Greenland 2001


Expedition Summary Report

The 6-man expedition went to The Staunings Alps in the Northeast Greenland National Park from 22nd July to 17th August 2001. The team consisted of three Scottish Mountaineering Club members, Colwyn Jones (Leader and Medical Officer), Chris Ravey, Brian Shackleton plus three Lake District climbers, Jim Fairey, Colin Read and Nick Walmsley.

They travelled on a scheduled flight from Glasgow to Keflavik, transferring to Reykjavik by coach and flew onward to Akureyri later the same day. At 09.30 hours on 23rd July they flew in a small, chartered turboprop (Fairchild Metroliner 23) from Akureyri to Mestersvig, a gravel airstrip in Greenland (1 hour 55 minutes). Two members were flown by helicopter to basecamp that evening. However, as the helicopter pilot had exceeded his daily flying quota, the other four had to wait until next morning for the final leg of the approach from Mestersvig to basecamp on the Great Cumbrae glacier. The glacier had previously been explored and named on the 1998 SMC Greenland expedition.

After a day of basecamp preparation and rifle practice they reconnoitred the South Face of Sussex confirming it was huge with a problematic bergschrund. Next day they all skied up the Great Cumbrae and Read and Jones climbed a short pitch on the J/F spur before following the others back to basecamp. On 26th July all six made the first ascent of Keswicktinde by the northwest ridge. The route was graded AD and followed a grade 2 couloir up to a col where a long exposed snow ridge lead to the summit block. The barometric altitude was 2430m.

After a rest day Read and Shackleton made the second recorded ascent of Sussex (2390m) on the 28th July via a new route on the southeast face. It was 650m long and graded D. Ravey and Walmsley attempted a new route on the northeast ridge of Sydney (2300m) and got to within a frustrating 60m of the summit, but reached an impasse of an unstable snow ridge. Fairey & Jones attempted a huge ridge which dominated the SE end of the glacier basin. This was the southwest Spur of the western outlier of Sefstromsgipfel. The route was 555 metres long and graded ED with two of the 25 pitches requiring some simple aid. The route was started at 0830 and they climbed continuously through the day and relatively mild night taking 28 hours to reach the summit. Retreat was by multiple abseils into a long gully on the eastern flank of the spur, which took a further 8 hours. While descending the gully, and in full view of the other four team members who had come out to meet them, Fairey was caught in an avalanche of the deep granular surface layer and was swept 300m into the bergschrund at the foot of the gully. The proximity of the four other team members allowed an immediate crevasse rescue and he was hoisted out completely unhurt. The ridge, which was composed of excellent granite, was named the Jones-Fairey Spur (2570m) and the descent gully named Jim's Gully. Mild frostbite (frost nip) in two toes of one foot attributed to wearing only rock boots while climbing through the night was diagnosed in a team member.

Mild conditions between 28th July and 8th August made snow slopes and couloirs unreliable, although the avalanche also alarmed team members. A number of ski tours up unexplored glaciers were made confirming the enormous climbing potential of the area. As most rock ledges were now clear of snow, attention focussed on the unclimbed South Face of Sussex. The team took the opportunity to ferry equipment to the foot of the face during the 3rd August when it was cloudy. By noon on the 4th, however, mist had begun to roll in around the summits and in the afternoon there was light snowfall. The following day was again sunny and clear so an attempt was made on the intimidating South Face of Sussex. After negotiating the bergschrund, the technical difficulties were much harder than expected and the team retreated after 3 hard won pitches. It was clear that this big wall would require big wall tactics. Early on the 5th August Fairey and Jones attempted to climb the west ridge of Emmanuel. After climbing 12 pitches, with technical climbing up to ED and A2, but less than half way up the ridge, they reached a steep wall which barred their way. They retreated by abseil into an adjacent couloir which they then pitched in descent! In general the rock had been good the exception being a pitch up a chimney filled with jammed blocks.

View down Great Cubrae Glacier towards Sussex

A further couple of days were spent ski touring and on 10th August Ravey, Read, Shackleton and Walmsley made the first ascent of the southwest ridge of Mears Fjeld (2100m) graded PD. They first attempted an adjacent peak to Mears Fjeld but failed to achieve the summit due to dangerously unstable rock. Fairey and Jones made the first ascent of the delightful 200m southwest ridge of the Pap of Cumbrae (1885m), a shapely minor peak at the junction of the Little Cumbrae and Cantebrae, graded AD.

Over the 13/14th August, Fairey and Jones snatched the first ascent of the south face of Tandlaegetinde (tooth doctors or dentists peak) with a barometric altitude of 2350m. The route took 24 hours to climb, was 500m long and graded TD. Descent was by multiple abseil back down the excellent granite face.

The return was scheduled for 15th August with one spare night on the coast in Mestersvig before flying to Iceland the following day. However, the weather on the 15th was poor with low cloud hiding the tops of the surrounding peaks. They packed for departure but left the tents standing as it was evident that they might have to spend one more night on the glacier. The following morning saw clear weather and an early arrival of the helicopter which flew them back to Mestersvig in 2 loads of 3 climbers, gear and all rubbish. Base Camp was left clean. From Mestersvig they flew south late in the evening over the Staunings Alps giving magnificent views in the evening sun. Arriving in Reykjavik they spent a very short night in a local hotel before leaving early for Keflavik on 16th August arriving in Glasgow by mid morning at the end of a very successful trip.

Overall, the weather was good. Over the 23 complete days on the glacier, there were two days when there was light snowfall and five other cloudy days when they went skiing. The minimum recorded temperature was -80C, but there were several occasions when no overnight freeze took place resulting in the snowpack remaining soft. A number of avalanches were observed in south and east facing couloirs and a major powder avalanche was triggered by a serac collapse on a north-facing slope. Daylight (and the need for sunglasses) was continuous throughout allowing uninterrupted climbing and removing the need to carry bivouac gear. The Arctic sunrises and sunsets, with the sun shining low on the horizon were staggering in their beauty, especially when seen from a summit. The first sunset at 720N is on the 8th August.