North America, Greenland, West Coast, Akuliarusinguaq Peninsula, Various Ascents, Sortehul Fjord, Old Man's Benefit, Northumberland Island, Traverse and Various Ascents

Publication Year: 2010.

Akuliarusinguaq Peninsula, various ascents; Sortehul Fjord, Old Mans Benefit; Northumberland Island, traverse and various ascents. I’ve now made five Tilman-type expeditions to Greenland. The latest, in summer 2009, involved sailing my Westerly 10m Discus from Scotland across the Atlantic and up the west coast of Greenland, calling at various locations to make first ascents from the boat. Our first venue was the Akuliarusinguaq Peninsula (N 71°50', W 52°50'), where we enjoyed spectacular successes and failures. I had explored this region on several previous expeditions, but a number of difficult-to-access 2,000m peaks remained unclimbed. These provided our initial objectives.

We failed. On the first, north of the anchorage at Puartdlarsivik, we were beaten by distance. With just three climbers available at any one time, the logistics of getting gear up a huge icefall and a long crevassed glacier proved impracticable. On the second, approached from Nugatsiaaq Tunua in the south, we climbed boulder fields and a long glacier to a bivouac. The next day we pushed on up a long snow shoulder to Solo Snow Dome, a peak I had climbed in 2004 (solo, because my partner would not come up for a second attempt). Our peaks lay well beyond this, and weariness, lack of stove and food, and the distance over a thin connecting ridge defeated us. However, we established that Solo Snow Dome was 2,090m and not 2,060m, as I had previously recorded. Before returning, we climbed a small subsidiary peak of 2,060m on a shoulder to the west of Solo Snow Dome.

Chastened, we retired to the southwestern end of the peninsula, which we had not previously explored. We found a cirque of peaks around a glacier flowing north. Mike Bowley and Tom Howard climbed all six main summits, the highest the pleasing Snow Dome SW (1,598m, N 71°43.416', W 53°06.636'). I climbed four peaks on the ridge running southwest from the head of the cirque and two minor gendarmes. The highest was 1,311m. We climbed 10 virgin peaks (and two minor points), so honor was satisfied.

We sailed north to Sortehul Fjord, close to Upernavik (N 72°40', W 55°59'). Most rock climbs in this area are big walls and serious under takings. However, at Iterdlagssuaq, at the southern end of the fjord, a “day” cliff gives routes of 200m on good rock and in sunshine. It is accessed from a beach, rather than requiring one to climb directly onto the rock from a dinghy. There was only one previous route, climbed in 2006 by Italians Gianni Predan and Cristina Rapisardi. Tom and I added Old Man’s Benefit (British HVS 5a, 200m, eight pitches), which took the central of three corner grooves on the main face, finishing up with a chimney-groove (the crux). Guess who the old man was? I’m glad to say there is still scope here for the under-70s.

The main goal of the expedition was exploration and ascents on Northumberland Island, at N 77°25', W 72° 00'. Tom Howard and Andy Prosser completed a two-day, technically difficult ski-mountaineering traverse across most of the spine, making first ascents of six peaks. The journey involved steep descents, an uncomfortable bivouac, and big crevasses.

As Tom reported, “We landed by dinghy and were soon on glacier. Our first summit was Peak 1,030m, which gave a steep run on excellent snow down the far side. Skins were replaced for a straightforward ascent of Peak 827m. We avoided a third summit and bivouacked in a boulder field, unable to erect the tent. Next day, August 21, we returned to make a quick ascent of the third summit (930m) and then faced a horrendous crossing of gravel and boulder fields, carrying our skis. From the top of our fourth summit, Peak 1,000m, we rapidly reached our fifth (950m) and sixth (also 950m). We continued to the top of Sermiarssugssuaq Glacier, which gave a crevasse-jumping descent, finishing with Cairngorm skiing over ice, mud, and mogul fields. After a never-ending slog on a terminal moraine, we pitched camp on the shore, only to be disturbed at 3 a.m. when Andy realized we were about to drown in the rising tide. Next morning the boat made its way through ice floes to collect us.”

In the meantime Mike and I made the first ascent of Peak 900m, situated on Josephine Headland; Peary’s winter camp, where his wife Josephine joined him, was visible on the mainland opposite. Later Mike made the first ascent of Peak 930m on the southern side of the island. Andy and Tom repeated this ascent on skis. Finally Mike, Thomas Gough, and I climbed Peak 1,010m, which had been unreachable from the ski traverse. This completed ascents of most peaks on the island, including the highest.

Before returning we continued a little farther north to set up an automatic weather station on Littleton Island in Smith Sound/Nares Strait. The Scottish Association of Marine Science and the Danish Space Agency are now using it as part of their research into arctic weather and the flow of ice down the Strait from the Arctic Ocean. We sailed back along the west coast as far as Aasiaat, where I left the boat for the winter.

Bob Shepton, Alpine Club

Share this article