American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, The Far North, Jensenland, Explorations of Most Northerly Land

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2004

Jensenland, explorations of most northerly land. This was the seventh in a series of joint European and American expeditions to explore the peninsulas, mountains, and islands at the extreme North of Greenland. Our exploration of the world’s most northerly mountain chain and adjacent islands began in 1995 with a preliminary survey expedition and was followed by a comprehensive field expedition in 1996. We were searching for Oodaap Island, discovered by Uva Petersen in 1978, and thought to be the world’s most northerly point of land. In the course of our 1996 searches we reached a seamount at 83 40 34N. It was several hundred meters north of Oodaap. Our third examination of this feature revealed it emerging as an island 1.5m above sea level, approximately 20m long. In 1997 it was recognized by a Danish Polar Centre team as the world’s most northerly known point of land.

In 1998 we surveyed the region again from the air and found at least two rock features further out, near the edge of the continental shelf. In 2003 we returned with Hauge Andersson, director of the Danish Polar Centre, to resurvey the area. From Bliss Bugt camp we set up an advance camp on July 5 along the Jensenland coast near Kaffeklubben Island. On July 6, six members of the expedition crossed an extensive lead onto the sea ice and reached Kaffeklubben. From Kaffeklubben we proceeded northwest along the directional axis of Kaffeklubben to 83 41 05N, 30 45 33W. At this site we found an ice ridge up to 7m high extending for many hundred meters. It appeared to be overriding a seamount-island ridge beneath it. This ridge was one of our islands. We surveyed the entire area, collecting rock specimens and photographing. We were the first humans to reach the site. We celebrated with lunch. From here we set out on a heading north over a false island at 83 42 20N, 30 42 79W toward the edge of the continental shelf and then east to the intersection of the line that connected Kaffeklubben with the 1996 island and Oodaap.

Circumventing an ice ridge at 83 42 05N, 30 38 50W, we beheld a stunning sight. It was a rock feature over 4m high and over 20m long. It seemed to be an island. It was certainly a specimen of land of some variety. So near the continental shelf edge, we thought it must, at last, be the world’s most northerly point of land, the Ultima Thule, with no other possibilities beyond. Peter Skafte noted a pattern of vegetation (lichens) that suggested a long history in its current disposition and formation. He also noted that our 1998 photographs confirmed both this feature and 83 41 in their current general positions. The ice associated with the feature seemed to be superficial. We treated it as an island and built a cairn on the summit. It was our little mountain. We had now explored what we believe to be all possible island sites at the edge of the world. After 18 hours on the sea, we returned to advance camp with some euphoria.

Not that we had achieved this day the final word on the identity and status of the world’s most northerly land. We had not. But we had, this day, completed the first field survey of all apparent possibilities. We are all very fond of 83 42. But if its cosmetic good looks have deceived us into too much optimism about its rock/ice content, then 83 41 would again become important. If 83

41 completely disappears, the 1996 island resumes its 1997 status. If that disappears again, as it sometimes wants to do, then Oodaap and Kaffeklubben remain. These expeditions from 1995 to 2003 were the first to explore the sum of all these places. Whatever the outcome, that is my and my colleagues final satisfaction.

The 1996 expedition had explored the H.H. Bennedict Range, the middle section of the world’s most northerly mountain chain, and climbed Stjernebannertinde, above the Borup Icefield and the 30km Moore Glacier. Very prominent from the north coast, it is that range’s highest peak. Equally prominent at the far eastern edge of the peninsula is the highest peak of the Daly Bjerge, surrounded by the confluence of the Bertelsen and Moore Glaciers. But for our single ascent along the western margin in 1996, the Daly Bjerge were unexplored until July 2000 when we made an approach march up the Bertelsen Glacier toward the base of this highest peak. This march was stopped by severe winter storms. In 2003 four climbers set out across the Moore Glacier in a fearful race against storms that never quite emerged. All previous expeditions on the Moore Glacier were our own and we, at last, reached the icecap at its source. From here some glacial terraces and the south ridge led to the summit icecap of the Daly Bjerge’s highest peak. We reached the summit (4,780') at midnight on July 12. This climb concludes my 20 years of expeditions exploring the mountains, peninsulas, islands, and ice shelves of the extreme high Arctic. The early expeditions in Baffin, Ellesmere, and Axel Heiberg Islands were to find their conclusion in North Greenland. These were the realms left unexplored from the times of Peary, Rasmussen and Koch. The expeditions I led were not alone in this, but they were an important part of it. Eigel Knut, Hauge Andersson, and John Peacock were there before. Hauge Andersson will also be there after.

One controversy that arose in the course of these expeditions concerned the world’s most northerly mountain. My colleagues and I made the first ascent of that mountain, above the northeastern mouth of Sands Fjord, in 1998, exploring the entire mountain and following the northwest ridge all the way to the edge of Sands Fjord. In 1999 we made the second ascent. In two years of climbing on the mountain we left no measurable points unreached, though we left cairns only on the main summit and the landmark “three teeth.” A 2001 expedition claimed the second ascent of the mountain along with some first ascents along its ridges, apparently not grasping our exhaustive history on the mountain. Eighteen species of birds were identified in the course of these expeditions as well as a number of mammal species including polar bear, wolf, harp seal, ring seal, musk oxen, fox, hare, and weasel. Members from 2003 include Marilyn Geninatti, Ans Hoefnagel, Patricia Thouvenin, Peter Skafte, Mara Bolen, Andy Rash, Alan Schick, and Rich Jali. Frank Landsberger was the assisting leader.

Dennis Schmitt

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