Greenland Chapter 2: Getting into it… Big Walls!
Nalumasortoq – ‘British Route’
We had been in Greenland seven days in a row and experienced more or less great weather for that whole period. Thinking this amazing weather would soon end we decided to hurry up and waste no more time doing something else than climbing. We arrived at Tasermiut basecamp on a little beach like the explorers from back in the day, unloaded our kayaks, put up our tent and got ready for Nalumasortoq. We had no information about any of the walls around Tasermiut basecamp so preparing the gear was a pure guess. We didn’t even know how high Nalumasortoq was and because this wall is located further down the valley compared to Ulamertorsuaq, which is close to the fjord, we had a hard time guessing its height. Just as we had a hard time estimating distances over ground and water. But hey, hard times is what we are here for! The greatness of this nature and environment is difficult to comprehend once your surrounded by it. So the same afternoon we went towards Nalu! Man, did we guess wrong! We brought our portaledge, sleeping gear and enough food for a big wall. The hike should have been three hours but took us longer because we were overloaded. As soon as we came closer we realised the wall could be doable in one day. Estimating, not really our strength, but it could have been worse. That night we slept under the portaledge fly and woke up on day 9 at 5am, ready for a long day.
|Approach to Nalu with Halfdome in the background (left side).|
We took another guess and estimated the wall to be more or less 600 meter. So we decided to go light weighted for a ‘one day’ climb. The weather was perfect again and it didn’t look like it would rain any time soon. Because we were ‘top’o less we just chose a line that looked nice and obvious. In the start our progress was pretty slow, both of us had to get used to the climbing and granite style again. But soon we blasted up this nice straightforward left hand corner and climbing went quick and efficient again. We got the flow back, yiehaa! Afterwards we discovered it was the ‘British Route’, 5.12a/b, with 19 pitches. It was a long day but we made it to the top and could rappel down without any obstacles.
The morning after the British route
and the gorilla fight.
To us Greenland seemed like the south of Spain so that night we slept at the base of the wall. The next morning we both woke up pretty tired. Like usual, after every long and physical climb I woke up with the feeling I’ve had a long fight with some gorilla at night but this time it was not only the feeling, I also looked like I got into a fight with one. I couldn’t open my left eye because it was swollen like a ping pong ball. First there was a little bit of worrying but soon it turned into laughing with my retarded face! Luckily it disappeared in the evening and I could see again. So Tim didn’t have to continue his trip with Mister Frankenclimb.
Ulamertorsuaq – ‘War and Poetry’
Tasermiut basecamp is not the most remote place in the south of Greenland. Every year there are more or less three teams going to climb Tasermiut’s biggest walls. This year we met one group of four Luxembourg climbers and two other young fellows. Those last ones are Ben Lepaisant from Luxembourg and Max Duensser from Germany. They were great company in basecamp, we ended up sharing the same little cave as a kitchen. A cave is a nice luxury in basecamp, without it you’re screwed when it rains for days.
|Myself in the third pitch,
with the mighty wall above us
Ben and Max had already tried the famous ‘Moby Dick’ (7c+ free) route on Ulamertorsuaq (1200m). They told us it’s a great climb but that the line on the right of this classic called ‘War and Poetry’ is an even better looking line. Although ‘War and Poetry’ is a little easier (7c free) and doesn’t get climbed very often compared to Moby Dick we chose for this first one. ‘War and Poetry’ is a little more adventurous, has more wide cracks and turns out to be more physical. So after our warm up route on Nalumasortoq we were ready for something bigger. On day 11 of the trip, one hike and rest day after the ‘British Route’, we left for the three day ascent of the route ‘War and Poetry’. We had no time to lose, because the weather was unbelievably good for the last week and a half, we expected rain every minute, and who knows when it would end once it started.
Arriving pretty late at the base of this massive tower we started up the route with all our gear. For Tim it was the first time he experienced hauling this much gear up a wall. For me it was the first time I experienced hauling the gear behind every single pitch we climbed while the second person follows. Ulamertorsuaq is a big wall of which the first half (15 pitches) is pretty slabby and bolted quite a lot. The angle of those pitches made hauling a pain in the ass, even more then usual. Because we were both virgins in this way of climbing a big wall, we made slow progress in the start. But like on Nalumasortoq we found our own efficient system pretty fast and could blast up to pitch ten in a couple of hours, because of the late start we didn’t get any further. Here we slept in our portaledge, it was great to sleep on a wall again. Since the Venezuela expedition I had never forgotten the unique feeling of the vertical life, still it was nice to experience it again! For Tim the hauling was a new business, he wasn’t a big fan of it but once in the portaledge at a nice height above the ground, pain and sorrows were gone.
|Tim keeping his balance on the lower slabs.|
|Me climbing on the first pitch straight after the black heart ledge.|
Unfortunately we woke up the next day with the strumming noise of rain. This is it, we thought, now the two weeks of rain will arrive. Slowly, not in a hurry, we had breakfast, took down our portaledge camp and started the descent. Although the rain wasn’t extremely heavy on us we went down because the weather forecast predicted worse in the afternoon. Once down we started our two hour hike back to Tasermiut base camp.
The whole day it was drizzling but no sign of pouring rain. Maybe we shouldn’t have made the descent and just climbed while it was possible? We trusted the weather forecast but it wasn’t quite right. Maybe we could have reached the top that day, even in the drizzle. A lesson for the next time? Just continue when possible or be safe and descent when there is any chance of rain? I guess experience helps you making this kind of decisions. Anyway, one day later (day 13) in the evening we walked back up to the base of Ula so we could have an early start the next morning. We found a nice little cave in which we installed ourselves for the night. But only one hour after bedtime, the rain that was supposed to hit us in the afternoon came down on us that night. The cave wasn’t sufficient enough to protect us for it. I got wet pretty quick so I went looking for another dry boulder around which I was lucky to find. Three hours later I heard Tim calling my name, so he got wet too in that first cave. When he moved towards my little cave we both stayed dry for a bit but ended up sleeping uncomfortable in weird positions compressed against some damp and finally wet rock. Early that morning we returned to basecamp again, at least we gave it a try. That day it rained for real the whole day. This is also one of the only days in the whole of our trip we saw rain like that, so looking back we can’t complain.
|The weather clearing up at basecamp.|
On day 15 we walked for the third time towards Ula and the second time we attempted to climb it, we were more successful. Quickly we blasted up the first half of the route ‘War and Poetry’, up to the black heart, a ledge system in the middle of the wall. From this point the climbing would get more steep and sustained. The two most technical pitches started right off the black heart followed by a 200 meter and four pitches right facing corner. We had two options to climb the upper half. We could climb it in one push to the top without hauling and then coming back to the ledges to sleep and descent the next day. The other option was to haul and move camp up higher so we could take it easy and sleep one more night higher up the wall. We chose the last option because the weather seemed fine and we liked hanging around on this granite ocean.
|First camp of the successful attempt with the luxury of the black heart ledge.|
|Tim enjoying the ‘Bowstring crack’!|
That second day on the wall, we got through all the wide cracks up to the famous ‘Bowstring’ crack. This is a perfect splitter crack of two pitches, although it was a little damp we managed to climb it free. At the end of that pitch we called it a day and pitched up our portaledge camp on this exposed vertical wall. Day 17 of the trip and day three on the wall we reached the top easily in just a couple of hours. What a good feeling to reach a top of such a high big wall again! It was a great climb, although, I was disappointed by the amount of bolts it contained in places they’re unnecessary. Our ascent of this climb was a good performance. But still, in my mind this was just a warm up for the bigger first ascents waiting for us in the other fjords. This climb was a challenge, but we came to Greenland for harder and more adventurous challenges than this. Now, I was ready for the main goal of this Greenland expedition. A line which you have to search for, make your own belays, find your own way, go into the unknown,… First ascent climbing requires this different mindset and focus you don’t always need while climbing an existing line.
|One pitch of the 200 meter wide corner!|
Back in basecamp after our successful attempt we had the food we craved. We started off with soup, followed by little cave-made pizza’s and finished with some chocolate and a nice ‘Latte Machiatto’ Ben and Max gave us when they left several days before. Even Italians would have been jealous at this feast! Little basic things like food suddenly get really important when you’re out climbing in remote places. Since we were in Greenland we had been busy every day; packing up, travelling, hiking, kayaking, climbing,… We were really tired and on day 18 we had a nice rest day. But soon we moved on, back towards Klosterdalen Valley to aim for the next goals.
|While charging our own batteries on the restday we also let the Brunton Solar Panel do his work.|
After our great time in Tasermiut fjord, a big undertaking was ahead of us. Instead of calling it ‘an expedition’ after these two weeks, we continued. This time the unknown was ahead of us, the unknown that brings uncertainty and surprises…
|Titan 1 (left) and Titan 2 (right)|
In “Chapter 3: The Titan Objective – disappointments present…” the unpredictable risks of exploration become clear. Keep following… see you soon!
|Showing Tim how to take a Big Wall Shit!|
|Ready for the last 4 pitches.|
|Tim close to ‘El Cumbre’!|
|Our second ‘Cumbre’ of the trip: Ulamertorsuaq!|