Sailing to Greenland: an Austro-Swiss team and the Wild Bunch climb new rock walls

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 06/10/2014
Ikerasak’s iconic peak from the anchorage. Married Men's Way takes the lefthand ridge, while Crocodiles have Teeth climbs the steep right arête of the main face. Bob Shepton
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Operating from ocean-going yachts, Ben Ditto, Nico and Olivier Favresse, and Sean Villenueva on the west coast, and Harald Fichtinder and Ralph Villiger on the east, have climbed important new routes on Greenland's inshore peaks and sea cliffs.

As a prelude to bigger stuff on the east coast of Baffin Island, Ditto, the Favresse brothers and Villanueva once again joined skipper Bob Shepton to climb more rock walls in the same region as their 2010 expedition.

Aboard Shepton's 10m Dodo's Delight, the "Wild Bunch", as they have been dubbed by Shepton, first explored the area around Ummannaq.

After an unsuccessful reconnaissance of a fjord to the south, they moved southeast of Ummannaq to the iconic mountain that stands above Ikerasak village, where they climbed both the east and west arêtes.

It was in this area that Jacob Cook and Peter Hill from last year's Oxford West Greenland expedition established the rather worrying Flake or Death (200m, XS 5b) on extremely loose rock.

The left ridge, Married Men's Way by Ditto and Oliver Favresse, is a potential  alpine classic, giving 400m of climbing at 5.10 (E3 5c)

Rather more exacting was Crocodiles have Teeth by Nico Favresse and Villaneuva, the righthand edge of the main face.

This gave consistently good climbing, finishing with two-pitches of overhanging crack (400m, 5.11b/c or E5 6a).

The team then travelled a little further north to the Qaqugdlugssuit island/peninsula, where on the southeast corner they climbed a big, bold, brazen and blocky buttress they named Goliath.

Ditto and Nico Favresse climbed the left side of the wall to create Standard Deviation (500m, 5.11 or E4 6a).

A band of loose basalt soon after the start concentrated the mind.

Goliath also succumbed to Slingshot (500m, 5.10 or E3 5c), a line on the right side of the buttress by Olivier Favresse and Villanueva.

On the north side of the island they discovered walls with tremendous potential for long, serious, but surprisingly medium-grade routes on what appeared to be mainly good rock.

Unfortunately, these weren't steep or serious enough for the Wild Bunch, and they remained unvisited.

Returning southeast from here to the peninsula of Drygalskis Halvo, Ditto and Villanueva climbed a formation dubbed the Funky Tower via a 500m route they named No Place for People, a.k.a Sunshine and Roses.

At 5.12a or E6 6b, this was steep, varied and technical, though with much loose rock, especially on the sloping terrace leading to the summit ridge.

All ascents were made on-sight and free, with no recourse to pitons or bolts. The latter would probably be refused on board by the skipper!

And, as is their trademark, the Wild Bunch backed their climbing with musical jam sessions, though as all ascents were single pushes, these took place on the boat rather than the wall.

Over on the east coast, in Liverpool Land north of Constable Pynt, Harald Fichtinger (Austria) and Ralph Villiger (Switzerland) made the first ascent of Kirken (1,108m), a fine double-towered rock peak first named by William Scoresby Jnr.

This is the same area as visited by a British ski mountaineering party last year

Villiger, who has sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, operates in an enterprising style.

Whilst a sail boat has the advantage of allowing access to remote areas, and provides a comfortable base camp, it requires a safe anchorage and normally at least one crew member will stay on board while the climbers head inland.

Fichtinger and Villiger operate as a two-man team, meaning the yacht has to be left unattended when they go climbing.

They left their boat in an uncharted bay to the north of the mountain and set off armed with a rifle in case of polar bear attack. They also had to make sure they could access the boat on return, if - as did happen with another boat in Greenland this summer - a bear destroys the dingy.

Kirken is wrongly marked on standard maps, but Scoresby's description, " two vertical summit towers with gable formed tops closely studded with pinnacles" leaves no doubt as to which summit he was referring.

The pair pioneered a route to the base of the southwest face, and then climbed a steep snow gully, followed by six pitches on solid granite up to 6b, to reach the summit.

They then sailed to Iceland, from where Villiger continued single-handed to Scotland.
 



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