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

Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region

A PERSONAL ACCOUNT - 8. End of Expedition

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



Our basecamp felt no better - no worse than expected. There was ground coffee, cigarettes and news. The hard men had cruised under the vast slab faces that fell without flaw into the fjord, and turning up a side valley found themselves in a veritable stockade of ferocious spires. They were into the Land of the Towers.

Although Sharples and Cant had padded a delicate ascent through the leering malevolence of the Ogre, it in return, clasped their abseil ropes with a vice and practically refused to release them. They were racked on their attempt on the Tower of Pain, but, with Gaskell and Aldred they shoved the ancient Andy's Rucksack (Agdlerussakasit) into the proverbial bag. On a more relaxed note the two long-distance feich trippers Hunt and Clark had enjoyed a fine trip, exploring Viking farm sites and ruins along the inlets and travelling as far as the coast opposite to the southern settlement of Fredriksdal, where they were joined briefly by the Queen of Denmark and her helicopter entourage. The base scene had been and still was full of action: Cant had gone with Aldred to make the second ascent of the Ben Trilleachan slabby second tower up the valley and returned soon after we had walked into the camp.

The homely shambles of the kitchen was a change from the excessive organisation of the canoe trips. A grand triple rainbow arced over the bay at cooking time. We sang into the early night. One more day to go…

It needed a fine day to enable all the packing to be done under dry conditions. The morning mist condensed down as light drops of moisture. I had always been lucky and avoided a last damp disaster day. This was to be no exception. The mist wafted away to drape the southern hills with white gauze filaments of cloud against an azure backcloth of sky. It was to be the best sparkling day for a week.

We sorted, packed, tidied, carried down to the tea chests on the shore, filled in the spaces and hammered down the lids. A strange man appeared to take us away: he was a day too early. Please, come back tomorrow.

We ate early in the big tent. We were subdued in spirit. MacKenzie broke the spell: he lit the refuse pile fire too early, much to some people's complaining disgust. Yet everyone came to stand and then sit around the flames. The accordionists started to pump and pull their instruments, the songs took off. Two beer cans and a tot of Queen Anne whisky each was the ration to sustain the mood. The fire grew into an inferno, most suitable for circus-style fire hurdling as long as it wasn't done head first as one surprised member found to his horror when the springboard crate collapsed under his weight. A ring of dancing figures pranced round the fire's perimeter, a conductor orchestrated the music from a burning tea chest podium balanced on the embers. This was the night of the farewells to our valley and its hills.

The final night at our Basecamp

The m.v. 'Falken' came for us at 11 a.m. and anchored offshore. We rigged a shore-to-ship handline, and hand-over-hand we ferried our crates out in a fibreglass dinghy to be pushed and hauled over the gunwale of the 'Falken'. Everything went smoothly, until our two physicists took over the ferry run to the boat. We saw that they were having trouble getting the heavy crates on board because as they pushed upward to the deck their little boat slipped away from the side. The last crate was too much for Newton's Third Law of Motion and its postulate that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and we saw as the boat rocked and slid away that the final crate had tumbled into the sea while the two stevedores leaped frantically to cling to the gunwale. The keel of their upturned dinghy shone brightly and a rucksack bobbed away in the current. Slowly the crate sank deeper and wetter into the drink while its disconsolate owner paced angrily up and down the beach thinking of all the sodden salted garments and items he would have to try and dry out before they were shipped from Nanortalik. Two hours later, we were racing away down the clouding waters of Torssukatak, watching the known hills disappear one by one, Frenchtop, Crossoak, Tower of Pain, Majorteqe's big brothers. The 'Falken' refuelled at Fredriksdal, a village green, neat and tidy, and by george, a horse grazing on the slopes. At 7 p.m. we were in Nanortalik, delivered in a garbage truck to the spacious dry dusted concreted floor of the hangar hotel. It was our home-to-be for the next three nights: at midnight a 20-strong French party was bundled in straight from the wilds of Taserssuaq. Later we found that they had walked eastward through the terrain we had visited in 1971, climbed Droma and Splendisk, attempted the north ridge of The Fang and indulged from necessity on berries, fishes and fungi species.

The hot fohn easterlies blew, a day went. The rain drummed torrentially on our tin roof through the night. We got our crates booked out for shipment, we played five-a-side football with the K.G.H. Greenlanders to lose without dishonour. There was a farewell call on our helpful Britannic agent, Mick Davis, for coffee and cognac, another day gone.

The 'Taterak' left promptly at 8 a.m. with the sky gradually clearing for a pleasant voyage from tiny settlement to tiny settlement, Sleten, Syd Proven, Storens and finally to the big city, Julianhaab, with the icebergs slipping by, almost unnoticed. We cooked dinner on a carpenter's bench on the dock and slept in either an overheated saloon or a cramped cool bridge of the ship. Next morning we sailed into the mist up the fjord to Narssarssuaq. There we had to wait for five days for our plane. We were returning at the peak end-of-season period, and our bookings were out of step with our arrival date at the airfield. Our residence was a ranch-style warehouse at the harbour to be shared with the remnants of an Aberdeen University party of geographers who had been spending the summer in the area around the fjord.

With time on our hands there were various things to do or not to do. Some stayed at home, eating, lazing and evolving rock routes on the sea cliffs nearby. Some took to subsistence lightweight travel or archaeological camping rambles. I was to fit into the latter category.

Four of us crossed the fjord to the twentieth century village Qagssiarssuk, and the tenth century remains of Erik the Red's settlement Brattahlid. Matheson and MacKenzie hitched over in a Sunday speedboat outing; Clark and I waited patiently for our ride over to join them in the Aberdeen campsite by a stream above a raised beach. We dined on the surplus luxuries of our compatriots and talked by the fire until midnight. Light snow topping the hills next morning soon melted in the sun's warmth; my ambitions to walk the northern Scottish-type hills soon dispersed in the rolling Sutherland scale of our new environment when I realised that my need lay in the pure appreciation of our immediate surroundings. We were in grand walking country with short grass over rolling tundra, dotted with kettlehole lochs. Dropping into a valley where sheep grazed and horses wandered by the river, we reached the Nordbo ruins including a church and several farm buildings. We turned seaward along the river banks, where white and pale blue gentians, squillwort, water crowsfoot, bulrushes, forget-me-not, silverweed, yarrow, lady's smock, and water avens grew in unexpected profusion in a nearly Scottish setting. White-finned trout shot along the burn below the twisted birch trees on the dry hillside. We hit the beach at the placid iceberg graveyard at Tasiussaq, in which the crumbling towers of rotten ice fed from Nordre Sermilik glacier slowly melted away into the calm sea. It was difficult to appreciate that the tapered stone slabs in the walls, the gable end walls, the window spaces, were not the ruins of a recently abandoned Scottish croft rather than a ten-century old Viking farm cottage.

Over a hillock we found the farm: a real agricultural farm with hay cut and dried on racks, a tractor and ultra-green fields. We were invited inside by the young Greenlander wife for coffee and snacks with her husband and children: their guestbook included everyone from royalty downwards - this must have been Greenland's premier showpiece farm. On the track back to Brattahlid the high cloud banks caught the rouged smear of the sun setting under the Inlandsis with the colours lingering on the stones of the old ruined farms. We walked past a vegetable patch containing potatoes, white turnips, lettuce, radishes, cabbages, carrots, rhubarb: where on earth were we? Was this really the frozen northland, the Greenland image? We crossed the bealach to see the moon coyly slipping from its clouds to shimmer on the fjord, with the only sounds the subdued twitter of a wheatear and the throb of blood in our ears. Evening dinner was infinitesimally small for succumbing stomachs. Applegreen aurora spread across the sky's zenith, and sent its mauve flames streaking across the heavens.

Our last day was perfect; it was bright, sunny, windless, an autumnal crispness in the air, the sun warm and vitalising. I went for a solo walk westward along sheep tracks, by lochs and hillocks, to the highest point at 465m on Qaqarssuatsiaq. The sheep farm lay below at the edge of the sheets of brash ice stretching across the sea and I returned by the lochans, where mallard ducks shovelled in the stems of bogbean, and a white-tailed eagle perched as if it was stuffed on a rocky spur. The night was truly black for the swinging moon in the waving auroral curtains above our quiet fireside.

We hitched our rides over to Narssarssuaq on the grey sea. We had seen a Boeing 727 come in and depart but little did we expect that our cream party of Cant, Gaskell, Brown, Hunt and a just-arrived Matheson had flown off a day earlier than necessary. Would it make any difference once they had got to Iceland? Sharples and Aldred rolled home, fit and hungry after living rough and cooking on twig fires on a joint solo ramble through the hills of Mellemland behind the airfield. We ate, packed. We were ready: but the world seemed to have stopped so we went to the hotel where McFrenzy bought expedition beers and Daft squeezed the music machine and the rain came down at midnight and the morning came too soon for a laden walk to the giant plane with its payload of a mere ten passengers for a quick upward bank over the glaciers into the clouds. We were homeward bound. The date was 29th August 1975.

In Iceland we joined our marooned cream party on the floor of the terminal building. It was warm, crowded, westernised man on the move. In Scotland I said 'Thanks for coming' and we fall away….. Stobs!

Philip Gribbon



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