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North America, Greenland, Watkins Bjerge, Watkins Mountains, Various Ascents

Watkins Mountains, Various Ascents. Just after midnight on June 16-17, a Twin Otter skiplane of Air Iceland lifted off from Isafjordur, Iceland, to take a group of five Britons—Scott Umpleby (leader), Dr. Jon Dallimore, Gordon Downs, Sandy Gregson and Jim Gregson— into the Watkins Mountains. En route, the plane set down in the Rignys Bjerg area to pick up another group of four Britons who had been climbing in that district. At 3:30 a.m. on June 17, we touched down in bright sunshine at 2560 meters near the head of the Woolley Glacier at 68° 50.569' N, 29° 23.77' W in the Watkins Mountains, which hold the highest peaks in Greenland as well as a multitude of other unclimbed summits. On June 18, a day of light snowfall and mist, my group opened its account with the first ascent of Forefinger (3367m) by its north ridge. On June 19, in an attempt to switch into a nighttime climbing regime, we left camp at 10:30 p.m. to make a very interesting traverse over the twin summits of Terra Nova Peak (3020m) then continuing along the arête to Flash Point (2960m) (both first ascents) with a descent by another ridge to form a two-horseshoe outing. The next night, we made an attempt on Julia (3455m), skiing up the eastern flanks to a high point of 3200 meters. The onset of very high winds and fierce spindrift caused us to abandon our attempt and descend to camp, where we had bad weather for three days. On June 24, we were able to make a successful ski ascent to the summit of Paul-Emile Victor (a.k.a. Mound, 3609m) from where we could look across to Gunnbjørns Fjeld piercing the cloud layer and at the huge reservoir of unclimbed mountains stretching in all directions. In the evening of June 25, we skied northeast from camp to the toe of a strikingly sharp snow/ice arête, by which we made the first ascent of Midnight Peak (3249m). Sandy and I continued over the summit to complete a traverse by downclimbing the steep eastern arête. We now decided to ski and haul pulks around to Gunnbjørns Fjeld, so we struck our camp on June 26 and made a ten-hour overnight journey of 25 kilometers down the easy grade of the Woolley Glacier, then back up a tributary ice-stream to make our final camp at 2220 meters at 68° 54.942’ N, 29° 43.738' W.

After a rest day, we pulled out of camp at 7 p.m. on June 28 to ski up toward Gunnbjørns Fjeld (3693m, highest Greenland summit; 3693.65m the most recently surveyed altitude). We left skis at ca. 3300 meters, then climbed the southwest ridge to the summit in very good conditions to spend an hour in splendid calm. A fantastic ten-kilometer ski run back to camp completed a 13-hour round trip. According to our research, it was probably the 25th ascent of Gunnbjørns Fjeld; Gordon, a 64-year-old, was delighted.

In the evening of June 30, the five of us set off to ski up the side glacier that separates Dome and Cone (second- and third-highest peaks in Greenland). We then made an attempt on Dome along its northeast ridge but gave up our try at ca. 3600 meters, where we ran into very unstable windslab on a steeply convex arête flank. After descending, Sandy and I went briefly to look for a route onto Cone, but gave up on that also and followed the others back to camp. We passed July 2 in packing up, and on July 3 headed out toward Isafjordur to close another interesting trip.

James Gregson, Alpine Club