directly under the face my heart sank. A huge illuminated thermometer read 1C at 7pm that night. The drive up had been sunny but I’d assumed it would be colder as I got north. I was expecting the temperature to be between -5C and -10C for the whole trip as is normal for the area in early March. I was confused but figured I was just punch drunk from all the driving and could think about it properly in the morning.
Rising early the big screen read -2C and the wind was blowing. It felt cold and that was better. I quickly packed a bag with the first load of ropes and began the hike to the face.
The trail crosses the rail bridge before diving into the woods and then emerging at the foot of the face. As I crossed out of the woods and onto the snow field below the face it was obvious conditions were far from perfect. The whole snow field was covered in avalanche debris and rockfall which had obviously come down very recently. The going was tough over the loose and soft debris. I found myself constantly watching the slabs I was traversing under as large spindrift falls ran down the face on top of the melting ice holding it together.
At the base of the route the face looked completely unlike I was expecting. Sat on the snow in a t-shirt I looked at the water running out of the cracks, the unconsolidated snow on the ledges and the amount of debris around the base. My brain was in overdrive. Was I looking for the right excuse or was it actually the right decision? I spent a couple of hours watching the face, the spindrift and the rising temperature before leaving the ropes at the base and hiking back to the van. I wasn’t ready to make a big decision so figured another nights waiting and seeing was in order.
In the evening as I made dinner in the van a number of local people drove out to meet me and chat about my plans. Everyone had a theory on how safe the face was, how the temperature was set to change and what the weather was doing. The police drove up to say they’d let the mountain rescue know I was around and that they’d check in on my van while I was climbing. I was blown away by how friendly everyone was and quite surprised that I was really all that interesting.
Having noted a temperature of 13C when I got down from the face I went to bed with a big glowing 7C shining through the windscreen. By this point and with all the information I’d gleaned it seemed that Romsdal was experiencing a freak early spring. The week before I arrived it had be in the negative teens but the previous two days had been around 10C which explained the massive amount of avalanche debris I had been hiking on.
The morning dawned bright but overnight the temperature rose to 8C. I drove into town to get a fuller weather forecast in the hopes that it would drop cold again as quickly as it had got hot. The forecast however promised another ten days of its balmy spring weather with the threat of rain and a few small storms. Without doubt the perfect opposite of the forecast I was looking for, all the reasons that I had chosen to climb in winter were completely unfulfilled.
I hiked back to the base having made a decision. I was not willing to get on the face in these more dangerous conditions. I had worked so hard over the last 4 months to be as fit as I could, as mentally solid as I could muster and to have all the best equipment available. It seemed, for me, far too cavalier to throw away this margin of safety I had worked so hard to obtain just because of the pressure and desire to climb the route. It will still be there another time, and when all the aspects align it will be a fun climb without doubt.
The hike back to get the ropes was worse than the day before. A heavy heart didn’t help but the high temperatures had turned the avalanche debris to knee deep slush and the face was pouring with water. Eventually I managed to grab all the kit and sat to think for a while. In any other arena in the world these conditions could well have been perfect. I know in Patagonia we’d have loved some positive temperatures and sunny days but I am in no rush to be on the Troll Wall in less than perfect and cold conditions. There is of course the chance that another, perhaps slightly more cavalier then myself could have cruised up the route unimpeded by any objective danger and enjoyed the warmer temperatures for a quick ascent. That chance was not one I am willing to take and I am proud of the decision to wait for another attempt.
The drive home was a longer and much lonelier pursuit than the one to get there. A five hour German traffic jam did little to add to the joys but I made it home in three and a half days bitterly disappointed but ready to move on. I’ve realised that getting the chance to make these huge decisions is one of the greatest aspects of the pursuit and so I am happy to have made the right one.
I’d like to thank everyone so very much for the help, gear and time that they gave in order for me to get this opportunity. There is a lot to look forward to this year so keep watching this space!