American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

New York Section

  • Club Activities
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Kangerdlugssuaq Mountains, first ascents. To celebrate the centenary of the Cambridge University Mountaineering Club, eight members planned an expedition to East Greenland during July. As our departure time from the U.K. approached, it became obvious that bad weather in Greenland was going to force a change in plans. Our intentions had been to fly directly to an unexplored region of the Kangerdlugssuaq Mountains, landing at N 67° 57' W 33° 15', close to the head of the North Parallel Gletscher. However, our arrival in Iceland coincided with 1.5m of fresh snow in Greenland, forcing our landing site to be switched 60km inland, to where another group, awaiting evacuation, was able to prepare a runway.

On June 30 the first plane carried Alex Cowan, Matt Harding, Tom Stedall, and I to the new landing site, at N 68° 11' W 34° 05'. We pitched our tents in the gathering gloom and spent the next three days in a totalwhiteout, digging out tents from under a further meter of fresh snow. When the weather finally cleared, a second plane brought in the rest of the team: Alison Ingleby, Leah Jackson-Blake, Jenny Marshall, and Mike Moss.

We climbed a number of small peaks in this area, most of which had been climbed for the first time by the group that had prepared our runway. However, a beautiful triple-headed mountain towering above our base camp, undoubtedly the jewel of the area, remained unclimbed. Toward the end of the first week Mike and Tom made its first ascent, by a long mixed ridge with immaculate rock. The 500m route was PD.

We had now consumed enough food to contemplate moving toward our original area. With overloaded pulks and bulging rucksacks we set off on a ski-tour that would take four magical days. We traveled by night, skimming across crisp snow with the midnight sun on our backs, weaving a path between unclimbed peaks, spindrift whirling round our ankles.

In the growing warmth of the sun we pitched our tents, using ski poles and axes, and settled down for a day of feasting and sleep, moving on again when the sun dipped low, and the snow began to harden. On the fourth day we reached the head of the North Parallel Gletscher and carefully negotiated a region of crevasses, to arrive at our original landing site.

For the first time in the trip the weather became settled and, with less than 14 days before our return flights, we felt desperate to do more climbing. Mike, Tom, and Alex got us started by making the first ascent of one of the most striking mountains in the region, by a 600m route at F+/

PD-. After five hours of hard up-hill skinning, they were rewarded by 45 minutes of off-piste ecstasy as they skied down.

Matt and I made the first ascent of “Mt. Jaeggi” (named after our friend and treasurer back in Cambridge), by a long ridge involving approximately 20 pitches, up to IV, on immaculate granite (500m, D-). Meanwhile Ali, Leah, and Jenny climbed a short rock ridge to a fine snow summit (300m, PD-, short sections of IV).

During the last few days Mike, Tom, and Alex made their way along a spectacular, complex granite ridge just behind our base camp, spending 10 hours linking ledge systems and crack lines to reach an exposed summit (500m, AD, pitches of IV+). Ali, Matt, and James spent a morning climbing “The Thumb,” a steep 250m granite tower with some of the best rock in the area (PD, IV+).

Next day Matt and I attempted a direct route on the northeast face of the biggest mountain in the region. This gave a long, complex, and committing route, generally on good rock and always in spectacular positions. We climbed the route in a continuous push of 28 hours berg- schrund-to-bergschrund (850m, TD, pitches of V).

But after so much fantastic climbing the trip was to end on a low note. While attempting to repeat the ridge behind base camp with Leah, Jenny slipped and fell, sustaining a serious wound to her left shin. Unable to return along the ridge, the pair began multiple rappels down the flank to reach snow slopes. Leah bravely returned solo to her skis, then skied back to Jenny and towed her in the sledge to base camp. We used our satellite phone to arrange an evacuation, and 36 hours later Jenny had an operation in Isafjordur, Iceland. The operation was successful, and there has been no lasting damage. We are extremely grateful to Fridrik Adolfsson and Paul Walker for their help in co-ordinating our rescue.

In many ways the trip didn’t go according to plan, but in others it exceeded all expectations. We made 12 first ascents ranging in standard from PD to TD and had the unexpected bonus of traveling a new route from the ice cap almost to the sea. With the exception of Jenny’s accident, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Further information can be found at www.greenland2005.co.uk

James Sample, United Kingdom

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