On April 6th I finished a project I had in my bucket list for the last 7 years since we moved to Romsdal. Linking up the called “7 topper- 7 summits” of Romsdal: Juratind, Store Vengetind, Kvandalstind, Romsdalshorn, Store Trolltind, Kongen and Dronninga with skis. The route is exciting because involves a endurance challenge, some technical climbing, specially in winter conditions, and a lot of conditions and risk assessment. I believe the cognitive load of the activity is bigger or at least equal than the metabolical load.
In 2017, together with Phlipp Brugger, we made an attempt. It was never a real attempt since the day we went for it we were pretty sure conditions were too hard for it, too much fresh snow that made the climbing sections very laborious, but it was a good way to understand the dimensions of such a project. Late that summer I did the link up running, and it took me 23h28′, here the post I wrote about it. In summer the variables are fewer, basically the climbing is easier since is all dry rock and there’s no avalanche risk involved, so the timming of where to be at a specific time of the day is not very determinant.
In 2020 I did a second ski attempt. Conditions were pretty good and I had confidence on a positive outcome. After about 10h, descending a long south face couloir, wet snow avalanches from the hot temperatures started coming into the couloir that I was descending and needed to exit the couloir, find a rocky spur and climb up back to avoid major risks.
After a very stormy winter, with lots of precipitation and wind. At the end of March a long anticyclone arrived at Romsdal. With progressive warm temperatures the snow layers get melted into each other making avalanche risk kind of low. One week before the attempt, Emelie and I climbed Juratind and I saw that conditions were ok on the avalanche side but there was still a lot of snow in the rock sections so the climbing was going to be very slow. Since the forecast was optimistic for the next 10 days I decided to wait a few days to see if the snow was melting a bit in the rock faces while temperatures staying cold. 2 days before the attempt I climbed Romsdalshorn and saw that the climbing sections were possible to do in a quick and safe way. I decided to go on April 6th because it was the last day before the temperatures were forecasted to increase, making sun affected snow avalanches more possible like in 2020.
Before starting my main concerns were 3 sections: The traverse from Store Vengeting to Vestgjellet, a traverse that in summer is like a balcony trail in winter becomes a snow inclined ramp with great exposure, specially if the snow is warm, and being south east facing it’s the first thing to get sun exposed. The second concern was how much snow was going to be to climb Kvandalstind and the third how sun affected would be the descent of Store Trolltind, a south facing system of couloirs that get very sun affected in the afternoon.
Petter Engdahl was kind enough to join me from Grovdal for the first section. We started at 1 o’clock in the morning. I wanted to be in the most technical section -Vengetind to Romsdalshorn- early in the morning to have still hard snow to facilitate the climbing, but have sun light to have easier navigation, and the first section from Juratind to Kvandalen, being the less technical, was ok to go on the dark, even if that meant very hard snow to descend.
Another concern raised from the first hours was the wind. At first we thought that it was a night wind but soon it become clear that it was going to be a windy day all long. With that 2 other concerns get into play: how safe or possible would be to do the technical climbs, specially Kvandalstind and Romsdalshorn since with strong wind balance can be well reduced and a smaller concern since snow pack was very stable but if that wind would move some fresh snow into layers.
We climbed Juratind without any problem and the downhill, besides being in very hard icy snow went ok. Then is a long traverse from Juratind to Kvandalen, where we were happy to see some old tracks from Jon Albon that facilitated a bit the navigation. With the first lights of the day we started the climb of Store Vengetind. With hard snow the progression was easy and we reached the summit without complications. There Petter went down home and I continued towards Kvandalstind. With the strong winds (the wind gust was around 75-80km/h in the summits that day) one thing was positive, the temperatures were going to stay low so the concern for sun affected snow avalanches and to open track on soft snow decreased, but the possibility of stopping because to risky climb was very real at that point. The traverse to Vestgjellet was good in hard snow and the traverse til Kvandalstind went pretty quick. In the climbing, I needed to clean some snow from the rock but it was in great conditions. The last 100m to the summit, where almost all the technical climbing is was a bit wind protected so I could climb and downclimb without major problems. At that point I was very relieved that it was possible to climb in those conditions.
In Romsdalshorn I could follow my tracks from the previous day and the climb till the ridge was with moderate wind. From the pass til the summit winds were very strong, almost blowing me off, but the climbing there has great holds and it was just more demanding in being careful. In the downhill I could downclimb easily and did an abseil in the lower section to join the base of the mountain and ski to Vengedalen in hard snow. The climb to Holstind was the only place in almost the hole traverse where I found very wet and sun affected snow but the descent couloir to Romsdalen was in very hard and icy snow, what made the progression slower but much more safe. Up to this point the water I was caring was frozen so I could drank less than half a litter so I was happy to get down on the valley out of the strong winds and get to defrost the water.
At Isterdalsvegen I casually meet Pascal Egli and he joined me in the way up towards Store Trolltind. Just under Norafjellet, first Paul Orgier and then Colin Thornton and Jon Albon skied crossed us skiing down, they had been up to the icefall in the north couloir and reported steep but good conditions in that section. Pascal went down with them. The wind in the glacier was strong but luckily the couloir was sheltered and besides some spindrift in the icefall it was very comfortable. Reaching the ridge at the top of the couloir the winds were very strong and I decided not to climb the rocky ridge but to contour to one of the south couloirs to reach the summit. The downhill from there – which was one of my biggest concerns before starting – was in very hard snow so I was relieved to not need to deal with sun affected snow avalanche terrain.
Just before reaching Trollstigen I cut 2 small wind pockets. If the strong winds in the higher parts didn’t create any layers but just made snow very icy, lower down, in the bowls and forest, there were some small accumulations that had become wind layers during the day.
I was able to climb to the summit of Kongen before the sunset and I reached Dronninga just when getting dark. The descent from the summit was a bit tricky with some down climbing in fresh snow on the rock but the skiing after went well with some fresh and then icy snow.
At the entry of the forest, 10 minutes away from the village of Innfjorden, I skied a bowl and broke a wind layer and get carried for a couple hundred meters. After some seconds I wasn’t worried about being buried under the snow but about hitting some trees or other obstacles carried in the avalanche. I could manage to stand up at some point and put weight at my skis to exit the avalanche before getting hurt. Then I skied down in the forest til Innfjorden were Petter and Colin were waiting for me to finish the crossing.
I thing that during the hole crossing my risk assessment was good, dealing with the route and conditions, but at the end the later avalanche could been easily avoided. I believe that 2 factors made me be less attentive at that point:
- The happiness of achieving a long term goal: Seeing the end of the route, the attention level decreased. Often our risk attention is higher at the beginning of the activity and our attention goes down during its duration, specially when we are finishing and we think that in a few minutes we will be in the town. We believe that risks are bigger the further we are. The happiness of having (almost) achieved my goal made me lower my attention level and even if I knew that in those aspects it was pockets, like the ones I broke in Trollstigen, I thought that braking a small pocket so close to the town would not carry those consequences. In this study or this review shows how with high levels of dopamine and endorphins we are accepting higher risk levels.
- The tiredness of 21h of activity: I don’t believe that fatigue per se has a direct effect on the risk taking. I think in general with fatigue we try to avoid risks, but if we get involved in a situation that we can’t avoid, in the moment of taking the decision, in the equation of risk possibilities, probabilities, consequences, the weight of the extra effort to avoid that risk (turning back, making a abseil, doing a longer route, etc) might be in a bigger that the same we would give it when fatigue isn’t involved. There’s some this studies and this one about it.
Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/8844479630
- Skis Moonlight traverse 79 (I used those skis because being light -826 + binding) they are a very easy ski and a bit larger than racing ones to open track and for steeper slopes.
- Boots: Gignoux black (light but with good protections and a shell avoiding snow to enter)
- Poles (I used the Leki I use for racing)
- Headlamp Moonlight 2000
- Crampons (I used a Blue ice Harfang, with all the mix climbing involved, it needs to take care with this hybrid crampons to not loose them)
- 2 ice axes (Petzl gully, All the traverse was good with one ice axe but the icefall at Store Trolltind with those conditions needed 2 of them)
- Harness ( Edelrid loopo lite)
- 1 safety carabiner (basically to do the abseils on a munter hitch)
- 60m 5mm Dynema rope (basically for the abseils, I used only for Romsdalshorn but good to have it in most of the traverse just in case)
- 2 pairs of skins 70mm (a second pair in case)
- 2 pairs of gloves
- Down jacket
- Active pants and jacket, and merino teeshirt from NNormal. (Basically the ones I have been using for all my training this winter)
- Arva, showel, prove
- Bunch of gels and bars ( I eated 3 gels, 2 bars and a small sandwich)
- 2 Softflask (I drank 1l of water)
Love this detailed assessment from you. You are the reason I’ve fallen in love with mountains again (in a different way – climbing, running, skiing). Thank you for being so amazing.
That’s great @Aman. Keep training. I too fell in love with mountains again when I discovered trail running, been running for 10 years now.
What I still don’t understand is how you could only drink 1 litre of water in 21 hours of intense physical activity? 🤔 I could understand not wanting to eat much while on the move, but you must have been seriously dehydrated afterwards.
It sounds like quite the effort. Well done on making it back safely!
Most likely, this was not intense for Kilian. I bet he was in his low zone 1.
When can we buy that Nnormal down anorak?!
Very informative risk assessment! This kind of narrative helps to understand avalanche risks in mountains and how fast conditions can change, which is often underestimate! We never have enough knowledge! Congrats!
This is a great read. Insightful and important to show the level of understanding you have for the terrain, the mountain and conditions. This is super important to make us ALL aware of how difficult THIS route is. Also, the final chapters say it all… The highest risk and often dire consequences can come when we do not expect it. It’s a pleasure to have your mindset explained. Thanks. And ‘what a route!’