The last meter of 1,000…..
Some people know how to climb in the rain, some people don’t. Jasmin Caton and I grew up in the rainy climates of western Alaska, British Columbia and Washington. We know that you don’t melt in the rain, like the inverse of the “Wicked Witch of the West”. Indeed we all know rain is wet and chilling, and I would not recommend climbing in it. However practice makes perfect, and stubbornness pays off. When wind-driven bullets of rain 140 meters from the summit of Ulamatorsuaq hammered us, we put our hoods on, turned our backs to the wind, and kept climbing. BRRR!
In those last few pitches Jasmin and I traded off shivering at the belays, imploring the one-step-at-a-time method. We climbed off widths in all our cloths, slippery rain jackets and all. But it is the last foot of 3,300 that I remember the most. That last 31st pitch was 5.7 on the topo, and I rushed up it without much gear. Not that it would have helped in the slick-as-snot squeeze chimney topped by some boulders which created a roof. My fingers were little ice cubes from the rain and frozen wind blowing up off the pocket of snow 10 feet below me. I could not for the life of me figure out how to pull on to the flat top of the summit, the boulders were breaking in my hands, and I didn’t even have a gear placement to french free with. The walls were so slimy even decent looking footholds were not useful.
My fingers hurt so much I wanted to cry and go home. I blew on them, thrashed around, and finally found a hand jam in the dark crook between boulder and wall. I spent another few minutes (felt like days) trying to figure out how to use it to move somewhere. Then in a moment of brilliance, I put a #2 Camelot in the slot, clipped the rope, and pulled on it, heel hooking the summit and praying, that last foot was terrifying. Falling there would have meant broken bones in a place way too far from safety. I thrashed one last time and belly flopped over in to the wet rosettes of black lichen. My fingers hurt, I felt dull with relief.
Poor frozen Jasmin had some serious slip and slide in the chimney, ended up BatMan-ing the rope, and eventually hugged me on the summit. All was gray around us and we took one blurry summit photo. Clouds had obliterated the spectacular scenery of the Tasermuit Fiord for hours. We changed in to long johns and socks, I replaced some tat at the anchor while Jasmin videoed the fog, then we got the hell out of there.
Six dark, shivering, wet hours of rappelling later we landed on the ground at dawn. My approach shoes at the base had puddles in them. Apparently the “blue bird weather for a week” had been a sand bag. But it no longer mattered, we had sent!
Turns out what we sent was pretty proud. Ulamatorsuaq is the biggest formation we could see from our base camp, it is a vertical 1000 meters (3,300 ft) of granite. We opted to climb “War and Poetry” VI 5.12c, thinking the crack crux would be easier than Moby Dick’s 13a slab. In hindsight, the endless wide cracks on War and Poetry really slowed us down, and I would do the other next time. This wall, just as big and steep as El Cap, seemed too big to handle when Jasmin and I first showed up. But after climbing Nalumasortoq on the first 2 days, we were eager to try to summit both formations.
On pitch 21 or so, Jasmin called up to me “Now I know why they named it WAR and Poetry!” The second she said that I felt, deep in my core, exactly what she meant. Dark clouds had appeared out over the Arctic Ocean, and this pitch, 5.9, was supposed to be the easy one, but I was slowly doing battle with a squeeze chimney. The poetry had been the day before, 15 beautiful, though provoking, 5.10-5.12 slabs had been a very enjoyable, calf burning, finger tip shredding voyage up to Black Heart ledge.
Regardless of the extreme off widthing and bone chilling wetness that we experienced at the top of Ulamatorsuaq, I will always remember Greenland climbing as hot and sunny hand jams. When we first showed up the weather was perfect, and we hiked straight to the base of the “British Route” 5.12+ on Nalumasortoq. A few 11+ pitches open the route, and then it is 5.10 hands in a corner for 12 pitches.Â We ended up at the “banana” just as dusk fell and had a sloping seated bivi for 5 hours.
Freezing, thirsty and very hungry, we tried to on-sight the two 5.12 pitches. I gave up instantly, the foot holds crumbled away, and I was just too tired. French freeing did the trick, and we climbed the last 4 pitches to the summit. Extraordinary views barely lifted my starved spirits… I don’t do so well when hungry. We descended without incident and full of food, napped in a lovely alpine meadow.
How am I supposed to sum up such an amazing expedition? The natural beauty in the Tasermuit Fiord was inexplicable.
And next year (or sometime soon) Jasmin and I are hoping to go back and climb more. It was that good. Part of the incentive to return are the amazing people of Nanortaliq. We hope to be able to give back to that community in some meaningful way next time. We were playing with the idea of taking a bunch of the kids climbing for a day on some local crag (which we would have to invent). It seems like encouraging them to climb and love the beautiful landscape they live in would inspire them to live in a way that protects it. Perhaps it would increase the chance that they would fight for its environmental protection in the future.
This expedition, this story, this awe inspiring month was made possible by the Muggs Stump, Jen Higgins, and MEC awards. A million thanks. Further support from Patagonia, Black Diamond, Sterling Ropes, La Sportiva,Â and Feathered Friends