North America, East Greenland, Staunings Alps, Dansketinde, First Ascents of South and Southwest Ridges

Publication Year: 2004.

Staunings Alps, Dansketinde, first ascents of south and southwest ridges. On July 15, Hamish Irvine, Colwyn Jones (Medical Officer), Jonathan Preston, and myself (leader), forming the Scottish Mountaineering Club East Greenland Expedition, were flown by helicopter from Mesters Vig to a landing at Col Major (2,100m) near Dansketinde (2,930m), the highest peak in the Staunings Alps.

The major aim of the expedition was the first ascent of the stunning, unclimbed south ridge of Dansketinde, with the first ascent of the southwest ridge a secondary objective. The only other major ridge on this spectacular peak is the northwest ridge, which was first climbed by Preston and Reid in 1996. The weather throughout the expedition was mixed, with the team experiencing alternately clear, calm days, which were perfect for climbing, clear but extremely windy days, and days of total white-out that were often accompanied by wind and considerable spindrift.

On July 16 the whole team first acclimatized by climbing Dansketinde via the Original Route. Jones and Preston had climbed this route in 1996 and found last year s ascent to be a little more difficult, due to crevasses that had not been present previously. However, the round trip was accomplished in nine hours and marker wands left during the descent to aid future navigation in poor conditions. On the 19th all four climbed a lower and more or less independent section of the south ridge (PD) to a snow col at the start of the main ridge. From here an easy descent was made.

On the 22nd all four climbers made an attempt on the main part of the south ridge, leaving base camp at 3 a.m. and starting the first rock pitch at 4.30. Around 11 p.m., having been climbing for some 18 hours at grades of up to British VS, this attempt petered out about two-thirds of the way up the ridge, below a steep and verglassed wall. The weather was very cold and windy, and the team was now exhausted. An escape was effected over the next six hours by making 15 abseils down the face below.

On the 29th and leaving camp at 8:20 p.m., the whole party climbed the southwest ridge, following a route some 50m below the crest on the west flank. This gave a great natural line with numerous pitches of Scottish grade IV and V ice and mixed climbing. We reached the western summit at 6 p.m. A snow arête joins this to the main summit, from where the team descended the Original Route to base camp, arriving at 1:45 a.m. The overall grade was felt to be TD+.

On August 2, Irvine, Preston and I left basecamp at 4:15 p.m. to make a second attempt on the 900m south ridge. Conditions were perfect and we made rapid progress to the previous high point. The intimidating wall was now free of verglas and turned out to be merely Severe in grade. We overcame the final headwall via an unusual through-route up a chimney (Scottish V) and reached the summit at 5 p.m. The descent was particularly unpleasant with waist-deep, sugary snow in places and not until 10:30 p.m. did we reach base camp—a round trip of 30 hours. With pitches of VS and Scottish V, and the major difficulties high on the route, we graded it TD+. The team was flown out by helicopter at 10:30 a.m. the next morning and arrived back in the U.K. two days later.

The following notes may be useful to future expeditions, (a) Traveling from London (and probably elsewhere in the UK), ammunition now needs to be carried in a purpose-made, lockable, padded, metal container: an MSR saucepan will not do. (b) The Bell 222 helicopter currently based at Constable Point/Mesters Vig can only carry ca 500kg to 2,000m. On the journey out it managed ca 600kg, however, as the pilot said, it was downhill all the way. (c) A1-Jet fuel was obtained at Mesters Vig. Despite this being kerosene-like in appearance, the one MSR XGK fitted with a gasoline jet worked much better, though the performance of another MSR XGK improved noticeably after a thorough clean. (d) No glass jars or tins were taken. All rubbish (including the marker wands) was burned prior to leaving base camp and the entire residue removed by helicopter, (e) A descent from Col Major southwest to the Gully Gletscher appears impassible due to crevasses.

Stephen Reid, Scottish Mountaineering Club, U.K..