Monday, 20 May 2019

ARCTIC GREENLAND

The view from Korsbjerge, 1400m

Regular readers of my blog you just may have picked up on the fact that I love wild, cold and snowy mountain ranges. These criteria are the most compelling factors when I plan trips into the mountains. There are many such mountain ranges across the planet but how many of these areas are over crowded, over publicised and on 'bucket lists'? Therefore the 'wild' element has gone.  It is to the more isolated and less frequented parts of our world that you need to explore if solitude and minimalist infrastructure is your idea of 'wildness'.
Two such places have always fascinated me and have for a long time been on my mind to explore. The Polar regions.
Of course less infrastructure will ultimately require a long time to get there and expensive or both! An affordable and amazing place within the Arctic Circle is Greenland. The largest island on the planet and most of it covered by the worlds third largest ice sheet. The mountains here aren't huge but they are more than made up for by their spectacular appearance. For such a remote and wild place it is relatively straightforward to get to Greenland from Scotland. I spent most of April in Greenland.
Airstrip at Constable Pynt (Nerlerit Inaat)
So Greenland is a very big island, a country really. You could easily spend a lifetime wandering over and through it's many mountain ranges. The finest and most spectacular regions for mountaineering are on the Eastern seaboard. The area I spent my entire trip exploring is named Liverpool Land. It's a million miles away from the more famous named city in England! The nearest village of Ittoqqortoomit is over 40km away with no roads. Despite these mountains being isolated and no roads, they are relatively easily accessed from a small airstrip at Nerlerit Inaat (Constable Pynt). This is where I arrived from my flight departing Akureyri in Northern Iceland. The flight takes approx. 1.5 - 2 hours depending on size of aircraft.
Stu on 'Pinnacle Ridge', Jameson Land
Pinnacle Ridge, Jameson Land

East Greenland with Liverpool Land near the bottom of the pic (north of Scoresby Sound)
Average temperatures in April are around minus 10 C during the day, dropping to minus 25 C at night. Liverpool Land is surrounded by sea water, Fjords. Throughout the winter and most of Spring these fjords are iced up. There are numerous large and small glaciers running down off the mountains to sea level. The peaks themselves only reach a modest 1430m, not much higher than our own mountains. For the first couple of days I eased into some easy hill walks in a area to the west of Liverpool Land. This part of the peninsula is named Jameson Land. The hills here are lower and more rounded, carved by enormous glaciers. Great views from the tops looking out over Hurry Fjord to the more Alpine Liverpool Land mountains.
Our camp on Hans Gletscher
My first foray into the bigger and more spectacular peaks in Liverpool Land was with Scott. We set up a 'basecamp' at the upper end of the Hans Gletscher in the Nokkedal ( a 'dal' is a valley). This involved an hours drive on a skidoo from Constable Pynt to the foot of the glacier and then a 4 hour walk up the easy angled glacier. Well, not that easy. We carried everything we needed for 6 days in pulks weighing around 40kg. The evening was glorious, settled into our home for a few days below the impressive peaks of Korsbjerg and Tvillingerne, the highest summits in the region.
Korsbjerg & Tvillingerne

With an excellent weather forecast Scott and I set off for the summit of Korsbjerg. A beautiful clear morning with some high cloud occasionally. We snow shoe'd up the long, easy angled ridge with stunning views every 20 minutes. Up to this point in my trip I still hadn't got my head around the fact that we wouldn't ever see another single person on the mountains. Hard to take in the fact that these mountains very rarely see anyone, ever! Some summits have only seen a handful of ascents and there are still many unclimbed peaks in Greenland. This is evident if you look on the maps. Just a few named peaks. Most are just spot heights. If you're looking for first ascents then this is the place to be!

Summit Ridge
Nearly there
Looking down onto the massive Pedersens Gletscher

Summit of Korsbjerg

After a long approach on relatively easy angled snow we reached the summit, involving a short section of scrambling on rock to it's highest point. Quickly finding out that the mountains here contain a lot of broken and loose rock. Stunning views out to the East and the sea ice in the many fjords along the coastline.
The view south from Korsbjerg

A remarkable aspect of being in the Arctic is the clarity of light and the silence when the wind drops. It takes a while to figure out distances and times here, so clear is the air. I experienced many days of complete lack of any kind of breeze when on the tops. Silence for as long as you want it. Our second night on the Gletscher was glorious. Still no one around. It does take sometime to realise that such a spectacular part of the world you will not see anyone. Bliss.

Evening light on Tvillingerne
Sunset on the Hans Gletscher
Our second day in this area dawned cloudy and the winds stronger. We spent the morning recapping on glacial travel, rope work and crevasse rescue techniques. In the afternoon we wandered further up the Hans Gletcsher. There is no mobile phone signal in these wild places but we had access to weather reports from back at base via the 'Inreach' technology. Amazing bit of kit, not much heavier than a smart phone and much more functional than a satellite phone.

Snow or glacier?
The temperatures were unfortunately creeping up as our time here went on. It even nudged above freezing during the day. This is quite unusual for this time of year and sadly another sign of the worlds changing climate. Our plan of some low grade snow climbing on Tvillingerne was sensibly shelved for avalanche potential. As an alternative we looked at the Pt. 1362m summit which was the closest peak to our camp. We chose a safer, rockier line.
Evening light on Pt. 1362m
We took an 'interesting' line up on the left hand rocky buttress pictured above. It may look nice solid granite, the reality was it was mostly loose rock! All good fun. From the top we decided the snow gully to the left would be safe enough to descent, it was and a very fast descent compared to the climb going up! You can just make out our foot prints in the couloir. It was overcast and then the sun came out in the evening.
Traversing out from the rocky climbing
The Hans Gletscher looking down to Hurry Fjord
Weather for the following couple of days was looking more warm and windy conditions. We decided on heading back to base camp and making a decision on the following days with day trips out from there. It was a good decision. Visibility and flat light the following day. But what a following day!

Polar bear on Hurry Fjord
Scott and I were just preparing to have a short day practising on the ski's over at Sodal. We got wind from the skidoo team out on Hurry Fjord that there was a Polar Bear on the ice. With this we scrambled to the skidoo's to get a sighting. To be honest I thought this amazing creature would be miles away, or gone. What luck we had. We saw him wandering aimlessly across the sea ice. Couldn't believe our luck. Scott and I got within 20 metres of this wonderful bear. At first he was a bit camera shy but by our third time rolling up beside him he became quite photogenic. Or maybe over curious and hungry?
What a magnificent creature
Is this my best side?
After our 40 minutes with the king of the Arctic we had a play on 'the planks'. I'm no skier but dabbling with some skinning up snow slopes is fine. A leisurely way to spend the afternoon. On the horizon was a much needed dump of fresh snow and some wild winds. But that was 24 hours away. Until that time we had a brief cold and bright spell. Scott and I were back on the skidoo's for a short afternoon hill on the south side of the Kalkkdal.

The Kalkkdal
No need to go high for superb views
My first day of an Arctic storm. Just moving outside around base camp was hard work. Ski goggles and shovelling snow from the doorway seemed like hard work. It was good to get some cold weather and fresh snow. Would the cold last? Only for a few days. So Stu and I made the best of this small weather window and headed off for a couple of nights camping at the upper end of the Sodal.
Alpenglow at our camp in the Sodal
Contempalting our summit, the un-named  Pt. 896m 
Second stint out with Stu and the obvious mountain to the north of our camp spot was the impressive looking ridge line of an un-named summit, Pt. 896m. The night before was clear and well below freezing. At last some colder conditions. The morning dawned glorious blue skies. There was a crust on the snow surface so brilliant conditions for the snow shoes. Much, much easier walking so far. Not a breath of wind high up and very clear skies. A stunning day in store.
The mountains of Nokkdal rising beyond Bjerring Pedersens Gletscher
The log ridge of our summit gives amazing views either side. The huge Bjerring Pedersens Gletscher to the south and north. A day for plenty of photos.

The striking peak of un-named  Pt.1344 in the Kaldal from our ridgeline
Once again there was complete silence in zero wind. How many places or times in your life have you had complete and utter silence? Combined with absolutely stunning views?

Stu on the long and stunning ridge line of Pt. 896m
Views out to the sea ice on Vejle Fjord
What incredible views all around as we sauntered slowly along the ridge and the final rocky summit. The usual loose rock to gain the highest point so the rope went on for the final 20 metres. A brilliant mountain and 360 degree views and smiles!

Summit of 896m
Stu on the summit
This top was 10 cm higher
Our route down was a reverse with still stunning views and the light in the right place for all those views again. What a beautiful day. To think this peak isn't even at Munro height but still took us 9 hours to get up and down. With virtually 24 hours of daylight in the high Arctic it don't really matter when you set off or come back down.
Last views from the top
The mountains of Kalkdal on our descent
Fabulous ridgeline down
So our final day in the Sodal. Our plan was to climb the peak just to the south of our camp spot. Pt. 860m, another un-named and prominent summit. The access glacier to gain the summit ridge looked well crevassed and a fresh covering of deep snow on the top of this. We decided on a more leisurely and equally as scenic walk up to one of the minor spot heights adjacent to this summit. At just 600m. Another day on walking on crisp snow. We ditched the snow shoes and enjoyed crampons for the walk.
Small hill, big views


Sunset in the Sodal
My final week or so in Greenland I was invited to join in on the 'Iceman Challenge'. A 4 day route through the mountains Of Liverpool Land. There was another snow storm on the way, colder for a time but then 24 hours later a big jump in temperatures. Above freezing during daytime hours! The other teams arrived at Constable Pynt. Good to see other folk but the quietness and solitude of just two mountaineers in the remote mountains had gone.

Iceman teams prepared for the winds
Two days hanging around camp with low cloud and high temperatures was enlivened by the arrival of the Cirrus dogsled team. This remarkable Danish Military patrol are employed all year round to travel around the 1 million square kilometres of East Greenland's National Park. 13 Husky dogs and two men take several month shifts to patrol the worlds largest National Park. We were lucky that they went off their normal route to visit Constable Pynt. An opportunity for us to see them in action and what kit they cart about at weeks on end.
Cirrus Dog Sled Team
Back to our small effort of travelling through the mountains. A break in the strong winds and the clouds lifted. This event is a ski tour of four days carrying all the supplies and tents on pulks.  Even I had a go with the planks on, well for a day anyway! Then I transferred to snow shoes in the soggy snow! Not ideal conditions for any form of travel.

Ade skiing in the Kalkdal, ice melting

Ski boots aren't good for you!, Paula receiving some bandaging of blisters
The finest valley on the route of the Iceman is the Kalkdal. I'd previously visited here a week of so ago. A lovely spot to camp at the foot of the glacier. The sun returned as did the high temperatures! Too dodgy for the glacier traverse on the following day. We stayed put and hoped for colder conditions the next day. Meanwhile a day of rest and a wander up the valley towards the coastline. Bear country!
Camping at the head of the Kalkdal
Polar Bear footprints
This valley is a through route for the wonderful Polar Bear. Crossing from the coast to the inland fjords and back again. Regular sightings of bear footprints. Will I be lucky again? Unfortunately not. As this is an high risk spot we had a 'bear watch' during the nighttime hours. The group taking 1 hour shifts to keep an eye out for these magnificent creatures. I'd just finished my hour watch and was heading back to my tent when I spotted that other wonderful creature that lives in the Polar region. The Arctic Fox. What a privilege. He/she was sniffing about camp looking for some snacks. It never seemed bothered about me taking some photos! Shame it was 11pm at night, poor lighting for photography, but hey, what a sight!

Arctic Fox
Hot at camp!
My final day in Greenland. We set off early doors for the long 10 hour traverse of the Pedersens Gletscher. The temperatures were well below freezing and safe for travel. Unfortunately we were plagued by low cloud. The highlight for me was this day. But hey-ho that is how the cookie crumbles. We turned back. Then the skies cleared for a time and some of the peaks were revealed. What a shame. The decision was made.
From white out to this!
Team mate, Ade on the descent of the glacier
So that was my wee account of a fabulous 3 and a bit week adventure in this amazing part of the world. One of those places I would definitely return to. Next time an even remoter experience I would love. Getting dropped off in the middle of another more remote mountain region! Now lets have a look at that Greenland map again.....

A big thanks goes out to Tangent Expeditions and all the wonderful staff based at Constable Pynt. I Joined onto a guided expedition and was lucky enough to get 1:1 guiding with Scott and Stu on some fine mountains. Days that were 'poor weather' I was made so unbelievably welcome at the staff HQ at Constable. Brilliant time trying to master the Skidoo on more technical terrain! Some fabulous memories.

Final image. One to remember for a long time.

Add caption


Saturday, 18 May 2019

SKYE MUNROS

Bruach na Frithe
Dave and 8 of his pals from St. Albans have been coming out with me for the last 4 years, always in May. Their first trip was in The Cairngorms and a couple of years ago we had a fabulous day on Liathach. They have always had beautiful clear skies and warm sunshine. This years venue was the Cuillin of Skye.

Dave and the boys
This year they fancied two days of experiencing the Munros on the Cuillin Ridge. Ben was helping me out with the lager than normal group of 9 folk. Friday was an absolute stunner of a day. Beautiful clear skies and warm sunshine. Our day set off from the Sligachan Hotel with views all the way along our route into the Fionn Choire of Bruach na Frithe. The boys love their wild camping so I chose this coire as there aren't many grassy corries in The Cuillin!
One our into the walk and Andys' boots started parting
Poor Andy, after an hour the soles of his boots started parting company with the upper. A roll or two of gaffa tape was all that was required to sort him out!

The classic view of Sgurr nan Gillean from Sligachan
Spencer & Dave enjoying the scrambling
After pitching the tents in the coire we set off up the hill in the afternoon. The finest way up onto Bruach na Frithe is via the excellent NW ridge. The upper section has some scrambling or you can easily avoid this by taking a path just below the crest.
Dave on the upper section
Cliff on the ridge
The fun is over as the ridge finishes directly on the summit of Bruach na Frithe. Regarded by many has the finest viewpoint on the Cuillin ridge. Today it certainly was. T-shirt conditions on top. After soaking in the views Ben took Dave, Spencer and Russ on Am Basteir whilst I lead the rest of the group over to Sgurr a Bhasteir, a fine viewpoint (again).
Am Basteir & Basteir Tooth

Looking to Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Baisteir
Sgurr a' Basteir
The summit of Sgurr a' Bhasteir gives a fine view of the Pinnacle Ridge of on Sgurr nan Gillean. Another spot to linger for 30 minutes in the glorious sunshine.

Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean
We descended into the coire and a fine evening for lazing outside the tents on the lovely dry grass in sunshine. Coffee and cake in the Cuillin. The double Munro team were soon with us and we enjoyed some more banter.
Our camp
A fine evening
and fine sunset
We were treated to a  beautiful sunset from just above our camp spot at 500m.
The fine spell of weather which most of the Highlands has enjoyed sadly came to an abrupt end early hours of Saturday morning. Light rain and stiff breeze on the tents. We packed up and headed down to Sligachan. The guys headed into the hotel for a well earned full breakfast.  The hotel very accomodating to last minute orders!
High up on Sgurr an Eag

Summit ridge
After a big feed we decided on Sgurr nan Eag for the boys second day out on the Black Cuillin. This summit is the final Munro on the South end of the Cuillin ridge. We had light drizzly rain on and off during our late morning outing.
The boys on Sgurr nan Eag 

Great views,  despite the cloud
Despite the rain we never actually got wet, it was evaporating as fast as raining. It's a long trek into the wonderful Coire Ghrunnda but much easier going across the peaty ground now that there is a fine path.
Descending into the coire

The flower of the high Cuillin,  Roseroot 
More daytime banter and laughs turned into more laughs and banter in the evening at the Sligachan Hotel. Brilliant finish to a brilliant couple of days with these fun guys. Never a dull moment and enthusiasm sky high. Thanks for a great weekend boys.
Big thanks to Ben who was working with me over the last two days.
See you next year Dave, Mike, Spencer, Russ, Andy, John, Shaun, Cliff & Mark. Same time, same weather,  another fabulous Scottish mountains area.