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Electric light orchestra

How a photographer and a light specialist turned ice climbing in Eidfjord, Norway, into a work of art

  • Electric light orchestra
  • Electric light orchestra
  • Electric light orchestra
  • Electric light orchestra
  • Electric light orchestra
  • Electric light orchestra

Text by Astrid Olsson / Photos Thomas Senf

According to many ice climbers, Eidfjord in Norway is the best ice-climbing area on the planet, famous for its “frost giants”, frozen waterfalls (or icefalls) which stretch up to 500m into the sky against a dramatic backdrop of mountains and sea. Yet the spot, located around three hours from Bergen, has never before been photographed like this.

Switzerland-based German Thomas Senf is one of the world’s top alpine photographers, and had the idea to shoot ice climbing in a way “that is normally only possible in a lighting studio… We wanted to use colours to create something mystical”.

Senf teamed up with a group of seven ice climbers sponsored by clothing and equipment company Mammut and, crucially, Swiss light artist David Hediger, who proposed a mix of carefully-placed spotlights and coloured flares. On the night of the shoot, the climbers spent hours placing lamps, fixing them into the ice using rope constructions connected to 500m of cable so the beams could be adjusted. “I had a very clear vision in my mind based on the reflections of the sun and ice,” says Senf, “but it was hard to get right on the night – there was a lot of adjusting involved.”

“We had to lower everything down from the top of the falls, and had to improvise our way around the crazy ice formation,” says Swiss ice climber Dani Arnold, who was equipped with ice tools and crampons. “It required total concentration.”

The resulting photographs, however, are stunning. “One moment the icefall looked like a dripstone cave, the next like a Gothic cathedral,” says Arnold, the current speed record-holder for the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland. “Usually the focus is on my athletic performance; this felt like being in a work of art.”

Do it yourself
Northern Alpine Guides run tailored ice-climbing programmes for everyone from beginners to experts, to the likes of Eidfjord, the ski area of Hemsedal, Lofoten, Lyngen and Bodø. They promise beautiful climbs, comfortable accommodation and excellent seafood. alpineguides.no
Eidfjord is three hours from Bergen.

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More great spots for ice climbing

Chamonix, France

Chamonix is a good place to gain your ice-climbing spurs: you can start on the gentle, 45o slope of La Crémerie, in Argentière, and work your way up to the Col des Montets and Le Tour on either side. 

Glymsgil, Iceland

Compared to Box Canyon in Colorado as one of the world’s best ice-climbing destinations. Dozens of good routes exist, with the best conditions from December to February.

Glencoe, Scotland

The main canyon at Coire Eilde is 250m long and many features have Spanish names (“Central Amigo”, “Zappatista”) as they look more like a Mexican desert than a Scottish ice location.


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