Climbing in the Upernivik/Umanak Region



THE 1969 UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS WEST GREENLAND EXPEDITION A University of St. Andrews party returned to the mountainous island of Upernivik in the Umanak region of West Greenland where a previous St Andrews party had climbed in 1967. Two months were spent climbing and exploring extensively by land and sea: a record number of 41 peaks were climbed, 17 of which were first ascents, our motor boat logged over 250 miles while the canoes covered 100 miles in quiet voyages.


(standing: Dave Kirkland, Andrew Stevenson, Joe McDowall, John Shade, Neil Ross, Phil Gribbon, Keith Avery

sitting: Wilf Tauber, Mike Heller, Bill Band)





Party members:

Keith Avery

Bill Band

Dr Philip Gribbon (leader)

Mike Heller

David Kirkland

Joe McDowall

Neil Ross

John Shade

Andrew Stevenson

Wilf Tauber


A four-day boat journey from Sondre Stromfjord up the coast in the m/v Disko brought us to the town of Umanak, and gave us our last travel on a regular service. At Umanak there was a week's delay until a suitable boat was available to transfer all the members with their forty crates of equipment and food to the main base at Iglorssuit 50 miles away. The enforced delay gave us an opportunity to climb the impressive double-towered rock peak, Umanaktind, overlooking the town. This peak had not been climbed since the first ascent by two Germans (F. Georgi and E. Sorge) in July 1929, although other parties passing through Umanak had tried it unsuccessfully. All members reached its summit at one time or another, not only repeating the German route but making three new routes of higher quality and difficulty in the process.

Base Camp was established on the West coast of Upernivik Island close to the main glacier, Quvnertussup sermia (see map). It gave easy access to the centre of the island and by using our boat its other glaciers, the neighbouring islands and peninsula, and the main base at the Scottish Universities hut at Iglorssuit on Ubekendt Island, were within easy reach at all times. The expedition then split into two groups, one going to the northern glaciers and the other revisiting the centre of the island. Our arrival coincided with the start of a good weather spell that was to last throughout, but fearful of bad weather the party rushed into the climbing programme: 20 peaks were climbed in 2 weeks.

In the third week a successful attempt was made on Qoqe, 6100 feet, by its long sigmoidal west ridge which rises to a slender spire close to the summit and is flanked by a great smooth slabby north face and a sheer west wall. This ridge had been one of the objectives of the 1967 expedition but had been out of condition then, under new snow when the time had come to make the attempt. A party of six - Tauber, Band; Shade, Kirkland, Stevenson and Gribbon - spent forty-eight hours on the mountain. For twenty-four hours they were climbing continuously on three ropes along a 5000 ft long ridge on excellent rock. The upper ridge gave 54 pitches with the issue always in doubt, to give the longest, hardest and most sustained rock climb yet tackled by a St Andrews party. The descent was by the southeast glacier, followed by a crossing of the south ridge down to the shoreline (8 hours).

The second half of the expedition was spent in a variety of activities. Climbing was done in the two most southern glacier systems, where two hard peaks, Alamo and Bastion, that had not been attempted by the 1965 Italian expedition (A.A.J., 1966, 15:1, p. 40), were successfully climbed by Tauber and Shade. A combined boat voyage and canoe trip was carried out through the islands and shores of Karrats Isfjord, with a climbing diversion to make the second ascent of the symmetrical Snepyramiden by its north ridge, the peak off which four Belgian climbers were avalanched in 1961 (A.A.J., 1962, 13:1, p. 250). Glaciological work was carried out on Sermikavsak glacier. A mini-expedition was made to Svartenhuk peninsula, a gentle land in marked contrast to the rocky terrain of Upernivik Island. Late in August we returned to Iglorssuit to find that since the m/v Disko had been damaged in a collision with an iceberg, our departure from Umanak was to be delayed for a week, and knowing the vagaries of Greenland travel this could have lengthened and in fact would have lengthened into several weeks. Fortunately the "Ujarak" was loading dried codfish at Iglorssuit, and with some persuasion, we sailed on board to Umanak. After further goodwill on both sides, we sailed further down the coast to Eghedsminde, and then once more we were carried onwards to Holsteinborg. Here with little chance of a helicopter or a fishing boat, and not too keen on a marathon cross-country walk, we managed to get the local police boat to take us to Sondre Stromfjord so that on time we caught the SAS flight back to Copenhagen, and then in sequence the connections back to Scotland.

Phil Gribbon

Summary of ascents

(the numbers relate to the map below)

1 (a). Umanaktind Main Summit,* North face, AD - 3800ft - 2nd July: Shade, Kirkland, Gribbon, Stevenson, McDowell, Avery.

1(b). Umanaktind - North-east arte, AD - 3800ft - 2nd July: Tauber, Band.

1 (c). Umanaktind - South pillar, D - 3800ft - 5th July: Band, Tauber.

1 (d). Umanaktind - German route,* PD inf - 3800ft - 5th July: Ross, Heller.

2. Umanaktind East Summit, East ridge, AD sup - 3500ft - 2nd July: Band, Tauber. 5th July: Shade, Stevenson, Gribbon, McDowell.

3. Cima Danimarca,* West ridge, PD - 14th July: Tauber, Stevenson, Ross, Shade.

4. 'Tilman's' Peak,* East ridge, AD inf - 6400ft - 14th July: Ross, Shade, Tauber, Stevenson.

5. Palup qaqa,* West ridge, AD sup - 6885ft - 14th July: Band, Kirkland, Gribbon, Heller, McDowell, Avery.

6. Cesana,* West ridge, PD sup - 6130ft - 16th July: Tauber, Ross, Stevenson, Shade.

7. Thor, East ridge, AD inf - 5700ft - 16th July: Tauber, Ross, Stevenson, Shade.

8. Palup's Left Toe, East ridge, AD sup - 4130ft - 16th to 17th July: Band, Heller, Gribbon, Kirkland, McDowell, Avery.

9. Consolation, North ridge, PD - 5940ft - 19th July: Ross, Stevenson.

10, 11. Two Horns of Upernivik,* E-W traverse, D sup - 6600ft - 19th July: Tauber, Shade.

12 (a). Hammer, North face, AD inf - 6000ft - 19th July: Gribbon, Band, McDowall, Kirkland, Heller, Avery.

12 (b). Hammer, South face - 6000ft - 25th July: Tauber, Shade.

(13 to 16 was an E-W traverse, F)

13. Tongs - 5600ft - 19th to 20th July: Band, Gribbon, Kirkland, McDowell, Avery, Heller.

14. Yabass - 6125ft - 19th to 20th July: Band, Gribbon, Kirkland, McDowell, Avery, Heller.

15. Gorm - 6065ft - 19th to 20th July: Band, Gribbon, Kirkland, McDowell, Avery, Heller.

16. Cairn,* - 6145ft - 25th July: Tauber, Shade, Stevenson.

17. Castor,* South face, AD - 6470ft - 22nd July: Band, Gribbon.

(18 and 19 were a W-E traverse, D inf)

18. Merendi,* - 6750ft - 23rd July: Shade, Ross, Stevenson, Tauber.

19. Piacco,* - 23rd July - 23rd July: Shade, Ross, Stevenson, Tauber.

20. Great White Tower,** W-N traverse, AD - 6900ft - 24th July: Gribbon, Band.

21. Gollytind, South-west face, PD sup - 5900ft - 25th July: Kirkland, McDowell.

22. Qungulertussup qaqa,** Castle ridge, F - 6000ft - 25th July: Heller, Avery.

23. Qioqe,* West ridge, ED inf - 6100ft - 29th to 31st July: Tauber, Band, Shade, Kirkland, Gribbon, Stevenson.

24. Phyllostop,* South-west ridge, PD - 5580ft - 28th July: Ross, Avery, Heller, McDowell.

25. Rook and Castle, North-east face, PD sup - 5900ft - 30th July: Ross, Avery, Heller, McDowell.

26 (a). Chown,* S-N traverse, AD inf - 5550ft - 3rd August: Shade, Tauber.

26 (b). Excalibur,* S-N traverse, AD inf - 5650ft - 3rd August: Shade, Tauber.

26 (c). Excalibur,* North-west ridge, PD sup - 5650 - 3rd August: Ross, Stevenson.

27. Bicen, South-east ridge, PD - 5700ft - 4th August: Gribbon, Kirkland, McDowell. 5th August: Band, Heller.

28. Bullhead of Ujaragssuaq, North face, PD sup - 5970ft - 4th August: Band, Heller.

29. Paravicini,* North-east face, PD - 6360ft - 5th August: Gribbon, McDowell, Kirkland.

30. Alamo, North-west face and rib, TD inf - 5600ft - 8th August: Tauber, Shade.

31. Snepyramiden,* North ridge, PD - 7400ft - 9th August: Heller, McDowell, Stevenson.

32. Karrats qaqa,** South face, F sup - 2600ft - 9th August: Gribbon, Band.

33. Bastion, West ridge, TD - 5900ft - 10th August: Shade, Tauber.

34. Gaffer, South face, F - 6030ft - 12th August: Tauber, Ross, Avery.

35. Fang, West ridge, PD inf - 5500ft - 12th August: Tauber, Ross, Avery.

36. Punta Genny,* North ridge, AD inf - 6300ft - 14th August: Band, Tauber.

37. Biancai,* North-east ridge, PD inf - 5780ft - 14th August: Gribbon, Shade, Kirkland.

38. Ivpiup qaqa, F - 4000ft - 18th August: Gribbon, Stevenson.

39, 40, 41. Nameless Svartenhuk hills - 3500ft.

* indicates a second ascent (either of the peak or the route), while

** indicates a third or higher ascent.

No asterisk beside a peak indicates a first ascent, no asterisk beside the route indicates a new route.




View of Umanaktind, showing the routes climbed in 1969 (photo: Mike Heller)

View of Merendi, traversed from right to left (photo: Mike Heller)

The central snowfield on Upernivik Island

(from left to right: Phyllostop. Excalibur, Chown)



Im 2019, 50 years after the expedition to Upernivik, there was a gathering of nine members of the 1969 group, described on the Tasermiut Tales website here. They enjoyed an ascent of Bennachie, a fine dinner, and a slide show.



Website by Susannah Clark

e-mail: thecommunity (at) gmail (dot) com