I climbed this classic traverse solo in the end of July-2004. The weather was perfect, but the conditions were rather difficult because of all the treacherous snow and ice on top of the ridge. The traverse is normally climbed in two days, but I completed it in one long day. After 8 summits and 19 hours on the move, I was terrible exhausted when I finally reached Turtagrø Hotel late in the evening, but very pleased......
This is one of the classic ridge climbs in Norway. It was first time accomplished in 1901 by Ola Berge and 4 other climbers. The traverse of the Styggedals- and Skagastøls ridge is very demanding in terms of length, but fairly moderate in difficulty (III). The conditions can turn out to be serious or even extreme in bad weather, and there are few opportunities to get off the ridge quickly (without falling...). Thus it's important to do this extensive climb in settled weather only. The western part of Norway is notorious for its bad and unpredictable weather.
The ridge consists of 8 or 9 summits, depending if St. Skagastølstind is counted or not (and prominence > 10m). The traverse is normally done in two days, but I estimated that it could be accomplished in one single day, assuming that I would start very early in the night. But it turned out to be a VERY LONG day, mainly because of the difficult conditions on the ridge, which contained a lot of snow and ice. Because of this I felt there was a new challenge (or problem) every second minute, and it seemed to be never ending.
I started to walk from Turtagrø Hotel in the middle of the night (approx 3 AM). One hour later I could see the whole ridge. Unfortunately all the peaks were covered in clouds. At 5.30 AM I reached the Keiserpass and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise. The clouds were starting to disappear, and I was not concerned about the weather conditions anymore. Moreover, I had a lot of other things to worry about. To reach the base of Jervasstind I had to cross a river. Stupidly I slipped on a rock and fell into the knee-deep river. My boots soaked up a lot of water and I felt they were somewhat heavier when I started to climb the flank of Jervasstind. Halfway up the ridge I finally had a glimpse of the Jervvasstind summit. For the most part it was a long snow plod with a couple of rock sections (grade I).
I reached the summit of Jervvasstind (2351m) approx 9 AM. From nearby the summit there was a tremendous view of the saddle between Jervvasstind and Styggedalstind (see picture above). It seemed to be very steep terrain on snow and ice, and I decided to put on my crampons and harness. The first 2/3 of the face I moved without belays and mainly backwards to get an optimal grip with my crampons. To start a slide here would be fatal. There were a couple of dangerous sections with treacherous ice on top of slabs, but I moved unprotected also here. The last 1/3 of the face I decided to rappel down because of an exposed and difficult rockband, partly covered with ice and snow. Because of some issues with a jammed rope, it took me almost one hour to reach the saddle and safety. I was very relieved to have ended this section, because this was probably the part I had feared most to carry out solo on the entire traverse.
Styggedalstindane and Sentraltind
The continuing route to the east summit of Styggedalstind (2387m) was a rather easy snow plod, and it took me less than half an hour to ascend from the saddle. To continue to the west summit seemed to be very easy at the first glance. Thus I was surprised when I came across an obstacle on the ridge. I had to take of my backpack to get up the vertical step, which was partly covered in ice and snow. But finally I reached the west summit of Styggedalstind (2380m). From there I could see the continuing ridge to Sentraltind (see picture below), and I decided to take a short break to consider my next steps. There were no traces of other people in the snow, so I felt like being on virgin ground and that was a really good feeling….
I had to cross a lot of treacherous snow and ice on top of the ridge, to reach the saddle between Styggedalstind and Sentraltind. The snow was very unstable and several times I felt like it was going to collapse underneath my feet. This was indeed a horrifying place to move unroped, with a 500 metres drop on both sides. Occasionally I tried to circumvent the snowy ridge, by going 5-10 metres beneath the ridge when possible, but in most cases I only found wet and slippery slabs just as dangerous as the snow. Although it took me ages to solve all the problems, I steadily made progress and finally I reached the point where Sentraltind starts to rise from the ridge. I could see that the steep ridge to Sentraltind was going to be a challenge. The first section was very exposed and I had to belay myself (IV-). In fact I could have circumvented this section, by taking to the easier north side of the ridge (normal approach), but that was out of the questions because of dangerous snow and ice. After I had climbed the first step I had to rappel down and pick up my belays. The last obstacle on Sentraltind, which I expected to be the hardest one, contained a lot of good handholds on the right side and thus I found it very easy to climb. I reached the summit of Sentraltind (2.348m) at 1 PM and I decided to take a long break next to the cairn and eat my lunch. At the same time I had perfect view of St Skagastølstind and the climbing activities going on over there, or rather the lack of activities as I only could see 2-3 persons making their way to the summit.
After the lunch break I continued down the ridge from Sentraltind in direction to Vesle Skagastølstind. This was supposed to be a grade II climb only, but the snow and ice made it more difficult and exposed. The last step to the saddle I tried to climb directly down (III+) instead of circumventing to the easier right hand side (II), because the latter route was covered with snow and ice. The vertical step consisted of loose rocks, and suddenly one of my handholds slipped, leaving me in a very tricky situation. It was too risky to climb further down without belays, thus I had to climb it up again and thereafter I decided to take a rappel. When I reached the saddle, my initial plan was to traverse to Mohns Skard and continue to the summit of Store Skagastølstind (2405m), the third highest summit in Norway. But when I saw all the snow, ice and melting water on the slabs towards Mohns Skard, and also the ridge continuing to Store Skagastølstind (see picture below), I decided not to. It would have taken me ages to belay all the way, and I felt I was already running out of time, bearing in mind that I was only halfway on the ridge. In dry condition this would have been an easy grade II climb (yes, the ridge seems much more difficult on the picture below, but it isn’t).
When I reached the summit of Vesle Skagastølstind (2340m) at 2.30 PM, I could see that there was snow/ice on the ridge continuing to Midtre Skagastølstind as well. I knew this was going to be time consuming, so I started right away. Not far below Vesle Skagastølstind, there was a steep wall named Halls Hammer (grade VI). Fortunately I was moving down this wall. Once I had dug some snow/ice to fix my rope, I could easily rappel down the wall. People moving in the opposite direction can circumvent the wall on the north side by crossing a slab (Patchell’s Sva), making it a grade III climb only. After some tricky and very exposed sections on mixed ground and without belays, I reached the summit of Midtre Skagastølstind (2284m) at 4.30 PM. From there I had a wonderful view of the ridge back to Vesle Skagastølstind.
The first pitch down from Midtre Skagastølstind was extremely exposed on slabs covered by treacherous snow and ice. First I tried to climb it down, but that was simply to risky, so I decided to rappel down instead. When I reached Berges Stol and could see the 50-80 metres vertical drop to V-Skardet, I felt privileged to be alone in such an overwhelming environment. Initially I had some problems finding my way down. Was it on the left or right side? Finally I could see some old slings 5 metres below Berges Stol, and I prepared the first rappel down. Well down I started to pull the rope, and every thing seemed OK in the beginning. But then the rope suddenly jammed. What a terrible place to get trapped, in the middle of this intimidating wall. First I belayed my harness to a rock, so I could use all my force and weight to pull the rope. After 4 or 5 pulls, my rope finally came down, and I could see that the 3 cm end of the rope had a mysterious 45 degree shape, indicating that the taped end had jammed somewhere up there. The second rappel was easy to find and finally I was standing in the bottom of V-Skardet.
I reached the summit of Nordre Skagastølstind (2.167m) approx 7.30 PM. From there I could see the whole ridge that I had traversed on this long day (see picture below). 10 PM I arrived Turtagrø Hotel, exhausted after 19 hours of walking and climbing.