It has been a while since the AMA conducted an overseas Winter Climbing expedition, but Feb 2019 saw the AMA return to Rjukan, Norway. 21 members of the AMA from 18 units located across the UK deployed from three airports over three days and managed to make it to Rjukan without incident. Norway was in full winter conditions with challenging driving conditions and even Oslo Airport had difficulty clearing the runways. Nevertheless, we arrived ready for what turned out to be an incredible week of climbing.
The aim of the expedition was to rejuvenate an annual AMA overseas Winter Climbing expedition, deliver Winter Climbing Foundation, gain further logbook experience, have fun, all whilst achieving the aims of AT by challenging ourselves in arduous environmental conditions.
Supported by 5 WCIs (Chris Dowd, Jon Evans, Duncan Francis, Tarquin Shipley, Graham Stephenson), 1 x WIT (Me), and 3 x WCLs (Guy Davies, Eddy Tomkins, Marcus Levens) we were able to expand the numbers beyond the 12 spaces I had originally planned. There seemed to be an incredible amount of interest and unfortunately a large reserve list was left disappointed. We were fortunate to have a good mix of Regular and Reserves with a third of the expedition being Reservists.
Rjukan had been selected due to the sheer quality and quantity of climbing, with easy approaches allowing those without WML to use their leader qualifications. There was plenty of single-pitch to build up confidence before moving onto longer classic multi-pitch routes. The first few days were spent at either Ozimossis or Krokan. Both had plenty to do from easy WI2 to shake out on to steep pumpy WI4, and some within 2 mins of the car. With much of the expedition being novices, and it being the first time on water ice for some of the leaders it was essential that we spent time focussing on movement techniques and building up comfort before moving onto the bigger routes.
As the week progressed so did the quality of climbing. The groups spread out to Vemork Bridge and Upper Gorge areas. Sitting over the climbs was the Norsk Hydro Plant, home of the German Nuclear Weapons project during WW2. Norwegian Saboteurs spent months recceing and attempting to sabotage the plant, eventually succeeding during Operation Gunnerside. These areas were home to some outstanding climbing, although conditions were challenging. Due to the amount of snowfall some routes were unclimbable, such as the elusive Tracy’s Eyes. Along with heavy snow, some of the ice was quite thin requiring delicate, careful climbing especially by Tarquin Shipley and Marcus Levens who led their groups up Sabotørfossen (WI5 ***). Some of the highlights were Trapfoss (WI4 ***) and Vemorkbrufoss Øst (WI4 ***), and the short, steep and pumpy Host (WI4 *).
Some of the groups decided to explore other areas with three groups descending on Bolgen for one of the days. Unfortunately, many other groups had the same idea that day, and going was slow. Deep snow on the approaches, steep sustained climbing, and some hanging around on belays meant that some of the groups returned after darkness. However, this did allow Chris Dowd and Graham Stephenson to call on the experience in ensuring the safe decent of their groups. Under headtorches and descending as a group of 6, in cold conditions this was a good test of the leadership skills, and the teamwork of the whole group. All safely returned, only slightly tired but with big smiles.
By the end of the week the novices were comfortable on water ice, with the majority returning to Krokan and Ozimossis to progress onto lead climbing. With the delivery of WCF complete all the instructors were happy to award WCF to the novices. This allowed us to spend the sixth day of climbing as consolidation and allowing groups to spend more time climbing as they saw fit. Some wanted to do more lead climbing, others returned to earlier routes to see how they had progressed over the week. Others headed deep into the Upper Gorge to climb the incredible Rjukanfossen (WI4 ***) and Verdens Ende (WI5 ***), and eye up Lipton (WI7 ***)
With the poor Scottish conditions this year and many expeditions and courses cancelled we were fortunate that this exped allowed us to award WCF to the eleven novices. Thanks go to the team from ATG(A) at Bicester who spent a significant amount on new equipment for us and future expeds to use, and the exped wouldn’t have been possible without the generous funding provided by ATG(A), the AMA, and Ulysses Trust. The success of this expedition will hopefully be repeated next year on Ex TIGER AMA RJUKAN20 as we have barely scratched the surface of Rjukan climbing.
the plane was so tangible it almost felt like an extra person! We were up, the ground fell away, an so soon did we! As each Cadet moved to sit in the door of the plane, with their legs hanging over the edge at approaching 100mph, the ‘Load Master’ made last minute kit checks then after a ‘Parachuting handshake’ (and there were some very shaky hands!) the first Cadet ‘Jumped’ there were squeals from everyone else in the plane as they watched the first of us deploying a bright canopy and descending gracefully towards the ground on a flight that pattern of approximately 5 minutes that was under the control of the individual who was being spoken to over the radio by Air Traffic Control in the hope of following the correct path.
On the ground below the 16 who had not yet taken to sky watched with mouths gaping. One by one the first stick touched down. Some closer to the intended landing site then others, Every one landing expressed the same thing. With comments like “wow”, “that was amazing” “I was so scared I did not think I could do it but I’m so glad I did”.
This cycle repeated it self twice more with the 2 other sticks flying jumping landing. Many landed perfectly a few took stumbles left of right and had to roll as per their training.
When we had all landed and the suits where off it was high fives and excited scream all round. A through de-brief of the days actions where given and the cadets all concluded it was the most amazing experience of their lives. The day had been a long one starting at 0600 with reveille in Pirbright and now pushing 2100 in Netheravon, there was really only one thing left that cadets needed to conclude a perfect day and that was food, the consensus was MacDonald’s where over burgers and cokes the ‘invincible’ feeling cadets discussed their escapades, and looked forward too seeing all their friends at camp so they could tell further tales of their glorious flight.