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North America, Greenland, Northeast Greenland, Louise Boyd Land, First Ascents

Louise Boyd Land, first ascents. We were expecting things to go wrong, but for the first few days of our two months in Greenland, very little seemed to go right. Our Cambridge University expedition comprised Natalie Clegg, Sam Harrison, Madeleine Humphreys, Derek Marshall, and myself. Whilst loading the chartered Twin Otter with our gear, which had gone ahead of us to the desolate airstrip in Mestervig, it soon became apparent that all our tents and some of our food were missing. A quick calculation revealed that we still had just enough food to last for our time in the field but without tents we couldn’t go anywhere and the fear of having wasted two years of planning and over $35,000 of hard-earned sponsorship money was overbearing. Fortunately, a stroke of good luck found us stumbling across some unused tents in an airstrip hut. A couple of phone calls later and we were cobbling together poles, inners and flysheets from a number of rather dilapidated specimens and making up our required tent quota.

Over the next few days things didn’t get much better. Our base camp in the northern section of Louise Boyd Land had been carefully chosen with several aims in mind. There were a number of spectacular and accessible climbs that we had identified from aerial photos. In addition, the confluence of two large alpine glaciers was an ideal site for our glaciological research program. Unfortunately, after a long day’s trek from our drop off point, the site proved unreachable due to an icefall, which spanned the width of the glacier to steep crumbling walls at each side. We needed to find an alternative and quickly, because we now had only 22 days to complete our scientific and climbing aims. After this we would have to start our long trek to rendezvous with an inflatable boat that was scheduled to pick us up from the fjords 100 miles further south.

There seemed to be one other suitable possibility in the region, but it was at least a day’s trek away. However, on arrival we realized that our luck had turned. An idyllic campsite, with a small glacial stream for water and washing needs, provided a spectacular view down to the massive Hamberg Gletscher. What’s more, we realized that we had landed an almost perfect central location for numerous climbs, all reachable within a couple of hours on ski.

The routine for completing our climbs involved scientific work in the morning before setting out for a route in the afternoon or evening, hoping to catch better consolidated night-time conditions. We would climb throughout the night, then return for another round of morning glaciological research, the first step in a comparison between Arctic-alpine glaciers and those found in the central European Alps, before taking the afternoon off. The cycle was repeated a number of times and worked well, but took some commitment; not in setting out for the climbs but in getting back down to work the next morning.

In total we completed six separate climbs, which resulted in the ascents of eight previously unclimbed peaks. The most spectacular rock was provided by a ridge backing onto our tents. Two pronounced pinnacles were obvious targets; the first was reached by a steady scramble that helped to get us in the mood (First Granite Pinnacle: 450m, PD, III, July 12). The second, via the west face, was the highlight of our time on rock in the area. The climb required six pitches of delightful granite, becoming steadily more solid as height was gained. The third pitch was a challenging chimney system, consistently IV, while the rest was III+ maximum, and the route completed in a 10-hour round trip (Patience Peak: 350m, IV, July 20). The first of our two significant climbs on snow saw us reaching the summit of two peaks east of base camp after a six-hour ski and climb (Points 2,200m and 2,340m: F, July 19 from the col between the two). The second, which took place on July 27, saw us reach the summits of Points 2,117m and 2,330m from the east. These ascents were completed on ski in a seven-hour round trip from camp. We also climbed the easy Landing Site Nunatak (2000m, F) on July 22 and the west face of The First Granite Pinnacle (The Knobble: 180m, IV) on July 26.

Flying is the only feasible way to reach Louise Boyd Land. Skiing out to Dickson Fjord, as we did, is a tough but very rewarding finish but at least three weeks need to be allowed for this. A good amount of time and a healthy budget need to be found, but the rewards for a climber reaching this area cannot be over emphasized. It is an untouched paradise still waiting to be explored.

Chris Lockyear, Cambridge University