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Saven Range, First Ascents

In May Geoff Bonney, Sandy Gregson, and I, veterans of many Greenland expeditions, were joined in the Saven Range by four younger U.K. climbers, Steve Allsopp, Vernon Needham, Steve Wilson, and Simon Yates. I had seen these beautiful,little-explored mountains, which stand just north of the huge glacier Rolige Brae from a distance of 25km during previous visits to Paul Stern Land farther south (AAJ 2009 and 2011). Saven means “the saw” in Danish, and the range was named by geologists for its appearance when seen from the south.

We flew to the area from Constable Pynt (Nerlerit Inaat) in a Norlandair Twin Otter skiplane, our regular pilot Ragnar Olafsson landing at ca 1,900m near the west end of the Alfheim (Elfworld) Glacier. The surface was icy and bumpy, with large sastrugi, and Ragnar was not at all happy with what had been his own choice. However, by the end of the trip there had been enough snowfall and spindrift to make everything pool- table smooth for the pick-up.

In cold winds blowing off the inland ice, we established our base, Camp Jetstream, at 70°42.139' N, 29°51.241' W, and used this site for the duration of our stay. Constructing a system of spindrift- deflecting walls proved necessary.

Working in two groups we made first ascents of 13 mountains, several of which we ascended and descended by more than one route. Climbs involved a variety of ridge lines, icy north faces, and some rock of variable quality. Most days gave stunning views, highlighting the difference between blue ice-clad north slopes and immense rocky south faces falling toward the massive crevassed zones of the Rolige Brae. In the distance we could see the Inland Ice, with isolated nunataks piercing its surface, and the peaks of Paul Stern Land (many of which are unclimbed). The Alfheim Glacier was well snow-covered this year, meaning we could make ski approaches unroped. On the peaks we found plenty of bullet-hard ice, sometimes overlaid with powder, and on Hymir we chopped a rope after dispatching inconvenient loose blocks (though no humans were harmed during the making of this story). The Saven Range has more unclimbed summits in its eastern sector, but these were beyond easy skiing distance in the time available.

Summits reached were Dvalin Ridge (“Dwarf Turned to Stone,” 1,995m, 70°42.349' N, 29°49.681' W); Peak Surt (“Black Giant,” 2,140m, 70°40.590' N, 29°53.230' W), with three summits along its ridge); Ragnars Fjeld (2,070m, 70°40.902' N, 29°49.995' W); Valdis Topp (2,040m, 70°40.679' N, 29°49.582' W), the south summit of Ragnars Fjeld); Peak Gymir (“Frost Giant,” 2,174m, 70°40.381' N, 29°43.399' W); Breidablikk (“Broad Splendor,” 2,225m, 70°40.287' N, 29°46.745' W); Peak Brokk (“Dwarf,” 1,980m, 70°42.292' N, 29°46.904' W); Point Gimli (“Shelter from Fire,” 1,862m, 70°42.288' N, 29°44.201' W); Peak Loki (“Evil Shapeshifter,” 2,002m, 70°42.721' N, 29°43.612' W); Point Idavoll (“Field of Deeds,” 1,982m, 70°41.886' N, 29°59.499' W); Peak Hymir (“Giant,” 2,130m, 70°40.518' N, 29°40.486' W); Glitnir North (“Hall of Silver and Gold,” 2,150m, 70°41.468' N, 29°37.366' W); and Glitnir South (2,150m, 70°41.264' N, 29°37.481' W), the two Glitnirs being traversed in one outing, via Simons Big Ridge).

All peak names, mostly derived from Norse mythology, are unofficial. Coordinates are from GPS, while heights combine of GPS and altimeter readings.

By the end of our stay, wed had half a meter of new snow, giving the peaks a wintry look and pushing up the avalanche risk. The Twin Otter arrived for our pick-up, and in the time it took to load the gear, the undercarriage had frozen to the glacier, and even full engine power would not budge it. The pilots deployed shovels but eventually had to resort to a large soft-faced mallet to “crack” the ski runners free. After a hurried refuel at Constable Pynt, we flew to Akureyri in north Iceland. Two days later were in the air again and homeward bound to Britain when the Grimsvotn volcano blew its stack. Wed made a timely exit to close a successful expedition.