In 2009 the 15m sailing vessel Gambo spent July and August supporting glaciological and oceanographic research on two major outlet glaciers of the Greenland ice sheet. When the skill set of the crew was not in demand for science objectives, it was put to use establishing new routes in the stunning Ummannaq region.
Our most significant mountaineering achievement was the first ascent of the unclimbed 2,280m peak on the south side of Rink’s (a.k.a. Kangigdleq) Fjord. This mountain, located at 71°31'51.57" N, 52°19'23.19" W, 1.8 km northeast of Timumanikavsa, appears to be the highest in West Greenland. Gambo’s owner, Alun Hubbard, had discovered that due to mapping inaccuracies, previous successful ascents of the “highest mountain” had reached a large (but 35m lower) peak named Snepyramiden, about nine kilometers south-southwest of Pt 2,280m.
On August 10, Jason Box, Nolwenn Chauché, Sam Doyle, Silvan Leinss, and I were deposited by Gambo on the northern flanks of the mountain, planning on a two- or three-day ascent. Previous aerial reconnaissance by Box had shown the east side as having steep glaciers that appeared to provide a nearly continuous route to the ridge, safer than alternative options. From a base camp at ca 800m, we climbed 1,200m up the 40-50° Mighty Mouse Glacier in around 30 technical pitches, the last 400m the most challenging due to reduced visibility and moderate snowfall over variable surfaces.
Once on the summit ridge the weather improved. Apart from an initial, short, steep, knife-edge rock arête, the crest was surprisingly level, and after 1.2km of travel and 200m of elevation we reached the top. It was 2:30 a.m. on the 12th, and we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the Rink Glacier and surrounding relief, illuminated by an almost full moon.
To avoid time-consuming belaying on the upper glacier, we opted to descend a steep and loose rock gully, which required multiple, time-consuming rappels. Finally the gully intersected with the original ascent glacier, and we eventually reached base camp at midday 27 hours after starting our summit push.
We were now eager to attempt a steeper and more challenging route up one of the many stunning granite faces in the region, and on the 17-18th Chauché, Doyle, Leinss, and I climbed what we believe was a new route to the 1,170m south summit of Ummannaq (70.7152° N, 52.1427° W).
Two weeks earlier Doyle, Leinss, and I had climbed two 50m pitches up the 300m southeast face and determined that it was feasible, if not perhaps a little foolish. Our reconnaissance foretold of a variety of rock, ranging from solid faces to chossy and dangerous exfoliating flakes and cracks, an observation confirmed by locals.
From a bivouac below the wall at ca 300m, we re-climbed the first two pitches (5.8 and 5.9) and then the two teams diverged, Doyle climbing with Leinss, and Chauché with me. Each rope encountered several pitches of more difficult climbing (up to 5.10a), with Doyle and Leinss overcoming three pitches of beautiful, vertical- to-overhanging crack climbing (5.9), and one difficult traverse (5.9), on solid rock. Chauché and I, on a more westerly line, found lowerangled but poorer quality rock, culminating in a 5.10a R traverse to reach a point where we could downclimb to the more favorable Doyle-Leinss route. We all climbed three more pitches (5.7-5.8) to reach the top of the main shoulder on the ridge above. The remaining 500m up the crest involved short roping, simul-climbing, and the odd pitch up to 5.9. At 11 p.m. we reached the summit.
There, we found a log containing the names of three previous parties: Bill Band and Will Tauber in 1969, Thomas Kopp and Jürg Muller in 1981, and six Italians in 1984 [all three ascents are recorded in the AAJ]. After conversations with locals and further research, we believe these three teams climbed an obvious gully on the southwest flank. Our descent, by a different line, was uneventful, and we reached Ummannaq at 7 a.m. on the 18th.
Our expedition was supported financially (by the seat of its pants) by Alun Hubbard and Jason Box, and the long-in-the-tooth good will shown by a tired and dog-eared crew. In the final hour it was only made possible due to the huge generosity bestowed on Gambo by the many she met, particularly Phinn Sprague and his team at Portland Yacht Services, Maine, who completed a balls-to-the-wall refit in his yard at the height of the season. The spirit of Tilman does live on.