American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Greenland, East Greenland, Staunings Alps, Great Cumbrae Glacier, first accents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2002

Fox Jaw Cirque, Tasiilaq Fjord, first ascent of The Incisor. As part two of the Year of the Snake Expeditions 2001,I arrived at Kulusuk in July. I then took a boat through a maze of icebergs to the small village of Tasiilaq, also known as Ammassalik, home to about 2,500 Inuit people and a few Danes. Greenland is owned and governed by Denmark and my Danish contact, Hans Christian Florian, one of the top doctors in Greenland, wasted no time accentuating my jet lag even further with strong Danish pilsners. My plans to get to the fjord were quickly set after a couple of phone calls. For a small fee I hitched a ride in a helicopter on its way out to the area, arranging for a boat to pick me up on the coast several weeks later.

We flew over endless mountain ranges surrounded by dark ocean fjords dotted with huge tooth-like icebergs. As soon as I stepped out of the helicopter, it raced away. I stood alone, some distance from the base of a tower that resembled a gigantic fang from a fox s jaw. Shuttling loads, I soon had all of my gear at its base. The reason I had chosen this tower was not only that it was the most prominent and beautiful in the area but also because I thought I might be able to climb it without standing in aiders. My goal was to free climb the entire route on sight without any aid, solo.

The first half of the tower looked like wonderful free climbing. It also looked like I would have to shuttle loads up fixed lines; relentless and painstaking work. Starting at the very base of the tower, the first ca 300 meters of climbing ranged from 5.6 to 5.10 and was mostly high-qual- ity cracks mixed with some desperate face moves here and there. It took me two days to climb, fix ropes, shuttle loads, set up a portaledge camp, and pull up all my ropes.

From there, the wall got much steeper. It looked like there was at least another 300 meters of climbing to the summit. The weather stayed sunny and breezy, like early spring in Yosemite. It was the middle of Arctic summer and I had 24-hour daylight with sun hitting me about eight hours a day while up on the wall. From my portaledge camp, I climbed four more pitches in the next two days (nine pitches total so far). All the pitches were climbed free with no falls. There were a couple sections of 5.11 and lots of spicy 5.9 and 5.10. Teetering blocks, expanding flakes, and pieces of creaking, balanced rock required meticulous climbing.

On my fifth day on the tower, and my eighth day in the fjord, I ascended the four fixed ropes to my high point, pulled the last two up with me and set up my solo belay system. It took only two more pitches to reach the summit. Unfortunately, on these last two pitches, my goal for the style that I wanted was interrupted. On the second-to-last pitch the crack narrowed to a hairline seam. Difficult nailing for at least 10 meters would be necessary, whereas free climbing this section would involve spicy stemming and face climbing. It seemed my safest choice would be to aid this section first.

After nailing a bunch of blades, I then down aided, leaving in the pins. I then free climbed the pitch. I used the same tactic on the last pitch. I summited on the morning of my ninth day in the fjord just minutes after midnight, then took a rest day to hydrate before leaving my portaledge camp and rappelling with all my gear. I named the ca 550-meter route Tears in Paradise (11 very long pitches, VI 5.11 Al) and the tower The Incisor. There was no evidence that it had been climbed before.

The scariest part of the whole trip happened later, while ferrying heavy loads back across one of the glaciers. The glaciers were quite dry, with only small sections of thick, frozen snow remaining in places. Crossing at night when they were most firm, I unfortunately fell in a crevasse about half a meter wide and seven meters deep. The huge haul bag on my back stopped me. My feet dangled below. I felt helpless at first but was able to roll out using my ice axe and pole. It was one the scariest moments of my life. Finally I was able to hitch a ride from a fishing boat two weeks before my scheduled pick up. Of course, Hans Christian had more Danish pilsners waiting.

Mike Libecki, AAC

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