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North America, Greenland, Gunnjørns Fjeld, Watkins Mountains, East Greenland

GunnjØrns Fjeld, Watkins Mountains, East Greenland. This second phase of a joint Anglo-Danish project was concerned with exploration and scientific work in the Blosseville Coast area. The first phase in 1969 explored the inland icecaps and attempted unsuccessfully a northern approach to the Watkins Mountains. (See A.J. and A.A.J., 1970.) The main mountaineering objective of the 1971 expedition was to make the second ascent of GunnbjØrns Fjeld (c. 3700 meters or 12,139 feet), the highest mountain in Greenland and the highest in the Arctic. It was first climbed by L. R. Wager’s party in 1935 by the south ridge. (See A.J., vol. 48, 1936.) The team consisted of Vagn Bjerre Christensen, deputy leader, Torben Eriksen, telegraphist, David Mathews, geologist, Steen Morup, physicist and myself as leader. We assembled at Angmagssalik on July 15, the equipment arriving on the first ship from Copenhagen and the team by air. Two days later we sailed northwards on the chartered sealer Ejnar Mikkelsen. After 100 miles of sea almost free of ice, north of Kap Gustav Holm we ran into difficult pack-ice but got to Aputiteq by the end of the second day. A confused night was spent in dense fog amongst very large icebergs at the mouth of Kangerdlugssuak, but by morning we were cruising in good conditions under the enormous basalt cliffs of the notorious Blosseville Coast. We had hoped to land close to Kap Rink, but a vast belt of fast-ice made progress impossible beyond Kap Norman. We turned back westwards along the edge of the fast-ice which choked Kivioqs Fjord and eventually landed on the ice west of the mouth of the fjord. We found it was too dangerous to gain access to the Rosenborg Glacier via the glacier connection at the head of Kivioqs Fjord due to the rotten nature of the fast-ice within the fjord. We crossed to the east side of the fjord using an inflatable dinghy, where further reconnaissance indicated a possible route via a glacier system behind Kap Norman. By using a man-hauled Nansen sledge, we relayed equipment to a 3300-foot ice col which overlooked a steep icefall leading down to the Rosenborg Glacier. Backpacking the loads through the icefall, we descended almost to sea level and camped on the edge of the Rosenborg on July 24. Beyond some difficult crevasses we encountered good ice in the centre of the glacier and progressed to the head. Base Camp was established on July 31 under the 6500-foot basalt cliffs of the southwestern flank of the Watkins Mountains. After penetrating through séracs and up ice pitches for two-thirds of the way up a steep and narrow icefall at the head of the Rosenborg Glacier, we gave up the route as too dangerous due to falling séracs and loosely cemented ice blocks as well as rockfall and avalanches from the cliffs on either side. A second plan was to travel around the west side of the range to approach from the north. On August 3, travelling by ski, we crossed a pass into the Christian IV Glacier system. Another steep ice pass brought us onto the Korridoren and then the Ginos glaciers, where we briefly coincided with the route of the 1935 party For the first time we could see the summit of GunnbjØrns Fjeld from close quarters, rising like a pap above the intermediate plateau level. We camped in the upper basin of the Ginos and on the following day, August 6, we all set out in failing weather to ascend GunnbjØrns Fjeld. The route lay directly up onto the plateau and then without undue difficulty up the steep, knife-edged snow of the northwest ridge to the summit. Contrary to the belief that Ejnar Mikkelsens Fjeld is the second highest peak in Greenland, we could see several peaks rising from the GunnbjØrns Fjeld and others on the plateau northeast of the Rosenborg Glacier which were higher than Ejnar Mikkelsens Fjeld and only slightly less than GunnbjØrns Fjeld. The return to the coast was a reversal of the inward route, except for numerous diversions for scientific work. A triangulation survey was carried out from the head of the Rosenborg Glacier to the sea, which should yield accurate altitudes for Gunnsbj?rns Fjeld and other peaks. We reached the coast on August 21 and continued down the coast by inflatable dinghies, conducting scientific work in the unexplored fjords of the southern section of the Blosseville Coast. We made a rendezvous with the sealer PolarbjØrn at Aputiteq on August 29 and thence went back to Angmagssalik.

ALASTAIR ALLAN, Royal Geographical Society