A Reckoning

A Reckoning

Mike Pescod
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Early this spring I climbed one of the best ice routes in the world. It's called Kjørlifossen in Rasdalen, Laerdal, Norway, and is 400m of climbing at grade WI5/5+. It's not just me saying that it's one of the best, but Guy Lacelle. Guy was one of the world's most accomplished ice climbers and travelled extensively in pursuit of his craft. Before he died in 2009 he compiled a list of what he considered the finest 135 ice climbs on the planet, and this list contains Kjørlifossen. 

Clearly the list is only one person's thoughts, but it is a very good collection of world class ice climbs. And I have now climbed one of them. This all sounds a bit boastful but I really don't mean it that way. It's hardly newsworthy that a middle age man goes and climbs some ice in Norway, even if it is a notable climb to those in the know. After all, I have nothing to show for it apart from tired arms and a smile.

Inwardly though, it means the world to me. The best bit is that I spent a wonderful day with three friends, sharing a fantastic adventure in a beautiful part of the world. Donald, Dave, Guy and I were all buzzing with excitement at the scale of the climb, its grandeur, the unknowns of the route, the formations of the ice and its quality. Drawing deeply on our combined experience and technique we unravelled the pitches one by one, carefully considering each step, each swing of the axe. At every stage the excitement grew, the view got more expansive, the climbing bigger, better and more outrageous. 

"It was like a shot being fired from a gun right in front of us, with a sensation of movement in the ice. THE CRACK WRAPPED ITS WAY AROUND..."

As with any adventure, it had its uncertainties and challenging moments. Like when the base cone of the initial pillar cracked in a stress fracture as Donald and I climbed it, creating a crack about 20mm across that wrapped much of the way around the whole thing. It was like a shot being fired from a gun right in front of us with a sensation of movement in the ice we were climbing on and hoping was solid and stable. I was committed anyway so I continued and Donald did the same. We carried on with minds focused on the climbing, trying to ignore the thoughts of "what if" and trying not to hold on too tight.


We worked well as a team, each one of us knowing what we needed to do and getting on with all the little jobs, keeping each other right, looking out for each other. We climbed up in two pairs, one on the left, one on the right so that we didn't knock ice debris on each other. We came closer together as the top of the climb narrowed to the exit and we were careful to wait for each other to be well out of the way before climbing.

We had one rope in each climbing pair so we came together to abseil on two ropes as a team of four. This had the potential to be pretty awkward and slow going, but we managed it smoothly and quickly despite some hanging belays on the way down. There is a real satisfaction in being able to manage the ropes competently and efficiently.

Inwardly for me, this climb meant a lot. For whatever arbitrary reason, I decided that this was the standard and scale of climb that I aspire to. It was the right challenge for me, hard enough, long enough and requiring a big effort mentally and physically. Other climbers have done far harder climbs, longer climbs and many more of them, but I am not comparing myself to them. I am comparing myself to the standard that I wanted to achieve, and I have met my own standard. So, what I am sharing is not so much about this particular climb and its standard, but that I have achieved one of my goals and I'm delighted. I am totally made up, super happy, still smiling and very satisfied.

This is what I hope we can all feel. One major part of climbing is about challenge, trying hard physically and mentally to achieve something. The goal isn't so much about the climb, the grade, the standard or the status of the climb. The goal is, or should be, one that you set for yourself that is the right goal for you. Don't measure yourself up with other people, measure yourself up with the goals you want to achieve.

So, thank you to Donald King, Dave Rudkin and Guy Buckingham for making this possible for me. It was emotional.

Mike Pescod is a member of the Jöttnar Pro Team. Read more about him here.

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