It was minus 8 as we stepped out of the hut, just before dawn, in central Norway. We were here for ice-climbing in the world famous Rjukan gorge (famous, at least to those that know about it) Having practiced some single pitch routes the day before, it was to be the rushed ascent of Fabrikfossen, a 7 pitch climb right above the small town, before a hasty descent and sprint back to the airport.
Shooting wise, I’d already picked up some essential pionters about the cold conditions, specifically relating the issues below
- Cold Fingers
The cold drains the power much faster than usual so keeping them warmer in an inside pocket helps prevent the embarrassment of missing the summit shot. Secondly, it can be worth topping up the charge in the evenings, even if they haven’t been used, since just the fact of being that cold can reduce their life. And obviously, take some spares if you have them.
-By the time the weak dawn light had seeped into the depth of the valley we were crashing through the birch scrub and tramping up through the thick snow. The amount of gear we had with us could easily have been used to set up the next SAW movie, a full rack of ice screws and twin axes could certainly do some gruesome damage.
Learnt the hard way, despite the warning. Taking very cold equipment into a warm moist atmosphere, such as we like to enjoy indoors, means a film of condensation on everything. Lens, body, support rigging, everything, with the potential for that film of nuisance to appear inside your kit too. So….either
- Take the batteries and CFcards out of the camera and leave the lot locked in the car boot
- Take the bag in, but keep it closed, preventing the sudden exposure to the moisture or
- Take zip lock bags and individually keep everything sealed, should you need to open the bag indoors.
Personally, taking just the cards and batteries into the hut seemed the most hassle free for me, and the probability of carjacking my gear from the boot out here was zero
-Our inexperience soon raised its ugly head as we finished our second pitch: off route, at the end of a 60m rope, with no stance and not enough ice-screws to make a belay. Having seen a few youtube vids about cutting v-threads we were able to McGuyver something together, but from then on, our pitches were shorter, much shorter. Didn’t stop us knotting our ropes so badly we had to pull them through though, nor did it prevent us from jamming the loose rope beneath an icicle furher down the route. Still… you learn don’t you.
An obvious point, cold conditions, mean cold fingers. But with iceclimbing, when the grip on the axe is life preservingly tight and frequently crushed into the iceface (until you spend the pennies on trendy ‘icetools’ with recessed handgrips) fingers become white, waxy and numb. That’ll be the frost nip then. From a photography perspective there are a couple of good strategies to help us.
- Practice operating your tool (camera that is) with the gloves you’ll climb with. Understand the limitations of the operations can perform. Nikon users will probably fair better, given the less menu based function navigation approach, but either way, practice makes for less fumbling. Like many things in life.
- Covering metal surfaces with tape or foam. Carrying a tripod around and even just setting one up can be painfully arduous with the bare metal stripping away heat so quickly. Slik tripods come with foam covered top sections already. Smart guys.
-Despite our ‘alpine start’ the top of the 5th pitch coincided with the deadline for making our turnaround and the dash for the plane. Our view from this point was of the ant like town beneath, already in fading light. Winter in the deep vallies doesn’t allow much sun.
Abseiling back down I reflected on the challenges of shooting a sport like this whilst also be a participant. Inevitably, in the just the same way a rock climbing, the photographer benefits from being a fixed line with the freedom of movement associated with that. In this case, having a climbing partner means being at either the top or bottom of the rope, and that requires both hands and concentration. Next time then…. climbing as a three, and finding the opportunity to set up at a crag, or its ice equivalent with a static line…
Thanks to The Climb Inn, a backpacker style hostel by and for iceclimbers: