The Great Undiscovered Secret of Southern Norway
Ice Climbing in Setesdal
When to visit
The ice climbing season can extend from December until April. The best time to climb is very difficult to forecast, and a check on the first-ascent dates may be a good indication. As a general rule, mid-January to early March seems to provide the best chance of good conditions.
Setesdal rarely provides a season of continuous ice, more commonly there will be periods of intense cold interspersed with periods of thaw. The Kristiansand climbers regard Setesdal as having three distinct ice climbing periods:
- The early season freeze, often with a lack of snow, usually in December through to early January.
- The mid-season freeze, usually in the first three weeks of February.
- The end of season frost period, when high and north-facing routes often come into their best condition, usually in the middle of March.
- The last three years, however, have produced fairly unusual weather and conditions – 2010 and 2011 were bitterly cold for long periods, whilst 2012 was warmer but had a single hard frost period in early February. Unusually temperatures can reach as high as +10°C in February and as low as -20°C in March.
With plenty of low-cost flights operating between the UK and Oslo, Setesdal is now an easily accessible, minimum-effort winter climbing holiday... and, despite Norway's reputation it's not as expensive as you might think.
Four main airports serve southern Norway - Oslo Gadermoen is the city's main hub and is located closest to the centre of Oslo. Rygge is located 66km to the southeast, and is of little use to climbers heading for Setesdal. Sandefjord Torp airport, located 110km southwest of the capital is the closest to the climbing, and is the recommended destination.Stavanger, located on the west coast is another option, though with some of the smaller roads being closed during the winter, getting to Setesdal from here is less reliably easy!
Ryanair fly to Torp from a number of UK destinations, though their Stansted service is arguably the best option, with arrival and departure times to allow the entire journey to be completed in one day of travel.
The easiest access is by flying to Sandefjord Torp airport, then taking the E19 along the coast. Turn off either for Drangedal (shortest for the northern valley), Arendal - Evje (next shortest), or Kristiansand - Evje (most likely to be open in heavy snow).
The Setesdal Guidebook contains full details about getting to the valley and finding accommodation.
Hiring a car is recommended, as you'll need it not only to get to the valley, but also to reach the climbing. All major international car hire agencies have desks at Torp airport, and vehicles can be booked online in advance.
You can check the state of the roads on this website (or here translated into English). Please note that the main access routes to the valley do sometimes close due to heavy snow or ice, so it's well worth checking immediately before you plan your route. If the shorter routes are closed then access from the South via Kristiansand or Arendal may be the only option.
Accommodation & Facilities
In the winter season the valley has the provision of hutte accommodation, supermarkets and petrol stations in seven locations: Hovden, Bykle, Valle, Rysstad, Ose (unmanned petrol station), Bygland and Åseral.
Hutte accommodation usually consists of a simple kitchen and sitting room, with a shower and toilet cubicle and bunk beds. A hutte can usually accommodate 6 persons, but smaller ones may only provide beds for 4 persons. Prices tend to be upwards of 800 Kroner per day, so usually it is only cost effective if 4 to 6 persons are sharing. Bedding can be supplied by some hutte complexes for a small additional cost. Be prepared to negotiate prices in winter, when there are many un-rented huttes to choose from. Hutte accommodation usually consists of a simple kitchen and sitting room, with a shower and toilet cubicle and bunk beds. A hutte can usually accommodate 6 persons, but smaller ones may only provide beds for 4 persons. Prices tend to be upwards of 800 Kroner per day, so usually it is only cost effective if 4 to 6 persons are sharing. Bedding can be supplied by some hutte complexes for a small additional cost. Be prepared to negotiate prices in winter, when there are many un-rented huttes to choose from.
There plenty of hotels in Evje and Byglandsfjord, but these may be too far south to be useful locations. Likewise accommodation in Hovden may prove to be too far north for an intensive climbing trip, and the best locations are likely to be in Rysstad or Valle – both of which are central to the Setesdal valley – or in Ljosland for the Åseral region.
Valle has a petrol station, 2 supermarkets, a silversmith, a flower shop, and a very nice coffee shop in the old Bergtun hotel, all situated in the main part of the village. Below it is the Valle Commune building and a range of other facilities including a tourist office (closed in winter), a craft centre, a bank, a post office, and a medical centre.
Rysstad has a useful petrol station which stocks other goods and food supplies, a museum that is open in winter, a supermarket and an excellent hotel complex. Both Rysstad and Valle have libraries (open on different days) at which internet access is often possible.
All of the petrol stations sell hot drinks and hot dogs and a limited range of food. The options for buying souvenirs are very limited, although Rysstad and Valle are considered to be the silversmithing capitals of Norway! In summer, there are many silversmith shops in the valley, but in winter the only one that is routinely open is in the centre of Valle, next to the petrol station. Hovden and Evje have a range of shops including book shops and outdoor equipment shops which may provide other options for the purchasing of souvenirs.
Equipment and Ethics
In Norway, winter tyres or snow chains are mandatory for cars and the roads are invariably covered in snow and ice for the entire region covered by this guide. Hire cars from Norwegian cities will be fitted with them as standard, though cars brought from the UK by ferry obviously will not.
The approaches to the routes are often through deep snow and forests. Cross-country ski equipment can be useful in some situations, but snow shoes are more versatile. It would be very difficult to climb anything other than road-side routes without snow shoes, which can be hired from the Sport Fjellgardstun shop in Hovden.
Very few of the routes require a descent that is other than straight back down the line of the route or circling around to come back to the base. Snow shoes or other approach equipment can therefore be left at the base of most routes.
Standard winter ice climbing gear, including up to 14 ice screws, is usually required. Almost all of the routes have been ascended using twin 60m ropes. Bolted sport routes are prevalent throughout the valley in summer, but the British and Norwegian climbers who have made most of these winter first-ascents have done so without recourse to pitons or bolts. Nuts and camming devices may prove useful on a limited number of routes such as Going Underground and Ride the Punani.
In situ abseil points can be up to 60m apart, but are almost inevitably buried by snow. Most of the abseils are from trees, of which some are of questionable strength. Ensure that you only select healthy and secure trees prior to abseiling.
Pulling ropes around trees can seriously damage the bark and in effect ‘ring’ the tree causing it to die. It is good practice, therefore, to leave a sling around the tree to protect its bark, so be prepared to take some long tape or old climbing rope for the preparation of these abseil points. Always tie the abseil point with a reasonable amount of slack, so that in future years the trees can grow without being strangled by the rope.
There are no real climbing equipment outlets in the region. Limited equipment can be obtained from the Intersport shop in Evje and from theSport Fjellgardstun shop in Hovden. Ski equipment, snow shoes and clothing can be bought from these outlets, but for ice climbing equipment the closest retail points are in Kristiansand.
The Solvgarden Hotel and Feriesenter complex, 500 metres south of the Rysstad petrol station, provides a variety of accommodation from full hotel service to hutte booking. The hotel has a bar service and wireless internet access.
firstname.lastname@example.org 0047 37936130
The Bykle Hotel, at the top of the valley, provides reasonably priced hotel accommodation and would be a good option if the lower valley is too warm. The hotel is directly behind the petrol station, with the supermarket on the opposite side of the main road.
email@example.com 0047 37938999
The Valle Motel provides hutte accommodation as well as hotel rooms, a simple breakfast and dinner service and the only bar in Valle.
firstname.lastname@example.org 0047 37937700
In the Aseral region the best option is the Ljosland Fjellstove, located at the end of the Vestredalen valley at Ljosland, which provides rooms and a simple breakfast and dinner service.
email@example.com 0047 38 285700