American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, Schweizerland, Ulamertorssuaq, Moby Dick, First Free Ascent

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Ulamertorssuaq, Moby Dick, First Free Ascent. One week after our departure from Copenhagen, Dusan Beranek, Ivan Doskocil and I from Slovakia reached Base Camp below Ulamertorssuaq. Also present were expeditions from Great Britain, Switzerland, the U.S. and Iceland. Our goal was to free the route Moby Dick (9/9+ A2, 31 pitches, 1100m). The American team (Todd Skinner, Paul Piana, Bobby Model et al) had fixed ropes on Moby Dick and we did not know whether to climb it or not. We asked and learned that they would move their ropes to the right. Our route would be free.

We planned to climb the route in six days. The long days in Greenland are perfect for climbing. We started our climb on July 11 at 4 p.m., climbing eight pitches (3, 2, 6+, 6+, 6+, 7-, 8-, 7-). At 10 p.m. we rappelled and slept near the face. The climbing, partly dihedrals and slabs, was nice but not perfect. On July 12 we started at 9 a.m. and climbed until dusk (11:30 p.m.), when we reached the “Black Heart,” a ledge 400 meters above the ground. The climbing was a bit harder and nicer: 5+, 5, 8-, 8-, 7+, 7+, 8-. There were some bolts on the slabs, but mostly it was necessary to place gear. On pitch 8 there is a blind bolt four meters above the belay. Don’t clip this bolt: Moby Dick traverses to the left. The same on the tenth pitch in the dihedral: there is a blind bolt to the left, but it is better to follow the dihedral.

The weather on July 13 was perfect too. We wanted to climb the 17th pitch, the hardest one apart from the technical pitch near the top that prevented the original ascensionists from freeing the route. After eight hours of rehearsing, Dusan Beranek finally freed this pitch at 9+ (he had clipped the first two bolts, come down, then freed it, yo-yo). It is very nice slab climbing with tiny edges—bouldery with long reaches. We climbed only four pitches that day: 6+, 9+, 8/8+, plus the 19th pitch, on which we placed protection for our next attempt. The weather changed the next day. The American team had fixed ropes close to our route and we asked them if we could use their ropes for jumaring back up. When they said yes, we decided to rappel. We descended in heavy rain to wait for the next good weather.

Two days later we were again on the Black Heart ledge, ready to finish our route. The next pitches were strenuous, but beautiful—cracks, cracks and more cracks, plus a lot of air. Above the 19th pitch, Dusan led the harder pitches, and Ivan Doskocil, 24, on his first big wall, climbed the easier ones. The pitches went as follows: 9-, 9-, 7, 8+, 9-, 8, 8, 8-, 8-, 7. On July 18, we decided to climb as high as the 29th pitch by dusk and finish our route at night.

We reached a small ledge just below the aid pitch at 11 p.m. but were not able to continue because we could not see the bolt ladder or where to go. The night was terrible. We were very tired after three days of hard climbing. On July 29 at 4 a.m. we decided to continue. Dusan was destroyed, so the next pitches were up to Ivan and me. Ivan climbed the A2 pitch and at 10 a.m. we were on top of Ulamertorssuaq. We had not freed pitches 24 (8), 25 (8), or 29 (A2).

The next morning we saw cirrus clouds again. This time the weather was bad for a week. We waited in ABC with the American climbers and the team from Iceland (Jokull Bergmann, Stefan Smarason, Gudmund Tomasson and an American fighter pilot, Joe Weinberger) who wanted to climb a new route to the right of Südtiroler Profil. (They descended after about 20 pitches, saying that the Austrian climbers were crazy because there were a lot of hard pitches up to 7c+, poorly protected with home-made hangers and ten-meter runouts.) Denis Burdet, Olivier Schaller, and Regis Dubois from Switzerland were also there. During their stay, they put up two first ascents: one, Dalphin Safe (8 AO, nine pitches) on July 7 on a pyramidal tower left of Ulamertossuaq, and another, Pet Gaz (8- Al, 500m), from July 15-16, on a wall behind Ulamertorssuaq (Honey Buttress) where the British team (Tony Pennings et al; see below) also made a first ascent.

On the morning of July 26 the weather was quite good. We jumared 700 meters, but by noon it had started to snow and we had to rappel down. We had booked the speedboat for July 30, so our last day for climbing was July 28. On July 28 we woke at 5 a.m. and started jumar- ing at 8:30. We jumared 500 meters in 80 minutes. We lost 90 minutes when we found that the American fixed ropes were tom up in an awful offwidth comer crack. We had left almost all of our gear on the wall but by chance we had five cams with us. We climbed this pitch and finally at 1 p.m. we traversed to Moby Dick.

We quickly freed pitches 24 and 25, both graded 8. The weather was good but very cold. Bobby Model appeared on our fixed ropes, wanting to take pictures of our efforts to free the 29th pitch. At 7:30 p.m. we reached the small ledge just below the A2 pitch. During our descent on July 19 we had added two more bolts to this pitch for free climbing. Dusan tried some moves and clipped some gear. At 8:45 he said he was ready, then climbed like a magician. At 21:15 he clipped into the belay. After 700 meters of jumaring and 300 meters of hard climbing spread out over 12 hours in cold weather, he had freed the aid pitch at 9+ on his first attempt.

I wanted to try it too, but I recognized that it was too late and we had four more hours ahead of us of rappelling and stripping all of our gear from the wall. But I am not sad; we were a brilliant team. We were on the ground by 1:30 a.m.

Vladimir Linek, Jamesak, Slovakia

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