American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Ummannaq Region, Various Ascents

Greenland, West Coast

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Matthew Burdekin
  • Climb Year: 2010
  • Publication Year: 2011

Sam Doyle, Miles Hill, George Ullrich, and I formed the British Ummannaq Climbing Expedition. After flying to Kangerlussaq on July 27, Miles, George, and I first had to walk 250km (in 70 hours), and then travel 800km aboard the yacht Gambo, to reach the island of Ummannaq. Our first goal was the west buttress on the central summit of Ummannaq Mountain (1,189m, 70°42' N, 52°52' W), which gave 200m of steep ground followed by 50m of overhanging, rounded fins of solid rock that gave the best climbing on the route. The name Black Velvet Band is derived from the bands of extremely soft, black rock that run across the buttress in four lines. With the first four pitches fixed the previous night, Miles and George completed the route on August 8 in 14 hours at British E3 5c. Lesser-angled sections were more serious due to loose rock and spaced protection, and the total amount of climbing to the summit was ca 700m.

We caught up with Sam for our next objective, The Horn (71°17' N, 52°20' W) on the east coast of Upernavik Island above the Inukavsait Fjord (this is Upernavik Ø; not to be confused with the settlement of Upernavik much further north). On August 13 we attempted two lines; George and I followed an apparent crack system up the center, while Miles and Sam opted for the buttress to the right of the main wall. On their first pitch Miles and Sam found signs of previous passage in the shape of old pegs. Above, the rock became progressively steeper and looser, and after eight pitches to El 5b they decided to retreat.

For us the crux was pitch four. George, in the lead, found himself 10m above the belay, with no gear, the crackline closed, and only smears and underclings for holds. With no possibility of reversing the moves, he tagged the hand drill and precariously placed a bolt while standing in a shallow pod. He then climbed 15m on similar terrain to a ledge, rating the pitch E5 6a. We climbed ca 900m up the face, retreating after 20 hours ca 400m from the top. Wed planned a one-day ascent and were now out of food and water. Most of the climbing was runout British 5b and 5c.

The Island of Ummannaq was the focal point of Gambo’s scientific activities, and we attempted to climb all the summits of Ummannaq Mountain. On the 23rd Miles and Sam climbed the central and highest peak via the 800m Benighted in 24 hours Daylight (British S 4b). This route involved a considerable amount of loose rock and easy climbing, and the name reflected their predicament. The following day George and I climbed the west face of the north peak (70°42' N, 52°52' W), which featured some of the best rock on the island. After three pitches I took a fall whilst clipping gear in an insecure position in a sandy pod, breaking my finger. We continued to the summit with George in the lead and named the climb Broken Toblerone (E4 6a, 400m). We also added two shorter new routes to Seven Cairn Crag (70°42' N, 52°52' W): Take it or Leave it Cake (135m, E2 5c, Doyle-Hill) and The Big Tasty One (70m, E3 5c, Burdekin-Ullrich). This formation had been climbed via two routes by the 2009 expedition. We visited the island Agpat, where all four of us made an ascent of The Old Man of Saatut (70°53.9' N, 52°06' W, ca 475m of mostly scrambling, with a section of HVS 5a). Off the southeast corner of Agpat lies the small island of Saatuk. We took time toward the end of the trip to befriend the island community, and while there took the children climbing. We also conducted a public presentation on climbing in the area at the local school. The expedition had received a grant from the Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, and we feel our work on the island captured the essence of this organization. We are extremely grateful to the community for their hospitality and generosity, and especially grateful to the owner of Gambo, Alun Hubbard, glaciologist and mountaineer of kindred spirit, along with his crew, who made the expedition possible. The sail home across the Atlantic in late September was a whole new challenge altogether.

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