Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Knifeblade

Tom and Ian had spotted an incredible looking knife blade feature from the boat. It looked like it might go, following the line of an enormous corner system and then moving right near the top under some capping roofs.

Pete, Ian and myself were dropped off at the base at 4pm. The wall being North facing meant it got a total of about 3 hours of sun between the hours of 1am and 4am!

We scrambled up on the left and were able to gain a half height ledge system which took us back right and deposited us at the start of the corner. We began to climb through the night.

As the sun blinked onto the face at 1am I was leading an exposed pitch out on an arete, linking two crack systems via some airy face climbing.

A few hours later I was at the end of the crack system under the capping roof at the top of the corner. The rock around me had begun to sport deep white scars indicating fresh rockfall and ledges were filled with gravel and dust, it was not somewhere I wanted to be for long. I knew that all I had to do was traverse about 30m to the right and we would be out on the easier angled "Knife edge" and could run up this to the summit. I placed a runner as high as I could and set off.

 A balancy traverse 10m to the right gained a resting niche, but still no gear!

 A further 10m traverse without a single good runner put me in a bit of a ridiculous position. I was now facing an enormous pendulum back into the corner. But I didn't fancy attempting to reverse and I knew that if I wasn't able to reach the arete our attempt was over and we'd have to go down.

It was a truly wild place to be, one of those times where you learn how you really cope under pressure.

Looking up at the crux pitch; scary territory
Somehow I arrived at a belay and Ian and Pete figured out some elaborate ropework to allow them to follow the traverse without facing the prospect of the monster pendulum.

Sure enough we were able to scamper up the arete to the summit.

It felt great to be the first people ever to stand on top of such an inspiring feature and a fantastic way to end the trip. It was also cool because we could see for miles, all of our climbs from the trip were layed out before us. Ikeresak mountain in the foreground which Pete and I had climbed the week before, Uumannaq mountain in the distance where we had put up "Islands in the sky" and even, way off on the horizon, the entrance to the fjord containing the Horn.

The knifeblade actually connected to the mainland at the top via a thin bridge of land. We opted for what turned out to be a 7 hour hike off the back rather than abseil back the way we had come up.

We named our route "That Sinking Feeling", in honour of how proud we were to have gone the whole expedition without sinking the boat even once! It went at around E5 5c.

A Topo of the line.
On the way down we found some Antlers!

At the end of a 6 week trip, Peter was feeling pretty horny...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Islands in the Sky

The North summit of Uumannaqq mountain in West Greenalnd is guarded by a 400m smooth pillar of vertical granite. As Tom, Pete and I ascended the steep scree gully to reach the pillar I was feeling way out of my depth.

Being in a big mountain environment in such a remote location was something I had very little experience with. I just didn't know if the massive perched blocks at the top of the scree gully were going to start rumbling down towards us. Tom and Pete seemed to be pretty happy with our situation, laughing and joking as we approached the route. I kept my fears to myself, happy to trust their experience of the terrain.

As we racked up at the base of the pillar cloud formations swirled above, below and around us. One moment we were surrounded by a thick fog, the next we could see for miles; islands, mountains and icebergs appeared momentarily before being whisked from sight by the ever changing cloudscape. It felt atmospheric and otherworldly.

We started up a promising looking dihedral, which since we couldn't see more than about twenty meters up the face seemed as good a place to start as any!

Weirdly once we started actually climbing my fear subsided and I felt back on familiar ground. It surprised me how much feeling scared on the mountain came down to a lack of familiarity with the terrain. I would love to get to the stage where I feel at home in any kind of mountainous environment.

We climbed 5 great pitches on immaculate rock to reach a resting ledge, above this a left trending overlap feature was the obvious way to go. It also looked desperate! I fought my way up an unrelenting 60m pitch of fingerjams and tenuous laybacks. I placed every single runner I had and did a fair bit of shouting! A truly incredible pitch.

I gave the pitch hard E4 6a, reminiscent of something like Resurrection at Dinas Cromlech, although in hindsight it was such a battle that it could well have been E5. Tom and Pete used a variety of techniques (and ascending devices!) to join me at the hanging belay.

After several more tricky and varied pitches we reached the top at the stroke of midnight. We decided to call our route Islands in the Sky after the epic cloud formations which continued the whole time we were climbing.

I am pretty sure we were the second team to reach this summit, after George Ullrich and Matt Burdekin made the first ascent of their route Broken Toblerone in 2010. There is without doubt a whole load more lines to be done on this incredible face. We took some summit photos (decked out in our matching and extremely warm RAB jackets!) and got back to camp for a late dinner at 6am after more than 20 hours on the go. I could get used to this 24 hour daylight business!