Report: Styggedalstind/Skagastølstind travers:
For quite some time now I have been eager to undertake the classic Alpine Styggedalstind/Skagastølstind traverse in the Hurrungane which is part of the Jotunheim mountains. It is described in many places as a long, arduous traverse involving glaciers crossings, exposed ridges, climbing and rappels. While in recent times many parties choose to undertake this adventure in a single day, enjoying the long daylight hours of July / August, going light and fast, we decided to linger a little and undertake this journey over two days. While I like light quick ascents, there is a certain pleasure in lingering in these beautiful mountains. Time spent in the mountains is always time well spent regardless of how long or short you travel through them.
Facts: Jotunheim are the Alpine mountains of Norway and forms the home of most of the mountains over 2000m. This ridge traverse is a classic undertaking and considered by some as the best of Alpine traverses in Norway. Quite an acclaim! Its takes approximately 22 hours, although the entire Hurrungane chain has been run in 24 hours.
The report starts with the tour and pictures followed by a more factual description of the route and gear etc.
Thed tour traverses along the Styggedaltindane traverse and then follows on with the Skagastølstindane traverse.
Helgedalen to Gjertvassbreen (Gjertvasskaret
Margrethe and I woke at 5am at Turtagrø after a rather sleepless night. Turtagrø hotel area is understandable the central location for activities in the Hurrungane mountains and with this comes a certain amount of late night fire starting and general party noise. We did however enjoy a nice meal at the hotel. Mental note: next time eat at the hotel and camp a good distance from it. After a bit of this and that we drove the car to Helgedalen, where we parked the car and started the rather chilly walk into Gjertvassbreen (glacier) as this would lead us to Gjertvasskaret our access point to the ridge. The night before we had noticed quite a lot of snow on the north ridge leading to Storen (Skagastøls traverse a classic in itself), which concerned me quite a bit. As the light increased and we got a glimpse of Styggedals ridges and Sentraltind we saw it was quite snowed up and I started to wonder if we would actually make the traverse at all. We pressed on up from Helgedalen on a good tractor road to where we could cut up a prominent ridge east of Styggedalsbreen. This rather brutal start to the day certainly tested both lungs and legs. Eventually we were greeted by sunshine and Gjertvassbreen. It was with pleasure that I was able to unload some of the heavy mountaineering equipment from the rucksack and get ready for the glacier crossing and eventually the climb up the steep crevassed snow slope that rises up to Gjertvasskaret, the col between Gjertvasstind and Styggedalstind. The overnight colder temperatures had secured the snow slopes above our access route for which I was thankful for as the last time I had been here in June 2015 we had to turn back to to the threat of falling seracs and avalanches. As we wandered through some old avalanche and serac debris it reminded me that its not always a safe place to be.
We started climbing up the increasingly steep snow slopes, taking a route that avoided the largest cracks, placing snow anchors as we moved and finding ledges on the edges of crevasses to form standing belays. This continued, often traversing and climbing over bigger crevasses until the slopes eased as we reached the col. The ascent had been on good firm snow making progress safe, however our calf muscles had a good work out!
The slope at times is steep, maybe up to 45-50 degrees and can be avalanche prone. We took 2 x snow anchors (deadman) and at one time used a buried axe as a belay. All very classic alpine mountaineering stuff of the old days.
Gjertvasskaret to Styggedalstind West
A quick bite to eat in the sun was followed by a decision to drop the ascent of Gjertvasstind as we were concerned about how much snow was on the Styggedal traverse. Gjertvasstind according to what I had read could take between 2-3 hours from the col to top and back again. Its not the easiest top to access from the col. We also wanted to have some time in the hand to return over Styggedalstindane if we found the rock too iced up on the climbing section of Sentraltind. The route descriptions for this section although being a popular classic is quite varied from person to person and there have been many tales of epics and rescues. Tales of woe and that sort of thing.
We decided not to the follow the ridge up from the col but take the snow slopes on the Northside of the rocky ridge. This in part was quite steep and once again we used snow protection as well as rock protection as we moved together to increase security. At the top of Styggedalstind East we could see along the crest of the ridge to Styggedalstind West and onto Sentraltind. Optimism rose dramatically as we could see the south side of the climbing section was clear of snow. The ridge traverse was on; we committed to continuing.
Styggedalstind East / West to Sentraltind
After a rather cheeky mantel-shelf move on a boulder and an awkward descent along the ridge we reached Styggedalstind West and started the descent to the long col between Styggedalstind West and Sentraltind. I had read quite a lot of conflicting route descriptions for this section (more tales of woe), however I just followed my nose down the ridge until I thought it was logical to descent steeply down a open blocky runnel on the Southside. Luckily another party, possible the day before, had the same idea as we could see their foot prints from time to time in the snow. At the end of the blocky runnel, where the rock met the snowy south flank we found some foot prints that zigzagged; first to the east of the southern side and then back west under an outcrop from the main ridge. After this westerly traverse we regained the ridge again. All very easy and very dignified, with no fuss at all. We had read about a place called “Hotel Stygg”, which had been described as the only bivi spot on this section of the ridge. Not sure what location people have been talking about as we found numerous bivi spots of varying size and quality along this section of the ridge. Water might be a problem if there is no snow however. One rather large flatish raised area approximately at the mid point between Styggedalstind West and Sentraltind would form a very nice bivi spot that could accommodate several quite sizeable tents.
After a second pause at the palaceous camping spot we moved together to the climbing section of Sentraltind. Again there had been much written about this section. As we traversing the sharp exposed ridge I could see the climbing section was covered in part with snow and ice. This concerned me a bit, as we were only armed with one mountaineering axe and crampons each and I had not planned for a mixed route. We set up a belay at a point where a large block formed a through route on the main ridge. The description I had gleaned from the internet indicated we should traverse 10m on the exposed north side before ascending some cracks and corners to a large 20m wide shelf. It also seemed possible by looking at the numerous crampon scratch marks to climb this section of the ridge direct. I decided to traverse 10m on the Northside on firm snow before ascending an off-widgth groove feature. Good rock protection spurred me on. The off-width groove was quite awkward, more so because of my sleeping mat being on the side of my rucksack and a large camera attached to my waistband (mental note: get a smaller camera). It was possible to place my mountaineering axe in a crack at the back of the off-width groove. Not sure what in, possible a narrowing or just some ice. I moved up a bit and dug a handhold out to the right in some crusty snow and gingerly pulled up getting me right crampon onto a sloping hold below the crusty snow. A few more moves brought me to a flat section on the ridge (Grade 4, approx. 10m). It seemed like a logical place to belay, so I did. Margrethe followed having the same struggle with the rucksack and joined me on the ridge. This section of the ridge was advertised as grade 4 on the Norwegian scale under dry conditions, it definitely felt more difficult under mixed conditions. The biggest concern was the crusty snow would not hold a axe placement, or would hold it briefly but when you transferred weight on to the axe it would fail. After this, I traversed back right along the ridge and ascended snowy rocks, mainly using my feet as the axe placements was not to be trusted to a chimney with good rock protection. A bit of a squeeze with the rucksack brought me to the large 20m ledge, and back into the sunshine (Grade 4, 15m). It was good to be in the sunshine again, the shade was decidedly chilly. The next section formed an easy 20m transport pitch to the base of the next climbing section. A large boulder at the base of this ridge formed a handy belay. The next 30m followed the right hand side of the ridge crest on good solid flakes before mixed ground reappeared (advertised as grade 3). Once again a flatish section of ridge was found and again it seemed logical to belay there. The next pitch followed the crest to the right and was completely covered in snow. It was a delight to lead, finding good purchase with the crampons and therefore not needing to rely on axe which was less secure (About 30m and again advertised as Grade 3). This brought us to the last pitch; by know we had both been in the shade for some time and was feeling the cold. The route description indicated we should first climb natural rock steps on the Southside before returning to the crest and the top. Suddenly another team appeared from the Maradals traverse. We had a briefly friendly chat. Again I lead off finding this last pitch quite airy at the top (again grade 3, approximately 30m). Margrethe joined me back in the sunshine. A short welcome stroll from the belay brought us to the summit of Sentraltind. The fortress had been climbed.
From the summit of Sentraltind we could see quite a few people on Storen and we were both very grateful that on our ridge traverse so far that we had not met anybody apart from the two climbers on the last pitch to the summit of Sentraltind.
Sentraltind to Vetle Skagastølstind
From the summit we descended due west towards the col between Sentraltinden and Vetle Skarstølstinden. There was one awkward snowy section and then a airy rappel of 30m before we could traverse steep slopes to more easier ground leading up to a fine bivouac spot a short distance below the summit of Vetle Skagastølstind. It was about 6pm. We had arrived two hours earlier than planned. We cut out the snow to form two flat sleeping areas and prepared our sleeping places. The view was magnificent. From this perch we could see the full Styggedals traverse, Storen and beyond to Store Austanbottstindane and Store Ringstindane. As the light faded we ate dinner and melted snow for drinking water and got ready for the night. The temperature was already sinking. At 8pm we looked at Storen and could still see parties at the summit (We found out later some parties had waited 3 hours at the rappel station and that it had been crazy busy).
I awoke several times in the night, it was a cold night, maybe -5. Through the small hole that formed the opening of my sleeping bag I could see the stairs, it was silent, no more cries from Storen, possible a distance waterfall or the occasional chirps from small birds broke the stillness. It was worth lingering, even if I woke up cold several times.
Vetle Skagastølstind to Nørdre Skagastølstind (Skagastølstravers)
Skagastølstindane (Storen t.r, Vetle Skagastøltind t.v) The dark mass on the ridge is Halls Hammer.
After breakfast, which was a leisurely affair, we packed up and ascended Vetle Skagastølstind stopping briefly to admire the view before descending towards Halls hammer on the Skagastøls north ridge. I had ascended this ridge before. Then it was dry, sunny and hot. Now it was snowed up and cold. Obstacles that had not provided any difficulty before in a ascent seem quite tricky in descent now. It seemed to take considerable time to reach the rappel at the top of Halls Hammer. After the 10m rappel the classic section of the north ridge presents itself. A delightful airy traverse along the backbone of this mountain ensued for 300m, until we reached a short wall. At this point we decided to take off the crampons as the rest of the route seemed like dry rock. This short wall and following ridge, with occasional climbing up and down brought us to Midtre Skagastølstind. From here we descended a little until we found a rappel point. As the route was covered in snow and ice and a fall at this point would be dreadful we decided to rappel twice (if you had 2 x 60m ropes this could be done in one. Snag possibility on a large flake) and then walked over a narrow ridge to a flat area that is called Berges stol. From here we located the first rappel into V-skaret. We took care with the rope as we had read it was possible to snag the rope when you tried to pull it down. From the second rappel we reached the bottom of V-Skaret (Again take care with the ropes as its possible to snag the rope when you pull it down). From here we ascended snowy ledges and dry rock steps to the summit of Skagastølsnebbet and down to the col between this mountain and the last 2000m top Nørdre Skarstølstind. There is a tricky step on Skagastølsnebbet, which in dry conditions forms no problem, but on this day we decided to make a short rappel as it was a bit icy. Finally at the col we untied the rope, stored our climbing gear and scrambled up the ridge of Nørdre Skagastølstind. After a small congratulatory pause at the summit we descended, firstly negotiating a tricky step before the monotonous boulder ridden north slope drained the life out of us for 600m. Finally we arrived at the Tinde Club hut and more importantly the first source of running water in two days! From the hut we descended back to Turtagrø triumphantly! The only mishap was Margrethe slipping on the path and landing in a muddy puddle. I was just thinking how does she keep her trousers so pristine and clean, while mine were covered in dirt and dinner and the rest, when suddenly she tripped. Bad karma I say, but a I was thinking it and then it happened maybe I transferred my bad karma onto her (sorry about that).
A fantastic trip, covering vary terrain and difficulty. Highly recommend lingering (Mental note: Need new sleeping bag). Thank you Margrethe! Takk for turen!
Facts, Route Description and planning:
- Helgedalen to Gjertvassbreen (Gjertvasskaret): First following a tractor road, then steep ridge east of Styggedalasbreen to Gjertvassbreen. Steep crevassed snow / ice slope to the col (threatened by serac and avalanche on occasion)
- Gjertvasskaret t0 Styggedalstind East: Steep snow and scrambling. Grade 2/3
- Styggedalstind East to Styggedalstind West. Airy ridge. Occasional cheeky up and down sections. Grade 2/3.
- Styggedalstind West to Sentratind: Scrambling with an area of Grade 3 in the runnel. Sometimes pitched or abseiled. Steep snow traverse and airy ridge. Climbing on NE ridge to the summit of Sentraltind normally 4 pitches: 1) grade 4, 25m, 2) grade 3, 30m, 3) grade 3, 30m, 4) grade 3, 30m.
- Sentraltind to Vetle Skagastølstind: 1 x rappel from Sentraltind to the col between Vetle Skagastølstind (30m, grade 4 if you climb it). Bivi spots and possible water. Our 60m rope just touched down on the abseil.
- Vetle Skagastølstind to Nørdre Skagastølstind (Skagastøls traverse): Exposed airy ridge, sections of tricky down climbing. Grade 3. 3-4 x rappels (if you use a 60m rope). 1 to 2 from Midtre Skagastølstind to Berges Stol and 2 x from here to V-Skaret (possible snagging of rope on both sections). After V-skaret, scrambling with possible 1 x rappel if conditions dictate. Scrambling up to Nørdre Skagastølstind. 1) Vetle to Halls Hammer: Tricky down climbs, airy ridge to you come to the 10m rappel down Halls Hammer. 2) Delightful airy traverse over solid mountain for 300m. 3) 2 x grade 3 climbing sections along ridge to the summit of Midtre Skagastølstind. 4) 1 x rappel (or 2 depending on conditions. If dry you might not need any) to Berges Stol ( A flat area before V-Skaret). 5) 2 x rappel down into V-Skaret. First rappel anchor is on the west side. 6) Scramble over Skagastøsnebbet and descend to the col between this top and Nørdre Skagastølstind (possible rappel in certain conditions).
- Nørdre Skagastølstind to Turtagrø: Brutal 600m boulder strewn descent before the beautiful walk down from the Tinde club hut to Turtagrø. A little tricky getting off Nørdre Skagastølstind if you follow the cairns.
Time: Approximately 22 hours.
Season: Normally July / August
Difficulties: Climbing up to Norwegian grade 4, mostly however around level 3. Ability to cross glacier and crevassed slopes up to 45-50 degrees. Between 4-6 rappels depending on conditions. If the route is covered in snow and ice the difficulties will increase markedly, while in other areas they become much easier.
Before committing to the traverse it is highly recommended to have a good forecast for the duration of your tour. Escape is often reversing or continuing along the route.
- From the eastern end of the Styggedals ridge: Eastern ridge of Gjertvasstind can be descended. This however its a long way back to Turtagrø or Skogadalsbøen DNT hut.
- Down from Gjetvasskardet to Gjertvassbreen: Steep slopes and crevasses. Possible and is often used: Conditions vary markedly throughout the season. Most parties use snow anchors while in ascent / descent.
- Between Styggedalstind and Sentraltind there are no practical escapes apart from reverse the route. Regardless of which way you go you will need to climb or rappel.
- Between Sentraltind to Vetle Skagastølstind: Possile to escape down Slingsbybreen after traversing over snowy shelves towards the col between Store Skagastølstind and Vetle Skagastølstind (called Mohns skar). Difficult to locate the start from between Sentraltind and Vetle Skagastølstind, grade 2.
- South ridge of Vetle Skagastølstind to Mohns Skar (Col between Store Skagastølstind and Vetle Skagastølstind) brings you to the top of Slingsbybreen. 2 x 25m rappels. Scrambling.
- Vetle Skagastølstind to Nørdre Skagastølstind: V-skaret, after abseiling the west snow filled gully can be descended. Steep snow. Alternatively going over Nørdre Skagastølstind and down north ridge. Boulder strewn nightmare for 600m.
- Climbing gear: 5x dmm offsets, 6 cams (medium size), 3 x hex (I think size 7,8 & 9). 4 x 60cm slings (formed into an express sling arrangement), 2 x 120cm & 2 x 240cm. 2 x snow anchors, 3 x ice-screws (This was only used on the glacier and on the initial slopes of Styggedalstind after that they were stored in the rucksack). If the ridge had been dry, we could have dropped the 3 x hexs. Under icy snow conditions that we found they were very useful. 5 x dmm offsets was enough as was the range of cams. Used all the gear at some point. 240cm slings were invaluable as we often found some great big boulder belays / threads. In addition we took 6m rappel cord and used nearly 3,5m on one rappel. In the end we used 1 x 120cm and 1 x 240 sling to rappel from. Maybe 10m of rappel cord would have been more advantageous. 1 x 60m rope (Tendon 9mm can be used as 1 rope or a 1/2 rope), 1 x crampons (mountaineering) 1 x ice-axe (mountaineering)
- Overnighting: 1 x sleeping mat, 1 x alpine sleeping bag,1 x bivi-bag 1 x warm jacket (synthetic) each and stove / food together. rucksack weight without climbing gear approx 10kg. We both had sleeping bags down to -5. We both woke up cold at some point. It was a cold night. This is not unusual for summer in the Jotuheim. As we slept on snow out Thermalit Z -lite sleeping mats were actually not warm enough.
- Clothing: Alpine trousers, thermals (netting x 2), long-johns (zip-on and 1 x netting), fleece and waterproof jacket / light waterproof trousers. 2 x climbing gloves and 1 x mitts, 2 x socks. 1 x hat, 1 x wool balaclava 1 x neck sock. On day 1 I didn’t wear thermals under my trousers until we came to the bivi. On the top I just wore the thermal wool netting top and the fleece and didn’t have the waterproof on. My Paramo fleece is slightly windproof. Margrethe wore her gortex over a thermal top the entire day. It was hot in the sun and cold in the shade. I used all the gloves at some point. Mitts mainly at the bivi. Used both pair of socks (dam boots at the end of the day for both of us). I had in reserve and didn’t use 1 x thermal top, 1 x zip-on long johns and 1 x wool balaclava. They don’t weigh very much and it nice to know you have some dry cloths to get into when it comes to the bivi.
- Boots: Summer Alpine. I did have cold feet at some points. Mainly due to having damp socks (and also my feet were frost damaged when dog sleding once)
- General gear: 1 x first aid kit (basic), 1 x head torch plus extra batteries (each), 1 x suncream (each), 1 x Garmin in-reach GPS (group), 1 x compass (each), 1 x map (group), 1 x crampon repairs.
- Route finding ability and Alpine efficiency.
- Care on steep snow slopes. Often under the first 10 to 20 cm of snow lies an ice layer. Rotten summer snow often hides this layer and unfortunately several climbers have been injured, some fatally after they have tried to traverse or descend these slopes and suddenly crash through the rotten snow and slide on the ice.