Multiple hard rock routes climbed in Greenland's Torssuqatoq Spires

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 18/10/2013
On the first pitch of Half Dome/Punta Alboran. Kepa Escribano
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The three-member Spanish-Basque team of Txemari Andres, Vicente Castro and Kepa Escribano has added five hard new rock routes to the Torssuqatoq Spires in the Cape Farewell region of South Greenland.

These include new routes on Breakfast Spire, climbed earlier in the season by an American team, Navianarpoq , a mountain first climbed in the mid '90s by a British expedition, and Shepton Spire, climbed by an American-Belgian quartet, who reached the area by yacht and named the formation after their skipper, Bob Shepton.

Dropped on the shores of the Torssuqatoq Fjord in mid August 2010, Ben Ditto (USA), Nico and Olivier Favresse, and Sean Villanueva (all Belgian) had planned to climb the virgin Breakfast Spire, but somehow got lost in the mist and arrived in the upper reaches of the valley immediately west.

This valley is generally referred to as Narsarmijit (formerly Frederiksdal) after the coastal settlement at its foot.

The four climbed the ca 450m south face of the previously virgin summit between Navianarpoq and Breakfast Spire by two independent parallel lines - Corned Beef and Condensed Milk (both 5.11 or E4). They then traversed the long ridge east (D/TD) to the top of Breakfast Spire and descended the southwest face.

Shepton Spire is thought to have been the first hard technical rock climbing achieved from the Narsarmijit Valley.

Andres and Escribano flew to Narsarsuaq, where they met Castro in his own yacht. From here they sailed to Narsarmijit, and after mooring the boat in the harbour, made a four-hour walk up valley north to a base camp at ca500m on the west side of the final lake.

The team was strong; the Basque Escribano alone has climbed 7c and M8+ on-sight, and major routes in the Alps and Peru.

The very next day, 30 July, all three walked to the foot of the south-southwest face of Breakfast Spire and climbed it in five hours to the west top. There was excellent crack climbing, and several hard pitches in the middle section of the wall.

Marmitako was 375m long, graded 6c and A1, and climbed in 15 hours camp-to-camp. They descended ledges east of their ascent, then made eight rappels to the foot of the face.

The next day, receiving a bad weather forecast for the next few days, the three opted for a short ascent relatively close to camp.

They chose an accessible spire on the ridge between Tikaguta (1,350m) and Navianarpoq. Tikaguta had been climbed from the southwest in 1997 by the Scottish Torssuqatoq Spires expedition, its members remarking that the spires on the ridge running north held potential.

The Spanish-Basque team climbed a 270m-long route up the east face in five hours, naming it La Cuadrilla Pika Pika (6b+). They dubbed the tower Moskito Spire.

Descent was straightforward; one rappel and down-climbing/scrambling. After this they returned to the yacht for a couple of days to collect more food.

Their next objective was the big southeast face of Navianarpoq (named by the British first ascensionists; it is Greenlandic for 'dangerous').

The mountain was first climbed in 1996 from the north (AD), while in the following year the Scottish expedition added Steel Drum Idolatry (600m, E3 5c, Benson-Benson) and The Colour of Magic (750m, E2/3 5c, Cool-Powell) to the north face.

The Spanish-Basque team started their climb at 6am on 4 August, piecing together a line that was often wet in the lower section.

They were eventually caught by darkness one pitch below the summit and spent a long chilly night on a good ledge, before moving slowly to the top the following morning. They made a complex descent of the previously unclimbed south ridge.

The route was 735m long, completed in 35 hours camp-to-camp, and named Nunatak (7a and A1).

On the 7th the three completed their next objective; a peak on the watershed ridge south of Breakfast Spire. The central section of the west face looked steep and hard, so in keeping with their 'clean, fast and no bolts' philosophy they opted for a prominent slanting line on the right flank.

A fine low-level mist kept the valleys hidden, and unexpected difficulties in the upper section of the face slowed progress, but they reached the summit after 10 hours, completing Urrezko Balea (515m of climbing, 6c+ and A1).

Fortunately, the managed to find a descent they could largely down-climb, and reached camp in five hours.

Some summits on this ridge have been climbed, but making the assumption this was virgin, the Spanish have named it El Katxalote

Castro now returned to look after the boat but on the 9th Andres and Escribano set off (late, as they slept through the alarm) for a new route on the left side of Shepton Spire.

Following a right-to-left-slanting line, they climbed for nine hours up the southeast face to reach the ridge at an indistinct point they have named Aiarpoq. They rappelled the route through the night, arriving tired and late at camp.

The 545m line, which took 15 hours round trip from the tents, was named El Diablo (6c).

On the 10th all three were back in the harbour, and then after sailing via Nanortalik, reached the northern shores of Semersoq Island on the 15th.

Clearly visible north of Nanortalik, Semersoq has been well explored in the past, though only a few routes of a technical nature exist.

On the 16th, the three moved south, ascending steeply to establish camp alongside a large glacier lake north of Half Dome (1,060m).

In 2003 a six-person British expedition made a failed attempt on the north ridge, noting Half Dome to be probably the finest remaining unclimbed peak on the island. There is no record of it being climbed since.

It took two hours on the 17th for the three to reach the foot of the east face, at which point Carlos decided not to climb, but reconnoitre a feasible descent.

Andres and Escribano climbed a continuous crack system direct to the summit in seven cold hours, naming their line Fisuras en la Niebla (300m, 7a). They returned to camp 13 hours after leaving.

It is not clear who first named the peak Half Dome, but as it was unclimbed the two felt justified in giving it a different name - Punta Alboran - after Castro's yacht.

Returning to Nanotarlik, Castro sailed back to Europe single handed, while the other two took the more conventional flight home.
 


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