I’m sitting on a ledge and the world seems perfect. I light a cigarette and make myself some tea. The view makes my throat catch, from the snow covered peaks to the towering walls with an iceberg filled fjord in between. I’ve found whatever I was looking for on this trip, an enjoyment of this experience. In factual terms, however, it hadn't been the most enjoyable of experiences.
It started about 18 hours previously, when we landed from the dingy at the base of the wall which was to be our last attempt at a 'big wall' for the trip. While I had been enjoying the previous climbing on the trip I was taking a while to warm up to it and had mostly been seconding. My climbing partners had pulled out all the stops on an amazing new route “North of Disko” E5 6a/5.11 9 pitches, 22 hr day. I on the other hand had pulled on the gear, the other rope and anything I could get my hands on really. (The story of that route is a good one but I don’t really feel it is mine to tell, I’ll see if my partners will post up later.)
By now however I was psyched. Time to go suffer. We did some filming with Colin and Claire on the first pitch and after they abseiled down Steve and I carried on.
First I did an easy pitch that didn’t have any gear for about 30m. When I asked how much rope I had left after finally finding some gear I heard Steve shout
I asked "What happened to the halfway shout?"
"I didn't want to shout halfway before you had any gear in, thought it might be worrying information to receive!"
My anchor was relatively crap, two crumbly cams and a #1 peenut so Steve did another short pitch to find a hauling anchor and then I descended to fetch the piggy. Thus began the first circle of hell. Trying to haul a stuck pig up a 45 degree grass slope while being feasted on by mosquitoes ended with me calling for help in the form of Steve with bug spray. We eventually got the pig to our third anchor, ate some dehydrated curry for dinner and then I led off on another pitch. Happily climbing up a nice easy aręte I had my first fulmar encounter. I popped my head over a ledge and there was one tipping back its head preparing to fire. Steve was in hysterics at my whimpers of vomit related fear.
"Oh, oh, there's a bird here."
"Oh no its trying to vomit on me"
"Awww, there's a baby one too"
"Uuughhh sh#t, it got me."
"But it's so cute and ickle and fluffy"
"But it's vomit is so red and putrid and sticky.."
I made an executive decision to traverse off and found an excellently positioned belay below four of them so that Steve could also enjoy the experience. We had been told that the baby fulmars don’t vomit on you – not true. Steve negotiated his way through the birds and led up an adventurous pitch as some bad weather closed in. We were going light-ish with originally one sleeping bag and bivvy bag between us and no portaledge or tent. At the last minute we threw in a second sleeping bag. Still we didn't have the gear to sit out a storm. As this was our last chance for climbing we decided to stick it out for another 6 hours then if it hadn't stopped we'd bail. Lots of rain and cold wind followed while I perched on a wee ledge, periodically being vomited on by a bird far above with excellent aim. Because it doesn't get dark this far north the days just sort of blend together. I think it was about midnight while I was belaying, lost in my own world and huddled into my jacket.
At some point I heard Steve far above shout something about the ‘Land of Fulmar’ and the number 23 but I got no further clarification. A long, cold and wet rope ascent followed.
I only had one jumar (Steve was hauling with the other one) and I was tied into both ropes, unable to communicate to Steve to pull up the one I wasn't jugging. Between the two ropes all tied to me in coils and backup knots, the jumar/prusik combo and the wandering low angle terrain complete with strategically placed vomiting birds it was the greatest clusterf*ck I have ever experienced. The haulbag also got stuck many many times, each time I dislodged it more rocks would come down from above and below. The first bag stuck was particularly funny. It was totally jammed up under a roof and Steve had hauled it too tight for me to pop it out. As Steve is actually a badass free climber he did not know how to lower a haulbag, so I decided to try and fix it from my vantage point. This involved jumping from the pillar I was on to the pig, with my weight just enough to pop it over the roof. After that I also tied the haulline to myself, adding the massive rope cluster.
When I finally dragged myself, the ropes and the piggy over the last birdshit covered rock (caution - slippery when wet), I saw a very sick looking Steve, who greeted me with ‘Welcome to the land of fulmar’. There were 23 vomiting birds on a ledge the size of Wino Tower but covered in grass. Steve had a migraine that wasn’t helped by the hauling and as soon as the bag arrived he proceeded to vomit in the general direction of the birds and unfortunately on one of only two flat-ish spots on the steep grassy ledge. I’ve never seen anyone look so green. Shows how tough he is that he managed to get the bag up at all. He just about managed to get himself to bed on the other vaguely flat spot with some bivvy bag assistance. "Legs up - arse up - arms up, there you go" That was at 2am. With no lying down spots available that weren’t filled with Steve or his vomit, I found a perch and got some sitting down sleep, periodically checking to see that Steve hadn't choked on his vomit or got too cold. I could only get my legs zipped up into my sleeping bag as I would slide down the steep hill if I sat on the slippery fabric. This made me extremely glad to have a really warm down jacket. Four hours of dozing brings us up to date.
It’s raining, I’m sleep deprived and I’m covered in so much fulmar sh#t and vomit that I gag when I move. Everything it utterly fouled by fowl. Soon there will be a long exhausting pig riding descent, a barrel stowed in the boat labelled 'fulmar most foul', acceptance of another failure and disappointment that the climbing is over. On the way down there will also be laughter and jokes and two friends enjoying having made it back again. At the bottom of the cliff I will laugh harder than I ever have in my life, at Steve's fulmar impression, complete with eye rolling, gagging and a funny voice "That's a very nice jacket you have there. Looks like it could do with some vomit on it..."
For now though there is just me, a sleeping Steve and many birds; on a perch at the end of the world and I love it.
(No fulmars were harmed accidentally or on purpose during the making of this trip report. We can attest that the very few that flew off instead of staying to vomit returned almost immediately.)
Thanks to Berghaus for the amazing red jacket,kept me very warm that night and even survived the post incident washing in an undecipherable Greenlandic launderette.