Wild Underground Ice Climbing in Sweden

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He’s climbed floating icebergs, he’s climbed hundreds of feet underground. What’s next for Will Gadd—the ice fields of Mars?

He’s climbed floating icebergs, he’s climbed hundreds of feet underground. What’s next for Will Gadd—the ice fields of Mars?

Where will ice climbers go if climate change destroys the world’s classic ice routes? Canadian Will Gadd and Swede Andreas Spak explored one possible answer in Sweden, where they rappelled deep into abandoned iron mines to check out underground ice routes.

Spak researched the old mines with the help of Swedish mine spelunker Daniel Karlsson. The mines were worked for up to 800 years, and the shafts plunge as deep as 1,000 feet below the surface. The climbers arrived late in an unusually warm Swedish winter, and surface temperatures were in the 60s and 70s; meanwhile, deep in the mines the ambient temperature was too warm for ice. But 150 to 500 feet down, the ventilated mine shafts seemed to lock in refrigerated air. The ice appeared to be many years old; some formations had “growth rings.”

Gadd said they did half a dozen climbs, but only three “real routes,” including one that was the “coolest mixed route I’ve done since Deep Throat [the WI6 M7 Gadd-Jeff Lowe route in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado].” He believes there’s potential for 200-meter ice climbs in the mines.

But it’s not just about the ice—the ambience is literally out of this world. It’s pitch dark, for one thing, although Gadd and Spak had the advantage of film lights showing the way. More bizarre was the post-apocalyptic feeling of climbing in an abandoned industrial site. Gadd described one route that started with a double dyno to a mining timber, dry tooling off old steel spikes, and then climbing up ice daggers dripping from a vertical vent shaft. You won’t find that at the Ouray Ice Park.

Spak elaborated about the experience and posted a few photos on his blog (http://www.mountain-activity.no/index.php?action=blog&node=21). Below is part of his description:

“I have climbed ice for a long time, and I thought I knew everything about this game. I was wrong. Normally I can tell if a pillar is solid enough to whack the tools into, if the ice screws will hold, where it’s safe to place a belay, and everything else that I’ve learned by climbing a lot every season. Here, hundreds of meters underground, it sometimes felt as if I had to start learning from scratch again…. The ice could go from perfect water ice [to] weird white stuff with small air bubbles in it that were easy to climb but bad for gear. We climbed huge seracs that were hanging from the roof, and found pillars where the ice had not bonded at all and we could dig for meters without getting any ice that would allow tool placements.

“There were all these weird things that we couldn’t figure out, like why the ice on one of the main pillars had a horizontal angle. Our best guess was that this pillar had once been standing vertically on the bottom of the mine but had collapsed under its own weight, against the rock wall behind it. It was not bonded at all to the rock now, and the wildest overhanging ice pillars had formed between the rock and this dinosaur of a pillar, about 70 meters high.”

The entire escapade was filmed and photographed in an extremely dangerous environment by Dave Brown, Christian Pondella, and Ben Pritchard—“we tried to kill the camera crew several times,” Gadd joked—and the resulting film will be aired on NBC’s “Jeep World of Adventure Sports in July.

A few more pictures from the film production can be seen at http://hotaches.blogspot.com/2007/04/ice-mines-sweden.html.

Dates of Ascents: March 2007

Sources: Will Gadd, www.mountain-activity.no, www.hotaches.blogspot.com

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