..... GREENLAND ..... ..... EXPEDITION ..... .ORG

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 2. Advance Camp at Sallie's Kitchen

by Dr. P.W.F. Gribbon, Expedition Leader



Our initial day at the basecamp was 1st July. A brilliant sunny day with a nippy east wind coming off the ice in the bay. Our four-man party combined the packing of some loads with an exploration of the Big Valley. The order of the action was Cant through to me; it was never to alter much in future. We walked beside the river over hummocks, boulders and water ditches to dump our loads below the fourth corrie. There Cant did his uphill dash to gain a foreshortened view of the possible though improbable routes through the rampart. We repeated the performance next day, dumping loads at the trout pools beside the boulder houses. We felt unfit, lethargic, but walked on under a blazing sun surrounded by a galaxy of mosquitoes. We gained height on the crisp lichen of gentle hillocks, flushing out the ptarmigan, chirped at by the Lapland buntings and through boulder fields into the fifth valley. There the stepped headwall rose to the ridge, a far-from-straightforward route over the rampart but not completely impracticable. We had achieved some success, we had bred some hope.

The packers returned to find the hill campers all in residence. Dave Gaskell and Norman MacKenzie had returned from Desperation Camp. Their claim was to have knocked off 5 hills but the question was when was a top really a hill rather than just another bump on a ridge. The northwestern Corrie Campers were down for their dinner : they were leading a disturbed existence on their peculiar time schedules and getting their first taste of what a long Greenland day means in terms of human effort. Ray Sharples, Douglas Brown, Colin Matheson and "Alf" Aldred had already climbed what was to be our highest summit. Andyarethick (Angiatarfik) (1845 metres) had been climbed in 18½ hours by a snowy western slope that gave the only vital chink in its rocky armour. Now they were living on their nerves in anticipation of a big rock peak beside their corrie. We arranged a Gathering Day for two days later when the whole plan could be rationally formalised by the complete team.

We late arrivals felt it was the time to see the summit of a hill conveniently close to the camp. We chose a tower within sight, setting off while gentle puffing mackerel clouds unfurled a banner over the twin set of the big hills outlined against a blue sky. We crossed the gravel flats beside limpid pools edged with mossy green borders where the trout rested in echelons on the bottom mud. Cant raced ahead up his gully, while MacKenzie, Hunt and I skirted up rock to get into his footsteps in the snow. We gained a col and sunsoaked on the ledges of a magnificent viewpoint; on one side an horrific corrie with its icefalls and hanging glaciers leading up to the crest of Andy's Rucksack headwall (Agdlerrussakit), on the other side a quiet elbow of sea speckled with the swinging drift of the pack ice, its floes dotted with green pools while beyond were the ranks of towers and pinnacles on the neighbouring Pamiagdluk Island. Within five hours we were on the springboard summit of Crossoak Road.

The Gathering Day was 4th July, a damp rainy yet restful day, waiting for the talk session. The climbers came home, flush with success : 20 hours had given them the beautiful Bolder, its incredible summit-block perched on the ridge directly above their rock route to the top. The campers felt quite out of it. We planned 20 days to be based in two camps in the Land of the Towers, and then on our return we would plan for the canoeists, the walkers, the tower climbers. Our attack party of Cant, Hunt, MacKenzie and Clark was to establish a camp under the route up the fifth corrie. Cant and MacKenzie were to find the way over and through, while the other two helped with the Big Valley packing. The six backmarkers were to be mere pack animals to ferry up all the necessary food and equipment. The plan began next day…..

There was little doubt that a bout of backpacking was a good way to get fit, although it wasn't much of a hardship to travel at one's own pace up the broad valley. Three hours was the duration of our stroll-up, then after a brief snack, home again in the mellow light, the southern ridges bristling with teeth, the cloud whiffs curling and edging round the peaks. Two days work saw everything, except personal gear, at the advance basecamp. The 'col' had been climbed with few problems but would it be suitable for heavy loads? A study of aerial photos in daylight and the information brought back by Gaskell on one of his monster long-distance carrys had indicated that the sixth and last valley along the rampart would be an easier approach to the Land of the Towers except that all the time we were working further and further away from the heart of these mountains. The damp squalor of the basecamp was finally forsaken late in the evening of July 7th with a cloud layer shrouding the valley, the towers black and the tundra in half-light. Everyone had moved into our new camp, Sallies Kitchen.

Sketch of the Advance camp at Sallie's Kitchen. Between the boulders and tents in the foreground and the skyline mountains is the Big Valley that runs West-East between Tasiussaq and Strordalens Havn. To the left of the skyline are the peaks that encircle the Lost Loch camp, which in its idyllic seclusion we also called Shangri-La. Scroll down for a photo of a similar view.

We operated on the possibility that both the fifth and sixth valleys would provide access to the south. I chose to pack up the easier latter alternative : it skirted west through the mosquito belt, followed the slabs beside a waterfall into a linked series of snow bowls which led in a tiresome mist-blanketed plod to a col at 3000 feet. We made an intuitive descent to reach a frozen lochan, buried in a chill hellhole surrounded with slabby cliffs and gloomy hanging glaciers, and dumped our loads. Our first sight of our probable climbing area raised a lot of questions. Was it worth the two-week stay? Was the effort to go further to gain the large pronged lake in the centre of the region going to be worthwhile? More packing days would be needed to get there. I debated the pros and cons as I returned in two hours to Sallies Kitchen.

The remnants of the scattered harder alternative backpacking party were creeping back into the camp. They had mixed success : the snow slopes were uncertain terror-fields when attempted with a load, the rock bands were smooth and in splashing spray they were too difficult to allow one to indulge in delicate footwork. Of course, our opinions varied but we had to cater for the lowest common climbing denominator. Their packing score was 1 box dumped at the col, 2 boxes by a bolder on a snow slope and 2 boxes carried up and then down again. The idea had been to carry all the boxes up, over and down the far side of the rampart. We ruled out this approach route to the new camp set in the 'dismal' corrie.

We discussed our future plans and decided that the expedition should split into two parties : one with the more competent climbers to continue into the harder peaks and to operate from the new camp, while the other moved north up an open valley and operated in its surrounding hills. I knew now the more salubrious option lay in the choice wee peaks to the north. Our original plans had grown slightly tattered but we were to retrieve and modify our concepts as the circumstances dictated and try to achieve the maximum satisfaction for everyone. We left the composition of the two parties in abeyance and decided to take a day off work to fulfil our climbing desires.

We were to savour the delights of our climbing day in cloudless hot sun. By eight o'clock in the morning the sun was overheating the tents and the voracious flies were flying inside to stimulate us to activity. We organised a walking outing across the valley where we wandered, strolling in the sun, up a pleasant ridge to sunbathe in shreddies on the little spired summit of Baretop. Our hard men, the Sharples-Aldred-Gaskell trio went for a rock climb on the slabs, the grooves and the overhangs of a smooth spur above the camp where they soon found the hours slipping into the night as they completed their 15-pitch Grade VI before retreating back down to the camp. It was all deceptively longer, harder and more sustained than they had imagined before they had set out : it was all good clean stuff on which to whet their appetites.

Three mountaineers tried to climb a mountain. They failed. It was not to their discredit because later the Crowsnest was to be one of the best and hardest ascents done by the expedition. They were to enjoy their attempt nearly as much as if they had claimed it as a successful ascent.

Thus it was Cant, MacKenzie and I who set out over the nearby moraines at 10.30 am. There was slight delay when one of the party chose some worn water-smoothed slabs instead of an easy snow slope. Having been extricated from his self-inflicted purgatory by a useful top-rope he ruefully admitted to the "undoubtedly most miserable moment in his mountaineering career". Cant and I had enjoyed this enforced rest in the sun. We edged up a snowfield to gain our chosen line through slabs, and after four good pitches we were scrambling up blocks towards the foreshortened but distant summit barrier. We chose a big groove of which MacKenzie made short work but Cant stuck on a holdless slab beside the groove. It wasn't worth bothering about because it was bringing us further into some less tractable terrain. We moved right on a ledge system, looking for possibilities, but each and every slim chance was slimmer than its predecessor. I gave up hope : the western hills were tightly outlined against a mellow sky while to the north were the 1971 hills of the Cardinal, Ember, Point 1973, the Fang, Serrata, Droma and Charmoz-B. It was 7.30 pm. Our easy day was beating us.

We still continued the traverse to its western edge. MacKenzie coaxed me over to see the view. It was magnificent : we were perched on rock that was massive, compact and cruel. We could see that the summit was untouchable. Beyond the teeth of the supporting ridges we looked down into the site of the new camp, enclosed within its frowning Dolomitic walls and its beetling crags, merged into the evening gloom, overhung by the challenge of some of the sharp spires of this Land of the Towers. It was time to retreat….. We scrambled down ledges and gullies and crossed on a snow ramp to the upper rock band on the now abandoned col route, and raced into our camp after a fine 12-hour outing. The stars were coming out in a tinted sky. The three hard "Father Christmas" men came back rattling and jingling into the camp at the deepest dusk of night. It was another dawn on the way.

This day was going to be the warmest and most sticky day to date. The mosquitoes enjoyed it. It was on with the pack loads again. First, the personnel in the two parties permutated themselves : the northern party gained a member to make both parties equal in size but it was immediately obvious that this raised impossible problems of food and tentage for both parties. One more gain and the position was clear : Cant, Sharples, Aldred and Brown were to represent the expedition in the Land of the Towers; the rest were to retire to their Shangri-la in the northern hills. The splinter party had mushroomed to the major group. The arrangements were to everyone's satisfaction.

Once those plans were finalised the Southern party set out for their camp at Hellhole Hollow, with the rampant Cant soon out of sight before the others were ready to consider packing up. We were to meet up again in 2½ weeks at the basecamp.

There in Hellhole Hollow they were to climb and rest and climb again. Sometimes the climbs were beyond their expectations, as for example when the fault line up the northeast face of Crowsnest turned out to be clean steep difficult rock giving enough to satisfy their wishes. Sometimes on Piglet Pooh and Shats the hills gave them an impressive façade, which belied the gentler western slopes and brought twinges of anti-climax. They tried twice before they climbed the isolated phallic tower on the southwest rim of their valley: their first attempt was foiled when their bivouac was rained off; they made sure next time in a single determined strike up the northern ridge. Naming this peak seemed to give as much trouble as climbing it! They nearly climbed to a state of satiated desire during their two-week blitzkrieg on everything within reach of their lonely camp, and without any regrets they returned to the basecamp very satisfied with their performances.

My climbing days seemed rather different. First, my Shangri-la party had to supply their camp for its stay. We slogged in the heat up the valley, the flies everywhere, following us in clouds or descending like a fog when we halted to rest. The willow scrub, densely thicketed, thankfully thinned out as we chose our different lines uphill to the Lost Loch campsite.

Pete Hunt enjoys the sunshine at our Advance Camp at Sallie's Kitchen (in the 5th corrie up on the left in the Big Valley of Itivdlerssuaq). Behind him is the distinctive outline of the Matterhorn 'C' which towers over the Lost Loch, and this was to become the climbing base for a group including Pete and Phil Gribbon.

We had unwittingly chosen an idyllic basin, where we were able to place our camp by the outlet cascade tumbling out of a green lake with its drifting ice floes and where a ring of toothed mountains enclosed us on three sides but opened out to a long vista south to the mountain rampart above Sallies Kitchen. We toiled back to Sallies Kitchen in the moist heat, through the swamps in which trout ripples spread on the land-locked pools and across the main river in a frantic hop-step-and-jump routine. We slunk back in a quite shattered state, overcome with our effort in the tropical conditions of our valley. The mosquitoes never slackened their infestations, even penetrating deep into the tents by the late evening light.

Our party had come to a self-contained hiatus and so they decided to indulge in everyone doing his own thing for a day with a difference. Matheson was to walk 10 miles to the village of Tasiussaq on Tasermiut to post a letter to his fiancée, better known to us as Luxury Items. Clark went along for the walk, the long hot nasty toil and the short bitten night under a bivouac boulder. Gaskell walked to the western seashore and back. MacKenzie washed his hair and then carried a luxury box from Halfway House to the Lost Loch campsite. Hunt and I had to return to Hellhole Hollow to retrieve essential equipment, such as our crampons which we had mistakenly dumped there on an earlier visit. This we did, over a 1325 metre hill, on whose sunny top we slept contentedly, replete with cold baked beans. Our Freebie was high enough to give us an eastward view towards the dreadful and seemingly impregnable spires. Films of high haze brought mystery to the northern hills and spread wings of dusty imagery into the valleys. Below us the ridge of the 1971 Madman's Tour twisted serpentine along the northern side of the Big Valley while further off we saw an abraded shark's fin, Charmoz-B, and the steep dipping walls of Imaha. We reached the camp, its tents already sagging on the mushy snow and with the stream out of the frozen lochan rumbling ominously underneath at the same time as the inhabitants of Hellhole Hollow tramped back from their ascent of Point 1340. We went back to Sallies Kitchen, with the heat clouds rolling in from the west; we were ready to move out for our main programme.



Next Section: Personal Account - Lost Loch Camp: Climbs from a High Corrie