Big Walls Big Seas – South Greenland 2016
Writing just for writing something is weird, sharing just for the sake of sharing is the same. It’s like studying just because it’s expected of you to go study, even if that system isn’t what you need to develop yourself and your future. It has been a long time since I shared a story on my website. Why? Well… cause I didn’t feel like writing nor sharing. But why right now? Well… cause I feel like it. So here he comes, the story of the last few months.
I will briefly zoom into my second expedition to the South of Greenland and the reason I haven’t been to Yosemite this fall, despite the fact I planned to go for two months. Right now I’m on the road with ‘Rusty’ (The Van) in Spain. My trip started of in the amazing multi-pitch area Montrebei near Lleida. Last week I was on for some sportclimbing in Catalunya, bouldering in Albaracin and right now I’m on the road towards the granite slabclimbing in La Pedriza, near Madid! But first last summers story of Greenland…
During my last year internship stay in Málaga, Spain, in spring 2016 I got an e-mail of French alpinist and climber Lionel Daudet. He kindly invited me on his Big Walls Big Seas expedition to the South of Greenland. Considering I had some unfinished business to take care off after 2014’s expedition with Tim De Dobbeleer (freeclimbing the Thumbnail) I decided this would be an incredible opportunity. I literally jumped on board of the expedition! Besides Lionel, the second team member was the young and strong French climber Enzo Odo. With this team of three and some good Greenlandic weather it promised to be a successful expedition.
In the end of June 2016 Lionel and Enzo left Scotland with sailboat “Ada 2” of French sailor, writer and environmental activist Isabelle Autissier. She, together with great sailor and handyman Vincent, would take care of the “Big Seas” part of the expedition. They would bring us all over the South of Greenland on our quest to find great and virgin lines on the many Greenlandic Big Walls. Because of some obligations due to my studies I left the European continent two weeks later by plane and jumped on the boat in Greenland like I jumped on the expedition overall.
First stop – Torsukataq Fjord
Ada 2 dropped us off at the base of the Baroness wall (700m), opposite of the Thumbnail (1300m). This base camp offered us many possibilities. The Baroness wall was in an hour hike away, close by were The Baronett and The Baron as well as a smaller wall called Question mark. The main objective was clear, it was the mighty sea cliff ‘The Thumbnail’ we had in mind long before we left Europe’s society. But before attacking this giant we aimed for something ‘smaller’. As a matter of ‘warming up’ and getting to know each other before jumping on the 1300 meter sea cliff in Big Wall style (with portaledge), we managed to open a new line on the Baroness in a four day period using fixed lines. After this first first-ascent of the trip we waited out the windy weather before using our inflatable kayaks to reach the base of the Thumbnail. During that period we realised a 400 meter one day climb on the Question mark wall further up the Baroness valley.
Then, sun was out and the fjord looked like a lake. Prepared for bad weather we took supplies with us to be able to spend 15 days on the wall if necessary. Retreading to the ground isn’t easy because there isn’t any ground below the wall. Bad weather means waves in Torsukataq fjord, and waves mean the improbability to cross the fjord with our kayaks. So, a heavy loaded Big Wall climb it was! We found our way to the summit in six days. It took us three days, moving camp every day, to reach the massive ledge that divides the wall in two parts. On our fourth day we fixed lines up to 200 meters on the more impressive second part of the wall. The fifth day we were forced to lie back in the sun after a night of constant rain wetting the wall (and Enzo’s sleeping bag due to a broken portaledge fly!). On our last climbing day we ascended the fixed ropes and continued, light and fast, freeclimbing our way up to the summit. That last day we climbed the best few pitches of the whole route. The exposure was great, the rock was solid and many crack systems offered us two pitches of high quality 7a’s. The summit was a whole other world. The 360° view blew our minds! We saw the mighty Atlantic Ocean on one side, the thrilling Greenlandic icecap on the other. Many granite peaks rose out of the breathtaking landscape. Many mountain peaks were covered in snow. We could see glaciers all over, the complicated labyrinth of fjords and some massive icy blue glacier lakes. Too much for one individuals eye to see and as a result, deal with all that beautiful nature. This was by far the most beautiful summit view I’ve ever had. Adding to all this, the sky was blue and we had all the time to descent to our camp halfway the wall. A summit day were you have the time to wander around the summit for almost two hours in case of me and Lionel, or in case of Enzo who took a nap for about one hour,… you do not experience very often. The next day we took down camp and descended the massive halfway ledge to the left side of the wall. Here we took a snowy gully straight down to the fjord. This was a scary (but exciting) experience sliding down with 40 kg haulbags. Adrenaline guaranteed! Luckily Ada 2 and the crew picked us up at the base of the gully. On top of that, Vincent prepared us a lunch we didn’t even dare to dream of when we were on the wall.
Second stop – Prins Christians Sund
After the three successful first ascents on The Baroness, Question Mark and The Thumbnail we spent three days on the boat. We drank French high quality wine, ate fresh vegetables, picked, prepared and ate fresh mussels and mushrooms, sailed around the fjords while reading or playing the French card game ‘Taro’ until we were recovered enough for the next objective. Ada 2 with Isabelle and Vincent dropped us at the base of what the British climbers called ‘The Saft’ wall, also known as Igdlorsuit Havn wall. This massive, pure and clean vertical face of 800 meters lies in the long Prins Christians Sund fjord. Like the three previous climbs, also on this face we aimed to climb a virgin line. After scouting the wall for half a day we figured we had an image of the existing lines on The Saft wall and found a new possible line going up straight in the middle of the wall following a system of cracks on the left of the main massive dihedral. Impatient and eager to get on the wall we attacked a small dihedral that would lead us up to some roof-systems that would finally bring us up into the 500 meters worth of crack-systems. Unfortunately we didn’t read the trip report of Steve McClure’s and Miles Gibson expedition in 2008 with enough attention to discover they had tried to reach the same crack-systems entering through that exact same first dihedral. In the second pitch leading up to the roofs Enzo ended up standing and hanging on massive flakes piled up in the dihedral. Even worse, the whole right side of the dihedral, worth 70 meters of rock, was detached with 30 cm off the main wall. Basically it was like climbing on a house of cards, one more card and the house would collapse. That one more card could have been Enzo.
Carefully we retreaded the dihedral, discovering some old nuts and tag of the British 2008 attempt. Defeated but determined to enter the roof- and cracksystems we had in mind we changed tactics and decided to enter our chosen line starting from one hundred meter lower climbing a 200 meter long, diagonal and overhanging dihedral. It took us three days of fixing ropes, aid climbing and freeing some of the five first pitches in that dihedral before we reached the roof-systems. The rock in this diagonal dihedral isn’t of great quality. Pitch three, four and five we did not climb free. Pitch four was mainly too sketchy to protect because of the hollow sound of the whole left side of the dihedral. The rock would hold the static weight of an aid-climber. But the team had many doubts by the fact it would hold a dynamic fall of a freeclimb attempt. Pitch four and five could be possible and are safe to freeclimb at an estimated grade of 8a+ or harder. These pitches are just very hard to work because of its diagonal character.
Pitch six brought us up above the roof-systems from where we continued the climb in Big Wall style. In three more big wall days we reached the summit. We moved our camp and static ropes every day following pure crack pitches of all styles. We climbed some pure hand-cracks, fists, stemming corners, … All of the pitches were long and sustained, in there own style, sometimes even steep. The grades differ between 6c and 7b. On the summit we were satisfied with our six day performance, it’s by far the most obvious line on the wall. But while climbing the last 300 meters of this climb, a 120 meter long splitter crack on the smooth face on the right side of Saft wall’s main dihedral caught our eyes. We hadn’t even spent more then one hour on the summit and already decided to return the next days for this upper splitter.
One decent day and a rest day later, Enzo and I returned to the Saft wall. Our strategy would be to climb up to the headwall’s splitter starting from the anchor of pitch six (or camp 1) of our previous first ascent. In one day we managed to freeclimb nine more pitches to the base of the splitter. We assume our pitches 11 to 14 share the same line as the British route ‘Twenty-One’ of Steve and Miles. We installed the portaledge camp at the anchor of pitch 15 at the base of the splitter. The next day we managed to freeclimb the whole finger sized splitter, three pitches up to 7c+ and a fourth pitch ending in a poor protected face-climb. Personally, these four pitches were the best of the whole expedition. The jamming was of great quality and the atmosphere and exposure on that face was incredible. The climbing feels exposed because you climb on this big smooth wall with just that one splitter leading to the top. Below, the fat glacier and the mighty fjord made this exposure even better. In these two more days Enzo and I opened this variation to our first climb on the Saft wall. The two routes we climbed share the same first six pitches in the diagonal dihedral but from then on, they bring the climber to the summit through a completely different way. Both of them are incredible and I would highly recommend them to anyone who will visit the Saft wall in the future.
This expedition was a great success. During a period more then a month we had almost always good weather and were able to climb four first ascent Big Walls and one smaller first ascent. That month we didn’t waste a single day and were always on the go. This expedition learned me a lot about big wall climbing and tactics, I definitely developed my skills in this particular climbing style.
Like I jumped on the boat in Greenland, I also jumped off of it in Greenland. I flew back to Belgium to have a few weeks home before taking off again to Yosemite in October. At least, that was the plan until unexpected and even unrealistic situations occurred when I tried to fly into the USA. A long story that I will tell briefly in a next post.
This expedition and great success wasn’t possible without the solid climbing team and the support of Ada 2 and the sailors. Lionel and Enzo are both great climbers and strong characters and I would like to thank them for the good times we spent together on the Walls, in the basecamp’s and on the Seas. I would like to thank Isabelle and Lionel for organising this great initiative. Also I would like to thank Vincent who took care of us on the boat like we were three young polar bears he found deserted on a melted iceberg. Furthermore thanks to all the nice people that joined Ada 2 on and off during our total stay, I’m sure it was a great experience for all of us.
In the end I would like to thank SNEF for the financial support of the whole Big Walls Big Seas expedition and Petzl for providing us all the necessary gear.