Growing old disgracefully in Greenland

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 22/07/2010
Paul Stern Land base camp and Arken. Jim Gregson

British Arctic veterans Geoff Bonney, Jim and Sandy Gregson have made several fine first ascents in the little explored Paul Stern Land, East Greenland.

The three were joined by Rob Collins (Australia), Willem-B Stern (Netherlands/Switzerland) and Paul Walker (UK), bringing the combined age of this multi-national group to 367 years.

Willem-B is the brother of Paul Stern, who from 1955-58 visited East Greenland several times as a geologist. On one expedition he accessed what is now called Paul Stern Land from the south, making the first known ascent of any mountain in this region, 2,295m Sfinks (Sphinx).

Sadly, in 1959 he was killed by stonefall in the Swiss Alps.

Willem-B had discovered Jim Gregson's report on his 2008 trip to the area and asked if he could join Gregson's next expedition there, in order to see it first hand.

In 2008 Bonney and the Gregson's picked off five first ascents in Paul Stern Land, including its highest summit 2,625m Ararat.

This year they operated in an area further south east, where all but Stern initially made three first ascents in a continuous traverse; Copper Knob (1,890m), Weisskopf (c2,000m) and Peak Bruno (2,050m).

This same group later made a spirited attempt on one of the most impressive peaks in the region, Arken. Deep snow and considerable crevassing made them consider their options, and at 2,000m they decided to retreat.

However, while Collins and Walker then took Stern up Copper Knob by a new line, Bonney and Jim Gregson climbed the North West Ridge of Baendelbjerg (2,341m), up and down in 15 hours.

This gave mixed climbing with a notable rock band, where the crux was a series of jutting overlaps led by Gregson in crampons using bare hands. He dubbed this the 'Bonatti Pitch'.

The route was named Cloudspotter's Ridge, had an elevation of 900m and an overall grade of D/D+ with a crux of UIAA V-.

The team moved camp and subsequently made the first full traverse of Ararat, after which Collins and the Gregsons made the first ascent of Solbjorgs Fjell (2,090m) by the Cryoconite Ridge.

Bonney and the Gregsons found the temperature throughout their trip to be unusually high and agreed there was far more crevassing and less snow cover than during the same period in 2008.

Ten or 12 years ago, teams would come to Greenland in late July or early August. To do that now for ice cap and glacier trips would be most unwise. Summer melt continues to start earlier each year, late spring is now the favoured option, and air companies are unwilling to risk landing their ski planes later in the year.

If 2010 conditions become the norm, climbers visiting East Greenland will find it increasingly important to be experienced in dealing with crevasses.
 



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