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Polish Duo Establish New Line on Norway's Troll Wall

Posted on: March 4, 2015


Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz high on the Troll Wall while climbing their new route. [Photo] Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz

On February 9, after 18 days of ascending ice-filled cracks under poor weather, and three days of hurricane winds, Polish climbers Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek "Ragan" Raganowicz completed a new line up the steepest, longest stretch of the 1100-meter (3,609') Trollveggen (Troll Wall) in Norway's Romsdal Valley. Their 27-pitch route, Katharsis, contains multiple stretches of M7 and aid climbing from A2 to A4. The team placed a total of nine lead rivets and 19 belay bolts over 21 new pitches, using no fixed lines. Their ascent marks the first time the Troll Wall has been climbed by a team of two, via a new route, in winter.

In February 2002, a team of six—Vladimir Arkhipov, Sergey Cherezov, Eugeny Dmitrienko, Oleg Khvostenko, Anton Pugovkin and Pavel Zakharov—used fixed lines to complete Krasnojarsk (VI 5.10 A4+). This line was later free climbed in 2012 by Ole Johan and Sindre Seather at 5.12-.

On the bench during bad weather. [Photo] Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz

After weaving in and out of the French Route (VI 5.10 A4; FA 1967) for the first two pitches, Tomaszewski and Raganowicz entered new territory by going straight up the north face and zigzagging across Krasnojarsk and the Arch Wall (5.11- A4+; first free ascent: Sindre Seather, 2010), several times, before meeting back up with the French Route for four pitches to the summit.

Katharsis is Tomaszewski and Raganowicz's third new big wall in recent years. Their other new big-wall routes include Superbalance (VII 5.11 A4 WI4) on Baffin Island's Polar Sun Spire in 2012, and Bushido (VII M7+ A4) on Pakistan's Great Trango Tower in 2013; the latter was nominated for a Piolet d'Or in 2014. Tomaszewski describes the team's experience on the Troll Wall as "the sum of what is most challenging in winter alpinism," and adds that no other climb they had done before compares to the challenges they faced here.

Rapping back to camp. [Photo] Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz

Climbing any route on the Troll Wall in winter is an inherently demanding—even in large teams as most previous ascents have been. There is little light in the day, and the weather is particularly inhospitable. The winter maritime temperatures of the Romsdal Valley typically hover around freezing. While these temperatures are not terribly cold, the chief difficulties are the constant precipitation and daily freeze-thaw cycles, which effectively soak climbers and their gear for the duration. Staying warm in these conditions, compared to colder, drier ones, can be very challenging. In addition, the cracks are constantly becoming iced, hacked out, and re-iced. And from the approach to the finish, the Polish climbers were constantly at risk of avalanches and cornices falling from the summit. By the time Hurricane Ole hit, Tomaszewski and Raganowicz were 15 days into the wall, and heavily committed.

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This kind of winter climbing in a team of two is heavy work. "In a two-man team it often seems that an extra pair of hands would be more than welcome," Tomaszewski explained. "Climbing in an independent two-man team makes everything much more demanding and constitutes completely different quality. When it was freezing we had to fight the pain caused by our soggy skin and the penetrating cold that made our feet and body go numb. Decreased comfort hindered recovery and made us resort to our mental strength and to pushing our limits of endurance." With a larger team, after a challenging lead block you can retire to the portaledge for hot drinks and rest while your teammates take over. But with a team of two, as Tomaszewski and Raganowicz were, both climbers are incessently exposed to physically and psychologically draining activities, whether climbing, belaying, hauling or setting up camp.

On the way to the third camp. [Photo] Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz

The two men spent most of their 18 days on the climb wet and shivering, with numb extremities. Only two days could be construed as rest days, and these were spent waiting out a hurricane in a portaledge, which according to Tomaszewski, "also left much to be desired." Because of miscommunication, they had carried a one-person fly for a two-person portaledge. On day five, Tomaszewski lost his rain shell, and for the following two weeks he climbed in a soaked primaloft, "which after frequent and long spindrifts gradually turned into an icebound rag. Anytime it got warm again I needed to squeeze water out [of it]," he says.

The Troll Wall hosts a long history of important Polish ascents, which had earned it the nickname "the Polish Wall without a Polish route." These include the first winter ascent, via the French Route, by Marek Kesicki, Ryszard Kowalewski, Wojciech Kurtyka, and Tadeusz Piotrowski, and the first winter ascent of the Arch Wall by Jacek Fluder, Janusz Golab and Stanislaw Piecuch. Katharsis is the first line established up the Troll Wall by a Polish team.

Katharsis came to fruition after many years of planning and dreaming. Tomaszewski and Raganowicz made several trips to the wall to scout out the line before they started up. "We'd been tracking the wall as if it had been an animal, waiting for the right moment to attack. It was our great dream," says Tomaszewski. "It meant a lot more than just another climbing goal."

Raganowicz and Tomaszewski's line of ascent. [Photo] Marcin Tomaszewski and Marek Raganowicz

Sources: Marcin Tomaszewski, americanalpineclub.org, bigwalls.net, borebloggen.blogspot, Tomaszwewski's Facebook Page, rockandice.com, thebmc.co.uk

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