Climbing in Uskedalen. The Norwegian big wall paradise above the fjords. Part I: Getting started.

Climbing in Uskedalen is probably the closest we have in Europe to climbing in Yosemite. Still Uskedalen is relatively unknown outside of Norway. Summer climbing in the north, is shyly becoming a bucket list objective for many European climbers, however Uskedalen still remains quite a hidden pearl. Perhaps because climbing in Uskedalen can be intimidating, and is not necessarily a place for beginners. At the same time, they are accessible routes for rutined climbers that will definitely set a mark…

Climbing in Uskedalen is probably the closest we have in Europe to climbing in Yosemite. Still Uskedalen is relatively unknown outside of Norway. Summer climbing in the north, is shyly becoming a bucket list objective for many European climbers, however Uskedalen still remains quite a hidden pearl. Perhaps because climbing in Uskedalen can be intimidating, and is not necessarily a place for beginners. At the same time, they are accessible routes for rutined climbers that will definitely set a mark in your climbing resume.

We have divided our guide to climbing in Uskedalen into a series of three articles.
Part I: Getting started. An introduction to Uskedalen, its climbing style, recommended gear, beta regarding logistics and planning a trip. We close the article with a reflection regarding if you need a guide on your first contact with the valley, as well as offering tips of where to find climbing walls that may be easier for learning multi pitch trad climbing, as well as a selection of attractive plan B available in the area.
Part II: Your first routes. This article dives hard into what should be your first routes to climb in the valley. We focus on routes between 100m to 400m, with moderate difficulties and relatively simple logistics for getting in and out of the wall. All these routes are absolute classics with memorable formations to climb.
Part III: Going BIG! In this article we get to the core of climbing in Uskedalen. Going big in routes over 400m in an ocean of granite. These routes are absolutely free climbing pearls and they will require more from you. We have tried to hold the difficulties up to norwegian 6+ (french 6b), but increase the difficulty in terms of committing to going big. A test for your skills, your head and your mountaineering tactic repertoire.

An ocean of granite rises over a green farming valley, leading to the Hardangerfjord. Down by the fjord you can enjoy the norwegian summer idyll. Bading, boat life, fishing crabs, while in the background rises the Rosendal alps and the glacier of Folgefonna. The granite walls of Uskedalen tower up to thousand meters above the valley floor and expand continuously for three kilometers. The different walls and peaks converge to the same ridgeline and the summit plateau of Geitadalstind, Ulvanosa and √ėktaredalstind. It does not take long to realise that you are in a place of powerful nature.

The rock and climbing Style

The walls and climbing routes are solid for the most part, loose rock is not usual to find in the popular routes. This is the paradise for dihedrals, chimneys, splitters and crack climbing on trad gear. It is special to climb sustained routes for several hundreds of meters without any fixed gear. Because of that, there are routes in Uskedalen that are commiting and very serious. This can be intimidating at first for many european climbers, where equipped and semi equipped routes are the norm. At the same time, there are routes and sectors that have access to rappel belays, or even have rappel anchors parallel to the route. In general you do not miss the fixed gear. Some routes may have a bolt or two at an exposed pitch, and you can find a couple of bolted/semi bolted routes.

The routes in Uskedalen tend to follow full rope pitches, so between 45 and 55m. The granite of Uskedalen has thick grain crystals, with supreme friction. Gear bites well in cracks, and it tends to be relatively easy to build anchors for the climbers that have experience with gear placements. Even though we climb mostly cracks in Uskedalen, beware that it is rather common to follow pitches where cracks thinn up leading to slabby sections. Often you need to climb several moves on slab to reach a new crack system. Most often placing cams and good wires is easy, however having a selection of small offset cams and wires tend to be smart, as there are often cracks that flare up. Rack management is important. Have in mind that if you are climbing with a double rack and you are aiming for full rope pitches, considering that you need gear to build both the lower and upper belay station, that may require to leave some runouts on easier terrain and save some pieces of gear for your belay. Many routes can as well be climbed in more pitches if you want to avoid that. Bringing a generous rack to Uskedalen can be smart if you are getting familiar with this taste of “big wall” climbing. I tend to carry with me an extra rack of nuts, either on the harness or on the backpack and 7mm cordelette, in case i have to bail. 

Climbers tend to agree that in general, in Uskedalen, routes are pretty hard for the grade. If you are getting familiar with this place, these routes and this style of climbing, try to think of the grades as probably two grades under what many modern climbers will probably experience. So for example, it is not uncommon to hear people saying that they felt several IV+ pitches feeling like V+, V+ pitches feeling like somewhere in the middle of the sixth scale, and so on. This is a bit silly and it does not always apply, but it can be a reasonable thumb rule for making sure that you are prepared for the challenge.

I recommend using big and comfortable climbing shoes. In my opinion flat works best. Boots like the TC pro, or similar provide a solid base. Many climbers would experience intense pain in their calves, achilles tendons and feet after their first climbs in Uskedalen. It can get to the point that some need a couple of rest days just to not walk funny around the campsite. I like personal shoes with laces because I can easily broaden them to accommodate a thick wool sock. Climbing in Uskedalen can be cold. Crack gloves are also a must for me. Of course for the jamming, but even more important It just keeps my hands warmer and a bit more out of the wind.

Guidebook

Bergen Klatreklubb (Bergen climbing club) has a thorough guide book with good description, practical photos and a format that allows to take pages out to be used as topo. The pages have a plastic-like coating making them reasonably waterproof. The latest version is from 2021. You can buy the guide book in Raben camping in Uskedalen as well as in most outdoor and climbing shops of Bergen and the region. Bergen climbing club has an online route database for members, you may consider the membership for a comfortable access to information with the last updates.

The season

The climbing season in Uskedalen generally starts in late May and can be carried out till late september. Uskedalen is in the fjord region of Norway, which is known for intense weather. The summer comes relatively fast by the fjord. May tends to have sunny and stable weather. However in May, there can still be a lot of snow from the winter that gradually is avalanching down from the slopes. When the walls start to get clean at the end of the month, they become climbable pretty fast. At that time of the year, it tends to be cold on the wall. Rock avalanches can happen this time of the year with the melting snow. June and July are the prime months for climbing in Uskedalen, at this time of the year it pretty much does not get dark and the weather tends to be stable. It can be cold on the wall, but it can also get pretty hot in the sun. This is the best time of the year for having big ambitions. July and august tend to be wetter, but still on the good weather windows, you will enjoy prime conditions. The longer you get into september, the shorter the days start to become. At the same time, every year in the fall we get a period with prolonged stable weather, and that can make for a delightful holiday in the valley.

How to get there

If you are travelling from abroad, you will most likely use the international airport of Bergen. It takes around two and a half hours to drive to Uskedalen both from Bergen and From Voss. Day trips are within range for experienced climbers from Voss and Bergen.

Where to stay

The obvious place to stay is Rabben camping. Cosy camping, good standards, right by the fjord and the town center. An easy place for climbers and families with good access point to different activities like fishing, swimming, renting a boat…You can find hotels as well. If you include in your search the Hotels of Rosendal and Dimmelsvik, you will find a broad palette of accommodations, ranging from high end, to practical and basic. There are several small traditional style stays that can make for a cosy time. You can also find private cabins to rent in the area. Finally, for the dirtbags and the fast missions, it is possible to do free camping by the lake of fjellandsb√ł, all the way in the valley.

Do I need a guide?

This is always a personal decision to take. As a company providing guided climbing services, we are probably tilting towards recommending a guide. At the same time, we have also been the scruby dirtbag kid that wants to do it all by himself. Here are some points to consider.

-It is true that the style of climbing in Uskedalen is special and hard. You cannot really get prepared for it training indoors, doing crossfit at home, or even by having climbed quite a bit in bolted multi pitch routes. Climbers tend to be humbled in Uskedalen and are often dependent on having a “mentor”, or a stronger and more experienced rope party to get them through the route. This also happens to strong and accomplished sport climbers.

-Having a guide will allow you to climb the most interesting routes for your grade, get a better mileage, not lose time in the transitions and avoid all the small dramas related to getting off route, struggling to make a decent belay, or leading the occasional pitch in the rain. All together this will probably give you a bit more time for yourself down from the wall, enjoy perhaps a bit of fishing or camping life with your family, recover better and overall climb more.

-If you Are travelling from abroad, the argument of comfort with the logistics can be strong. No need to bring two ropes, your full rack and being depending on storing it everywhere you go during your trip. At the same time you can use the car of your guide and he/she fixes the accommodation and logistics. No need to get tangled with car rentals, planning or accommodations. Your guide probably knows where to find dry rock when the bad weather rolls in, or can provide an attractive plan B. As in most of Norway, sometimes it is hard to reach cosy stays and restaurants without knowing that they are there and speaking norwegian. We can guide our activities in Norwegian, English, Spanish and French.

-Conditions can be tricky to plan due to the weather. When we organise climbing activities in Uskedalen, we do it for a minimum of 2 days. In this case we have more chances to accomplish our goal. We work with plan B and C for the days in case of bad weather, and we may require some degree of flexibility from our guests. If you are not using a guide, consider planning for the weather as well.

-At the same time, Uskedalen is not the most obvious place for a guided trip. The climbing is technical and demands from the participants. We normally only recommend Uskedalen to potential guests once we are confident with their skills. This will require for them to prove that they have done similar climbs in the past (with or without guide), that they are comfortable with belay routines, can offer secure belaying with an ATC like device and have experience with rappelling multi pitch routes. Otherwise Uskedalen is not the best place to learn. We would then rather offer a guided climb or a climbing course in L√łnahorgi.

Something easier for me?

If you are travelling to Norway to get introduced to this style of climbing, taking a guided trip, or doing a trad climbing course, Uskedalen may be a hard place to start. However you have a couple of more accessible alternatives. Right behind the mountains of Uskedalen, you can find a mountain valley, called Eikedalen (information also found in the guide book of Uskedalen). Here you can find shorter and easier routes on well defined formations. Mind that these routes are far up in the mountain, so they require either a long approach, or perhaps even better, to set a high base camp for some days. Us in Wild Voss, we would perhaps rather recommend the mountain of L√łnahorgi that we have just above Voss. Check it up!

What if it rains?!

Unfortunately, the west coast of Norway is one of the rainiest regions in Europe, so you have to plan with some flexibility in mind. The hiking possibilities in the region are endless. Mountains like UlvanosaManen or Melderskin (in Rosendal) should be on your bucket list. The mountains of Gygrastolen and Bj√łrndalstinden offer spectacular tours and have ridges with alpine sections that require the use of rope. These two traverses can be done in less than perfect weather for experienced alpinists. A glacier hike in Folgefonna may as well be on your bucket list. Kayaking the fjords and trying packrafting or river kayaking in Voss may be a must, especially in rainy weather, when the rivers are raging. If you are looking for travelling further in the region and discover as well Voss and the N√¶r√łyfjord, you may be interested in this article.

If you are ready for the challenge, then you should read our Part II: Your first routes. and our Part III: Going BIG!

Want to read more?

Here is a report from my first visit to Uskedalen back in the fall of 2017 that i wrote in my personal blog Onthebelay.

Last summer, the Bergen climbing club wrote a nice little blog post about Uskedalen. It is in Norwegian, but you most likely can get valuable information with the help of google translate, while enjoying some nice photos.

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