Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rombakstøtta for Xmas

The past two weeks have featured some longer days at work and the time available for getting out into the mountains has been limited, instead I've been discovering the painful variety of satisfaction which comes from interval skinning sessions on groomers.

Rombakstøtta as it looks on the approach.
Yesterday morning however, after 17 hours at work in the previous 24, I decided that it was time to get some real touring done and get myself a summit to stand on. Rombakstøtta, or as the locals like to call it Tøttatoppen, is a beautifully pinnacled summit only a few kilometres from town. Despite its imposing silhouette when seen on the approach, there is a moderate route which goes up from the SE and features only two short sections of easy climbing- no rope necessary.

The upper slopes of the local classic: S'et (photo from last April)
 I've had a growing infatuation with this peak over the past year, its distinctly jagged shape and proximity to town make it something of an icon for anyone who lives in Narvik and sees it on a daily basis. Contrary to first impressions of the peak, which suggest that it is too steep and rocky to offer any decent skiing, there are actually some great couloirs on its northern face including the famous S'et, a steepish line which twists and curves between some cliffs on the north face with immense views over the fjord below. I've skied 3 different lines on Tøtta it in the past and during the summer months its on one of my favourite mountain runs in the area, I must've stood on its summit close to a dozen times this past summer. Of all my time spent on this mountain I'd never actually stood on its summit during the winter (on another ski trips I'd dropped in lower off the ridge without visiting its summit) today seemed like a good day to finally remedy this situation.

Final scramble up to the summit of Rombakstøtta with the town of Narvik in the background.
Skinning through the forest on the approach was fast on a firm trail compacted by XC skiers and many weeks since the last snowfall. Up higher the snow cover was more marginal but skinning was still possible right up the 1150 metres on the summit ridge, to the entrance on S'et (which needs a little more snow before it'll be ready to ski). I left the skis here and continued on foot to the summit, I was glad to be familiar with the route when climbing the short dihedrals which offer plenty of holds which were hidden under snow. Climbing these moves I was so familiar with from the summer was great fun, jamming my ski boots in the wide cracks and wrapping my gloved hands around the juggy holds which a few months ago I was scrambling over. I topped out a little under 3 hours after setting out and signed the summit log. From here it was a quick scramble down back to the skis and some fun turns back to town before a classic Christmas eve feast and a few litres of mulled wine. A Happy Chrismas indeed!

Monday, December 10, 2012

There Goes The Sun- Nonsfjellet and Segeltind enchainment

Last Wednesday at 12:02 pm the sun set in Narvik and it won't rise again for another five weeks, but rather than using this as an excuse for not getting out in the mountains this past week has featured some quality ski tours.

Skiing at this time of the year in the supposed "dark time" is not as difficult as most people would imagine; with a decent headlamp and a starting time which ensures you make your descents between 10 am and 2 pm the skiing can actually be pretty damn good. The few hours of twilight which we do get every day are like an extended sunrise/ sunset, with lots of pretty pink hues, even if it can be kinda murky at times. And if you're lucky and time things right making ski descents illuminated by Aurora Borealis are the sort of mind-bending experience which lead you to actually start looking forward to this season with a strange sort of anticipation.

Skiing under an Aurora Borealis sky- a mind bending experience and highlight of this time of the year.
Photo courtesy of Markus Eriksson
Anna suggested an outing on Nonsfjellet for Saturday, a summit which neither of us had stood on before, despite skiing a nice little couloir close to it last year. We parked the car near a few farmhouses at the head of Segeldalen beside Grovfjord and soon found a narrow track through the woods leading up the valley.

Skinning conditions were fast on a firm snow base and with the help of some ski crampons we were able to skin all the way to the summit, 2:30 for the roughly 1200 vertical metres and 8 km from the car. The descent on the south face was a treat, with nice steep turns towards an orange glowing horizon. Unfortunately my camera wasn't coping very well with the cold temps and hence I didn't get a single photo.

There was an implicit and unspoken agreement that if we had the time we'd ski Segeltind as well on the way back to the car. This peak is a a 5-star classic of the region, its east face is conspicuously visible from Narvik as a steep looking and perfectly planar slope shaped like the square sails on old fishing boats. It has been on my 'to ski' list for quite some time and so we didn't waste any time in making our way over to the peak.

Segeltind is the distinctive A4 shaped peak on the left. This is the view from a window at home.
Photo by Markus Eriksson.
After a long but uneventful traversing skin track we made it on to the perfectly planar slope and got crampons on, not knowing what sort of snow conditions we would encounter higher on the face, but expecting some boiler plate. In reality we found the snow to be much softer than we had anticipated, with a knee deep bootpack making for a laborious ascent directly up the slope.

Standing on the long summit ridge, the light was fading fast, so we didn't waste any time in stripping skins for the descent. And what a spectacular one it was! With views of the distant city lights of Narvik being reflected on the fjord, awesome peaks framing the view and our turns in the soft snow on the roughly 33 degree slope being illuminated by headlamp. Spectacular stuff, and I'm bummed I didn't have a functional camera to try to capture any of it.

Total round-trip time including stops and negotiating some tight trees on the way out was 5:20 for about 1800 metres of vert and two new summits.