Climbing from Stordalens Havn in Cape Farewell Region





The pursuit of mountaineering objectives in South Greenland has a history of less than twenty years. The scene has gone from tentative reconnaissance sorties amongst the more accessible hills to the development of major concentrated expeditions in compact areas, and now finally it has "progressed" to both commercial, adventure-trek, tourist traffic and to the more advanced technical big wall conquests on the more challenging rock faces which are never in short supply in South Greenland.

The first mountaineering exploits (1) were carried out by French parties in 1956-57 while operating in the inlets and valleys which run to the west and north of Ilua. They set the tone for sophisticated style and verve in their explorations and succeeded in "knocking off " sixteen peaks. The 1956-57 parties came in their own chartered fishing vessel, a feat which was only emulated by the veteran navigator H.W. Tilman (LL.D. St Andrews) who sailed here on one of his many Arctic voyages , but he does have the advantage of owning his boat.

In 1971 a Club Alpin Francais (Paris) party chartered a helicopter to airlift them towards the prominent peak of Apostelen Tommelfinger at Lindenows Fjord but after three climbing accidents and other misfortune they, like the Grand Old Duke of York, were flown out again without achieving much success. In 1973 an Italian party also failed on this mountain.

In 1974 the French were back again for an attempt on another less remote problem - a big north wall on Ketilspingasut. This is the highest and most beautiful of the rock summits to the east of Tasermiut : it was one of our possible St. Andrews 1971 expedition objectives - we'd have tried the more plausible south side if we'd ever got there, but it's too late now for it was ascended from this direction by Austrians in 1974.

In 1975 the French parties were invading in ever-increasing numbers : three separate groups, comprising in all eighty persons, were straining the local transport, the accommodation and possibly the patience of their hosts, wandering over hill and dale, camping and fishing, living off the land, touring the villages and tackling the peaks - the last few hundred meters of the Ketilspingasut north face were cracked to complete the route attempted a year previously.

The first British party (2) was a small and relatively inactive but enthusiastic, four-man team visiting Lake Taserssuaq, beside Tasermiut. Their report gave the germ of the idea for the first University of St Andrews mountaineering plus scientific studying party who in 1960 visited the frighteningly sheer and smooth towering peaks further up the eastern shore of Tasermiut.

This expedition (3) was only able to spend three weeks in the hills out of a total of eight weeks because of travel problems. They climbed three out of the seven mountains that they attempted during their brief stay. This 1960 St. Andrews expedition was jointly led by J.D. Pitts and A.S. Strachan. The following year P.Wallis (4) who had been a member of the 1960 St. Andrews party, led a scientific party back to the area and in spite of bad weather nine peaks were climbed during breaks in the geological work. The main emphasis for further exploration then was placed on the Tasermiut region with the later expeditions building on the reports and experiences of the previous parties.

In 1968 an Irish expedition (5), led by Joss Lynam, went to the head of Tasermiut and in addition to scientific work they succeeded in climbing seven peaks. Their approach problems illustrated the difficulties in reaching these objectives : they spent 17 days rather than the usual 2 days in travelling from the airfield at Narssarsuaq to their base on Tasermiut. This was due to heavy pack ice among the outer islands of the coast between Julianehaab and Nanortalik.

In 1971 he returned with another Irish expedition to finish their unsolved problems in the same area. In spite of inclement and depressingly unreliable weather they climbed a further nine hills. They included two high-grade routes up excellent granite on two 2400 m peaks, The Cathedral and The Minister. However they still had their access difficulties : they had flown from Narssarssuaq to Nanortalik by helicopter to find that their equipment and food was still somewhere on the high seas. There had been delays and cancellations in the sailing schedules caused by the unusually thick ice barriers off the Greenland coast.

The second University of St. Andrews expedition (6) also went to Tasermiut in 1971. They too were delayed for three weeks at Nanortalik while waiting in perfect weather for the arrival of all their equipment.

On reaching their basecamp near Lake Taserssuaq they climbed and worked hard for six concentrated weeks to make 32 ascents on the hills north, south, east and west of the lake. Their access into the mountains flanking the dense scrubby valley of Qinguadalen and the traverse valley that led eastward was helped by their use of four canoes and a powered rubber boat which ferried equipment to the upper eastern end of Lake Taserssuaq.

Climbing conditions were mixed, with but few consecutive fine days so that several ascents were completed in the rain, clouds and darkness and involuntary benightments were not unknown. The exploration was carried out successfully while subsidiary work on the vegetative differences at high-altitude locations, and on a survey of the old Norse settlement traces still remaining buried in the tundra, was pursued as opportunities arose. Early winter snows in mid-August curtailed some unsolved problematic forays to some major unclimbed peaks. Fresh snows had covered all the mountains above 3000 feet. Full details of this expedition were published in the 1971 General Report (6).

The other major inlet cutting north towards the icecap is Sermilik. This fjord lies west of Tasermiut. Although its mountains may not have such spectacular and impressive grandeur or difficulty as those of Tasermiut they still offered much scope.

It was visited first in 1962 by an Austro-German party, under Toni Durnberg, who made 38 ascents and attempted a traverse of The Icecap from west to east. In 1966 he returned to complete his traverse successfully.

Another Austrian expedition made 34 ascents during the early summer fine spell in 1971.

The news of the Sermilik potential was slow to filter through to other mountaineers but in 1972 two British parties visited it : The Leicester Polytechnic Expedition (7) under R. Barbier made over 20 ascents, while a London based party (8) under Roger Smith climbed 28 peaks on the opposite eastern side of the inlet.

In 1975 an RAF party held a fleeting three-week visit. The time for their operations in the field was decreasing and the pressure of the numerous parties was building up. The situation was similar to that in Tasermiut. Too many people chasing too few hills.

The thought to try and push further eastwards towards Ilua with its seven sister fjords began to take shape when the more accessible hills of Tasermiut and Sermilik were relegated to known and well-trodden pastures. Extra cost and exposed ice packs on the coast hindered this inevitable development for the expeditions were dependent on local boat and labour hire.

Although in 1974 a French party penetrated overland from Tasermiut, it was left to a mixed nationality Cambridge-based party (9) to travel by the outer coast and sea to a place called Igdlorssuit on a northern inlet of Ilua. There they climbed 17 peaks and then travelled south to Pamiagdluk Island where they climbed another five hills, including a hard route on Majorteqe, a prominent spire astride one of the rocks ridges cutting across the island. We will later report the activities of our 1975 St. Andrews University expedition who also moved eastward into the Ilua basin and spent some time on Pamiagdluk Island.

Our neighbours were an Irish expedition who with much difficulty and much luck operated in the hills northeast of the eastern boundary of the 1971 field of action and where during their seven-week stay they climbed 12 mountains.

The future prospects, not only in the areas already visited, but in the mountains of the mainland and the islands east of Ilua and on those flanking Prins Christian Sund are considerable.

The access problems are not insurmountable and the reputation of poor climatic conditions in South Greenland seems in retrospect to have been based as much on a run of poor summers as on average condition : there is perhaps a 50-50 chance of more than reasonable weather, and that's not too bad a bet for those of us who are nurtured in the British summers.


(1) Montagne et Alpinisme, 1956 (2) Climbers Journal, 22 , 1958 (3) St. Andrews University Alumnus Chronicle , 52, 27 , 1961 (4) Alpine Journal, 63 , 307, 1963. Full review to date. (5) Irish Greenland Expedition 1968, private report by J. Lynam (6) University St. Andrews Greenland Expedition 1971, private report by P. Gribbon, 82 pages, one map, diagrams (7) Leicester Polytechnic South Greenland Expedition, 1972, private report (8) Greenland (Cape Farewell ) Expedition 1972, private report 81 pages, two maps (9) Cambridge Southern Greenland Expedition 1974, private report by Rick Hoare, 45 pages, two maps , photos

Details of the University of St Andrews 1975 Expedition - published here on this website - can be found in 'University of St Andrews Greenland Expedition 1975' by P.W.F. Gribbon and other expedition members.

Further information may be gleaned in relevant articles in the Alpine Journal, The American Alpine Journal , and Mountain.



summit of Agdlerussakasit, towering 5730 ft above Stordalens Basecamp which is out of sight off the foot of this photo


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