American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, Cathedral Peak Attempt, Lemon Bjerge, East Greenland

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1992

Cathedral Peak Attempt, Lemon Bjerge, East Greenland. Our expedition was organized to send a small, unsupported party of mountaineers into the interior of Greenland to scale unclimbed Cathedral Peak. We wanted to be self-sufficient and therefore planned to sail to the nearest fjord, land the climbers, find a safe anchorage whilst the climbing party was away and survey the anchorage before all sailing home. The team had co-leaders: Robin Knox- Johnson for sailing and me for mountaineering. It also included Jim Lowther, Perry Crickmere, James Burdett, Jan Pester and Allen Jewhurst. We sailed from Whitehaven, Cumbria on July 20 in the 32-foot ketch Suhaili, having on board climbing-and-sledging equipment, food and supplies. Only fuel and fresh provisions were loaded in Reykjavik, where we obtained information on the latest pack-ice situation. The ice normally clears during August, but in 1991 it moved away a month earlier, providing a clear path to the southeast coast of Greenland. On August 3, Greenland was clearly in sight and more than a dozen icebergs were visible to the north. A mass of bergs between us and the mountains ashore then indicated the presence of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord. Despite the ice, we managed to find the previously selected anchorage, which lay in shelter behind Mellamo Island at the entrance of the Uttental Sund. With a secure base established, Suhaili got underway again and proceeded up Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord. At the entrance to Watkins Fjord, the ice became much more dense. Our destination was the foot of the Sidegletscher, which empties into the fjord. Despite having to work our way through the pack-ice, we made the 14 miles from the anchorage to the foot of the glacier in seven hours. August 4 was spent by the shore party getting the loads organized and making a carry up the side of the moraine of the Sidegletscher to where the glacier flattened and it would be possible to start hauling the pulks. The following day, the team made two more heavy carries and established camp at 210 meters, about two miles from the sea. After an 11:30 P.M. start on August 6, we ascended first ice and then glacier snow where we could ski to a col at 1000 meters. After a day’s rest, we made a pleasant, easy ski down to and up the Federiksborg Gletscher. Despite awkward stream crossings and many crevasses, we camped on the night of August 8 at the foot of the glacier leading up towards the southern aspect of the Lemon Bjerge. We were probably the third expedition to ascend the Federiksborg Gletscher after Wager in 1936 and Stan Woolley in 1972. On the morning of August 9, Lowther and I reconnoitered the southern approach and, after consulting the map, decided that the mountain we had perceived to be the Cathedral was in fact P 2600 and that the real Cathedral was a massive rock peak at the head of the left fork of the glacier shown on the map as Domkirkebjerget (2660 meters, 8727 feet). We established camp on August 10 below what we believed was the Cathedral in a magnificent granite cirque. At 5:30 A.M. on the 11th, Lowther, Knox-Johnson and I set out up a 500-meter ice gully leading to a col at the base of the south ridge. Reaching its top at 8:30 A.M., we continued up the ridge over broken rocks interwoven with steep little walls. At four P.M., we reached thebase of a pinnacle that barred the ridge. We climbed a couple of difficult pitches and reached the top of the pinnacle at 2450 meters, still 400 meters from the summit. It was now six P.M. and so we decided to retreat. There was only enough time left for a final attempt by Lowther and me while Knox-Johnson and the two-man film team started back for the coast. We made a reconnaissance on August 13 and found what was marked on the map as a high linking wall between the two mountains was, in fact, a comparatively low col leading to a narrow glacier that dropped to the Courtauld Gletscher. The approach to the other peak looked steep and difficult and so we decided to retrace the previous route. Starting at 4:30 A.M. on August 15, we took only three hours to reach the shoulder below the pinnacle that had been our high point. We abseiled from there down steep ice into the gully that led up to a col behind the pinnacle. In four hours, we climbed difficult ice back to the same altitude as at the beginning of the abseil. From the col the ground was more broken but also steeper. It was six P.M. when we reached what had appeared to be the top, only to find ourselves at the end of a pinnacled summit ridge with the highest pinnacle some 20 meters higher and six pinnacles away. The altimeter read 2590 meters. The mountain we had first considered to be the Cathedral seemed slightly higher than the peak we were standing on. The descent had long, tricky abseils and was tiring, ending at 7:30 the next morning. It took us two days to get back to the coast to be picked up. The sail home was eventful. We eventually ended the voyage in the Thames on September 12. The total distance sailed was 3092 nautical miles.

Christian Bonington

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