Colin and John went to climb the long southwest
ridge of Spume, taking the pillars direct, while Phil, Peter, Dave
and I hoped to find a new route up Scorpio by tackling its main
southwest rib. The others stripped to the waist in the heat as we
strolled leisurely across the glacier to the starting point. We
scrambled easily up several hundred feet, roped up for an awkward
move, and then walked gently upward on a sloping gravel ramp. Soon
we were forced left onto steep slabs where I inadvertently dislodged
a loose granite plate which, in complete obedience to the laws of
gravity and Murphy, rattled down to land neatly on Phil’s
and Peter’s rope, cutting it badly 50 feet from the end. This
misfortune forced them to spend the rest of the day climbing in
short pitches or using the rope with a large knot in it. A few more
rope-lengths put us back on the crest of the ridge. The crux followed.
Dave and I lay basking in the sun while Phil worked his way slowly,
carefully up a steep exposed wall under a jutting overhang cleft
by a short narrow chimney. He spent quite a while trying to lasso
a spike of rock with a sling to provide an extra handhold on this
difficult pitch, and then he abandoned his rucksack to be hauled
up later. He made it! All the sacks were hauled, and when the last
man was up we moved to safe place for rest and food.
Several more rope lengths of less difficulty, occasionally
punctuated by the pungent smell of granite striking granite as loose
rock shifted under the feet, led again to the ridge crest and onto
its other side, a welcome change as it kept us in the sun. Route
finding was becoming difficult. We stopped for a drink caught from
the end of a dripping snow-patch. Two pitches later an interesting
traverse brought us to some steep exposed slabs, and Dave commented
that it was as delicate a piece of rock as he had been on for a
long time. The rocks above looked blank and we spent some time discussing
what to do. It was getting late. We decided to reverse a short pitch
and rappel into a steep snow gully. A short scramble up the left
side of this gully led to a very narrow snow arête, and two
rope-lengths later we were standing on a small snow plateau at the
top of the main rib we had climbed. Suddenly a loud cry echoed up
to us from the valley below. John and Colin returning across the
glacier from their ascent of Spume had seen us emerge onto the skyline
and shouted to greet us. We yelled back, and before the echoes had
died away Adam, back at camp, took up the call. It was midnight,
and in the sunlit chill of the Arctic vastness the shouting made
things seem very warm and friendly. Our island…there was no-one
The next pinnacle was avoided by traversing right
and then rappelling into a scree gully. A short scramble led to
crisp snow where we donned crampons and walked easily over a few
steep waves of hard snow, leaping a few small bergshrunds, to the
summit boulder. Here it was necessary again to rope up for the short
climb to the true summit, and this time there was room for everyone!
The climb had taken 15 ½ hours (Scorpio, 6070 ft., second
ascent). It was 1:30 a.m. The view was tremendous. Eastward over
the breathtaking steepness of the east face we could see the glittering
crest of Spume caught like a frozen wave against the sky. Southward
the golden Horns stood defiant and impressive, while the conical
form of Merendi glowed a warm amber in the low-angled sunlight.
The Great White Tower, (now Aaraluip Qaqa, Harald’s Mountain),
rose to the north and we stood in its shadow.
Chilled by inactivity and a slight breeze we left
a note in the cairn and climbed off the boulder. Retracing our steps
to the snow arête we then roped for a number of steep and
tedious pitches down a long broad snow gully. Further down the angle
relented a little and we cramponed unroped to the glacier below.
We stumbled into the campsite at 5:30 a.m. after 19 ½ hours
of climbing and spent the next 24 hours in bed, emerging only to
eat. We had earned a rest.
Late in the day after our return from Scorpio everyone
but Colin and me set out heavily laden to return to base camp. Never
missing an opportunity however, Phil, Dave and Peter stopped on
the way down the glacier for a night-time ascent of an easier mountain,
Tilman’s peak, which lay to the south. During the next few
days John and Adam conducted studies on the next glacier to the
north where we had spent two days earlier, while the other three
boated further up the coast and climbed another rocky peak called
“Palup’s Right Toe”.
Meanwhile, back at high camp, Colin was complaining
about having worn off his fingerprints on the rocks. We set out
on a cloudy morning to climb a nearby mountain called Triboda (5920
ft.) whose top consisted of three rock “pillars” in
a line. In the absence of blatant signs of deteriorating conditions
we walked easily along the glacier and scrambled up a series of
scree gullies to a ridge. This two hour session of morning exercise
placed us within 1000 vertical ft. of the summit. We soon roped
up and climbed uneventfully about five pitches on good rock, eyeing
sceptically a low cloudy mass which seemed to be creeping toward
us from the north. The next pitch led up a short chimney in a widely
cleft block to an exposed belay stance over the steep north side
of the mountain. The creeping cloud was no longer a mystery –
it was snowing!
Colin moved past me and led a classic pitch of mixed
climbing which began in a steep icy chimney where step-cutting was
necessary. He said it was one of the finest he had ever led. We
were then on top of the first pillar, too close to turn back now.
My next stance was an airy perch to say the least, but the sense
of steepness was limited by poor visibility. There was no view to
appreciate. The middle pillar is highest, I had learned some days
before, but Colin didn’t know. He moved past me and soon sighted
the third pillar which he mistook for the highest, and set out for
it. I could not see what he was doing so I calmly stood paying out
the rope and watching the snowflakes wafting past in the relatively
calm air. Trying to find a route to this third pillar was tedious,
and a lot of time was consumed in the operation. The rope jammed
between some rocks. He returned to free it. Finally the call came
for me to start climbing, which I gladly did, and about half a rope
length later I looked up to my left and there, 10 ft. away, was
a plastic bag peeking out of a tiny cairn, the summit! Not knowing
which point was highest he had climbed along past it on wet lichen-covered
rock. On hearing of this he climbed up to join me with a few disgruntled
mutterings at having wasted so much time.
Speed and care were required now – mostly
care. The melting snow was making the rock slippery. He climbed
onto the summit block and we placed a note of our ascent in the
cairn with the note left by the St. Andrews party who had climbed
Triboda first in 1967. This was no time for smug satisfaction. The
purity of toe and fingertip climbing gave way to the better friction
offered by knees, abdomen and buttocks as we grovelled away from
the summit, and in the shelter of a roof-like overhang between the
first two “pillars” we paused for a snack, our first
since breakfast 6 ½ hours earlier. One more pitch led to
the top of the first pillar. We rappelled off and then rappelled
again. Our minds were totally absorbed with going down. Colin reversed
the chimney in the cleft block and as he set up a belay below he
yelled “I feel very Christmassy!” “You look it,”
I replied, and he did too, with his red, white and blue rucksack
and his blue cagoule with a yellow-flecked red rope draped around
him. He gave me half a chocolate bar as I moved past him on to the
ridge. The rock which had been so dry and pleasant on the way up
was now slippery and soon we were keeping to the edge of the steep
snow where progress was easier. Then we were forced to put on crampons
and climb almost entirely on the snow. With ice axes and Colin’s
ice hammer we inched our way slowly down the north side of the ridge.
It was merely a matter of time. A glimpse of the end of our climb
appeared, very close, but separated from us by an awkwardly placed
boulder. With some step cutting, some ingenious thinking, and some
rope tension he made his way down over it. I followed, grateful
for the steps and a well placed aid sling. Two subsequent pitches
put us where we had roped up in the morning, 12 hours before. Two
or three inches of fresh snow had covered our morning footsteps.
We ate and stowed the gear in our rucksacks, relieved.
The snow-covered scree gully presented much less
of a problem than anticipated and soon we were back on the glacier
trudging slowly, often in knee-deep snow, back toward the tent.
Suddenly Colin disappeared to his chest in a crevasse! I ran up
to help him out but he just looked up calmly and pointed out that
he was standing on a floor of ice and couldn’t go any further
anyway….When our day ended it was still snowing. Only the
necessity of a hot meal delayed the onset of sleep.
Two days of intermittent snow, rain and drizzle
followed, but the third day was flawless and we set out to walk
around the Horns of Upernivik, that complex rock monarch that dominated
the view from our tent door. The wind was cold as we put on the
rope for the hike across the névé toward Whaleback,
and the glare from the snow emphasized the necessity of dark glasses.
Soon, however, in the shelter of some surrounding peaks, the brilliant
sun forced Colin’s shirt into his rucksack and the air was
polluted with the smell of fresh suntan lotion. We surmounted the
only real obstacle of the day by climbing a couple of hundred feet
onto a ridge where eating and basking in the warm sun occupied the
next two hours. Then, as the sun was slipping behind the summit
of Merendi, we cramponed down onto the snowfield separating her
from the Horns. It was a very photogenic situation and we did not
hurry. Our circumambulation concluded uneventfully except that a
number of melt-water puddles encountered later in the day left two
pairs of boots extremely wet.
The following day was equally sunny, but wet boots
and a strong cold wind appeared good reason not to climb anything.
I would hardly have needed an excuse at all. It was the 3rd of August,
about the time when the sun first sets for a little while in the
middle of the night, and Colin hiked up to the ridge where the climb
of Triboda begins in order to see the sunset colours. It must have
been worth it since on returning he reported a moving display of
changing red, orange and purple. Next morning we watched the sun
rise, three times as it crept up along the undulating ridge of Mt
Spume. It was our last day on Upernivik.
We arrived at the base camp that afternoon and were
soon picked up by Adam and two local men in a high powered speed
boat. A change of plan had made this the village sports day and
we had just missed it. The others had all been in Igdlorssuit for
a day or so and had seen the formal opening of the new school that
morning, during which ceremony it was named in honour of Harold
Drever, long-time friend of the village. We were still in time for
the big dance that night, though, and it was quite an affair. A
small tape recorder provided most of the music and things really
livened up when the boys tried to introduce the Greenlanders to
Scottish Country Dancing.
A couple of days later our plans went awry again
when only three could get transportation to Umanak to see the annual
long-distance kayak race, originally organized by Professor Drever
himself. Phil, Dave and Adam went along and watched as a man from
our village carried off first prize, much to everyone’s pleasure.
They were also impressed by the kayak-rolling demonstration held
the next morning before their return to Igdlorssuit.
John kayaked solo 10 miles to Upernivik Island for
a couple of days to finish off his glaciological studies. Dave,
Phil, Peter and Colin went north to the Svartenhuk Peninsula for
a few days of unsuccessful salmon fishing. Adam and I just idled
the time away dining on seal steaks, and I developed the habit of
staying up to see the sunrise (about 3 a.m.) and then sleeping till
noon. They were lazy days. I even took a short swim in the ocean
one sunny afternoon; it was bracing.
Our summer was nearly over but the news which reached
us of a strike, which was grounding the helicopter service, gave
us time for a one night camping trip, by boat, on the other side
of Ubekendt Island.
The homeward journey is another long chapter in
itself, and the earliest of us to arrive in Britain were five days
late. The ship on which we left Umanak was followed for miles by
an escort of power boats full of high-spirited Greenlanders whistling,
yelling and firing dozens of rifle shots into the sea while all
the girls on board were waving madly and casting paper handkerchiefs
over the side. I think the boats are sufficiently infrequent that
they all get a dramatic send-off, or maybe a lot of young people
were going to the south and to Denmark to school. In any case, it
seemed as if the Arctic were bidding us goodbye, and our long-to-be-remembered
departure was made even moreso by sailing into one of the reddest,
most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen….
I counted five stars that night.
1977 (somewhat re-edited in 2006)