That was something I wrote, on a rest day, last July and I stand by it...no regrets. I still think it was one of the best decisions of my life, how could I have turned down a chance like that and ever forgiven myself? Now my life has moved on, I'm back working again, living in San Francisco and looking forward to heading for my first taste of Yosemite/Tuolumne/California Granite this weekend but still, no regrets! I've been meaning to do some sort of a write up here, since Jane put up her report of the "Fulmar Incident". I've included the details of all our new routes below but I wanted to do a little more in-depth write up on the route I'm proudest of from this trip, North Of Disko E5 6a or 5.11 X according to Jane. It's been a few months, so I'm sure that in my mind the holds have gotten smaller, the falls have gotten bigger...and me questioning why I put myself in these situations in the first place has been totally forgotten!
To set the scene, our boat arrived a week later than expected from Ireland, due to 3 big storms on the Atlantic crossing. Then Jane got sick on her way out and ended up having to cancel flights...so myself and Colin did Waiting For Jane while...em...waiting for Jane. So two weeks later than planned, Jane arrived and it was time for all 3 of us to get down to some new routing. We got dropped off on the south side of an island that I can't spell or pronounce...near Upernavik (I can just about pronounce that one). We started out with Far From Killary but when we were checking out lines from the boat, we'd seen this incredible series of pilars that we just had to have a proper look at. From the ground it looked like there was a hard traverse section trying to link two disconnected cracks, then there was the head wall but Colin was convinced he could see a crack system. So we set the alarms for an alpine start and went to bed...
At 5am we woke up, I'm still surprised that there's a 5 in the morning but with 24 hour sunlight, it was hard to tell that it was that early. A slog up the hill above our campsite, for about 90 minutes brought us the base of the pillars and the view in the picture below was definitely worth getting up early for!
I took the first pitch and slowly cooked in the "arctic conditions". The rock was a bit crumbly and with the heat as well it felt more like my previous adventures in Oman or Wadi Rum...not what I expected from climbing at 72 degrees North. The line I wanted to follow for the first pitch made for some excellent climbing and even better photo's but my vision for the pitch wasn't to be, just below the belay there was some thin climbing on holds that seemed more intent on breaking off (and sending me for multiple wingers onto micro-cams stuffed into a sandy break), rather than helping me get up the damn thing. Eventually I had to give up and found an easier traverse, to avoid this section. A slow start but the airtime certainly helps to wake you up!
Colin and Jane arrived up beside me and it was time to push on. Pitch 2 & 3 went down without much drama, other than some rope drag. Colin set off up one of the best pitches of climbing on the trip with me belaying. He topped out, everything was still going fine...then I dropped my sunglasses! Now under normal circumstances that's not a big deal, I only buy cheap sunglasses as I always lose them but this time there was a twist...it actually just hurt when I typed that. I was in belay stance, hanging out off a ledge, with my legs shoulder width apart. As I brought my knees together to try to catch my sunglasses as they fell my right knee twisted but my foot didn't and I dislocated my knee cap...ouch! This wasn't the first time I'd done this but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt like hell. Seeing stars, I straightened my leg and everything popped back to roughly where it should be...but now my left leg was as weak as a baby's and really sore...crap! Jane heard me yelp, so she asked if I was OK..."Been better, just dislocated my knee". So we're about 100m up, and we haven't even got to the pitch that looked like it was going to be hard yet. I told Jane that I'd be fine and she followed up the pitch before me, I got lowered down to a lower ledge to retrieve my sunglasses, so I put them in my pocket and tried to climb...which didn't go so well. I could support my own weight but I couldn't push with my leg...hmm. I kept going, half hopping, half climbing up the pitch...and then it happened again...I dropped my sunglasses. The next minute or so was filled with numerous colourful four letter words as I had a bit of a hissy fit shouting at my useless leg, then the sunglasses, then my own stupidity. The other two shouted down asking if I was ok, I mostly ignored them and started climbing/hopping again...leaving my damn sunglasses to their own fate.
As I came closer to the guys at the belay my muscles seemed to be recovering from the shock. While not perfect, I seemed to be able to climb a bit again. My mood was improving as I arrived at the belay and Colin said "Welcome, don't weight the belay" then he told me to look leftwards...the crack system had run out, this was the hard pitch, this was my pitch. I collected the gear and started traversing, trying not to think about the prospect of falling back onto the crappy belay...it's fine, I'll just get a bomber piece in and we'll all be fine. 4m out, no gear. 8m out, I reach for the skyhook on the back of my harness...better than nothing I suppose. More traversing, the slab got steeper and steeper until finally, some good micro-cams in a sandy break (well I thought they were good compared to the skyhook), then the footholds disappeared. Just out of my reach was a hand hold, I'm 6'5", so that doesn't happen to me very often. Leaning out as far left as I could I managed to get 3 fingers on it, still no sign of footholds and everything to my left is hidden by a bulge...time to commit. I swung out, feet dangling and matched the hold. Fully committed now I swung my foot out around the bulge and found something for my foot, another move brought me to a bomber cam and then there was 30m of moderate crack climbing to the belay. We'd made it.
I was done, my knee was sore but we had the hard pitches down, Jane and Colin could do the rest. Then a pitch later we came to the headwall, the cracks that Colin had "seen" from below, were a pretty blank, steep, water worn wall. So much for being done! Jane reckoned she could aid up it but it seemed a pity to do that after freeing the rest of the route, so I racked up again. The gear ran out quickly, soon I was relying on slings on wobbly flakes which were a bit too close to the big ledge the guys were belaying from below, to be any worth to me...maybe that was better than me pulling the flakes down on top of myself in a fall? I made it through a short roof and onto the slab with a grassy crack above, I cleaned the crack eagerly with my nut key but all I seemed to be finding was a useless flared crack behind. with my cleaning I'd created a flat mud/grass platform at chest height in the grass...I looked at it and though...hmm, maybe. I tested it quickly with my elbow as my calves burned on the tiny holds on the slab...yeah, I think that would hold my weight. So quickly I mantled onto the "ledge" and, before the grass had a chance to even think about parting company with the rock I started digging my hands into the next tuft of grass and just started hauling myself up, kicking steps as I went for my feet. This finally lead to some good gear and if nothing else, I wasn't going to hit the ledge anymore. There was a few more airy moments before the top but at this stage I could see the end and I had gear, even if it wasn't always nearby. I topped out in a daze, Jane laughed at my thousand yard stare when she got to the belay, I was definitely done now. A scramble and a short pitch brought us to the top of the crag, it was 1.30am...we'd made it!
New Routes Near Upernavik
Very approximate locations for the routes can be seen on this map.
Waiting For Jane HVS 5b 410m
7th July 2013 S. Mc Gowan, C. Gibbon
On the south side of Umiagsugssuk there are extensive 200m+ slabs that go to the top of the island. This line follows the first ridge to the east of these slabs. An enjoyable introduction to the climbing in the Upernavik area, with spectacular views into the ice fjord. The climbing eases with height, the last 150m's being scrambling terrain
1. 30m Follow the ridge to a ledge. Take the right crack (crux) then continue to a large grassy ledge.
2. 60m Continue along the ridge until a large ledge is reached below a series of other ledges and right of some rotten rock.
3. 40m Follow the series of ledges until a leftward trending crack can be gained to lead onto the slab to the left. Belay on a large ledge.
4. 20m Scramble up to the base of the wall above.
5. 60m Follow up the rightward trending ledges starting in the middle of the face, until it is possible to step left and move upward onto a slab. Keep going until you run out of rope.
6. 50m Continue up the slab to an offwidth crack in the slab. After this the angle eases and a good belay can be found.
7. 150m+ Scramble to the top
The next two routes are on the west side of the fjord opposite Impossible Wall. They're best accessed from the north side of the waterfall you can see in the picture of Far From Killary below
Far From Killary E2 5c 250m
14th July 2013 C. Gibbon, S. Mc Gowan, J. Gallwey
1. 35m 5c Climb the right facing corner to the roof. Traverse leftward before you reach the roof, using some face holds which allow you to reach a second crack at the end of the roof.
2. 25m 5a Climb the right corner to a pillar with a belay on a ledge on the right.
3. 45m 5a Step left from the belay, across the pillar, to reach a crack. Follow the crack to gain the slab above and trend leftwards, passing a small roof on the left side. Follow the offwidth crack and continue straight up to a belay at the midway ledge.
4. 25m 4a 10m to the left of the, obvious, offwidth crack, on the midway ledge, is a crack in a slab that leads to a rightward trending ramp. Follow this to the apex before stepping left and continue upward to a belay below the right facing corner system.
5. 55m 5c A sustained crux pitch. Start up the face just right of the corner system and continue up using the corner and the face until you reach an offwidth crack. Continue up this and the crack above, with sustained interest, to a belay on a small ledge, right of the crack, and below a roof.
6. 15m Climb around to the right of the roof and continue to an obvious belay below the final wall above.
7. 50m 4b Climb the crack on the right hand edge of the slab. Continue up to the top of the wall.
North Of Disko E5 6a 325m
16th July 2013 S. Mc Gowan, C. Gibbon, J. Gallwey
1. 30m 5c Start in an open book corner, with an obvious crack in the left wall and a small overhang at the bottom. Climb this to just below the second roof, where you can traverse left to the arete. Gain this and mantle the ledge, to gain a crack. Use this to traverse back right into another crack, which leads to a belay on a ledge.
2. 45m 4b Traverse left, around the corner from the belay to find a crack. Follow this to a ledge and traverse back right, to directly above the belay. Continue up a series of ledges and blocks to a belay just below a large ledge.
3. 20m 4b Climb up the right hand side of the ledge, past a pair of sunglasses, to a belay on a large block, above and to the right of an offwidth crack, with a corner system above it.
4. 50m 5b Follow the offwidth crack and the corner system above to a ledge. Follow the corner crack above to a belay on some large (and slightly precarious) blocks.
5. 45m 6a A bold traverse, out across the wall. Needs a confident approach but has protection where you need it. Traverse left from the belay until a hard move (crux), which comes just as the footholds run out. This allows you to gain a crack in the face, follow this to a belay below a gully/chimney.
6. 40m 4a Climb the Jenga block chimney, with care for loose rock, until a large ledge is gained.
7. 45m 6a This pitch gives the route its grade. With cleaning the grade may drop, or get harder. Past experience in horticulture may be beneficial! Climb the left side of a large flake, which leads to a crack above. After the crack, traverse left to a short roof at the top of a water worn slab. Delicately gain the roof and climb the crack above to a grassy ledge. Sit down, have a strong drink and relax, it's not over yet but it doesn't get any worse. Follow the crack, slab and corner on the right of the ledge, to another grassy ledge. Traverse left, boldly, under the roof, until it is possible to gain the ledge above and a good thread belay.
Scramble leftward for 30m's until a ramp and corner is reached, that leads to the top.
8. 40m 4a Climb the crumbly ramp, with care, to a ledge. Climb the corner above to the top...enjoy the stunning view and appreciate that there are places in the world as beautiful as this!