American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, Schweizerland, Tupilak, First Ascent of the North Face and Quasi-Winter Ascent of Rodebjerg

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Tupilak, first ascent of the North face and quasi-winter ascent of Rodebjerg. In 2001, a four-man British team comprising Jon Bracey, Charles “Stan Halstead, Jon Morgan, and Al Powell opted to spend the early part of the year in the Tupilak region in order to attempt what might be the first serious technical winter climbing on the island. On a visit to the region in 1999, where he climbed the new route, Big Air, on the south face, Powell noted that the much larger north face looked steep, damp, somewhat looser, and a prime target for a winter ascent, should suitable ice build-up occur. Wanting to test this theory, he arrived back in the area on April 1.

After spending a few days testing the ski potential of the powder and despite night time temperatures down to -35°C, Bracey and Powell set off for the ca 1,000m high north face. Initially, the pair attempted a line directly up the middle of the wall but finding the terrain buried under deep powder snow, were forced into time-consuming mixed and aid climbing. After a sitting bivouac bombarded by spindrift, the pair continued to a zone of dangerously loose blocks below a roof. Not being able to outflank this, they retreated.

After some rest during a short spell of inclement weather the two returned to the face on the 16th April. This time they decided to exploit the very snowy conditions by taking a line more to the left, ending at a col on the summit ridge between the East and West tops. Following a series of snowy ramps and slabs interspersed with more difficult mixed terrain, Bracey and Powell reached a point two-thirds up the face before bivouacking for the night. The next day more mixed ground led to the final slabs. Here the pair were forced to make a semi-pendulum to reach a poor belay, before setting off over compact rock towards the col. The belay proved to be the last for sometime, as the pair had to resort to moving together with intermediate protection no better than tied-off pegs and skyhooks, After this highly committing section more aid was needed to overcome the final grooves and the col reached in time to construct their second night’s bivouac.

At 4:00 the following morning, any hopes of reaching the summit were dashed as the weather closed in. Having prior knowledge of the South face, Powell opted to rappel that side of the mountain to a high glacier basin. Ten rappels later the pair were on the glacier and traversing east to a col on a rocky spur of the South face. Six rappels on the far side of this col led to another glacier, up which the two ascended to a second col at the base of Tupilak’s east ridge. Collecting skis cached previously by Halstead and Morgan, Bracey and Powell were able to make a swift descent to Base Camp. Their Silence of the Seracs on the North face was ca 900m high and awarded a grade of Alpine ED2. Maximum technical difficulties, found in a strenuous chimney near the top of the face, were rated at Scottish 7 and Al, but there were several sections of Scottish 6 and more aid in the middle section of the route.

Halstead and Morgan had also been very active during this period with some ski ascents and a new winter line on the South face of 2,140m Rodebjerg. On the 10th April the pair set off up the couloir left of the Central Pillar first climbed in 1973. Higher, they were able to cut back right on snow ramps and mixed ground (Scottish V 6) to reach the Shoulder at 700m, where an easy escape is possible. After a very cold bivouac on the Shoulder followed by deteriorating weather, the pair did indeed escape, returning on the 16th to finish their route via a line of chimneys (Scottish VI 6) and snow bays on the upper west face. These led to an obvious notch in the summit ridge, from where the highest point was reached. The route was felt to warrant an overall grade of TD.

All four climbers then embarked on an impressive series of ski descents, followed by three days of inactivity on the glacier when their scheduled helicopter pick-up failed to materialize. They were eventually flown out late on the 28th. The only excuse given by the air company was that it was overstretched and chose to put the climbers (three of whom were now frost-nipped) on the bottom of their list. This resulted in missed flights home and extra expense. The team strongly advise future parties visiting at that time of year to take extra supplies and a satellite telephone, or consider skiing out to the Tasilaq Mountain Hut (which has a radio), where a pick-up should prove more reliable.

Lindsay Griffin, High Mountain INFO

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