7 April 2010

Iron Mind

During the last four days I have immersed myself in some deep deep holes in the ground, the reason for this insanity? they are slowly filling with climbable ice.

Kris jumaring with his breath hanging in the still air

I'm writing this after a few relaxing strong Danish beers, well deserved beers after the physical and mental exertions of the last few days. Since friday I have experienced some very dark abseils, gnawing wet and frozen jumars, long boring waits for someone to finish ascending the rope and some of the absolutely craziest ice climbing that I have ever done. Maybe not the hardest climbing or the purest lines but top marks for adventure.

Malcolm Kent had planted the seed of an idea for visiting the ice mines and had been patiently nurturing it for probably as long as I have known him (since 2007). Inspired by a film featuring Will Gadd that Dave Brown had worked on. Malcolm succeeded in pulling a team together for a visit to the mines during the easter break, happily I was able to scrape together the last of my savings and fly out to meet Malcolm in Copenhagen. We drove to meet photographer Lukasz Warzecha and Gory writer Thomas Mazur. Danish alpinist Kristoffer Szilas also made a flying visit for the last couple of days to set some quick times for power jumaring and repeating our routes. As the team congregated so did the equipment that we needed to access the mines. About 400m of rope, a dozen ascenders, half a dozen axes, 20 screws, slave flashes and a drill were transported by various means. Additional baggage allowance was purchased from the budget airline con artists....
"Do you want to pay for this ticket?"
"Ok, that will cost you another 5 pounds!!!"

Malc testing the water

Lukasz and Thomas near the new route Feathers

The vast mine system had several slightly innocuous looking entrances, each hole in the ground was lined with granite blocks and a few birch trees surrounded the fenced off holes. On closer inspection "1817" could be seen carved in to a block and the heavy wooden timber that once supported roofs and platforms over the holes looked like it had been decomposing since 1817. Between the holes the vaulted roof of the cavern was smooth rock where fire was used to mine the ore, deeper down shot holes are found from blasting. During this visit our maximum depth was about 100m (with 70m free hanging abseils at a couple of locations) though a rucksack did make its own way down to 120m.

A huge consideration when down these holes was safety, as soon as we arrived (well, as soon as Malcolm set foot in the mines to be accurate!) ice was falling from the roof and not just small stuff either, massive chunks that could be heard ripping through the air then blasting in to the floor. Extremely atmospheric when confined in a cavern with nowhere to run!!!. Every day we were there something big fell although on the last day it was the rucksack (luckily still tied on) making an impressive noise after a 40m fall.

As no one in our team had actually been down the mines before we guessed the best access point, took a deep breath (in case of gas) then Malcolm and Lukasz went for it. Once they had touched down we heard over the radio that the subterranean scenery was just as outrageous as anticipated. Now that we knew that the rope system was ok and the climbing/photography objectives were worthwhile it was full steam ahead with the new routes.

I had spied a reasonable looking mixed line with sensible access and set about climbing this, unfortunately thin brittle ice and super compact gear unfriendly rock required that a couple of bolts were placed for protection (and a 6mm aid bolt and a single bolt lower off and belay) all drilled while backed up by a rope from the surface, nice! I redpointed the first ascent of this route (Feathers) first go to give a 25m M7 Wi5 then later it was onsighted by Kris (even if he did mutter about it needing a couple more bolts). The route has an interesting start on thin ice then some cool mixed moves through the niche with some slightly disturbing ice to finish. The final Scottish mixed layback flake crack pitch to top out is unclimbed.

Me on Feathers M7 Wi5 (photo Thomas Mazur)

Malc then set about two amazing photogenic lines he had seen (Lukasz had been getting shots all the time we were there), the first route attempted was an overhanging ice line that would probably get M7/8 if it was bolted rock.  I have no idea how ice forms like this but it was probably originally some kind of mushroom then the aerated chandeliery stuff has melted away from below leaving an impending wall.  Or the entire 1000 ton blob has tipped over??

Me abseiling. The overhanging M grade water ice
can just be seen top centre of the photo

Thomas and Lukasz setting up for photographs

Malc on steep ice

Then Malc climbed the crazy iron stained pillar from a hidden col and Malc, Kris and I squeezed on to the summit for a photo.  As we balanced on the narrow ridge half a dozen screws and a birds nest of slings secured us to the top of the ice/mud tower, Lukasz had a list of requests as we held our poses in the failing light but I was thinking about the life cycle of these enormous towers as they grow heavy, melt away from the rock walls and crack!

Kris abseiling down the hole (look closer!)

Malc starting the iron stained pillar (photo Kristoffer Szilas)

A view down from the final jumar
(the iron pillar is top left)
I had to shield the camera below my jacket because
so much water was dripping from the hole above

After we topped out on the iron ice pillar a soaking 80m jumar up iced ropes was required to get back to normality, I pulled my hood tight to insulate my mind from the surreal danger outside and watched the rock walls slowly turn and descend. During this dream I saw a small round hole in the rock that had been boarded over some time in the past.

Lukasz's Blog
Malcolm's Blog

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Dont look now it's the cops!
L > R me, Kristoffer Szilas, Lukasz Warzecha, Thomas Mazur and Malcolm Kent.


  1. yes! that about sums it up!!

  2. That is the most insane thing I've ever seen.