Sunday, August 27, 2017

Greenland trip day 9: Yeah! No more rain!

The day starts cloudy, including low clouds, but dry. Due to the low clouds, we opt not to do the ridge/peak behind our camp but to head a bit up the big glacier to see what we can find. We're underway shorly after 8 (late!) and head up to the moraine from two days ago and then onwards. After crossing a cool ice "bridge" over a river, we head down to the side of the big glacier and then up onto its gravel and dirt covered flank at a convenient point. Now it's good going for a bit until we get close to the next glacier coming in from the right. We find a good spot and leave the big glacier.
putting on crampons...
Onwards, past a small "peak" in a valley that John explains is from glacial overflow, then up onto the next moraine from which we have a view of the glacier coming from the right as well as a couple of likely looking peaks towards the end of the valley. The weather is continuing to improve and spirits in the group are high. :-) We continue along the moraine, past a family of ptarmigan, and then head onto the glacier. Here we put on the crampons and then traverse diagonally towards a decent looking snowfield that should lead to the ridge on the side. The glacier is super easy: mostly flat, no snow on top, no real crevasses, good going. From the glacier we can see another really nice looking peak with a knife ridge a bit further up from where we are headed: lovely but not for today. At the foot of the snowfield we get out the axes and then begin the ascent through the couloir. The snow is, once again, just about perfect and we make very rapid progress upwards. Past the narrow spot with the hole down to the rushing stream, up, up, up we go. This really is a great way to do vertical! The snowfield peters out some meters below the col, where we change out of the crampons, have a rest, and admire the astonishing views. The big glacier is just unbelievably big, it's got to be well over 5 km wide in the middle and stretches into the distance around a corner and out of sight.
up the ridge with views onto the big glacier
From the col we continue up the ridge. This is at first pretty loose, but gets nicer (and then *very* nice) quickly for those who are willing to do a bit of scrambling. Not everyone is, so A&g do a bit of coaching past the short mandatory scrambling bits (including doing some of them multiple times in both directions) before heading off on our own to follow the good rock (great rock) the rest of the way to the small peak. There are another couple peaks further along the ridge and the next one looks definitely doable (and fun!) but it would be climbing, seems pretty exposed, and we have already been going for ~6 hours, so it's not for today. We enjoy the stunning viewes (holy shit...), have a quick snack, and then head back down. Lots more coaching from g&A here (John has one person on a rope and can't really do this), but we get down to the col eventually. Quick bit of reorg and then we head down to the snowfield. John and greg put on crampons but the others opt to enjoy the conditions and glissade to the bottom. Looks like fun, but g just isn't ready for that. The return route is basically the same as the approach and we get back to camp about 11 hours after leaving.
great scrambling on great rock
It was a great day and spirits are very high. After a quick wash we do snacks then dinner (beef stew, good!) before heading to bed.
end of a great day.....with hopefully more to come
greg's horrible pun for the day: "Who'd have thought we'd all be smiling after so much moraine?"

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Greenland trip day 8: another waiting day

Another day with a dodgy forecast: mixed rain and clouds, so no mountaineering for us. The morning does have a highlight: watching a big ice spire fall off the glacier into the ocean. The noise is remarkable and watching the two big pieces try and find their "comfortable" positions in the water (after surfacing like whales) is really cool.
We get a late start and after breakfast head down the coast to stretch our legs and do some scouting for future climbing. It's a nice walk above the sea with a bit of ascent to a moraine on the next former glacier up. Plenty of plant life and things to see. The weather isn't terrible - no wind and only occasional sprinkles of rain - but the clouds are low so visibility of the mountains is pretty bad. When we head down to the shore we hit a nice beach with cool sand patterns and lots of stranded ice bergs (small ones). These have all kinds of interesting shapes and textures and keep us entertained for a while before moving on. Our "lunch" break is back up on a bit of ridge from which we see the other Pirhuk group (doing trekking) heading our way. After lunch we head back along a lower route. Aside from Andrea getting her boots wet (not super wet, she was smart and had put on her gaiters) at a river crossing, the trip back is uneventful. We hang out for the rest of the afternoon and then go to sleep after dinner (chili con carne this time... certainly a good freeze-dried choice).
It was another hard mental day; we all want to do some mountaineering and see the sun. Group morale is not super high, but the forecast for tomorrow looks ok and the three days after that look great. We'll see how things go. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Greenland trip day 7: a waiting day

The night is difficult: rainy and quite windy. Luckily for both of us, the rain has largely stopped by the time it's our turn to do bear watch. But the night itself is one of little sleep and doubts. Since it's clear that there won't be any real activity today, everyone sleeps in and we do a late breakfast followed by a post-breakfast nap. We do get some excitement as a boat pulls up a bit down-shore from us and disgorges a group of about ten. It's clear from the lack of gear that these are just day tourists and from talking to them we learn that they are up from Tasiilaq to see the glacier. That explains the well-worn path through camp!
cloudy and rainy
By lunchtime - quesadillas with salami - it's only raining a bit, so we opt for an afternoon walk up towards the glacier. The trail leads us along the shore and then up onto the moraine, from which we have a great viewpoint to look along the glacier. During the short window when the conditions allow, we can see a long way down the glacier to a group of mountains where the glacier makes a turn to the left. It's an impressive beast: about 2 km wide where we are and even wider further up. The end is chaotic as hell. Overwhelming! We are lucky enough to see a couple of big pieces fall off the glacier while we're standing above. The first of these happens during a wind-still and the surface of the ocean is very flat, so we get to watch the ripples spread and reflect off the other chunks of ice in the water. Really cool physics demo.
piece of ice falling off and into the water
Back at camp we have another rest and then do dinner (Shepherd's pie, really not recommended!) before doing a bit of talking about the next couple of days (theoretically the weather will improve after one more day where it's dodgy) and then heading off to bed.
camp at the shore of the fjord
We had a hard night/morning. Between Andrea's back (bother her again a bit because of the camp move the previous day) and the general crap weather it's not easy to keep spirits up and stop wondering why the hell we are doing this, but the afternoon walk really helped. The forecast is for good weather starting on Sunday, so maybe we will get to do some mountaineering again soon; but tomorrow is likely to be another bad-weather holding day.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Greenland trip day 6: so many things

Lots of stuff to do today and a forecast for rain starting at around noon (or later for the other forecast). So we are up at 4:30 and underway by 6:00 (not particularly early by our standards, but for the others in the group it's an early start). This time we are going up to Taatsukajik peak (800m), directly above camp, so the approach is nice and short. It's about an hour from camp to the foot of the snowfield that we'll follow up. On with the crampons, out with the ice axes and then we start the climb up the snow. Conditions are great. It's initially not terribly steep, so it's easy to get into the rhythm. Towards the top of the first bit it steepens up and we switch to using one crampon flat and one toe-in - John calls this "American technique" - it's quite effective. Nicely stable and with good snow, greg's heart rate stays reasonably low.
climb up the snow
From the top of this first steep stretch we plan the mixed bit to the col above us. This starts off on snow and then transitions to loose rock (crampons off!) which leads us without too many problems to the saddle and its views. From here we follow the very lovely ridge directly to the peak. Amazing views from here!
sea of peaks
After a very short rest, view, photo, and snack break we turn back and descend along more or less the same route. The snowfield is a bit scary for greg, but after watching the plunge step technique and following John things aren't too bad. It starts to rain lightly for a bit on the way down. Joy!
Back at camp we break down the tents and pack everything up as quickly as possible and then start the long, slow process of carrying everything back to the pick up point. It rains on and off, at times hard, throughout this process. By the time the boat arrives at 15:00 we are bundled up and ready to go.
ready to be picked up by boat
The boat ride north, which is cold but fortunately not very wet, is really spectacular. Past glaciers and peaks and islands and icebergs and and and! by the time we pull into the the inlet (Sermiligaaq Fjord?) with the big glacier at the end (Apuseeq / Knud Rasmussen Gletscher) we are very cold, but still awed by the scenery. Lars pulls to a group of big boulders on the shore, uses the boat to push aside a bunch of blocks of ice, and we unload our stuff onto the rocks on shore. Here it's a short walk up to the campsite (yay!). Since it's currently not raining (yay!), we quickly get the tents up, pitch the cooking tent and then have something warm to drink along with a snack before dinner. Dinner is chicken korma (again odd with texture but ok in taste). We hang out for a bit after dinner and then head off to bed.
unloading among blocks of ice
setting up camp with views onto the end of the glacier

It was a long day, with many things. :-)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Greenland trip day 5: the first mountain day

After a night with bear watches (because of the rain) we get up to still weather and blue skies. Yeah! We are underway by 9am, heading up the valley, past the lake, slowly climbing until we reach the next lake and the glacier and the peak that is our destination is in view.
nice rock, and destination in view 
As a group we opt to take a route along a nice rounded stone ridge. This brings us, with a bit of light scrambling, to a good viewpoint and then down a bit to the glacier. After roping in we cross the big flat stretch and then climb a bit until hitting the side of the ridge that leads to the peak. Rope off, reorganize a bit and then we make our way to the loose slope to the ridge. The ridge, which is also a bit loose, takes us up, up, with ever improving views, to a shoulder where traverse the peak to the opposite side. We use this ridge to gain the peak (830m, no name). Our first Greenland mountain! The views are very, very nice.
view from the peak 
After a snack, some rest, and bunch of pictures, we head back down the way we came to the glacier. Roping in again we cross at an angle to where we went before - Andrea leading -  to a slope that we can quickly descend to the lake. The glacier traverses are pretty easy here: there aren't a huge number of crevasses and having six on the rope really makes us safe. Of course John has a slightly different system for doing things than what we are used to, but that's no big deal. The differences are always fun.
heading back down towards the glacier
After getting back to the tents we do a bit of washing of ourselves, have a nice snack of soup and quesadillas, and then hang out and rest until dinner time. Dinner is beef curry with rice (not too bad!). Post dinner we retire for the short night. No rain tonight, so we rely on the tripwires and skip the bear watch.
soup and snacks and quesadillas