Thursday, August 31, 2017

Greenland trip day 13: last tour day

Another beautiful weather day! We get an early(ish) start (7:00) and head "south" down the coast (away from the glacier) following a lower route this time. We eventually hit the "beach" and river from day 8. We cross the river (much lower in the a.m.) and then turn up towards the glacier. After a bit of ascent on the gravel-covered lower bits of glacier it gets a bit steeper and icier, so we put on the crampons before continuing upwards. At the obvious point we cross over onto the rocks on the right, take off the crampons, and then head up the loose moraine to a col above. Now it's "follow the ridge" for quite a while. Great views, up, up, up decent going (though we have to avoid most of the fun-looking scrambling) until we hit a big snow patch. This we do with our boots until we see that it connects to the glacier we're heading towards. On with the crampons, on with the rope, and then it's up, up, up along the glacier.

high up on the glacier

There are some long, big crevasses, so we do a wide loop along the lefthand side as we climb. It's mostly in the sun (and hot!) but the snow is still in good shape and we make good progress up to the snow ridge. Great views from here! On a bit further to the rocks and then off with the crampons and along the rock ridge towards the col that we hope will lead to the summit. Since it's a ridge and we are roped in, we do some practicing of the techniques from the previous day. Progress is agonizingly slow.

After a bit of this, John calls a break and suggests that we turn around. The couloir to the col really doesn't look good (very loose) and he thinks it wouldn't be safe in a large group. After a bit of discussion we decide to turn back. After a short break to eat and enjoy the views, we head back to the snow.

We do a short diversion to scramble onto a pillar on the ridge and get a bit of "peak feeling", but then we head down, down, down. The glacier descent goes quickly as does a nice patch of glissading along a snow patch later. Still, most of this is a steep descent in a group with places, particularly towards the bottom, where things a re quite loose. Not super fun. Eventually we reach the glacier, put on the crampons, and cross and descend to a good point on the other side. Away with the crampons and then onwards and long the coast back to camp. Along the way G realizes that he has left his ice axe on the glacier when we put away the crampons. Stupid, but not critical since it's the last day.

along the shore back towards camp

last time we'll be doing this walk

Back at camp we unpack, have a snack, and hot drink, and then do dinner (G: chicken curry, A: spag bol) before heading off to bed.

It was a decent tour and the views were great, but at this point we're both pretty tired of the others in the group (John excluded). Not that surprising given the length of time we've been together and the mismatch in expectations/experience. It's a bit of consolation that this is the last tour day...

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Greenland trip day 12: Rest day

After yesterday's longer tour the other members of the group needed a rest day, so we spent the day doing a bit of learning and resting.

John walked us through various modes of moving on a rope in alpine terrain and gave some tips for alpine belaying. After lunch (quesadillas!) G and A walked up the side of the valley a bit to see if some of the slabs we can see from camp are climbable (yes) and can be protected (no).

We learned some good stuff, but it would have been nicer to use the good weather and do a tour.

The campsite really is spectacular

moving on the rope basics

No, the climbing gear isn't necessary for fetching water

Amazing what you can do with good boots on good rock

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Greenland trip day 11: Double fun

Another beautiful weather morning, we are underway at 7:30 (30 minutes later than planned, tja...). Today's goal is a peak John noticed back on the 26th. We head North again, cross the moraine, over the "bridge", along the big glacier, up the valley, and onto the glacier there. 

Across the big glacier

Our planned route takes us up a bit of glacier coming down from a bowl on the side of the valley opposite the snowy couloir we used to get to the ridge on Monday (on the "South" side). From the bottom of that glacier it looks like the exit back onto rock in order to get around a "complex" bit of steep crevasses will be tricky and that the rock up there is likely too slabby, so we ascend up the talus instead.

On with the crampons

This is steep and loose, but manageable. After a long bit of climbing here we put the crampons on, rope up, and move back onto the glacier for the next bit of climbing. There are some long crevasses and John wants to stay as much as possible in the shade so the snow is better and it's not quite so brutally warm, so we take a winding, circuitous route up. This is definitely the kind of thing that would make g nervous if we were alone, but having a guide there really helps. Along the way one of our possible target peaks comes into view: it's a lovely spiky thing... very exciting and good for the motivation as we slog upwards towards the col under that peak. Once almost at the col we turn off to the right and descend a bit to hit the rock. 

up the glacier

Off with the crampons and then up through the loose rock until we hit the snowfield connecting the spiky peak with its neighbor to the right. We head to the highest point of the snow (in boots) and then turn right to walk the last bits of ridge to the peak. The views are awesome, as expected (we now have very high expectations! :-). After a few pictures and a brief bit of looking around (the other peak is calling!) we walk back across the ridge the other way to get to the last steep bits to the teeny peak itself. John lets us do this first, so we give him the camera and then scramble the last few meters. More great views and a dramatic drop on the other side. We do a bit of clowning around for the pictures (g never could have done that a year or two ago!) and then climb down to let the others up (there really isn't room for everyone up there).

Enough room for the two of us

After John helps the others up and back down, we enjoy a short break (it's quite late) and then head back. The descent is the same route as we came up. It's long but we are pretty efficient and get back to camp just before 19:30. A quick wash (for g. The sun is gone, so A passes) and then hot beverages, soup, and dinner (chicken curry for A, "Salmon and broccoli pasta" for g. The curry is good, the other more "meh"). After dinner we discuss the next day. The others want/need a rest day (frustrating!!!) so we'll do something educational tomorrow and then try another long tour on Thursday, our last day with a tour for this trip.

The already really nice day is crowned by being woken up to see a really nice display of the Northern Lights. Wow! :-)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Greenland trip day 10: A beautiful day and a great ridge

Another beautiful morning! Somewhat cloudy but completely dry and little wind. After a good breakfast we are underway at 8:20.
awesome weather

Today we head south along the coast, initially retracing our steps from Saturday, but then deviating to head up towards the ridge. After rounding the corner into the valley we climb more steeply up, up, until hitting a snow patch that leads further up. The snow is good and not too steep, so we do this without crampons: John leads the way and we follow with ice axes. Up, up we go. As it starts to get steeper and the rock looks better, we transition to the rock (scary fall for S here, but she saves it well), which leads us easily to the broad ridge. This leas us up, up, up, walking with a bit of light scrambling, until we get on firmer stone and the ridge narrows. The first peak we are heading to is now in clear view as is the "usual" stunning array of peaks and glaciers.
view down the glacier

We can even see down one broad fjord (Sermiligaaq Fjord?) to what seems to be the sea. At this point John puts the other three onto a rope with him. He offers us the option to decide, so instead of using the second rope we just continue. The next bit isn't remotely difficult, but it is quite exposed (thus the rope). From the here we have a really nice view into the cirque on the other side of the ridge. Very cool in there with other interesting routes beckoning. We also have a view down the other side to our tents, ~850m below.
fun on the ridge

After a bit we reach the base of the last climbing to the peak. Here it gets steeper and L, who's had the most trouble with the climbing and scrambling, announces that she won't be continuing. John had been planning a traverse of the peak, so we all try to convince her, but L. is not budging. Well have to leave her here and continue the short way to the peak and then return. After a bit of looking around to ensure that we *can* find a decent route down and John climbing and down-climbing the first steep bit to ensure that it is doable, we leave our packs with L. and continue. Andrea and Greg rope up for this and G belays A up the first step (exposed, but not super hard. The rock is just soooo good). The rest is light scrambling to the peak. The usual round of Wows and pictures, more wows (the views!!), and then we head back.
we're in Greenland! :-)

The down-scramble is easy and John has us abseil the steep bit. Nice trick here of having the first person down hold the rope for the others, who can then abseil without a prusik: the person at the bottom can just pull the rope tight to stop the abseiler. Once back with L we have a short break to pack away the ropes and then start our way down. For this we head a bit back along the ridge and then turn right, what follows is a mix of rock (mostly loose, but not too loose) and glissading on snow fields (boots, no crampons). Weaving around a bit, along a very nice line that lets us out ~15 minutes form the tents. Boy is the campsite spectacular in the sun!!

After unpacking and setting stuff out to dry, we do a round of wraps (there's some washing first), then hangout and rest until dinner time. Today is chicken fajitas with rice (considerably better than expected). We have a discussion about the coming day (some possible intragroup tension coming here about a possible bivvy) and then head off to bed.
Camp in the evening light

It was sooooo great to have the sun shinning and good weather!

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 shortly 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.
The moss and lichen are just incredible

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. 
Watching the other Pirhuk group

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: Mountain climb and boat trip

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

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Greenland trip day 4: setting off

The forecast is better, so we plan to get a somewhat earlier start with the idea of heading off to a first camp in order to do a bit of practicing and a few peaks before heading to a camp somewhat further away. We wake to a light drizzle but some signs that the clouds are lifting. After breakfast we pack everything up, load the bags onto an ATV, and then walk down to the docks to load the boat. Piling in the boat, we head out across the bay to Apusiaajik Island, past icebergs and small islands to the mouth of a small valley not far from the glacier we've been admiring for the past couple of days.
getting dropped off
After unloading the boat we cart the first loads of stuff 15-20 minutes to the camp that Matt and John have already scoped out and set up with bear tripwires. After carting up the second load of stuff (not much fun) we pitch our tents (more fun), get set up in the tents, pitch the cooking/eating tent, and eat a bit. G builds a "fridge" for some food (cheese, salami, and wraps) that need to be kept cool and protected from animals and then we head back to get the two barrels with the rest of the food and lug them back to the camp (really not much fun).
carrying the food to camp
Now a bit of soup and crackers, some warm drinks, and a bit more organization and then we head off on a walk around the headland and towards the foot of the Apusiaajik Glacier. Lots of cool geology along that way (the variety of rocks is amazing) and then we see the glacier running into the sea. :-) A bit more looking around and then we head back to camp. Dinner is chicken and pesto pasta (soupy, but ok). After some more chatting and setting up the shifts for the polar bear watch (the tripwires apparently don't work so well in the rain and it is starting to drizzle again), we head off to bed. The forecast for the next day is good and there is climbing to be done!
first camp on Apusiaajik Island

Monday, August 21, 2017

Greenland trip day 3: another holding day, but with a walk

It's raining again in the morning so we opt after breakfast to wait and see what happens. Quiet morning. Around noon John suggests a hike around the island to stretch our legs and see a bit. Everyone is a bit cabin feverish, so this is well received. We put on the wet weather gear (it's still drizzling) and head out through town and a bit towards the airport and then off and around the other side of the lake.
heading out
Up a bit, past the old reindeer "fence" and then across a fantastic moor towards the sea. This is a completely new type of terrain for us. Just remarkable. Very lush in it sway with loads of moss and lichen of many different types. Soft, soft ground and rounded granite/gneiss all around. Fantastic! We head a bit towards the sea then head up a small "peak" to enjoy the view. Crazy lichen-covered stones to the top and then a view out to the partially mist-covered ocean with stone islands and icebergs all around. Magical.
Now back down and around the small valley before heading up to the ridge again and onto a few small peaks with wonderful views. The the last of these we get a view down to Kulusuk. We head a bit further along the ridge and then down to town and back to the house. We still haven't headed off on the expedition we're here for, but it was a really fantastic walk through wild terrain. Fun fun stuff.
view down to Kulusuk

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Greenland trip day 2: embarkation day (or not)

After not seeing the Northern Lights the night before (it took us too long to get outside after Matt woke us up) we awake to low clouds and drizzle. This changes to rain as the morning goes on. The plan is to load all our stuff into a boat in the late morning and then to head across the bay to a valley next to the glacier. We'll spend a few days there practicing and doing some peaks before moving further up the coast to another base camp.

The morning is spent packing and handling logistics as we wait for the tide to come in. The rain doesn't let up though. The forecast has been bad, then a bit better, but the reality just isn't very nice. Eventually we decide to just sit things out in town rather than heading over and setting up camp in the wet. We need to make space in the lodge, so we move over to another older and rustic (though still quite reasonable) house, have lunch, and spend the rest of the afternoon taking it easy. A bit of napping, some reading, a short walk when the rain lessens, etc.

After a nice meal and some more sitting around talking we head off to bed, hoping for better weather.
Kulusuk in the rain

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Greenland trip day 1: arrival day

After a night of poor sleep we get up, do some packing, have a nice breakfast, and then head out to the domestic airport. It's Marathon Day in Reykjavik, so there are loads of people about. We walk (!) to the airport which is really not much more than a bus terminal. After checking in and clearing security we head into the teeny waiting room with loads of other people (There are two flights waiting). We eventually board the smallish prop plane and then are on our way. The flight is painless and the views for the last 15 minutes are inspiring! Arriving at the very minimal airport near Kulusuk is amazing. The views! The landscape!
We are in Greenland!
baggage claim
John meets us and the other three from our group (Icelanders) who we had not yet met but had successfully identified in the waiting area earlier. Our bags go into "town" via ATV and we walk in. It really is different and wonderful. We are in Greenland! Once at the lodge we do a bit of briefing, have lunch, stroll around town for a bit and then walk to a nearby crag to do some climbing. This is great climbing with the heavy boots on. Lovely gneiss, good stuff! We do this for a while to have fun and let John assess us then head back to the lodge for a rest and a snack. More hanging out and then a great meal with a big group (a group of 10 + 2 guides who are finishing a two week expedition). After some more ogling at the views we head off to bed.
We *are* in Greenland!

Greenland expedition overview post

  1. arrival day
  2. embarkation day (or not)
  3. another holding day, but with a walk
  4. setting off
  5. the first mountain day
  6. mountain climb and boat trip
  7. a waiting day
  8. another waiting day
  9. Yeah! No more rain!
  10. a beautiful day and a great ridge
  11. another beautiful day and two peaks
  12. rest day
  13. ridge and peak-attempt
  14. back to Kulusuk
  15. leaving Greenland