Tripping around my mind

Norvegian exposure

I travelled to Norway. Why? Mostly because, thanks to a friend, I fell in love with climbing.  And as I started to get bored with indoor bouldering I had to find an outdoor place  where I could go climbing. Since winter is here, ice climbing seemed like a great idea. And there is no better place to do ice-climbing than Norway. Whoever I asked  about ice climbing in Europe  suggested this place unanimously: Rjukan, Norway. Rjukan is the mecca of ice climbers. So be it. I’d  never been to Norway before.  I liked it so much that now I’ve been there twice within two weeks. It was for different reasons but that’s another story. Let’s focus on the first trip now…

So I looked up a company which specializes in winter fun (Skyhook adventure) and signed up for an ice climbing course straight away. It was for complete beginners. No previous experience was needed, although it’s useful if one has seen a rope and a harness close up. Ice climbing is similar to rock climbing. There is a wall and you have to climb up using ropes, harness and helmet. But the similarity pretty much ends here. It requires a  completely different set of skills. You are climbing wearing a minimum of 5 layers of clothing with the help of ice axes and crampons in -15 C degrees on a frozen waterfall. The feeling of the climb is different too. As a friend of mine, to whom I can thank my whole climbing experience, once explained

ice climbing lacks the beauty and fineness of rock climbing. Here you have to use more muscle power and it is in no way as graceful as rock climbing.

A couple of weeks before the course, a Facebook group was formed where we discussed our travel plans and questions about who wanted to do what, why and where. It turned out that most of us were flying from London,  three of those on the exact  same plane. So renting a car together was the obvious cost effective choice as Rjukan is a 3 hour drive from Oslo. One of us, Ryan, kindly agreed to sort out the car. I had a feeling it was far too many of us for one car but to save some money and time we decided to rent a 7 seater. It will be alright. We’ll fit in. Won’t be a problem. Well…

At the airport I met Ryan and the Mongolian-Chinese-Romanian girl. Yes, Nara represented  three nations in one person. The funny bit was that her Mongolian-Chinese father met his  Romanian wife in Budapest back then, so Nara could even recognize  Hungarian . Anyway, we became friends instantly and later she kindly invited me to her Mongolian family’s place If I’d ever like to spend some time in Mongolia and live in a tent. Of course I would! It might even happen this year…

In Oslo, at Gardemoen, we met our other peers. A Scottish fifty something chap Steve, a Dutch babe Emma and a Romanian giant Andrei. All in all it was six of us. Okay, nothing to worry about, we can fit in the car. While Ryan went to pick up the car we got to know each other and the Norwegian -10C degrees. I also managed to eat the finest cinnamon roll I ever tasted in my life. At the airport there is a bakery right next to arrivals where the  fluffiest, sweetest, most cinammony roll was served. It’s definitely worth the detour. The coffee was shit.

As soon as Ryan arrived with the car we realized it was either going to be the shittiest or the funniest ride to Rjukan.

The car was suitable for 7 people, on paper at least, but it wasn’t a transit or a similar scale vehicle. The extra two seats were in the trunk. Literally. It was more like for 5 adults and two kids. We’ll be fine!. We will. But what about the luggage? None of us was tiny and noone would come to Norway wearing only  slippers and a t-shirt but a minimum of 6 layers of clothing. My 90litre North Face duffel bag was pretty stuffed. According to Ryan, you only need a positive attitude and maybe a bigger car but that wasn’t an option. We squashed the two girls into the trunk. Steve was sitting in the front with two bags on his lap. Me and Andrei at the back with everyone else’s luggage on our laps. It felt  bearable. For 5 minutes. when Ryan, who was the only one not having a bag under his armpit, as he was driving kindly informed us that we were to pick up another passenger in Oslo. WTF? Where is she going to sit? On the hood? Then you won’t see much of road and she would freeze to death! I had absolutely no idea how we were going to solve it, but who gives a shit, let’s go. We would have  if one of the doors hadn’t frozen. After fiddling with the lock using my fingernails and other stuff I found in the parking lot, we managed to unfreeze the lock and we were on our way.

In Oslo we only got lost as many times as one possibly could. After driving through the same 4km long tunnel for the fourth time, there was only one thing to do,  laugh. But at least we forgot how miserable we were in ‘squash mobil’ (Ryan came up with the name). We found the seventh passenger somehow somewhere in downtown Oslo. Luckily, Maureen had a lapse of judgment on how much clothes she needed for a trip like that so there wasn’t any problem to fit her luggage in. Literally, we had to squeeze ourselves into the car while Ryan tried to shut the door from the outside as there was no way we could get in and close the door by ourselves. We maxed out the car. Andrei had to wear his helmet as he couldn’t place it anywhere in the car.

We didn’t even leave Oslo but both of my legs and my left butt went numb. But looking at the expression of my Romanian friend’s face after every speed bump I realized it wasn’t me who was in the worst situation…

And so we were about to travel for another 2.5 hours like thisWe were sitting in the dark while it was snowing outside and we were wearing our helmets inside. We didn’t feel the cold at all. Our privacy was limited to 1-2inches depending on the bend/curve. We arrived in one piece without any permanent damage. I only had a few bruises and a permanent mark on my left leg  thanks to the door handle. 

Our accommodation was in Rjukan in a hostel (Rjukan Old School Hostel) which was run by a teddy bear lookalike Norwegian guy and his wife. Jakob always had something dangling from the corner of his mouth. He was ‘the’ place. Everyone knows him in ice climbing circles. Even after I returned to London and I mentioned where I was came the question  ‘how is Jakob’? Him and his hostel are the center of the ice climber community in Norway. He can get everything done. He can solve and fix anything. No kidding. He never says no. The accommodation was a typical hostel. Full of weirdos trying to cook something while dancing around each other. Or waiting for the bathroombarefoot with their toothbrushes hanging from their mouths. But that’s why the place felt cozy. Everyone was smiling. You could talk to anyone about anything. A second home. It had a huge, fully equipped kitchen with a massive dining area. We all had our little box in the fridge and we all slept on  three level sort of bunk beds. Sauna was also part of the package. If you wanted to have a private room with a bath, you could, but in a place like that you just want to mingle. It was clean, tidy and full of positive energy. 

We arrived just in time for the briefing where we met our guides for the weekend. One of them was a 100% pure local breedwho grew up in Rjukan, lived and worked there as well. His name was Thor. That alone is enough to be cool but to be even cooler Thor climbed most of the mountains on Earth plus all the mountains in Europe. At least twice. International mountain guide and member of a mountain rescue team as well as speed ice climber champion, whatever that means. So if you want to be cool, you know what to do! The other guy was from Denmark and unfortunately his name wasn’t Loki. It would have been a good story to tell. His name was Anders and he also didn’t start ice climbing yesterday but unfortunately I didn’t get to know him better.

We had a quick briefing and we tried on our the equipment. For the first time in my life I was wearing crampons on my feet. I mean on my shoes. Well, let’s call them boots. And the boots! I’m not kidding when I say my feet was sweating in -15 degrees. The boots were rated to keep your toes warm up to 7000 meters and in -30 degrees. Obviously we weren’t going to climb the Everest that weekend but it was good to know that even if I don’t get back to London in one piece my toes would  still be intact. At least my survival would not depend on my footwear. They were also 110% waterproof with 8 layers of Goretex. If it doesn’t mean anything to you let me rephrase.  Imagine getting out of a Fiat 500 and getting into a Ferrari at Silverstone with unlimited petrol and full insurance. Then somebody hands over the key to you and says, ‘here you go, have fun!’. I couldn’t ask for more. Ok, I might find something better eventually…

After the briefing not much happened. We did a bit of grocery shopping and I cooked for all of us. Everyone ate all of it so it wasn’t that crappy. The only problem  was that we, or me at least, really wanted to have a beer or anything with alcohol in it. Sadly, you cannot buy alcohol after 10pm so we had to go to bed  sober. I guess it was for the best as

I almost fell down from the ladder of my bunk bed which wasn’t a very good sign if I think about it as I came here to climb frozen waterfalls. If I cannot manage to get up to my bed what’s going to happen to me the following day?

We, or let’s say the others?, got up at 8am as we had to leave at 9am. It was still dark. In Rjukan the Sun doesn’t rise before 10am but at least it sets at 3pm in the afternoon. Rjukan lies in a valley surrounded by 2000 meter tall mountains because of this during winter you just don’t see the Sun. Ever. But the Norwegians are clever b..tards and they built a huge arrays of mirrors on the  mountainside to direct the Sun to the city. Pretty cool! Maybe that’s the reasons why only half of the inhabitants are miserable during winter.

We managed to get into the squash-mobil in no time as this time we  didn’t have that many bags. We could finally straighten our legs while traveling. We drove to a place called Osmosis where the massively frozen waterfalls were waiting for us. Their colours were ranging from white through iceblue to yellow. They were beautiful. I don’t get scared easily and I didn’t exactly shit my pants looking at those frozen 20 m long icegiants while having breakfast but my knees started trembling a bit  Just a bit. We had another briefing and we were assured that even a 5inch thick ice can hold up to half a ton. We examined the equipment and we were shown which end of the rope we should hold onto, where  we should stand to avoid being crushed by our climbing partner or a 300-pound icicle. I’d already belayed a few times before so I felt confident but those times I wasn’t wearing two gloves and 3 coats. And it wasn’t snowing and it wasn’t -12C degrees. The rest was the same. I kindly offered my belaying services to the others so they could go first. I was not rushing anywhere. We tied Ryan to one end of the rope and I clung to the other end. There you go my friend, good luck!

It’s not just hard to get started  it’s also a bit hard to stay on the wall but it’s all down to the right technique. And that’s another reason why ice climbing is different from  rock climbing. In ice climbing you don’t necessarily need to find a good hold. You just have to kick really hard with your legs crampons and swing those ice axes vigorously. Whether it holds or not, well, you’ll find out soon enough. If you have the right technique it is only a matter of stamina and determination to get to the top. Of course it’s not that simple but that’s the gist of it.  When you realize, however, that

the only thing that holds you at 15 meters is two little steel tips on your boots and two tiny tiny tips of you ice axe, then and only then can you start shitting your pants.

Of course there is the belayer at the other end of the rope who will hold you if you fall assuming they know what they are doing. My belayer was Maureen who never saw  a rope and harness in her life let alone climbed. Or had any insurance for that matter. But she was great and  did a real good job securing me all the way up and down. For my first ever ice climb I picked a friendly looking not too steep waterfall, only around 80 degree and about 15 meters high. I can do it, no problem. It was scary as hell. But it was really satisfying to hammer and kick the wall, find a grip, push, pull, climb, hold, move. And repeat. Flying ice debris, trembling knees, cold, snow, sweat. Pretty fuckin’ awesome! And in spite of my fear of heights I didn’t panic. You just have to look upwards and there won’t be any problem. Never. Look. Down!

I managed to climb all the way up! My first ever ice climbing was a total success! The only thing left to do was to get down in one piece to tell the story. Fortunately, the Norwegian god saw that Maureen was a little worried so he stepped in and helped her out. It only takes practice. As soon as I got back down I knew I wanted to go again. I fell in love with ice climbing. Well,truth be told I fall in love easily. I am not saying that ice climbing is my next favorite sport and I’ll spend all my time and money on climbing every ice walls in the world but if I come across a suitably frozen waterfall I won’t hesitate to climb up. It seemed much harder at first glance than I thought it would be. Of course it could be done better , there is so much more to learn to take it to a professional level and what I did was nothing but you have to start somewhere.

As we were not pros to lay down the ropes and fix the screws and carabiners on the wall someone had to do it for us. Well, this noble task was done by Thor. He was running around,  up and down and around the wall like a bighorn sheep. Needless to say he climbed the same wall without any protection just to show us the basic movements. Although I wouldn’t call it climbing. I’d rather call it running. He ran up. He didn’t climb. He ran up. As if he was walking on stairs. Or on moving stairway. Obviously he was stupid. If he falls he dies, but why would he fall? I don’t fall over walking on the sidewalk! Later he showed us a picture of him climbing a 300-meter-high waterfall. I then understood climbing this puny little 15 meter ice thingy wasn’t a real challenge for him.

We spent the rest of the day climbing a few other waterfalls. Some of them were easier, others more interesting or  scarier but in any case we had a great time. We formed a group of threes. One of us climbed and the other two secured the climber just so everyone could get home. So it was really safe.

You have to be really fuckin’  unlucky to fall down, get smashed and got left there dying. Obviously we wouldn’t leave anyone behind. That’s why we had bags.

We had some scary moments but they were more just  hiccups rather than life treating moments. At lunchtime Thor made a little fire to warm us up. I still cannot figure out where he got the dry wood from…

Around 3pm it started to get dark so we began to pack our shit together and headed back to the hostel. In the evening we had a quick discussion about how the day went and what we were going to do the following day. Everyone was knackered. Except for Andrei. He could have done it for days without stopping. We shared our little experiences, what we liked, why it was sooo good or bad. And it really felt good to talk about the same experience from a different perspective. Success, failures, abrasions, swollen hands, crushed fingers, bloody legs and more. The last three, of course, was only demonstrated by me. On the way back I managed to trip over and one of my boots, fitted with lovely  sharp crampons, cut my calf through three layers. Nothing serious, but my mother had to fix my brand new £150 pants. I am still learning how to walk in crampons. As for  my fingers, the ice axes have some finger protection on but I managed to hit the icewall with my knuckles. Every. Fucking. Time. 143 times to be precise. By the end of the day most of my fingers were a bit swollen. My hand was also swollen due to the fact that I was pulling the rope all day and as the rope froze I had to exert great power to pull it through the belay system. I didn’t want my partner to die so I pulled like a freak. No surprise there.

I didn’t want to cook in the evening so we asked Thor to recommend a nice pub where we could have dinner. What’s the best place in Rjukan? After a minute of mulling over our question he suggested that  we should go to Huset Pub (Huset Pub Rjukan). That’s a good place. Good food and the rest. As I found out later, that was the only normal pub in Rjukan. But at least he thought it through. Tripadvisor had the same opinion so we were set. Once we arrived,  the locals gave us the look only outsiders deserve. But I guess they areused to seeing strange faces from time to time. I know everyone says Norway is expensive. Yeah, blah blah blah Of course, of course. That’s not true. No. It’s really fucking expensive. Even if I compare it to London. A beer costs around £10 and a pizza goes for £40. Ok, the pizza is for 2/3 people, but still. So I only drank 3 beers. And the pizza was really good. Not the thin crispy typebut still really tasty. Although, it was not baked locally. Every now and then a  delivery guy appeared with the next order. One by one. Every 5 minutes. We spent the rest of the evening talking about climbing and mountaineering. We also discussed light topics like whether Princess Diana was really killed or it was an accident and whether the Queen knew about it or who the f..k is Black Pete and what we are proud of about our nation. Also Brexit came up. Naturally. 

Just before bedtime I bought another ticket to Hungary for Christmas. I had already bought one month before but the wrong way around. I booked a return ticket from Budapest to London  instead of London to Budapest. It was really cheap! Of course it was.  Who the fuck is traveling from Budapest to London around Christmas? I’ve done some crazy stunts over the years but that must have been the number 1 shit. I wonder what I have to do to surpass this?  Missing a flight or having four tickets to 4 different countries within two weeks of which I only used 3 or getting to the wrong airport or getting to an airport on the wrong day seems like just another day in my life. Having more than 300 take-offs, and landings, seemed acceptable. But it hurt a little bit knowing that the price of the new ticket cost more than my ticket to Sri Lanka this year. (I get to that later). Maybe it was only cheaper because I bought the wrong ticket. Again…

We spent the next day doing more climbing. Since we thought we were cool and we knew everything to be known about ice climbing we visited another location with more difficult ice walls. Krokan was a half an hour drive from Rjukan. Half of the team turned right instead of left at some point  so they got lost and we had to wait for them. Plus, Ryan graciously offered to take Maureen to a bus stop as she had to catch an earlier flight that day. So Ryan unfortunately missed a good half a day of climbing but he didn’t seem very upset about it. He later told us he had a really good karaoke session in the car. By himself. And I could only hope he really took Maureen to the bus stop and he didn’t just left her somewhere on the road half way. But Ryan looked like a really nice guy so I’m sure Maureen is alive. 

In Krokan we met a few very graceful 15-25 meter high waterfalls waiting to be smacked into pieces by our ice axes. They were steeper and the ice was much harder. Which is not good as they are more prone to brittling, I learnt later. The weather was very similar. Snowfall and a gentle -10 C degrees. Perfect! Like last time we formed a team of threes and since my other two peers were professional rock climbers Thor didn’t really give a shit about us and he just left us to our own devices. He was sure we would be ok. Fortunately, he was right and we didn’t die. In reality though he was always around if needed.  He just gave us a little bit more space to push ourselves a bit. I had to throw in the towel a few times as these walls were different from the ones   previously. Unfortunately I couldn’t climb all the way to the top but I had a few climbs which I was very satisfied with. I fell more often than before but that was part of the game. There were other climbers around daring such walls I thought were impossible to climb. At some places there was only bare rock but they climbed easily only   with crampons and ice axes. It’s called dry tooling as I learned. Maybe one day…We also met a couple with a fluffy dog. He was so happy to crunch on the fallen icicles. 

I also really enjoyed the community feel about climbing. Everyone came to do one thing. To climb. Everyone went through the same shit. They were there to climb and to help and encourage others. Sharing the happy moments and the scary ones too. Sharing the frozen chocolate bars and sandwiches. And in spite of the fact that we had never met and we may never meet again we got on really well. Positive thoughts, positive energies. I made new friends like Mic whom I might see once again when I finally travel to Wales to climb a few mountains. I’m sure I’ll see all of them at some point in my life. 

The day quickly went by which meant the Sun set really early so we packed again around 3pm in order to get back to the Hostel by daylight. We only had to do a few things: Pack, chat, laugh and hug. We said goodbye to Thor and Anders who were really helpful over the weekend but most importantly they were really nice people. They explained everything patiently, making sure we wouldn’t do anything stupid like when I started climbing without attaching myself to either end of the rope. They were pros. But they didn’t really understand our jokes, but hey, they weren’t there to laugh. 

photo by Emma Fromberg

On the way back, fortunately, we didn’t have to squash ourselves into the squash mobil like sardines as some of us were given a lift   back to Oslo . The 3-hour car ride back to Oslo was much more comfortable than it was before. Halfway through I couldn’t  if I’d packed my photo gear or not. A quick call to Jacob revealed that I did leave my stuff at the hostel. Obviously we couldn’t turn back as Ryan and the rest of the gang would have killed me or just left me at side of the road, so I asked Jakob to look after my stuff until I return . Return? Here? To Rjukan? To Norway? Yes, precisely. And as we know life is a funny ride it turned out that I was to return to Norway in two weeks. For a different reason tough. But I’ll leave it for next time. Then I’ll explain what I was doing on a husky farm, how  a loo looks like at 1800 meters and why we should never ever eat yellow snow…

Items left behind

  • half pair of glove
  • swimming trunk
  • photography gear (which I managed to get it back eventually)


(2 nights, 2 days of climbing)

  • Plane ticket: £120 (London-Oslo, Norwegian Air)
  • Car rental + petrol: £30 (7 people sharing, thanks Ryan!)
  • Food, drink, going out: 800 NOK (£75)
  • Course fee including lodging and equipment: 3.800 NOK (£350)

Total: £575


Boots: La Sportiva G2 (+ crampons)
Pants: Icebreaker Merino 200 leggings, Mountain Hardware Mission Pant, Arc’teryx Alpha Pants
Insulation: Icebreaker Merino long sleeve, Mountain Equipment Diablo fleece
Jacket: Rab Nimbus Jacket, Columbia Diablo Hooded Jacket, Montane Alpine Pro Hard shell
Gloves: Arc’teryx Gothic Glove, SealSkinz Dragon Eye Glove, Trekmates Chamonix GTX
Packs: North Face Base Camp Duffel L, Osprey Variant 37l
Ice axes and other: Black Diamond, Petzl

Course provider: Skyhook adventure
Hostel: Old School Hostel
(the only) Pub: Huset Pub Rjukan

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No second chance

After I managed to drive on every possible road south of Kandy it was time to find new routes I did not try in the last week or so. Well, I definitely found my most memorable adventure in Sri Lanka.

The Holy Triangle

To my surprise, I got out of bed early, drank a not so good coffee in a yoga cafe and left Nuwara Eliya with positive thoughts and traveled to the most sacred mountain in Sri Lanka to see a miracle.