Climbing in Uskedalen. The Norwegian big wall paradise above the fjords. Part III: Going BIG!
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.
This list could not be completed without a description of En midtsommernattsdrøm. This legendary route sits most likely on the top 10 of the free climbing routes in Norway. If you came to this article just for that, keep scrolling down. In the selection I also included Uskedalsdieder, the queen of the valley with its 800m of mostly sustained climbing in the V+ range. Kolkjeryggen a 1000m gentle giant that combines big wall climbing with an alpine ridge. I included Cowboydama as well, despite being only 270m. The video above belongs to Cowboydama. Due to the fact that Cowboydama actually summits a wall, its long approach, the crossing of a snow field at the base of the wall and an epic hand jam crack, this route has quite an alpine character. Let’s get started!
KOLKJERYGGEN Grade 4, 1000m
This is one of my personal favorites in the valley. The route follows probably the most obvious rydge line of the whole face. It is a very complete route that is somehow almost more of a scramble than a climb. However due to the 1000m of route and the vast amount of exposed terrain that you have to cover, you probably should be prepared for a big adventure on your first try. The first part of the route follows a low inclination rydge line to the top of a spur. There are several crack systems and it is possible to mess up significantly. There are variations of the route sustained on the grade 5, but if you read the ridgeline properly it is pretty much walkable. Actually It is the walking/scrambling/short-pitching retour for some harder routes in that spur. There are even reports of a few local alpinists that take it as a “trail run”. Route finding is important in the beginning of the route! The top of the spur is big and fairly flat. A nice place for having a break. Gradually, the spur thinnens up and becomes a sharp ridge leading to the Ulvanosa plateau. The ridge is long, fun and exposed.
The last section has some pretty epic semi overhanging moves in big holds. They Are easy, but have a fair amount of exposure. Knowing the ridgeline well, it is possible to skip some steep sections through terrain shelves, however the edge itself is somehow more majestic. From the top of Kolkjeryggen you follow the marked summer trail back down to the valley. This is a long hike, and can challenge your fitness, but when you time it right and you get to enjoy the melting colours of the Norwegian summer sunset, this may very well be one of the highlights of the day.
In this route, choosing the right strategy is important. Pitching the whole route can be done efficiently, but can very easily turn into a daunting time consuming endeavour. Short pitching or simul-climbing can offer tremendous gains in time, but they come at a compromise in safety. If you are opting for advanced techniques, make sure that you have a system that you have tested with your partner from before, that you are comfortable with it in this terrain, and that you understand the compromises in safety that you are making. The previous warning obviously implies as well your strategy for ridge navigation and protection, a skill that not every rock climber masters.
USKEDALDIEDER Grade 6-, 800m
I have to confess that I have not climbed Uskedaldieder myself. Shame on me. This route has a reputation for having a slightly “soft” crux of 6-. From the reports of my fellow climbers, more than soft, perhaps the sequence of moves is closer to what you are used to climb indoors or at the crag. However, before you reach that crux, you have to progress pitch after pitch through several grade V dihedrals that have given problems and made turn back quite accomplished climbers. Some of those pitches tend to be wet in the spring or after rainfalls, and require mastery in corner climbing. Uskedaldieder is reported to be one of the best routes in the valley and a proper big wall experience. It has always fascinated me the fact that Uskedaldieder was the first route ever climbed in Uskedalen in the summer of 1987. They were going hard back then!
COWBOYDAMA Grade V, 270m
I added this route to the list because it offers something different. This wall is far up in the valley, that implies that you need a long and demanding approach. At the same time you get rewarded by a broader sense of adventure. You get to summit, which is always nice, you get to see more and understand better the landscape around you. For the last part of the approach you need to cross a snowfield, that gradually drifts from the wall making a kind of “bergschrund” and alpine feeling. Once you reach the wall, the route keeps having a component of adventure. In our case, we got a bit tangled in pitch 1, as we had to enter the route further south and then traverse due to the snowfield.
The traverse costed a bit of effort, and was slightly awkward. Once on route, pitch 2 was soaked, and I believe it may be reasonably common to find it wet. The last 50m was a grassy chimney, quite narrow and awkward. Not difficult, but it did not offer a lot of protection opportunities. I led that pitch in quite heavy rain while progressing through a wet grassy ramp for footholds. Until here it probably does not sound very tempting, so why is this route on the list? For two and a half pitches, so for some 160m, the route follows a majestic crack. Extremely defined and extremely even. That crack is perfect handjam size. The crack is steep and sustained. Sometimes it follows a dihedral like formation, sometimes it stands more out on the wall by itself. Delightful climbing, with a different taste than the typical Uskedalen crack systems. The climbing is burly and quite physical. Fun overall, perhaps a bit claustrophobic on the last pitch if you have a backpack, everything is wet, and you do not want to fall on lead. The climbing is not hard, but if you cannot jam, you may not get up this one. Triple the cams in hand sizes (greens, reds and perhaps purples) if you do not want to climb with long runouts. The retour follows the summer trail from Ulvanosa back down to Uskedalen, just like Kolkjeryggen.
EN MIDTSOMMERNATTSDRØM Grade 6+, 450m
Finally! The big classic. The route that you were waiting to read about. En midtsommernattsdrøm, or a midsummer night dream in English. En midtsommernattsdrøm may very well be a heavy contender for one of the longest and constant free climbing routes on gear in Europe in the sixth grade. Those are big words, so take them with a grain of salt, but still this is a route that has to be on your bucket list. En midtsommernattsdrøm is in the Økertind wall, here you can find steeper routes well suited for free climbing.
The Økertind wall has a significantly harder approach than the routes on Vetletind. You need to cross a swamp that tends to be wet, and gradually progress through a steep draining couloir. Once out of the couloir formation you have a system of shelves that leads you to the base of the routes. These grassy shelves can be awkward and sketchy. There is in theory a right way of doing it, and there is a bit of a joke in the norwegian climbing community that if you psych out here, there is nothing for you further up. In my opinion, that can be a bit silly. If you are getting tangled in those shelves, get the rope out, do it safe and save yourself some time and some psych. You will most likely need it further up.
The route is normally climbed in 10 to 12 pitches, and pretty much all of them are in the sixth grade. You have technical thin corners, enjoyable dihedrals, technical moves on slab and dream splitters. The third pitch is a gift. You first progress through an almost closed crack that quickly becomes a finger crack, gradually into a handjam, to finally disappear again into a link of seams, edges and face climbing that leads you to the belay. That pitch is well deserved of the cover picture in the guide book.
The crux pitches are on the second half of the route and consist mostly of thin fingernail splitters, that are technical and challenging to climb. Every now and then they provide slightly wider pockets that work well for placing gear. Still it will feel intense when you have to leave the belay to follow so thin formations without really knowing what you are going to find.
The route has a rappel retour, making for comfortable bolted belays in most of the pitches. The route gets significantly harder past the fifth pitch. That first half of the route, can very well be a proud menu for the day, well worth a visit. No shame in turning around.
Tricks and tips: The first pitch is hard for its grade. On paper it is “only” 6-, but most people will find themselves climbing harder than in a couple of pitches graded 6 further up the wall. The pitches grades 6+ are hard climbing. Like proper hard climbing, be ready for it. Unless you feel really confident on this terrain, chances are that you will be protecting balancy unsecure moves with very small gear several hundred meters above the valley. I would still not consider the route as unsafe, as there are often good chances of placing decent cams. There are many pitches with good belaying ledges, this includes the two hardest pitches. It can be a good idea to have in your rack some aid climbing micro cams and wires, like the DMM brass offset nuts. They will help not only for “protection”, but as a tool for doing french free in case you need it.
Finally, keep an eye on the watch and adapt your strategy consequently. Give yourself a maximum amount of time per pitch and a turnaround time. If you are not following the schedule, consider dropping free climbing, adapt a “french free” strategy, or just turn around. In the end, you are in a fairly remote place, in the middle of a huge wall, in a region with short weather windows. We have good and professional mountain rescue in Norway, but it will take time and we do not always have helicopter weather. Consider having a functional first aid kit, shelter equipment and be drilled in body rescue.
We in WIld Voss hope that you found inspiration and practical information through the series of articles: Climbing in Uskedalen. The Norwegian big wall climbing paradise above the fjords. Uskedalen has a special place in our humble climbing hearts. I personally can say, that climbing in that valley was an argument pretty high on the list when i moved from Chamonix back to Norway. My colleague Øystein also has some pretty epic stories from the valley that could fill several blog posts. Do not hesitate to write to us if you need some tips. Happy climbing for everyone!