American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Rensland, Grundtvigskirchen (1,977m), East Face, Eventyr, Milne Land, Pt. 1,295m, North Pillar

North America, Greenland, East Coast

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Lindsay Griffin
  • Climb Year: 2010
  • Publication Year: 2011

An Italian-Swiss team comprising Simon Gietl, Daniel Kopp, Roger Schali, and photographer/climber Thomas Ulrich made the first ascent of the spectacular east face of Grundtvigskirchen, a huge granite wall rising 1,325m from a point not far above the south coast of Renland.

After flying to the airstrip at Constable Point, and crossing Scoresby Sund by Zodiac inflatables, the team established base camp just 50m above the sea. Across the waters of the Ofjord to the south lies the large island of Milne Land. Gielt (Italian) and Schali (Swiss) first crossed Ofjord to a fine granite pillar rising to a 1,295m summit on Milne Lands north coast, more or less directly opposite Grundtvigskirchen. After introductory scrambling the pair started on the upper 850m granite pillar at 6 p.m. They climbed 15 pitches and then took a rest for one-and-a-half hours before climbing the remaining 15 pitches to the top. The ascent took only 15 hours and was easily protected with natural gear. Difficulties were around 6b. They found no evidence of previous passage, not on the pillar nor at its summit.

All four climbers then spent more than a week working their line on Grundtvigskirchen, using a portaledge camp at ca 750m to make a semi-capsule ascent of this superb wall. In a total of 40 pitches, 39 were climbed onsight or redpointed, with difficulties up to 7a+. Although bolts were placed for main belays, only natural gear was used between stances. They reached the summit on August 6 after two days of non-stop climbing (forced by a predicted spell of bad weather). They named the route Eventyr, which means Fairy Tale in Danish.

In 1998 the east face of Grundtvigskirchen was the target for Bengt Flygel Nilsfors, Magnar Osnes, Odd Roar Wiik (all from Norway), and the Swede Micke Sundberg. Heavy rockfall and ice fall forced them to abandon the climb, but Nilsfors, Sundberg, and Wiik returned in 1999 with Patrik Fransson from Sweden to make the first ascent of the south ridge. They accessed the peak by first taking a charter flight to Milne Land and then kayaking across the Ofjord. The ridge, which begins 500m above the fjord and rises almost 1,500m to the summit, gave more than 30 pitches of magnificent roped climbing on superb granite up to 5.11a.

– Lindsay Griffin


The Swiss-Italian team had obtained a copy of map sheet 7102, printed in 2003, on which the peak they climbed is named Grundtvigskirken. However, some contributors to their blog suggested this was incorrect, and the peak should be called Tsavagattaq. To settle the matter, they contacted the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), a byproduct of which was an interesting discussion involving Tony Higgins, a senior research geologist with GEUS, now retired but still working part-time for the organization, Bengt Flygel Nilsfor, and Micke Sundberg, the last two being members of the 1998 and 1999 Norwegian-Swedish teams that climbed the south ridge of Pt. 1,977m all the way from the fjord.

According to existing maps in the 1990s, and to local Inuit, Pt. 1,977m did not have a name, and after lengthy discussion with local Boas Madsen and friends about different hunting tools, the Norwegian-Swedish team decided to call it Tsavagattaq, which is the tip of a handheld harpoon. Madsen, who was born in Scoresbysund and speaks Danish, was in total agreement that Grundtvigskirken was the triple-summited 1,882m peak four kilometers to the southwest, as marked on the maps. He used a small bay and good campsite immediately below this peak while guiding kayakers on a circumnavigation of Milne Land. Sundberg notes that they had no great desire to name any of the mountains but felt the East Greenland word Tsavagattaq far more appropriate, Grundtvigskirken sounding too colonial. The peak was named after the famous Grundtvig Church in Copenhagen.

Higgins was able to point out that the 2003 map is actually correct. (This map is copyright GEUS/KMS, where GEUS is the Geological Survey and KMS includes the former Geodetic Institute. Both are Danish state institutes and can only put authorized place names on their maps.) Higgins explained that Grundtvigskirken was given its name during Lauge Koch's 1931-34 three-year expedition, which conducted major geological and topographical mapping. At that time only the tower of Grundtvig Church had been built. A photograph of Pt. 1,977m, reproduced at the time, referred to the peak as Ofjord's Landmark. In 1936 the Place Name Committee for Greenland approved the name Grundtvigskirken for this peak. From 1968 to 1972 the Geological Survey of Greenland mapped this region and were never in any doubt which mountain was Grundtvigskirken, as they sailed by it almost once a week (although Nilsfor notes that while an aerial view of Pt. 1,977m strongly resembles Grundtvig Church, from sea level Pt. 1,882m looks more like a cathedral).

When the first edition of map 7102 was published in 1972, the Geological Survey was astonished to find that the name had been wrongly attributed to Pt. 1,882m: Technicians who plotted the map had never been to the region and simply employed guesswork from limited information. It was suggested to the Place Name Committee that the name be moved to the correct mountain, but this proposal was refused on the grounds that it had been placed "according to the best information available." Fast-forward to 1986, when an article was published setting out the argument for moving the name to the correct peak. This was picked up by a journalist and exposed by a Danish newspaper. The Committee was publicly forced to admit they had made a mistake, but later announced that, while it had now corrected the records, it would probably be many years before a new edition of the map was printed. No one dreamed it would be 31 years.

In 1998 the Norwegian-Swedish team attempted the east face of their Tsavagattaq (the same line as the Swiss-Italian team followed in 2010), but gave up due to heavy rock and icefall. They returned in 1999 and climbed the south ridge. Until half-height the team found signs of a previous attempt. The high point was a nut and carabiner in a crack, 10m above a good stance with a piton-equipped rappel anchor. From the age and type of gear, they estimated this to have been left in the late ’70s. [In 1978 a British Army Mountaineering Association expedition led by P. Breadmore claimed 16 first ascents in this region. One climber injured his ankle in a fall and was flown out to Mestersvig, where he met Tony Higgins. Higgins's memory is that the climber fell while attempting Grundtvigskirken.] After reaching the summit, Nilsfor scrambled over to the northern top, in order to take a photo looking back toward the fjord. There, he was surprised to find slings forming a rappel anchor to the snow line on the west flank. These appeared to be relatively recent. [It was later uncovered that a Belgian expedition had made the first ascent of Grundtvigskirken in 1985. See AAJ 2018.]

The Swedish team that climbed the straightforward north ridge of Pt. 1,882m to the main summit in 1999 also believe that they were following a route climbed previously in the 1980s. Now that the matter of Grundtvigskirken's location has been settled, Pt. 1,882m needs a name, and perhaps the first ascensionists could make an acceptable proposal.

– Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO


It is sometimes difficult to work out the correct spellings of place names in Greenland, unless you know the reasons behind them.

Names after people and ships are written as two words, e.g Rigny Bjerg, Milne Land, Scoresby Land, Jameson Land, Paul Stern Land. Names after objects and animals are one word, e.g Renland, Klitdal, Føhnfjord, Daneborg. The genitive "s" has sometimes been in favor and sometimes not: One of the last decisions made by the Danish Place Name Committee, shortly before responsibility was handed over to the Greenlanders (see below), was to remove them all. But the Committee made a mess of this, briefly having Watkin Bjerg, Hink Land, and Hasting Gletscher. Fortunately, they they were persuaded to change them back to Watkins Bjerg, Hinks Land and Hastings Gletscher (two after people, the last after the Hastings aircraft used by the British North Greenland expedition). Places named after living persons are not permitted, unless you happened to be a member of the Danish Royal family.

There are many oddities and exceptions. Scoresbysund is one word because it was named after the fjord Scoresby Sund (not the person Scoresby); Mestersvig is one word because it was named after the bay Mesters Vig (the bay itself was named after the chief engineer or "Maskinmester" of the ship Antarctic).

The Place Name Committee stopped considering names proposed by climbing expeditions in the 1960s, because they were "foreign sounding." The Committee in Copenhagen was disbanded in 1983, and since January 1984, Greenland has been responsible for its own place names. This was a natural move after Greenland was granted home rule in 1979, and one of the first changes made was to abandon the Danish names for Greenland towns. These days, expeditions do not have to follow any "rules" and can name peaks as they wish, but Danish and Greenland authorities are under no obligation to recognize them or place them on their official maps.

Tsavagattaq seems a wonderfully appropriate climbers' name for the "official" Grundtvigskirken.

– Tony Higgins, Denmark

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