1975 UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS GREENLAND EXPEDITION
Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region
Introduction - Maps - Climbing History - Personal Account - Mountaineering Report - Mountains to South of Basecamp - Mountains to North of Basecamp - Mountains from Desperation Camp - Mountains from Sallies Kitchen Camp - Mountains from Hellhole Hollow - Mountains from Lost Loch Camp - Mountains on Pamiagdluk and the Islands - Mountains in the Nameless Valley of the Land of the Towers - Archaeology - Botany - Equipment Report - Food Report - Financial Report - Travel Report - Medical Report - Photo Gallery - Thanks and Acknowledgements - Later Visitors to Stordalens Havn
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 3. Lost Loch Camp:
Spirifer - The Anvil - Matterhorn C - Ra Wallies
by Dr. P.W.F. Gribbon, Expedition Leader
We lingered to try and outwit the day's heat for our transfer to Lost Loch. The two trekkers came back in mid-afternoon, having posted their letter and spent the night being entertained by the Tasiussaq sheep farmer : they brought an offering of six seatrout and a loaf of bread - all delicious. As the sun's heat waned, we began the long tiring walk to our new camp. There was an hour's diversion as we tried with varying degrees of success and wetness to cross the river swollen with meltwater, before grinding uphill under the gaze of some surprised sheep to the corrie lip at 1700 feet. We began to level out patches on the tundra for our tents and to produce a meal for six in our kitchen amongst the boulders. It was late bedtime for all.
Lost Loch Camp, pitched at the rim of a lochan in a reclusive cirque. Above (left) is Matterhorn 'C' and to its right is Spirifer. The party enjoyed fine weather and an idyllic fortnight here, hence its alternative name: Shangri-La.
We had a short day to get in step with the demands of an early start for a climbing day. We admired the ephemeral mist banners hanging round the peaks, explored and botanised and hopped on and off ice floes. We carried up further boxes of luxury foods to add to our stock of provisions. The mellow sunset on the southern mountains and the clear sparkle of the alpenglow creeping up the nearby walls and pinnacles promised well for our first climbing day.
We were awakened by the first blink of the sunshine creeping through a gap between the pinnacles of the Anvil : it was a good 6.30 am alarm clock. Morning mist covered the camp but we could glimpse blue skies through the clammy clouds. We prepared cautiously, waiting for the promise of the day to materialise. It was 9 am when we started on the soon-to-be familiar route to the northern hills : over the boulders, along the snow banks hanging truncated over the loch waters, turning uphill on steep scree and into a horticultural maze, clinging to the mountainside of dense herbfields speckled with the intense blue of veronicas and gentians, the yellow claws of stonecrop, the spreading fans of Alpine Lady's Mantle, gaining the moraines of a hanging corrie lip, aiming for an imaginary broken route cut into the central wall of our mountain objective. We gathered in a green bowl in an amphitheatre of cliffs, while far below was the green lake with its rotting floes crowding towards the river outlet. We listened to the crash of falling blocks spilling off a contorted glacier cliff across the valley. Climbers donned their gaudy orange harnesses : it was strip-to-the-waist weather. We began to climb at 11.30 am. There were to be 17 pitches, each providing its own specific interest, before we were to quit our climb at 7.00 pm.
We moved in two parties. The Gaskell-Matheson team tackling the more abrupt and problematical direct route, the three-man team skirting the harder sections to find a route more in keeping with their abilities and wishes. The summit tower gave three excellent pitches with the final short steep wall leading to a thrusting and airy mantle-shelf, where with all stops out and draining the last ounce of energy, we pulled up with clutching hands locked frantically on faint rugosities and toes crunching on layers of dry rock tripe. We were all just able to sit precariously on the tiny summit of Spirifer. There was no wind, a snow bunting sang on the ridge, the distant hills were clear and sharp, the waters of lake Tasserssuaq and the old tracks were in the shadows of the northern valley.
Lost Loch Camp with Spirifer rising behind. The summit is the left peak and offered a precarious resting place.
We retraced our way down the tower, abseiling down in the shade. We turned off down steepening snow and ice, cutting down a gully line, hoping to reach the narrow snow col under the west flank of Spirifer. We circumvented ledges to get onto the hard snow, roped our way over the bergshrund, and raced home in four hours in the dusk. It had been a wonderful first day's climbing. We crawled into our beds at 1 am. The tired climbers were served breakfast in bed by Clark, who had rested the previous day. It was a thoughtful gesture but there was one snag - without a watch to tell her the correct hour, she was serving porridge at 6 am to greet the long hours of a rest day in camp. They ate, but they went back to sleep again for the remaining five hours of bed time. It then rained the day away, the tent dwellers huddled inside, ignoring the wind-driven mists blowing up the valley. The record for the stay in bed stood at 30 hours, with a few brief excursions : it was a useful relaxing rest. We then returned to Sallies Kitchen and brought in the last supplies to stock our new camp. We waited for the improvement in the weather.
We awoke at 5.30 am, light rain on the tent, snowfall on the ledges and freezing mist coating the ridges but with sun and clouds appearing on a chill west wind. We chose the nearest objectives. The Canines, a twin pinnacled blip on the northwest ridge above the camp. We cracked a weakness line on steep wet slabs and scrambled in three hours to the first top. We served lunch and scanned the higher top. It seemed to be impregnable-looking, with a huge block, erosion-brown and lichen-dappled. We could but try it. Our climbing quartet found an eastward traverse to the edge of a funnelled abyss. An airy tiptoe led across a slab to a possible final wall. It was my turn but I shed the honour to the stolid Gaskell, who willingly ambled through on strenuous pressure holds to join the waiting lead pair. It was similar to Spirifer's top but on a more horrific scale. We were watched with interest by two red-cagouled dots on the neighbouring pinnacle. We planted our stones that we had carried up for a cairn, banged in a peg, and abseiled 75 feet down the block. It was a mere 10 hour outing : some gentle training for the big prize - the Anvil.
The Anvil was an elaborately structured mountain protected by 3000 foot walls and buttresses rising above the glaciers. At 5520 feet its highest point was a huge anvil-shaped block perched on the largest of the three pinnacles sprouting from its south ridge. It had been attempted unsuccessfully by its north ridge by members of the 1971 St Andrews expedition. There was hardly a break in its defences to give we poor climbers a chance to sneak through its protective armour and penetrate into its vastness of scale. The time was now for our attempt, win or lose.
We had a late breakfast on the most perfect morning, a blue blue sky, no wind to stir the camp, only a warm snugness basking the tents. We left at 9 am along the sun-sparkled green lake where ice chunks floated placidly on their reflected images. Quickly we ascended the steep herbfield, crossed the stones and traversed downwards on lethally high-angled grass, over brickhard gully snow and up an even worse mossy, arctic willow wet wall. En route we abandoned Pete Hunt, whose recurrent knee trouble was jeopardising his chances; he sat in the sun and went home to the camp. We four continued uncertainly and then lo-and-behold there in front of us was a minute impossibly ridiculous sheep path cutting across to the glacier.
We sweltered doggedly up an equatorial snow bowl in the steps of determined Matheson. Sweat trickled everywhere, our goggles misted over. It was with some relief that we found that the rock schrund at the bottom of the most hopeful gully was bridged with snow. Gaskell dug and bashed his way up a mushy snow wall : the snow pits were deliciously cool for unmitted hands. We lunched at 2 pm : the gully had to be tackled circumspectly. It took three hours to climb. We used a variety of acrobatic techniques to surmount the massive chockstones blocking its bed : we had to bridge steep snow-ice tongues with one foot on the gully rock and the other skating across the smooth white tongue. We turned up a fork and gained a shattered ridge onto the main west ridge. We had cracked the main defence.
We sat in the sun and debated our escape route off the mountain. We might have got home in one day but the incipient north face escape route looked potentially disastrous. We might have to bivouac on the hill but that was not a problem. First things first. We shed our loads, and with a sunny scramble reached a bouldery plateau where the crusty snowflakes tinkled and sparkled and where a rearing white tongue licked the blue heavens, a green ice skeleton tapering to the crown of the mountain - the black anvil!
We cramponed the final hard textured slope, moving at our individual pace up a sculpted moulded ramp fashioned by endless Arctic centuries. The sun came through thin mist curtains, MacFrenzie went front-pointing up the bleakest ice convexity. Verglas traces clung to the final rocks, the anvil was real. It needed a leg-up hoist to gain the summit - one at a time, with more stones carried for a cairn. We surveyed all : the numberless spires towards Cape Farewell, the trench cut to the Atlantic along Prins Christian Sund, the big clouded northern hills, the familiar valley of the Teepees, the Blades and Snik, the turgid Desperation Lake with its curved moraines, Andyarethick (Angiartarfik) and that silly stone on Bolder, the Molars playing with cloudwisps and emulating the Fang, and the low sun giving texture to the ocean's sea fog. It was 7 pm.
We came crunching down the snow, gathered our gear and headed for the escape bowl. We took discretion to be the better part of valour and returned to the devil we knew, our ascent gully. We ran out three 150 feet abseils, watching carefully for errant stones ricochetting between the gully walls. We bivouaced in the gloom at 11.45 pm, levelling out our sleeping sites and munching biscuits by candlelight. We rekindled our waning activity at 2.30 am as a faint sunrise gleam painted the southern hills, and began to retrace our homeward route. We followed the slippery slopes of common lady's mantle beside the lake shore, serenaded by the morning song of the snow buntings. The ascent of the Anvil had taken 21 hours. The rain started as we crawled into bed at 9 am. Everything had been with us from start to finish.
We breakfasted in mid-afternoon, everyone secluded in their private worlds, shrinking away from the wet outside desolation. Dinner was cooked by occasional cook Gaskell who braved the rain in his wish to obtain and offer sustenance. The rain stopped in the murk. It had been a short day, a betwixt and between gap in the rhythm of climb and rest. When the sun again rose and stirred the dispersing mist whorls in the corries, we knew it now was our true day of rest. Besides it was Sunday : the time for the odd jobs, the weekly shave-wash-and-brush-up, the careful comprehensive botanical survey of the hanging herbfields and the time for the doctor's consultancy since over the hills from far-away Hellhole Hollow came a disintegrating Alf Aldred, whose shoulder blades were painfully winging into peculiar antisymmetricality as he retreated via his most devious route to the basecamp and thence to the tender cares of Nanortalik hospital. It was a useful pleasant day, sufficient even to curb perhaps the exuberance of our fretful activist MacKenzie, who had greeted the day: "We've spent all this time coming here and then everyone sits around. It's pathetic. I won't be happy today, doing nothing"…..
Our cirque was dominated by a striking junior imitation of one of the world's most familiar mountain profiles. The Matterhorn-C cried out to be climbed. It had taken a role out of all proportion to its reality in our minds. Certainly if we managed to succeed in either a full frontal climb up its inviolate south face or wave an airy route up its west ridge we would have been justified in our hopes for the finest of the hills in our valley. We started early, the sun still hidden behind the pinnacles of the Anvil. We anticipated a long day and a bit more. This was the primary mountain target of Susannah Clark (aka Carruthers), immaculately turned out in old school jersey, her steeled ambition to toil on this epitome of mountain form. This was the stuff on which the Empire was founded…..
Click on these thumbnails for larger photos of the Matterhorn 'C'.
Left and Right: Viewed from Lost Loch Camp. Centre Left: Ascending the north ridge. Centre Right: Pinpoint summit.
Things didn't quite turn out as we expected. We couldn't have cracked the steep edge at the foot of the west ridge so we went to have a look at the lines of weakness on the beetling south face but soon lost enthusiasm under its sheer complexities. The deciding factor was to be Matheson's comment, "It's steeper than Bolder," a hill that had given his stronger party more than enough to chew over. We left for the sensible choice of the easier angled north ridge; it should have been our initial decision to stop this protracted wandering up and down the base of the big walls. Hard snow was cramponed to the bright brilliance of the col where the fresh world of the northern valleys opened out before us and the softening snows took our deep footprints. We shed surplus items and at noon began to scramble upwards.
We pushed over vegetated ledges, lush with snowy potentillas and seapink, the wet courses towards the ridge, to the clean, snow-spattered slabs blown by the cold northwest wind. We found the highest point hidden beyond a cleft to be the sharpest and the spikiest wee needle of rock. It was a one-at-a-time exercise to gain the classic pinpoint summit : it needed nerve and a head-for-nothingness to stand on its tip - some crawled, some walked in nonchalant balance to make reality of our moral victory. Sunwards the sharp ridges cut out their shadowed spires, while over the hill we looked down on the historically remote green ocean of Lake Tasserssuaq, our sailing route on the 1971 St Andrews expedition. We came home, ambling at our own pace, to a meal under the stars in a clear night sky.
Lethargy filled our life on a sunny sparkling bright day. We had had too many long days and too many late nights. The rains came to give 10 hours of dismal gloom that we ignored in the comforts of our tents, then another day with the clouds draped on the highest hills while we read and invented our native version of the game Monopoly that we played with hill days lost and won, with Scottish hills bashed, with visits to Belfort Hospital and with crag fast turns stuck on the In Pin of Skye. The barometer fell further, the rains recommenced.
We were storing up our pent-up energies for an unpremeditated epic day on the misty cliffs of Rawallies. Without a qualm a four-man party set off late into a route-finding meander on an unclimbed hill to the west. We got through the guardian slabs on grassy ledges and scrambled a watercourse. The mist too was more than damp so we donned our waterproof overclothes. Who would ever think of or need to go climbing in the rain in Greenland? We skirted snow on broken ledges, kicked steps up ramps, worked a way up a dead-end fork and retreated onto an adjacent line - it was all based on our mental map of the mist-shrouded topography but we were still on route towards the sting in the tail that lurked in wait for us.
It was impossible to traverse directly into the gully that was aimed towards the summit; while overhead an arete soared skywards into the drip and seep of the mizzling mank of mist. Only a line wandered unseen up a steep wall between the two improbable options. MacKenzie with care slowly solved the wall top, disappeared from view, and brought up Hunt. I followed, until baulked by difficulties I stopped to debate the best way to overcome both the problems of the rock and myself. I was too involved to think much about a sudden trundle of stones and boulders coming from the lead party but gradually I realised that ahead of me the rope was not being paid out to someone moving higher up the wall but to someone coming up the wall to the belay stance. What was he doing down there? How and why did he get into such a lowly position? It was only when I joined them did I appreciate the full significance of the unseen but not unheard events that had taken place on and off the rock of the wall.
Twenty feet up a foothold had gone and the leader had departed, sliding in rubble, into a deep bumping, cartwheeling space. He flashed past the surprised second man, bounced off the harsh rock and ended upside down, suspended on the end of the rope, his rucksack delicately poised for quick departure down the slabs. We gathered on a ledge, waiting, wondering, giving time for events to stabilise, for things to return to normal, assessing the abrasions, bumps and bruises, considering the two courses of action, either to go on or get off as soon as possible. Time is a great healer; we had our scars but we still had our motivation to continue into the final shrouds of mist towards the summit. We roped together, our best man in front, our victim placed securely in the safest and most reassuring position, and gained the bed of the widening gully. It was unfortunate to find that the summit was shielded by the steep headwall of the gully : it was the true sting in the tail which we willingly could have done without in the present misty circumstances. There was one possible line - a wet scoop that needed five runners and with a slimy gritty overhanging lip to span in the gloom. I didn't enjoy following up this pitch, but I appreciated the excellent job that Gaskell had done in taming this essential section. The summit was merely a diverting walk away. We were able mentally to relax; the way home was long but was surely straightforward, if we were able to find the anticipated easy descent route off the western flank of the mountain.
We found our way down under the mist and toiled in an unending stagger round the flanks of the hill. Oh, well, it was to have been an easy day. The next morning was a time for rest, a day in the sun. One last perfect objective remained to be fulfilled before we sadly returned to the base. The ascent of Bolder…..