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Southeast Ren Land, Cenotaph, McDonnell Peak, Small Lion

Inspired by pictures from an expedition in 2007 led by Dick Griffiths and reported in AAJ 2008, four of us from the Netherlands, supported by the Dutch Alpine Club, visited Southeast Ren Land from August 8-30, operating from a base camp at the head of Skillebugt Inlet.

Niek de Jonge and Jelle Staleman planned to make alpine-style first ascents, their main goal being a 900m-high loose standing pillar named the Cenotaph, a photo of which had appeared in the AAJ report. Gerke Hoekstra and I hoped to make the first ascent, in big-wall style, of the main Shark’s Tooth [The Shark’s Teeth lie above the Shark’s Teeth Glacier, which flows north into the Edward Bailey. This glacier was visited and the Teeth photographed by a British team in 2008: see AAJ 2009].

The Cenotaph is a 16km walk from base camp up the Apusinikajik Glacier, and on August 12 de Jonge and Staleman made their first attempt on this formation, trying to climb a direct line up the east face. The initial 250m consisted of bad-quality gneiss, and above an obvious spire, a blank section proved to be impassible without considerable drilling. They were not prepared for this and retreated after climbing 600m. up to UIAA VII. Descent proved particularly dangerous on the lower, loose section of the face.

Meanwhile Hoekstra and I found our approach cut by impassible rivers, and the Shark’s Tooth inaccessible from Skillebugt. Deciding that the poor rock on the Cenotaph was not conducive to a big wall ascent, we tried a free ascent in alpine style. We climbed the first five pitches of the de Jonge-Staleman attempt and fixed rappel anchors for a safe return, then on the 17th all four of us set out to attempt two different lines. After re-climbing those five pitches, Hoekstra and I branched right and climbed to the summit by the line of least resistance. First Ascent Route (UIAA VII, 900m). De Jonge and Staleman took a more direct option and finished on the last few pitches of our climb, arriving at the summit an hour later. They named their route Controversy (UIAA VII, 900m).

On the 25th de Jonge and Staleman climbed a 2,000m peak on the east side of the Apusinikajik. Expecting an easy ascent, they to took the bare minimum: one pair of crampons, one ice axe, one rope, and a few cams and wires. The first 1,300m proved straightforward: a debris slope with big boulders, followed by scrambling to a shoulder. From there they climbed névé and mixed ground, up to 50°, to the final 200m, which was of surprisingly good quality, with difficulties up to VII-, and the final, crux, pitch (VII+ with minimal protection). They named the summit McDonnell Peak after Gerard McDonnell, who died on K2 in 2008. They believe that a person who risks his own life trying to save others is a true hero.

On the 28th Hoekstra and I made the first ascent of a 1,000m peak close to and north-northeast of base camp. We simul-climbed up and down (UIAA IV, 450m) and in thick cloud made a big cairn on what we felt to be the top. A few days later, when the weather cleared, we confirmed through binoculars that we had reached the true summit, which we have named the Small Lion.