American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, Upernivik Island, ;West Greenland

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1970

Upernivik Island, West Greenland. A University of St. Andrews, Scotland, party returned to the mountainous island of Upernivik at 71°N in the Umanak region of west Greenland (A.A.J., 1968, 16:1, p. 184). 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. The St. Andrews party was Dr. Philip Gribbon, leader, Wilf Tauber, Bill Band, Neil Ross, David Kirkland, John Shade, Joe McDowall, Keith Avery, Mike Heller and Andrew Stevenson. 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 delay gave us an opportunity to climb the impressive double-towered rock peak overlooking the town. This peak had not been climbed since the first ascent by two Germans in 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 much higher quality and difficulty in the process. Our Base Camp, close to the main glacier on the west coast of Upernivik Island, 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. Our arrival coincided with the start of a good weather spell that was to last throughout, but fearful of bad weather the party in two groups rushed into the climbing programme: 20 peaks were climbed in 2 weeks. In the third week a successful attempt was made on Qîoqe, 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. A party of six, Tauber, Band; Shade, Kirkland; Stevenson and myself, spent 48 hours on this mountain, the broken lower ridge being followed to 4000 feet (4 hours) before the party roped up for over 5000 feet of first-class rock climbing (24 hours). The upper ridge gave 54 pitches with the issue always in doubt. The descent was by the southeast glacier, followed by a crossing of the south ridge down to the shoreline (8 hours). This route was the longest, hardest and most sustained rock climb yet tackled by a St. Andrews party and probably is at present the hardest rock route in Greenland. 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.

Philip W.P. Gribbon, Irish Mountaineering Club

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.