Swiss climb massive free route in Greenland

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 31/08/2010
Upper East Face of Grundtvigskirche. Patrick Huber

The Italian-Swiss team of Simon Gietl, Daniel Kopp, Roger Schali and photographer/climber Thomas Ulrich have made the first ascent of a spectacular, huge free rock route on the East Coast of Greenland.

The four climbed the East Face of Grundtvigskirche (1,977m), which rises 1,325m from close to the south coast of Renland, a part of the Greenland mainland lying deep inside Scoresby Sund - the longest fjord system in the World.

The Italian-Swiss team used portaledge camps to make a capsule ascent of the superb granite wall in 40 pitches. Thirty nine of these were climbed on-sight or redpointed, with difficulties up to 7a+. Although bolts were placed for main belays, only natural gear was used between stances.

After flying to the airstrip at Constable Point, and crossing Scoresby Sund by Zodiac inflatables, the team established base camp just 50m above the sea. The south coast of Renland is separated from the large island of Milne Land by the waters of Ofjord.

Gielt (Italian) and Schali first headed across the Ofjord to a fine granite pillar on the north coast of Milne Land. This pillar rises towards a 1,295m summit and lies more or less directly opposite Grundtvigskirchen.

The pair started up the 850m granite pillar at 6:00pm, climbed 15 pitches and then took a rest for one-and-a-half hours before climbing the remaining 15 pitches to the summit.

The ascent took only 15 hours and was easily protected with natural gear. Difficulties were around 6b. They found no evidence of a previous visit to this summit.

All four climbers then spent more than a week working and ascending their new line on Grundtvigskirche. Although they have not fully decided on a route name, the climbers are leaning towards Fairy Tale.

The history of climbing on Grundtvigskirchen is a little uncertain due to past
confusion surrounding the name of this 1,977m peak. Clarification has recently been received from Tony Higgins, a former Senior Research Geologist with the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.

The confusion appears to stem from an important ascent in the late 1990s.

Until recently, mountaineering chronicles of Renland has been vague. Although there have been several well-documented scientific projects, information on technical climbing achievements is scant.

In 1998 Bengt Flygel Nilsfors, Magnar Osnes, Odd Roar Wiik (all from Norway), accompanied by the Swede Micke Sundberg, attempted the South Ridge of Peak 1,977m.

After consultation with local Greenlanders, they proposed naming this spectacular rock spire Tsavagattaq, which they were told meant 'the tip of a harpoon'. They also specified its location as " a little east of Grundtvigskirche".

Although they were unsuccessful that year, Nilsfors, Sundberg and Wiik returned in 1999 with Patrik Fransson from Sweden, accessing the peak via a charter flight to Milne Land and then kayaking across the Ofjord.

This time they climbed the South Ridge in more than 30 pitches of magnificent roped climbing on superb granite up to 5.11a. The ridge begins 500m above the fjord and rises almost 1,500m to the summit, where they were surprised to find a small cairn (and rappel sling).

They surmise the first ascensionists (who currently remain unknown) climbed the South West Face.

At the same time members of a Swedish team climbed the North Ridge of the main summit of "Grundtvigskirche", following a route they believed to have been first climbed by Belgians in 1987. Other members of this team climbed fine rock routes to the peak's subsidiary summits at ED1 and 5.10d.

The name confusion appears to have been perpetrated in all publications subsequent to this date. Look at any photo of the original Grundtvigskirchen, a famous church and Danish national monument situated on the highest ground of Copenhagen, and it is immediately obvious why the 1,977m Renland rock tower received its name.

The peak was christened during the Lauge Koch 1931-34 scientific expedition, at the time the largest ever sent to Greenland. During this period one of the expedition's large sailing vessels visited Renland's fjords and were amazed to see a huge granite spire bearing a remarkable resemblance to the Copehagen church.

The appellation was approved in the mid-1930s by the Place Name Committee for Greenland, so has been officially recognized for c75 years.

The peak the Swedes climbed in 1999 (and perhaps Belgians in 1987) now needs a new name.

Whilst Tsavagattaq sounds vaguely Greenlandic, Higgins notes that his Greenland-speaking colleagues do not recognise the word. So, perhaps it's now the time for the Swedish (or Belgian) ascensionists to come up with an acceptable alternative?
 



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1) Anonymous User
01/10/2012

I was a member of the Swedish team that climbed the sharp "subsidary" summit to the summit that was climbed by the Belgians in -87 and by my friends in -99.

What I recall is that we were not sure, not sure at all, of the the name Grundvigskirken. We thought that the name Grundvigskirken was for the summit that this article is about.
And, as you state: "Look at any photo of the original Grundtvigskirchen, a famous church and Danish national monument situated on the highest ground of Copenhagen, and it is immediately obvious why the 1,977m Renland rock tower received its name."
we also thought it was obvious.


The reason for the name confusion comes from, I recall, a map with the name for the wrong mountain.
I will see if I can find the document.

Please look at the fantastic picture of the summits we climbed in this document, page 2 :-)
milne08.free.fr/jan.pdf

Thanks,
Mats
2) Anonymous User
13/10/2016
Hello,
I was the leader of the Belgian expedition in 1987. The expedition was composed of 4 persons, Myself Paul Baguet, Daniel Case, Michèle Heraly and Philippe Cowez. It started from Nieuwpoort on bord of a small sailing ship of 8,98m. Daniel and Michèle made an attempt to the summit in question by the South ridge, but due to lake of appropriate materiel, they were stopped in the summital pincle. That year Daniel and Paul reached the summit named " Grundvigskirken" on the charts at that time. Paul reached also alone a sommit more to the east at which he gave the name of his father in a circle he called " Neptune Crown".
In 1989 Daniel leaded on other Belgian team that reached the controversed summit still unamed and gave it the name of "Penguin Tower" in honnor of the little ship of the 1987 expedition.
With best regards
Paul Baguet

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