During July this year the team of Jacob Cook, Tom Codrington, Ian Faulkner and Peter Hill set out on an adventurous expedition to the west coast of Greenland. The plan: spend six weeks attempting first ascents on the huge granite walls rising out of the sea. The trip was a success, Jacob Cook reports:
Our floating base and transport for the trip was provided by the 38’ yacht The Cosmic Dancer, with skipper Clive Woodman and partner Angela Lilienthal.
Tom, Peter, Clive and Angela sailed north to Greenland from Canada, across the Labrador Sea. The crossing was eventful, with a total of 3 gales! In the third and fiercest storm, a giant wave turned the boat completely on its side, water poured into the cabin and Peter hung from the wheel to avoid being swept overboard!
Ian and I took the sensible option of flying out to Greenland to meet them!
All aboard the boat we headed straight to the primary objective of our trip: The enormous, unclimbed main face of the Horn of Upernivik. This 1200m granite wall had been attempted by several expeditions in recent years but none had been successful.
Ian and myself went for the “king line” of the left hand face. The same line was attempted by George Ullrich and Matt Burdekin in 2010. They got to within 200m of the top in a single alpine style push, before they were forced to retreat after more than 20 hours on the face.
Worried that the same might happen to us if we tried the face in a single push, we decided to fix ropes as high as we could up the lower slab, descending to base camp each day. This would allow us to quickly ascend the ropes to our high point when we did go for a summit push.
The crux turned out to be pitch two, 30m of blank slab with only tiny ripples and downward pointing overlaps as features. Ullrich had hand placed a bolt in the middle of the pitch whilst on lead which provided the only decent protection. Nice one George! Even with the bolt, the pitch was runout and delicate in the extreme, I would say worthy of E6 6a. It reminded me of some of the runouts on Rainbow slab in Llanberis slate quarry, only with climbing like a sketchy gritstone slab.
Our summit push went pretty well and we got to about 200m from the top before the weather closed in and it started to rain. This was a really scary place to be and we were very close to retreating. But after much consideration we decided to try and wait out the rain under a fallen block, which gave nearly enough shelter for the two of us to lie flat, side by side. The phrase “shiver bivvy” is definitely appropriate here! Neither of us had anywhere near enough clothes, we got out a silver foil type space blanket from our first aid kit and shared it.
Amazingly the rain stopped 4 hours later and we were able to press on to the top via some monstrous offwidths. A total of 30 hours after setting off we hobbled back into camp having made the first ascent of Cosmic Rave, E6 6a – 1225m
You can read more about our adventure on this route on my blog.
Meanwhile Tom and Peter had taken the “spare gear” and gone to check out the right hand slab. They thought a big overhang would shut them down halfway up, but they found a sneaky (and terrifyingly loose!) way round it. To their surprise, they continued to find sneaky ways around the main difficulties of the face. In a single, continuous 42-hour push they managed to make the first ascent of Choss, The Universe and Everything, E2/XS 5c – 1400m Actually beating Ian and I to the top by three days, cheeky beggars!
Next we attempted a line up the North West summit of Uummannaq mountain. Over two days the whole team contributed to the first ascent of Islands in the Sky, E4 6a – 800m. The rock quality was incredible! Pristine, untouched granite splitters and dihedrals galore.
In our final two weeks we developed an entirely new area. Ivnarssuaq provides several miles of north facing cliffs rising between 800 and 1200m out of the sea. The climbing is adventurous, with rock quality varying from immaculate to soggy cornflakes with everything in between. Overall the cliffs make Gogarth Main Cliff look like a pleasant trip down the wall!
Tom and Ian created the intensely committing The Incredible Orange, E3 5c – 800m on a previously unknown face which we named Ivnarssuaq Great Wall. In a 3 day ascent, with 2 bivvys on the wall, they tackled a system of corners running plumb vertical out of the sea for the full 800m. They even lead the first pitch straight off the deck of the boat! The climb was incredibly sustained with most of the 20 odd pitches being in the E grades.
Later Pete, Ian and myself put up That Sinking Feeling, E5 5c – 350m up a striking, unclimbed knife blade feature.
We were able to scramble up the first half of the spire (hence the shorter route length), after which the climbing got progressively harder and more runout, culminating in a heartstoppingly bold traverse under a capping roof in a truly wild position.
If you’re interested there are many more stories and photos on the expedition website: OxfordGreenlandExpedition.com
To hear more of Jacob's stories from the expedition and to follow his climbing you can do so by heading to his Blog
Special credit goes to Tom Codrington for putting the trip together, this wouldn’t have happened otherwise!
We received generous funding from: BMC, The Alpine Club, The Mount Everest Foundation, The Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund, The Arctic Club and The Irvine Fund.
Jacob is sponsored by Scarpa