In April 2007 a mixed European team comprised of Robert Jasper from Germany, Markus Stofer from Switzerland and the Slovenians Gregor Kresal, Anderj Erceg, Boris and Klemen Zupanc headed to Spitzbergen in Norway where, climbing in the Atomfjella mountains, they made numerous mixed first ascents on the 900m virgin peaks.
The expedition enjoyed fantastically stable weather conditions, endured temperatures down to –40°C and even chanced an encounter with one of the local inhabitants: a polar bear. Robert Jasper reports his side of the cold story:
Spitzbergen- Mountaineering and mixed climbing in the Atomfjella mountains
by Robert Jasper
I first took note of Svalbard, as Spitzbergen is called in Norwegen, in 1999 when reading an expedition report about mountaineering in Atomfjella. Spitzbergen lies a mere 1500km from the North Pole and, true to its name and unlike the flat Pole, promised to be a mountaineering paradise par excellence.
Markus Stofer and I were delighted to be invited to join Gregor Kresal from Slovenia on the Atomfjella, the steepest mountain range of the island. Grega had been there twice before and for me an adventure in an unknown region combined with a vertical challenge always proves highly fascinating.
Spitzbergen is roughly as large as the Iberian Peninsula and Longyearbyen, its capital, has a population of 1500... A hundred years ago one would have set off from here with sledge dogs, but nowadays modern Norwegains, like most people, rely on technology. And so we waited for almost an hout in a -20°C whiteout for the mechanic to reach us from the nearby town. Although we had only just left civilisation one of the snowmobiles had broken down. The sledge dogs wouldn’t have given up so easily!
Luckily in April the sun never sets and 24 hours of daylight let time planning seem relatively unimportant.
After almost 18 hours we had to haul our entire gear and sledges over a long ice section to reach the upper basin of the Tryggvebreen glacier where we set up our tents – Base Camp!
Temperatures can drop seriously up here in the Polar circle, and we registered down to -28°C in the tents. The Slovenian Slibowitz warmed us from the inside and Klemen and Boris had managed to pack an astounding amount in just 20kg of flight allowance, but nevertheless the cold was almost unbearable, working away at our energy reserves and in doing so it became the life-determining factor. Up on the peaks or when climbing in the shade the thermometer even dropped to circa -40°C. Talk about life in the freezer!
We were immensely lucky with the weather. High pressure dominated the weather pattern over the coming week and we found out later that it was the best ever for the last 100 years. The weather was extremely cold but stable, and we climbed every day: there were plenty of walls with fantastic mixed lines and so we managed to realise our dream – establish modern mixed or drytooling routes without bolts in an alpine environment.
The faces are similar to the north faces in the Alps, almost all are virgin and circa 900m high. But we were so far out there that whenever the plane flew overhead towards the North Pole (on good days only) it kindled human warmth and a desire for civilisation.
We were guests in the kingdom of the icebears and we protected our camp with an alarm fence including a gun: we suddenly realised that all of this wasn’t a game when we discovered fresh frying-pan sized footprints on the glacier close to our base camp. Luckily they led down and back out to the fjord. It would seem as if climbers suffer the cold a lot faster than the fat seals down on the ice pack!
Grega Kresal, Anderj Erceg, Boris and Klemen Zupanc from Slovenia, Markus Stofer from Switzerland and Robert Jasper from Germany.
Spitzbergen Atomfjella first ascents
Robert Jasper and Markus Stofer
Northern presummit ca.1600 Meter
1st ascent "Knut" M5
600 meters, in 2.5 hours.
Possible first ascent
Descent: via east face to southern col 500 Meter 40°/45°. 45 Min.
Robert Jasper & Markus Stofer
Coordinates: N79°08.166´; E016°55.662´
1st ascent "Northern Siesta" M6
750 meters, hours.
Descent. From summit circa 500m east along the crest, down S face 40° to glacier, then west to the Col. Continue down W Face 45° to Ski cache at the start of the route circa 1 hour.
R.Jasper & M. Stofer
Perriertoppen 1717 Meter.
Coordinates: N79°09.237´; E016°46.763
1st ascent "Ich möchte kein Eisbär sein" M7
900 meters, 4.5 hours
Descent: Cross summit W- SW to presummit then down to col. Continue down East Couloir 600m, 40°- 45° to ski cache at start of route.
R. Jasper & M. Stofer
Chadwickrüggen 1641 Meter
Coordinates: N79°05.787´; E016°47.890´.
1st ascent "Polar Pow(d)er" M6
700 meters, 4 hours.
Descent: From main summit down via the S-Couloir 700m, 45° in 25 Min. back to start of route.
R. Jasper & M. Stofer
1st ascent "Deutsch Slowenische Freundschaft" M7
450 meters, 7 hours.
Descent: From main summit abseil circa 80m down via N- Face into gully, then descend 400m 45° to base of route and ski cache.
Robert Jasper & Andrej Erceg
"Mission North Pole" M9
Coordinates: N79°07.652´; E016°53.070´.
1st ascent Robert Jasper (redpoint 2nd attempt)
2nd ascent Markus Stofer on 27.04. (Rp.)
All routes were climbed alpine style without bolts and first ascended from the ground up. Only friends, nuts and pegs were used for protection.