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!

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