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

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 7. Canoeing Westwards:

Tornarssuk - Christian IV's Island - Angnikitsoq - and return

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



We depitched the tents as a Greenlander, coming to fish the river pool, miraculously brought the mail from Augpilagtoq. We loaded on the seaweed and set out on a calm sunny sea to follow the shore. A head breeze blew up and a hard paddle was needed into the chill wind to round the headland and to sneak thankfully through a narrow entrance into the practically landlocked bay at Imarguit. We cooked a leisurely lunch of trout by the eternal crowberry fire and waited for the conditions to improve on the water. We left on the turn of the tide to find that the sea was pouring into the bay so that it was necessary to leap onto the semi-submerged boulders and man-handle the canoes through a flooding weir of seawater. Once in the main fjord we felt a tremor of trepidation as we sat waiting for the moment to breach the train of icebergs ploughing majestically in front of our path. We pushed adventurously out into the unknown, breaking through the bergy current and idling out into the open water en route to the island of Tornarssuk. Beyond the mouth of a narrow valley cutting across the island we found ourselves forced away from the shore by an ice-jam. Fresh ice began to move in from the east, groaning together on impact and sending shock ripples towards us. We sought security near the shore and won through to more open water. We landed near a roche moutonee with flat if bumpy ground behind it, and in the mauve tints of the sun setting behind the western peaks of Pamiagdluk we pitched our tents.

The canoe party landed on the Island of Tornarssuk and as we pitched our tents the sun was setting behind Pamiagdluk.

We were to attempt the spectacular hills that we had watched from our previous camp on Pamiagdluk. We had mixed hopes to climb a problematical face on the unseen eastern side of a precipitous peak that we had christened the Red Baron. We might as well never have bothered. Our drive had begun to vaporise. It was no longer possible to summon the devils that sustained us. We had passed our finest hours.

We went for an outing to make a route on a hill at the outermost reaches of our travels towards Cape Farewell. We ended up with a tea party picnicking on a high col. We ate up calories instead of consuming ourselves with fire. We were crawling when we should have attacked.

We set off in a torment of flies carrying full packs with everything we were not going to need. A cool breeze chased the flies at the glacier's tongue. We sat and considered ways up the Black Knight and the Red Baron. Democracy decided on the Red Baron, although not a wrinkle graced its Yosemite grandeur, its organ pipes of red rock, its slim endless fissures straight as lost arrows up a thousand or more feet of smooth rock, and nothing on which to base our opinions except a gambled possibility unseen round the back of the mountain.

We cramponed level soggy snow and went up a huge couloir under the immense intractable face of the Red Baron to reach the col at noon. There were no easy backdoor routes on a foreshortened blank wall. MacKenzie wouldn't think of it, Matheson wasn't interested, I feigned a non-committal attitude, Brown alone was looking for takers. We sat in the warm dullness and ate a tin of ham. We headed away up an easy ridge to get a better view of our mountain and saw its two inverted hoof pinnacles raised in derisive finger gestures. We had some good grooves to a highly exposed diamond block summit up which we either lay-backed or bounced au-cheval to the top of a subsidiary consolation peak. Nothing better suited our mood than to consider our hill to be called Snoopy.

We were 'off the edge of the map'. A wide channel along which grey mist was coiling in serpentine trails opened out to the sea, while a tranverse inlet narrowed in a minute creek and then spread out again to another fjord towards the Atlantic. Ice necklaces curved across the water. The hills took on imaginary shapes from a Roman legion's eagle to a black King Kong with ear-muffs. The Red Baron was fading in importance.

We returned to the col. I went south to look at its pink slabs, Brown and MacKenzie scrambled up the main face until the first difficulties soon gave them the chance to come back to the col for tea with biscuits and pilchards. Brown half-heartedly wanted someone to join him for a few pitches, but no-one expressed interest. It was time to go home. We glissaded down the far side and worked back beyond Snoopy to gain the ridge that wound north under a lowering cloud layer with rain drops. Brown decided to go down, MacKenzie accompanied him. We were dropping out one by one. Matheson and I scrambled on to two black summits, one crowned with a lichened cairn placed there by Danish surveyors. We gave our shouts of success and back came the echoes from the cliffs. The flies welcomed us to our final and quite insignificant summit. We too retired. Everything was now about to lead backwards. The expedition had seen its peaks come and go.

We lost the next day marooned on Tornarssuk. When it was time to go the wind came in from the east, a potential barrier adding to the drifting current set to oppose our progress round the island of Angnikitsoq. Ice jammed against our promontory and moved on. Whitecaps fanned by the wind confirmed the correctness of our decision to wait for another better day. Heavy silver clouds in an eggshell blue sky hung over Pamiagdluk, while eastward the brooding grey cloud layers brought a joyless desolate air of negation to the fjords.

We sailed early on a calm sea in warm dull weather. All was plain sailing until at a sharp headland on Angnikitsoq we met an ice fringe coming in on the tide and where on piling into the land it began groaningly to grind together. The canoes were forced outwards away from the shore, pushed into denser ice to look for channels that didn't close in our faces. The tide carried us round into still water littered with resting ice. After a seven mile voyage we landed on a red slabby hillside to brew lapsong souchong teas on a juniper brush fire. Two white-tailed eagles tumbled by with ravens in aggressive pursuit. Three miles further on we camped on a dry terrace at the anchorage at Qasigissat. White and blue bells blossomed in the eyebright bank of thyme. We visited the lake in the green valley amongst gentle hills and sat in the dusk by a fire with the fjord filling with floes and the stream rumbling in its bed.

We were due back in the basecamp on Saturday 16th August. We had lost a day due to our maroonment but it was more important that we had saved up a day's supply of food. We could snatch another sailing day out of our programme. We awoke to wheatears sitting on the tent roof and a few light raindrops wetting the canvas. Under the overcast mist layers we sailed in early afternoon, our canoe complete with the deck spray cover due to MacKenzie's careful packing into the hull of all our bits of equipment. Tricky navigation in stationary jammed ice with a few false leads coaxing us into dead-ends brought us through the maze into clear water, mirror calm and grey, reflecting the gloomy sky so that the canoes appeared to be floating in space. We stopped in the face of more ice across the entrance to Prins Christian Sund to go ashore on steep rocks and capture ice for the lunch tea water. We met fast-running ice sweeping down past the northern tip Qagik of the island as the cloud-swathed Ilua basin drained to the Atlantic Ocean, and we cut rapidly through to gain quiet water but where everything was on the move with respect to the shoreline. Through the mist layers I glimpsed the familiar profiles of some of our 1971 mountains: Phriss, Brownie, the Teepees and the Blades. Close to our projected landing the ice thickened and we were persuaded against our better judgment to venture out into the close-packed tilted and canted ice floes. The leads were small and imperceptibly we entered a moving maze to seal ourselves within the maw of the pack. The canoe was encircled by the rotting ruins of glaciers.

Although there was strange beauty in the sculpted shapes of the icebergs, our imagination conjured up unknown beasts brooding morosely on all sides. We felt the silent menace that lurked in the contorted coils of a blue reptile and recognised the destruction that waited under the canopy of a columned white acropolis.

It was only minutes since we had innocently entered a beckoning avenue. Now we were jammed in the jumbled floes that shifted with the tide to close our exit channel.

We back-paddled to bring the canoe in line with the coast. Using our paddles as poles we pushed into a narrow creek pointing in the right direction. The whole pack was slowly starting to drift away from the shore. Some icebergs caught in the current began to plough into their lesser brethren. Little floes in a follow-the-leader game were adapting to a huge spiral of eddies. The pack was a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces had lethal power to crush us.

We forced an enclosed corridor into an open pond. Evil grindings came from the pack's pressurised perimeter. Waiting for our luck to change we realised that if one opening shut tight then another lead had to open.

Our chance came in a race of adrenalin, and with paddles fending frantically and hands pushing on bare ice we took our canoe, rattling, scraping, rolling through. The rocks were recognisable. We hadn't gained an inch. We had turned to the place where we had entered the pack to find that a navigable channel had opened between the ice and the shore. We were stopped in a small bay but over the hillocks was a fine sheltered bay with a perfect campsite to excel all our previous travelling sites.

We came outside to a morning mist shroud but with the sun somewhere up above in a blue sky. Porridge was prepared in a pot o'brine. Quietly the mist melted away to reveal the beautiful Frenchbird reflecting in our bay. It was botany and sketching time but the colour slowly washed out of the sky with the high cirrus approaching over Pamiagdluk.

Calm on the final morning of the canoe trip - Frenchbird across the water, reflecting in the stillness.

In negligible ice we were bound for the big city, Apiladock to us, Augpilagtoq to them, to the sights, sounds and smells of two hundred souls in their Sunday best clothes. We gave out chewing gum and then it was the home lap in head winds and currents to beach at 5 p.m. on the shore at Stordalens Havn. The canoe feich trip was complete.



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