When Ged Desforges, Ruben Gutzat, Dan McManus, Tom Spreyer, Tony Stone, James Vybiral, and I arrived in the Hermelndal below the imposing towers of the Tininnertuup group and the awesome sweep of walls of the Hermelnbjerg, only a handful of routes existed on the rock faces above. The few previous expeditions had all suffered prolonged unpredictable weather, and apart from an outstanding Irish expedition in 1971, which climbed all the major summits in the area, had used big-wall tactics and aid. Typically, each expedition had managed one route and had taken many days to achieve this. We expected our story to be similar, but after two days of fog and drizzle, things took a different direction, and during our four-week stay we had just three days when the weather was too bad to climb. We took advantage by making fast ascents of seven new routes and two repeats.
Ruben, Tony, and James made the first ascent of the east face of Tininnertuup III, climbing moderate slabby ground before two steeper pitches of British HVS gained the summit ridge. Head in the Clouds was 650m and AD. Next, Dan and I set off to try the fine east face of Tininnertuup II. Thinking it would probably require big wall tactics, we only “went for a look,” alpine-style. However, where the wall steepened, we were pleasantly surprised to find pitch after pitch of sustained free climbing on superb granite. Fourteen hours after setting out, and having climbed 700m all free up to E5 6a, we reached the spectacular summit and had a brew before descending the Irish route. We christened the route Piriton Pillar, after the amounts of anti-histamine we were consuming. On the same day Tom and Ged tried the superb-looking front prow on the east face of Tinninertup III, but were disappointed to find poor rock and mud-choked cracks. They descended after a few hundred meters.
Back at camp we found Tony and Ruben packing to try the second ascent of Rapakivi Road (1,000m, 5.11 A2+, Jacobsson-Knutsson, 2004, seven days for the first ascent) on the superb east face of Tininnertuup IV. The pair reached the pointed summit 25 hours later, after a short rest through the hours of twilight. They climbed the first three pitches of Rapakivi, then three pitches of the Whitehouse’s variant Freeway, before traversing right to rejoin Rapakivi and continuing to the top. Every pitch was climbed free and onsight, and both raved about the quality of the route, which had a crux pitch of hard E3 and a lot of sustained climbing at a slightly easier standard. Ruben claimed it was his first trad route.
Despondent about the rock on Tininnertuup III, and after our stories of perfect rock on II, Tom and Ged scoped a line to the left of Piriton Pillar. They linked features that looked impossible from the ground and found superb climbing on every pitch. Tired at the end of the day, they had to overcome an intricate and technical wall pitch, followed by a fierce off-width, to gain the summit. They returned more enthusiastic about the area, having bagged the first ascent of Scorpion Grooves (700m, E3 5c).
Dan and I turned our attention to the huge northwest pillar of Hermelnbjerg, where in 2005 Norwegians climbed a prominent chimney on the left in big-wall style. Our proposed route to the right focused on finding a way through a spectacular feature we dubbed “the Eye,” a huge circular section of steep corners and arêtes a third of the way up. Our first attempt ground to a halt near the top of the Eye, after I took a fall, and we realized the way we had planned to exit the Eye was too bold. Our second attempt took place on July 27. We were quicker this time and broke up the leading so that Dan could start what we assumed would be the crux fresh and psyched. A hidden hold saw him pull through the roof at the top of the Eye, and we set to work on unknown ground above. After 18 hours and 1,000m of climbing, we gained a key ledge that we’d spied from the ground. Here we melted snow, ate, and got a few hours’ sleep huddled under our one sleeping bag. Four cold pitches the following day brought us to the sunny summit ridge, from where we scrambled to the west summit of Hermelnbjerg to complete Ramblin’ Man (1,200m, E5 6b). Descent was made more interesting by glacier retreat, meaning we had to rappel four pitches before gaining scree leading back to camp. (The Irish, and most likely the Norwegians, found this an easy snow walk, but in 2008 the ascent of this section sported four pitches of HVS.)
James and Ruben now added the Anglo-Bavarian Direct (650m, El) to the east face of Tininnertuup III. This route crossed Head in the Clouds. Although the climbing was poor at first, it was much better higher up, and the pair recommends future ascensionists combine the first half of Head in the Clouds with the top half of the Anglo- Bavarian Direct.
With everyone realizing Tininnertuup II had the best rock, two teams set off on the 31st to add more routes to this fine pillar. Tony, Ged, and Tom climbed a superb line of corners and cracks they had spied from their previous route. At the crux Tony found desperate bridging on smooth granite and an intermittent crack offering spaced gear and holds. Ged described it as the most impressive lead he had ever seen, and the normally mild-mannered Tony was moved to bellow a volley of celebratory expletives (heard from base camp), as he pulled through the final overhang onto easier ground. War Cry (700m, E5 6a) gave a further few hundred meters of superb climbing to the summit, where the trio met James and Ruben, fresh from adding their own route to the right of Piriton Pillar. Rapidly learning a thing or two about trad climbing, Ruben had swung leads with James up surprisingly bold corners and cracks to produce another Anglo-Bavarian Direct (700m, E2).
Conscious that the most spectacular summit in the area, the main summit of the Hermelnbjerg, had not been visited for 37 years, Dan and I set off to try the first ascent of the west ridge. We climbed the four pitches of HVS where the glacier had previously been, and then a long concave scree slope (a snow slope for the Norwegians, who descended it) to the lowest point on the ridge connecting the west and main summits. Scrambling up the first section of the crest above, we came upon an ancient Cassin piton with bleached rappel tat. The Irish did not attempt this ridge, and the origins of the retreat anchor remain unknown. Shortly after, we understood the reason for failure: a long section of narrow, horizontal ridge that appeared to be made of gravel mixed with Weetabix. It was possible to make progress à cheval, but the rock vibrated and the whole experience was terrifying. We rappeled the way we had come and advised Tony and Ruben, who were also interested in the summit, that they would be better trying to repeat the original 1971 route up the northeast ridge. This they did on the last possible day before our scheduled pick-up from the fjord. They found exceptional and spectacular climbing up to El, as well as the original rappel anchors. The pair climbed 1,500m to the summit in a day from base camp, bivouacking at the col on the way down. The expedition thanks the Mount Everest Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, and Gino Watkins Memorial Trust for financial assistance.