American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Greenland, East Coast, Andrees Land, Exploration and First Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Andrees Land, exploration and first ascents. Exercise Boreal Zenith was an Army Mountaineering Association exploratory expedition to Andrees Land that was organized to commemorate 50 years of British Army Mountaineering. The expedition took place from July 3-August 3. Members Sally Brown, Cath Davies, Keve Edwards, Beth Hall-Thompson, Ollie Noakes, Dave Stanley, Joe Williams, and I between us made 34 ascents, of which 29 were new. The climbs ranged from simple snow plods to steep north faces, mixed alpine ridges, and steep rock routes. Grades ranged from Alpine PD to D and up to British HVS on pure rock.

Andrees Land is located at N 73°35', W 26°00'in North East Greenland National Park, ca 800km north of the Arctic Circle. The closest permanent habitation is Scoresby Sund, 370km to the south. The area is mountainous and bounded on the south and east by fjords and on the west and north by the permanent ice cap. It is bisected from east to west by the Grejsdallen Valley. We could find only limited information on this region prior to our visit. The only documented mountaineering that we could find took place as long ago as 1950. However, geologists have been to this area more recently. Mountains reach a maximum altitude of 2,300m, mainly rising from glacier plateaus at ca 1,800m, giving ascents of up to 500m. Summits vary from rounded snow domes to small rocky spikes and generally consist of sedimentary rocks that tend to be shattered and loose. That said, we encountered a number of solid gendarmes and buttresses. There is also an area of granite, with large slabs that remain unclimbed, and a large, complex granite face on Lizard Peak that offers plenty of options for new routes.

The valleys are steep-sided and glacially eroded, ranging in altitude from sea level to ca 750m. Glaciers are dry below ca 1,600m. During July valley floors are free from snow, with an abundance of vegetation and wildlife. Andrees Land lies just outside an important polar bear denning area, but we had no encounters with the animals. We took simple camp precautions to avoid attracting their attention and carried rifles to protect against attack. However, musk ox are widespread throughout North East Greenland; these large herbivores were abundant in the Grejsdalen Valley.

During July the region has continuous sunlight and is dominated by relatively stable high-pressure systems, though occasional storms did occur. Temperatures ranged from -10°C at night to +10°C during the day. The Danish Geod tisk Institut produces the best mapping, at a scale of 1:250,000 with a contour interval of 50m; two map sheets cover the region.

It took 45 minutes to fly from Mestersvig to Andrees Land in a privately chartered Twin Otter, arranged through Air Iceland. This carried all expedition personnel, equipment, and freight, and constituted the bulk of our flight costs from the U.K. We established base camp in the Grejsdalen at N 73°35'22.6", W 26°01'23.1" and an altitude of 468m.

To single out a few of our first ascents, on July 11 we climbed Dionysus (2,180m) from the Monte Bello Glacier via the east ridge, 500m of good ice on the north face, finishing on the west ridge. It was a 15-hour day, at an alpine grade of AD. On the 15th we climbed Jacobis Bjerg (2,188m) via the south ridge. This involved first climbing 2,162m Idwal Tooth, a large tower on the ridge that we climbed via a wide central chimney (AD). The continuation to the summit of Jacobis Bjerg involved numerous gendarmes. The grade was again AD, and we descended by the northwest ridge. On the 22nd we climbed Lizard Peak (1,404m) via the north ridge—Golden Sunlight Buttress (AD). Once on the crest, we climbed a three-pitch pillar at British V Diff, after which easy scrambling led to the summit. The following day we climbed a rock spur to the left of the Lizard; Reptile Rib (D) gave 11 pitches on good granite, with two crux pitches of British VS 4c. On the 28th we returned to the Lizard to add The Fabulous Bakini Boys, a seven-pitch rock route with a fourth-pitch crux of British HVS 5a.

Despite the numerous ascents, our expedition only scratched the surface of mountaineering objectives in Andrees Land. During the flight out we noted that the area to the south and east of the Monte Bello Glacier contained a number of interesting looking peaks, some of which appeared to be guarded by multiple rocky gendarmes. There is a fork in the western end of the Grejsdalen; we did not explore the southerly branch, though we could see it during the ascent of an unnamed 1,948m summit close to Stenmanden (1,970m). It is extremely steepsided and has the potential for significant mountaineering challenges. To the north and west of the Grejsdalen are numerous steep-sided peaks, a large lake, a further large valley (Eremitdal), and an area marked on the map as unexplored.

Sam Marshall, Army Mountaineering Association, U.K.

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.