North America, Greenland, West Coast, Upernavik Region, Various Routes on Qaersorssuaq and Umanaq Islands

Publication Year: 2011.

Upernavik region, various routes on Qaersorssuaq and Umanaq islands. This was my fourth trip to Greenland. The previous three had been to the East Coast, so I had a good feel for what the land had to offer. The plan was the same as other visits: load the boats with as much food and climbing kit as we could feasibly carry, and have an adventure on sea and in the mountains. This time I persuaded Nigel Robinson and Sin Sinfield to accompany me. Neither had been to Greenland before, but they were experienced paddlers and climbers who could look after themselves in both environments. We shipped the kayaks and food two months prior to our arrival in Upernavik with the idea of circumnavigating two large islands, Qaersorssuaq and Nutarmiut. This would require paddling almost 300km. The trip lasted 21 days, of which five were spent rock climbing.

Any group visiting Greenland has to accept the possibility of becoming a Polar Bear dish, and it is advisable to carry a rifle to ward off, rather than kill, a bear. Our chosen area had minimal chance of bear encounters. Style was important to us: we wanted to maintain the wilderness experience and the essence of self-sufficiency, but in dire emergency felt it prudent to be able to summon help. We therefore decided to take a VHF radio and EPIRB. We kayaked for five or six hours a day in mostly calm, sunny conditions, forced off the water on only one occasion by stormy weather. The west coast of Qaersorssuaq gave exceptional paddling under 900m cliffs broken by waterfalls, and nothing further west until reaching Baffin Island.

Early in our journey we came across two yachts. The smaller, Dodo’s Delight, belonged to Bob Shepton, who had earlier in the year provided me with a little information on potential climbing in this region. On board were an American-Belgian team, which had already completed a number of long, free big walls. We spent a brilliant night in the company and generosity of strangers, all together on the second yacht, Saxon Blue. We knew that finding new routes to climb would prove interesting, but never envisaged that the hardest aspect would be to find crags small enough for our limited resources. We spent three days at the head of the Sarqarssuag Fjord on the south side of Qaersorssuaq, where the American-Belgian team had recommended we look at a large pillar on the east bank. It was stunning, but obviously a little too ambitious for us and our available kit. Instead, we climbed a number of single pitch lines at around British HVS, and then on the third day a good six-pitch mountain route at El, with two fine pitches of 5b: Ford Fiesta (200m). Our next climbing was four days later on the small island of Umanaq (290m) at the northeast extremity of our circular tour, overlooking a magnificent carving glacier. Plagued by mosquitoes, we climbed a three-pitch route on poor rock and named it Jigger my Timbers (HVS 5a). According to the map, our campsite here should have been under the ice, showing just how much the ice cap has retreated.

Later, on our way back to Upernavik, we stopped off on the eastern side of Qaersorssuaq, above the Sortehul, and climbed two excellent routes: Get the Shooters George (three pitches, 4a, 4c, 5a, HVS) and Smear or Disappear (four pitches, 4b, 5b, 5b, 4b, E2). Both were ca 160m.

We returned to Upernavik having successfully completed our circumnavigation, stayed friends, met no bears, and saw endless potential for big-wall and alpine rock routes. We would like to thank Greenland Tourism for complementary flights, and the Welsh Sports Council and Gino Watkins Memorial Fund for grants.

Olly Sanders, UK