British expeditions bag 17 new summits in Arctic Greenland

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 04/09/2008
The summit of Garnet Dome with Ararat in left background.

Early this summer Geoff Bonney, Jim and Sandy Gregson, comprising a small British team of true Arctic veterans with many seasons experience in Greenland and a combined age of 191 years, became most likely the first to climb in remote Paul Stern Land.

This new area lies above the Arctic Circle and on the edge of the Greenland Ice Cap, west of Milne Land and the vast waters of Scoresby Sund. The three were taken by ski-equipped Twin Otter from the airport at Constable Pynt up to the edge of the icecap, where two Germans were waiting for a pick up after a six-week ski tour.

Unfortunately, this point proved a long way from the mountains of Paul Stern Land and the British climbers were forced to spend three days moving base camp into a still less than ideal position at an altitude of 1,800m. This site lay directly in the track of strong, cold katabatic winds spilling off the icecap but on the plus side proved to be perfect for aircraft landing.

In generally fine but windy conditions the three nabbed first ascents of Garnet Dome (2,180m), Peak Emyr (2,465m), Ararat (2,625m and the area's highest summit), Windscoop Beacon (2,085m) and Nunatak Georg (2,060m).

As their trip came to a close, the Twin Otter returning to airlift them to Constable Pynt also brought a second British expedition, this time a six-member team led by another regular East Greenland visitor, Nigel Edwards. Over two weeks this group moved camp to an area further north and in rather better weather climbed 12 fine nunatak peaks.

Gregson reports that climate change is certainly affecting the High Arctic and aircraft operators are stipulating expeditions should plan to arrive earlier in the season and be prepared for higher altitude drop-off and pick-up points. Recent years have witnessed aircraft become stranded for several days in deep soft snow, unable to take off. On several occasions expensive helicopter assistance has proved necessary, and in one case a Twin Otter had to be sling-lifted out by long-range Chinook. Contingencies such as these, plus the inevitable rise in fuel prices, are likely to produce a serious hike in the cost of accessing the High Arctic.

But there is still a wealth of unclimbed summits with modest levels of difficulty in Arctic Greenland, and Jim Gregson, one of Britain's most knowledgeable and experienced East Greenland activists, is available for lectures to clubs and other interested parties. Contact him at jgregsonarctic@tiscali.co.uk

Photo by Jim Gregson



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