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

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 5. Regrouping

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



I found the Stormhaven tent thick with paraffin fumes above the squalor of the kitchen bench. The hard climbers were soon off to bed for an early start before another attempt on the first big tower. With regret we found that during our two-week absence the camp had been "rammied" by some marauding and hungry vandals, who had eaten all the tinned chickens, drunk the beer, confiscated the tape cassettes and butchered and skinned a sheep. It seemed to us as if the Greenland scene too was progressing for the worst. The climbers departed under the high moon of a still dawn leaving the quiet camp to the more recent arrivals.

Through the binoculars we spotted them at one o'clock close to the final 400 feet blade of the tower. The sun glistened on their bone domes, while their orange overtrousers showed that the chill east wind coming off the fjord was also blowing strongly 3000 feet above the valley. At 5.30 p.m. they were on their way down, the double abseil ropes snaking down the sheer flank walls. Would they have to spend the night on the tower?

In the evening Alf, the patient, walked into the camp after a week's rest and a diet of pills in Nanortalik with his own special voyages in the hospital boat both ways. He brought news of the outside climbing worlds: two large and heterogeneous French parties were operating up Tasermiut, one of which was to have the technical competence to complete successfully their 1974 attempt up the formidable north wall of Ketils Pingasut, the highest unclimbed mountain on which we had our minor thoughts in 1971. Concerning his wayward shoulder blades, they were still there ready to fall apart at any moment.

The dinner was cooked in the new kitchen that had been fabricated outside the tent, but with the wind blowing strong through duvet jackets. A primus dragged back inside again brought warmth and comfort. We now had a pleasant and spacious communal tent doing its proper job.

In the middle of the night there were voices off across the tundra, a torch glow and the jingle of harnesses, as the wild, arrogant and exultant men came blundering into a curious strange tent arrangement. Their complaints gradually waned into tired silence. Did they make it? 'But, of course…'

On 29th July there was a mass discussion of our plans for the remaining three weeks. With his return, Aldred had dragged in a red herring - there was a prospect of the hospital boat sailing to the weather station at the eastern end of Prins Christian Sund and taking some of us along for the ride. Now if we could take the two best canoes on board that would give the attractive option of a four-man canoe party journeying back 50 miles through the steep drowned valleys and unknown inlets and having the chance of climbing some of the virgin summits north of the Sund. We also constructed a four-man climbing team, still dedicated to their sport, who wished to canoe southward down Torssukatak and to enter the flank of the Land of the Towers. Our two remaining stalwarts were to 'feich' westwards, living at subsistence level and covering long treks along the open heaths and hidden lakes and lochs. It was a good planning session. The rain began in gentle showers.

However it needed only a cursory glance to see that everyone would benefit from a few rest days. Both parties had ascended seven mountains in two weeks: their faces showed the signs of the haggardness, the strains and the unusual exertions. There was time to wait and recover before the hospital boat came to take us away. Six people were to stay at the base and four to return to the eastern Desperation Camp where some unused food supplies awaited them. The away-party canoed off in the drizzling rain; the postmen, sailing for Augpilagtoq, carried out our accumulated mail, finding an excuse to overcome the growing stay-at-home syndrome infecting the camp life. They brought back news of the Irish expedition's return from the hills north-west of Kangerdluk, where in snow and storms and suffering from food shortages they had climbed 12 peaks, including - what else would one expect - the Sash. They had been returned with their boat in tow to the village where, now full of spirits and happy disorganisation, they were busy chatting up some visiting French dollies and having the proverbial ball.

On the last day of July we ran a canoe ferry system to take some five climbers in a weaving course over the seas to neighbouring Pamiagdluk.

The day was mild and overcast with the cloud level dropping slowly onto the highest tops but it was a pleasure to break new ground. At 1600 feet we donned crampons to move up the raspberry instant whipped snow into a scrambling gully that led through flowers into open boulders on the wide ridge. There was a stroll through curvaceous weathered boulders to the wee sharp top at 1020 metres with the bleach colourless sea below and the clouds at little more than head height. We retraced our steps and gained a snow col below the slab band leading up to the mist-shrouded main summit. Although it was no effort to move physically, yet the mental ambition to continue was sapping our ability to climb hills. We were reduced to three who with good route finding wound through the slabs and reached the 1240 metre summit in 45 minutes. In the thick mist 'it could have been anywhere' - with a few twists it became the name for the hill. The descent was quick with steep snow walking and glissades. We arrived home at dusk after an easy day in fresh surroundings.

Another day full of lethargy passed. Pancakes and more pancakes were prepared and cooked. Brown and Sharples went cod fishing, I spun spinners on the shore to catch and reject ugly bullheads. Gaskell padded from tent to tent. MacKenzie visited our Greenlandic neighbours across the estuary. Hunt rip-van-winkled more hours of somnolism. We were waiting for the weekend bivouac strike up the valley northwards from the estuary to where the known hills, Frenchtop, Snow Maiden and Blockhead, offered some reasonable activity.

Our early start was only a fond hope - the mist layer over the valley was a good excuse to go to sleep again. The cold wade through the river soon woke everyone satisfactorily and a fast pace took us up the inlet beside the river, to the moraine banks, the gravel flats and lochans, gaining the long slopes up the hillside, crossing smooth slabs with overlaps, burrowing up a narrow vegetaceous gully to the spacious bare rocks and the wide sun-white snowfields - 2 p.m. The question was where to go at this late hour but first we had to find a good overnight site under our objective for the morrow, the knobbly rocky fin of Blockhead. We stopped at an ideal site above its lowest slabs and debated the next move in the heat of the afternoon sun. The sole possibility was the nearby snow-domed inverted bowl capping the rocky apex of a ridge system, the known terrain in the Snow Maiden's domain.

It took a mere two hours to scramble up the east ridge into unwelcome mists and the gentle flakes of falling snow. Somewhere on the dome of whiteness was a summit point, unmarked and nebulous, lost in the whiteout. This was not the summit that I knew four years ago in the clear morning sun with our carefree predecessors outlined against the horizon. This was a case of zero visibility, frost feathers in our hair and a short stay in the gloomy clouds.

We selected our sleeping dens, flattening out sands and stones, bedding with crowberry branches. MacKenzie managed dinner for five on a single primus, but overdiluted the ice-cold butterscotch instant whip. We crawled into our sleeping bags. With the threatening clouds drifting away our ring of hills grew clear and sharp, with the stars overhead and a tumbling satellite winking into the horizon. Later as the stars faded, a golden moon sliver rose behind the twin towers of Frenchtop. It grew chill with a frosty layer of hoar forming on the exterior of my bag. MacKenzie, emerging from his private lair, prepared my breakfast in bed. Shadows crawled across the glacier and an infinite motionless sea of bright cloud buried the lower reaches of our panorama. Our objective loomed large in importance. We would like to have tried it in 1971 - now with a fine day ahead of us we could afford to take our time and make sure of our mountain.

We set off uphill at 6.30 a.m. to enter the sun sparkle of the snow crystals with our crampons punching deep on the steep slope. We followed ribs of slab to halt and soak in the sun under the flanks of its east ridge. There was no trace of wind and the only cloud was the still white sea fog stretching down the fjord under the sharp shadowed blue spires of Pamiagdluk. A very steep edge was the choice of a heavily-equipped Gaskell: it was so impressive in its verticality that MacKenzie, fearing to be a mere appendage at the end of the rope, opted to join Sharples and myself at a smooth corner. I sat and admired the bold route up which an elated Gaskell swarmed in brilliant sunshine and then I turned to follow Sharple's possibly even harder groove where tufts of clinging moss campion might be artistically attractive if very unreliable holds. I led to the ridge where difficulties were minimal until we reached the final summit block.

This was a huge fin-like crest sitting on an erodable plinth of grey rock. There was no easy way up but Gaskell forcefully climbed his artistic line up an improbable slab and scoop, while MacKenzie with some prompting and a little hesitation took to a high open chimney with a wee walk to the top of Blockhead. We were there at noon, sitting in sunshine with plenty of time to absorb the surrounding panorama from the pyramidal apex of Bolder to the brown barrel buttresses of Andy-are-thick, from the Anvil to the Fang, from the aquamarine ice-neck laced waters of Prins Christian Sund to the white purity of the Snow Maiden.

By 3 p.m. we were back at our bivouac site, once more soaking in sunshine and drinking half-brewed tea made with tepid water because the stove had run out of fuel. Roping up for a glacier walk we descended rapidly down a snow gully and made mysterious routes down the grottoed flanks of the glacier, moving easily and fast for a 7 p.m. return to the basecamp. Everyone was back again for drams and music in the Stormhaven and stars and aurora in the frosty sky.

The party regroup at Stordalens Basecamp in the late summer sunshine. Left to right: Dougie Brown, Ray Sharples, John Cant.



Next Section: Personal Account - Pamiagdluk