When Marek Raganowicz set off to make the first solo winter ascent of Norway’s fabled 1300-meter Troll Wall on January 11 he says he had “three main style foundations: No fixing [ropes], no capsule style, and get to the top of Trollveggen.” In spite of the added challenges of the climbing style he chose, he completed one of the best solo winter ascents on the wall so far.
Over the next 16 days, he managed to reach the top of Suser gjennom Harryland (VI 5.10b A3, 650m). It’s a steep route that is technically one of the harder lines on the Troll but it finishes on a part of the wall that is well below the apex of the formation. Raganowicz would have had to join up with one of the other, slabbier routes to get to the true summit and complete his entire goal.
“I climbed with one lead line, one haul line and one tag line only, so I could not change my mind during the climb,” he said. “I had to stick to the rules, which cost me a lot of effort and the progress was not fast enough to get the third point of my style foundations, which was to summit…. Blasting with no fixed ropes and moving all [my] gear every day was very hard, specifically in variable conditions such as heavy snow and daily freeze-thaw cycles. I think that sticking with the rules in those conditions was hard, and I am really proud that I did it. Unfortunately, I did not reach the top, but maybe next time. My climb can’t be named as a climb of Troll Wall in the meaning of the main section, but on the other hand SGH is not the easiest route on the Troll Wall. The first very advanced attempt of a winter solo was done by British climber Phil Thornhill but he had some accident and bailed, nearly finishing Rimmon Route. Now I did the second step on the way to [completing] the Troll solo in winter.”
[Thornhill fell near the top of the route and broke his femur in 1989.–Ed.]
After finishing Suser gjennom Harryland, Raganowicz spent two days rappelling and down-aiding the route.
“I got to the tent nearly at midnight completely exhausted and so hungry because I had been out of food for two days and in the five days [before that] I ate very little,” he said. “The next morning I got up at 5 a.m., had coffee and one handful of granola, and I had to return to the base for the second haul bag and portaledge. Those were hard days for me.”
Raganowicz has now climbed two routes on the Troll, both in winter. The first was a new route in 2015 with fellow Polish climber Marcin Tomaszewski. Katharsis (M7 A4, 27 pitches) tackled the steepest, longest stretch of the wall. The men finished on February 9 after 18 days of poor weather that included three days of hurricane winds, all without the use of fixed ropes. According to a report on Alpinist.com it was the first time the wall had been climbed by a two-person team via a new route in winter.
Since I can remember, one of Marek’s greatest dreams was to climb the Troll solo in winter,” Tomaszewski said. “Any route on this wall in winter is a great challenge and any climb is a proud achievement. But I don’t think that is what my partner fought for. The magic of the Troll Wall attracts by something you will not find on other walls around the world. Ice and snow cover rock features, successive frost and sudden thaw conditions, strong winds and massive spindrifts have always stood on guard for when the next dare-devil is willing to face it. I know it sounds like a tall-tale story but this is the magic of the Troll Wall and I know that only the toughest guys achieved their goals. The Troll requires something more than mountaineering and climbing skills. Above all is the character and motivation, which I ensure you Marek is not missing. I heartily congratulate him and I keep my fingers crossed for his next solo challenges.”
Raganowicz said that climbing the Troll in winter has been one of his biggest challenges. “At night in the portaledge after [Tomaszewski and I] topped out Katharsis we compared our three first ascents–on Polar Sun Spire, Great Trango Tower and Troll Wall–and we totally agreed that the Troll in winter was more challenging than Great Trango Tower. The Troll is real deal and that’s what makes it appealing to climb.”
Raganowicz picked Suser gjennom Harryland for his solo because it provided the safest conditions.
“The experience I had in previous attempts said to me that conditions on the approach could play a key role in my plan,” he said of his decision to pick a route that started at the lowest point of the wall. “The slope above the Norwegian Route [to the right and uphill from SGH] could be the area of massive avalanches, specifically when it thaws, which can happen very fast in those drastically changing conditions.”
Though he’s only now done two routes on the Troll, Raganowicz has spent years learning about it and biding his time.
“I did my first reconnaissance in winter 2008,” he said, “then I did a few attempts in 2009, 2010 and 2013, which ended in the early stages. I carried the loads, then I had bad weather. I had to wait for safe enough conditions to get the bags down. I spent two to three weeks on each trip. During the attempts and the time I spent near the wall, I familiarised myself with the wall and found a new line. Then Marcin partnered with me and we did Katharsis. The climb made me sure that all my winter solo dreams were like a kid’s fantasy–they are unreal–but last year I changed my mind and decided to come back. Finally I did a route on Troll Wall in winter and I am so happy, so sometimes it is worth it to change your mind.”
In “The Troll’s Gift” in Alpinist 44, Andy Kirkpatrick writes of a similar relationship he had with the wall through the years, in which he couldn’t let go of the idea of climbing it but also struggled to find the balance between risk and reward. He nearly completed a solo ascent of SGH in the summer of 2011, and ultimately returned with two inexperienced partners and pulled off a winter ascent of the route in 2013, for the route’s fourth overall ascent.
“I think about the Troll Wall a lot,” Kirkpatrick wrote near the end of his story in Alpinist 44. “The idea of its impossibility and possibility never leaves me. People ask if I might go back. I don’t say no….”
[This story has been updated for accuracy: Raganowicz spent 16 days reaching the top of Suser gjennom Harryland and two more days on the decent; and Tomaszewski’s last name was misspelled. Alpinist regrets the errors.–Ed.]