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

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 4. Lost Loch Camp: Bolder

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



One last perfect objective remained to be fulfilled before we sadly returned to the base. The ascent of Bolder…..

In the pre-dawn light, the Anvil was sharp as black ink sketched against a cloudless sky. Later, it was 4 am with rattling pans in the mist. Time to get up…..

A faint moon waned over the valley. A mist sea seeped and eddied into the corrie, coming and going - it destroyed the resolve of the faint hearted. Clark lurched out of the tent and retreated back ne'er to emerge again. Hunt pottered gamely out to see off the climbers. Gaskell had the Basecamp Blues, his boots had a hole in the toe, the barometer was falling. The three climbers left across the refreshing wade of the river at 5.30 am, power-housed up the slope of the crisp snowfields with the hills shadowed on the valley mists, stepping gaily, gladly, quickly to a snow ridge, to the Pinnacles.

Lost Loch Camp looking East

This was going to take some time. A series of broken pinnacles blocked the way to the main ridge of Bolder : it was to be a question of up and down, round and about, searching out the best way. We abseiled down a recently formed over-lapping slab sheet with a slight air of irreversibility but with a possible escape towards the alternative objective of the Snow Maiden. It was hard to keep the racing figure of Matheson in sight : we followed his thin exposed traverse line but on the rope. He was inspired but crazy, waiting at a deceptively easy snow slope for his supporters. However this was north face stuff, dustings of snow were layered on brick-hard ice that barely took his stabbing crampon points so that with surprise he veered back to the safety of the rocks. Next he tried an upward traverse without success but there being no alternative he persisted with some acumen and verve to win through on a steep wall. With complaints I followed our beginner to his stance in a small amphitheatre. I gained the crest and wormed through a small cleft to the south face, then we were en route sidling along to a sunny luncheon ledge. The Pinnacles were behind us for the moment.

Sustained we rambled over gendarmes, cramponed ice slopes, to gain the Baby Bolder. What a vista! What a finale to our two-week trip! Southward the Land of the Towers, beyond the icebergs dotted on the clear sea. Closeby a horrific fluted "snow slope", now schrunded and polished into green ice, was the earlier route up Andyarethick (Angiartarfik) : to hand, a dipping ridge swinging up on a cone of red slabs to where a boulder balanced on the apex of our objective Bolder.

Our four-hour traverse was never difficult but often exposed; a string of short slabs crisp with lichens, straddles, chimneys, edges and a gendarme tamed by a slab behind his ear. The summit boulder was all mine : a delicate delightful slab ran up its western side to be gained by an abrupt laybacking pull-up with a helpful nut runner for close security. We sat on the tip of the top. It was 5.15 pm, the time of tea, then the time to go…..

Fragile figments shimmered through my heat-saturated brain. Flat on the rock we lay with all limbs limp, in love with the sun and close to the edge.

Our summit was an erosional quirk. Its huge detachable boulder was a tilted towered block which, blunt and askew, eavesdropped the distant glacier. It was both improbable and ridiculous. It seemed secure and immutable but perhaps one winter's day in the blizzard's fury the whole edifice would tumble down in an explosive and awesome trundle. What's that rumble? Inside the mountain or me? My hunger was feeding on fantasy and little else. I'll subdue myself with another piece of gum.

Bolder (seen here Peak 9) was first ascended three weeks earlier by Colin Matheson and three others by the route shown in this diagram. Colin was now making his second ascent with Phil and Norman from the other side of this chain of mountains.

'Ah'm off!' Into my torpid thoughts came his voice, confident and decisive. 'Ah want a brew.'

There stood the man of gravity cut like a black hole through the blue heaven. Freef'all (Matheson) was about to make a controlled descent. Astride the abseil rope he was backing off the boulder homeward bound.

'Hey, what's the rush?' I pleaded rolling over on my elbow. We had taken hours to get up. 'I'm resting.'

Unconcernedly he continued his departure until he paused with only his head in view to sniff disdainfully, 'C'mon, Ah'm thirsty.'

'He doesn't think we'll get home before tomorrow, does he?' I remarked to MacFrenzy, the third member of our party, but he was staring hypnotically at the abseil sling and listening to its crinkle as it pulled taut under a broken block.

'How long will it take?' he asked tentatively.

'Well now… say, seven hours, but we'll never make it.'

'Too dark?' His query was unhelpful if realistic.

'Och, maybe…' Although I didn't want to scamper o'er hill and dale to pander to Freef'all's whim, it now seemed little benefit would come from further malingering. There remained just the personal satisfaction of being the last to leave the summit. 'Ye're next,' I said and handed the slack rope to MacFrenzy. 'Let's join the tea brigade.'

'I'll appreciate those beans on the wee boulder, too,' he commented with a smile as he moved to the edge.

'Garn, get on…' And he went, completely absorbed in technique with legs well-braced and never a thought for the network of crevasses that yawned on the glacier.

There was no sign of life in the mountain ring. In silence lay peak upon peak, sharp spires etched against the dazzling fog and jagged ridges stretched like hurdles into the distant haze. The naked ice was exposed among the plated slabs, and the lost valleys were held in the frigid arms of the sea's embrace. Gentle clouds settled on the crags and icebergs lay becalmed on the fjords. In the distance I heard the soft trickling whisper of white water raging down the valley, while close by the ropes creaked with tension and words of companionship drifted up the boulder.

We joined the ropes. The boulder had been banished and down the ridge we climbed with one on belay and two on the move, through black teeth rotten with rock tripe, and over fissures a-gape in space. Our uncertainties had turned to casual competence. Rich colours toned the rocks of the high ridge strung between the two summits while a dusky shroud spread through the valley.

Sheltered in a niche bathed in a golden glow I tried to shed a rope to someone else's load but MacFrenzy had closed his pack and Freef'all was already en route to the summit. We panted doggedly after him but he had the proverbial edge on us and in our jaded state we were soon lagging further and further behind.

When we caught up with our pacemaker he was huddled out of the wind munching his supper. 'What's keepin' you?'

'Where's the tin o' beans?' I asked, salivating. 'I'm starving.'

While MacFrenzy was piling jam on dicky-bickies and I was spooning in calories, Freef'all shouldered his sack and left. 'We can make it,' he announced with unfounded optimism.

'We'll see…' We looked at each other and prepared to trail him down the scree.

'Crimpons on!' he called and scrunched off across the frozen surface. The snow like an alpenrose in white cream faded into unknown depths.

Speed was the essence. There was no time but the present. We worked a crampon game; on and off, on and off. We crossed gendarmes with broken ribs arrested in weak sunbeams. We were breathing hard; he was racing ahead. He skipped in a dance of rattling stones but we'd no cause for complaint. We watched him from above. We trod gingerly in the brick-hard bucket steps melted into the snow while he flitted feline on a distant pinnacle.

'It's down here,' he claimed, when a north face beckoned us.

'Sure.' Little time remained to night fall. 'Move together, an' watch it.' We'd forgotten about the wall. Nasty one! An upward traverse took us back in time to the ridge. Under coffee-stained hills, squeezing out a green flash in a twinkle of crimson fire, the sun irrevocably dropped under the horizon.

We emerged from a cleft where for minutes, imbedded inside the mountain, we had struggled with our jammed sacks. My honour, he sez. Out of balance and thrust from the rock I sidled down an airy gangway where treacherous gravel lurked under moss cushions. Waiting in a tiny amphitheatre I realised the reason for his choice. Underneath was an irreversible wall of which my memory was only of supreme difficulty and constant terror. We had no pegs, and a single loop to bind a fragmented nest of thin splinters into an abseil point.

MacFrenzy peered short-sightedly at the projected take-off point and kicked it gently. 'May the Good Lord preserve us!'

'Yes, and we'll need both ropes to reach the ledge' was the curt reply.

'The ledge?' said Freef'all sceptically.

'Ay, there's somethin' at the bottom.' We hadn't any other options. 'The first man down finds it.'

'Okay, Ah believe you,' declared Freef'all, and his insubstantial shadow faded into the gloom of the wall.

Across the sea a wan orange moon sliver cast its unruffled reflection while in the sunset twin silhouettes were busy untangling the ropes. They were impatient for the traverse. Freef'all set off across the face. With a startling crash he accidentally dislodged his footholds. Somehow he remained on the rock while they bounded towards the glacier. This wasn't the moment to live up to his name! I needed some serious self-appraisal to convince myself that what I had traversed in the morning I would be able to manage in the dark. I moved with slow trepidation. We crossed an ice tongue at a breche, and I crawled up the shelves of the next pinnacle travelling by touch rather than by sight.

'Jings, I'm nackered,' I confided to MacFrenzy as we sat below the ultimate pinnacle. Ahead was its smooth side, down which without a care we had abseiled in the early morning sunshine. 'We'll have to kip here.'

All around the world was asleep. I had spoken too soon because looming through the darkness Freef'all had overheard my plea for rest. More important he had never considered a bivouac was a good alternative to a warm pit. 'No, we're not stoppin' here. If ya like Ah'll lead.'

'Well, if you insist…' It was the offer I couldn't refuse. I looked in the direction of the indistinct slabs where darker shadows indicated the practical impossibility of a ladder of faint overlapping steps. He had realised that I wanted to shirk the horrors of the slabs. So Freef'all led…

I followed a line dictated by a nut. It was pretty desperate stuff up the virgin flank where a recent rockfall had exposed the unweathered slabs devoid of features save a few tottering blocks and some sparse incuts behind an unstable flake. I climbed after my mocking moonshadow pushing up on tiptoes and clawing with my fingernails. Overhead an auroral curtain bundled itself into applegreen sheaves and a satellite tracked behind the still figure sitting on the skyline. It had been his lead into tomorrow! We went downhill in giant strides with the snow crust grabbing at our crampon straps. The familiar hills grew in stature round the cirque. Chill and invigorating blew the night wind. The morning star was on our backs and the stones were brightening for another day. From afar we saw the glimmer of a candle flickering its welcome to our camp.

We waded hotfoot and without hesitation across the river. Refreshing? Yes, but after seven hours a-waiting, the brew was an unfathomable sweet strong pleasure of epicurean simplicity. We raised our mugs in our cupped hands.

'Aah, me…' Freef'all spoke in hushed tones of reverence. A careful refined sip. 'Great… great.' Slurp. 'Quite a trip!'

Our last day at the Lost Loch was infected by a feeling of our imminent departure while under a cloudless sky we sorted and packed our gear, took down the tents, ate a motley lunch, and waited for the moment when we instinctively knew that it was the time to leave for the last time. We dawdled off in dribs and drabs, burdened with our heavy loads, slowly and carefully picking a way through the boulders and the bogs. The southern hills had melted bare of their snow and their grandeur seemed subdued in the sunset glow. I was back to the basecamp at 9 a.m. on 27th July, the last but one to return to the lowlands. MacKenzie never made it; he had succumbed to his personal mixture of beautiful solitude and massive overburden and had spent the night by the boulders of the Halfway House in the Big Valley.



Next Section: Personal Account - Regrouping