woensdag 29 april 2015

Three FREE days: ‘Porte Interiori’ and ‘Super Cirill’

I stood there at the railway station of Cadenazzo, Switzerland, when a small red Opel cruised around the corner. The car stopped, an Italian climber got out. We greeted each other briefly and he said, “Lets park your car a little further and pack the bags, we take my car to Valle Verzasca and hike up tonight to the bivouac.” Without many words, I did what he said. Things went automatically, they went with a flow. We packed and before I knew I was sitting in his red Opel cruising the peaceful valley streets of Switzerland towards the biggest wall in Ticino, Poncione d’Alnasca (600m). 

The tiny Swiss villages made out of little granite houses surrounded by a lot of grass, rivers, granite boulders and natural forests gave such a peaceful atmosphere. I was impressed by the surroundings. The mountains are special, they make you feel small, they make you noble, I realised it had been to long ago. It was time to climb bigger walls again, find adventure, find excitement, enjoy the freedom and have tons of fun!
He hiked in front of me, quick and with a stable pace we moved our way up the steep hill towards the ‘Scorpio’ bivouac. Soon I realised I would have a lot of fun with this Italian Duracell battery. Quickly, his motivation and drive activated my drive and need to climb some walls. It was Matteo Della Bordella who showed me around Ticino last days. Without knowing each other we partnered up together and ended up making a great team for the next three days. 
We had one clear objective, we aimed to free climb the variation of the route ‘Porte Interiori’ on Poncione d’Alnasca. The original 560 meter old aid line has been climbed quite often at a grade of 7b+ - A2 (6b+ Obligated). In 2011 – 2012 Jvan and Michi Tresch and their team added some variations to the old aid line. The variations together with all the original pitches (16 pitches in total) could be climbed all free at a stout grade 8a – (7c Obligated). In June 2012, Jvan Tresch did the first free ascent of his new route. As far as we know, nobody had yet done a first free repeat of this incredible stout, old school (Yosemite) graded route. Freeing this multi pitch, which can count as a standard, looked like a great objective for both of us.
'Scorpio bivy'
After one comfortable night on the mattresses of the Scorpio bivouac we woke up at six o clock and where ready to attack the wall. Matteo, driven as he is, put some speed behind the morning process of eating, thee and packing and before I knew we were on our one-hour hike towards the base of the wall. The wall is impressive, the first few pitches are slabs where after the wall gets steeper. We did the classic rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets the honour to climb the first ‘steps’. I won, I could start up the first 7c slab pitch! You can already guess what happened… “In my face”! Climbing granite for me had been a while; definitely this technical slabby bolted granite. When I tried to start, I quickly realised just getting of the ground would be a big challenge. More or less 20 minutes I searched for the right position to get my feet off the ground. Granite climbing is mental, you have to trust the feet you’re on, put your weight on it and find your balance. This climbing intrigues me and is challenging me. I knew from those 20 minutes finding a way to get airborne, I would love these two days of climbing this wall.

The first 7c slab pitch

When we climbed this first pitch free in the third go, we went on. More beautiful technical slab pitches came right after the first pitch at grades up to 7a/+. We made our way quickly up to the big ledge on top of pitch 6. With Matteo, there was not much time for chilling on the grassy ledge, we went on and tried the next pitches starting from the ledge. One very technical and runout 7b+ followed after the ledge. It was a challenge to understand the moves. On those slopy holds, only compression, precision and balance can help you find your way freeclimbing up to the next belay. We figured out the dance and both of us could free also this beauty. The next pitch was short with one tough boulder problem on crimps. After I saw Matteo on it, I could crimp my way through the boulder and managed to do this pitch first go. This was the best that could happen considering that the crux 8a pitch was next. Because trying this boulder several times on the sharp crimps could have destroyed my fingers.

Until that point, I climbed every pitch free. It became almost night. The wall went out of the sun, so the cold hit us. Perfect conditions to try the crux pitch. I put on my jacked and attacked the blank looking granite wall with every 4 to 5 meters one bold! Only after the first bolt, which was 5 meters right of my belayer, I found myself stretched out on some good footholds reaching into the unknown granite wall. With my face close against the wall to keep my balance I touched every square cm of granite to find some kind of weakness, structure to hold on to. The slab climbing from the first pitches was over, it was like the same slabs were in front of me, only this time, they were all vertical! I made a couple of good, far falls and managed to dance my way up to the second bolt, exciting! I never thought I would have been able to even reach this second bolt. When I looked up to the next bold I realised this one was even further away than the last one. The only goal that moment, the only thing that mattered was reaching that next bolt. The only formation in the rockface above me was a tiny one-centimetre roof, which I could use for my thumbs to move my feet up. After a lot of flying with my face past the wall I discovered the right method moving my feet half a meter up in six steps. These incredible moves are all about precision, body tension and balance. Once I crimped the tiny roof as an underclean I could reach very far out to some positive crimps. This time I was in a slightly overhanging position, the next moves to the bolt contained some no feet pulling from one crimp to the next. When I reached that third bolt I was amazed, how was it possible I could have climbed this very blank looking wall? From there on I continued the 40 meter crux pitch to the anchor, every other 4 meters there was a bolt with each time a tricky move. This route is never really over. I felt that if I would like to free climb this pitch all in once, I had to be focussed, controlled, precise and have a lot of self-confidence. That evening, Matteo followed the pitch and checked out the moves. He confirmed my feeling, this was a very tough pitch and graded incredibly tight! I love it!

Pitch 8 '7b+' before the crux pitch

That evening we rapped down to the ledge, hiked off the ledge from the side and slept in the Scorpio bivouac again. The next morning we hiked back up to the ledge and repeated pitch 7 and 8 again as a warm up. Looking back at this tactic to sleep in the Scorpio bivouac instead of on the ledge I would recommend to others to sleep on the ledge. It is big and comfortable and you don’t have to walk one hour back and forward to the bivouac. On the other hand, the Scorpio ‘cave’ bivouac is very nice and beautiful. Now it was my time, I was excited for the crux pitch. I really wanted to free it. The 13 hour first climbing day was in my body but still I felt strong. I went for it from the start, soon I felt myself doing the first hard moves up to the second bolt, I was surprised it went so smooth. I arrived at the tiny one centimetre roof and there I screwed up the methods with the feet. But it felt good, I memorised and tried the moves several times and climbed it to the top. Matteo followed again and worked on his turn on the moves. Next we rappelled down to the start of the crux pitch again. I gave it my third go. By now, I was adapted to the granite. Quickly, controlled and confident I did every move perfectly how I remembered. The feeling of finding this right and perfect balance on the rock was incredible. I was in a flow, one with the route and climbed it to the top!

The hardest was done, I had climbed everything free up to that point. From then on, seven more pitches followed. The hardest two pitches in those last ones were two 7’s which Matteo could onsight and I followed them free as well. Once on top we enjoyed the great view over the mountains and savoured the success of climbing together. I have to say that free climbing this tough multi pitch would have been more difficult without the support of Matteo. The rhythm we climbed with and moved on the wall was efficient and fun. As far as we know I might have done the second free ascent of this route! I’m super happy with this performance. I went without any clue to Ticino, let me guide by a great Italian climber and enjoyed my time on the granite so much! Thanks Matteo and thanks to the Tresch brothers for opening this pure line! I have to say, we were Tresched!

The next day Matteo still had half a day to climb, I was planning to stay the whole week but according to the weather forecast the weather would be pretty bad the other days. Already for two years I wanted to visit Ticino to try the famous 8-pitch route ‘Super Cirill’ (8a). We decided to jump on that climb in Val Bavona on our third day. We were both pretty tired but we had to enjoy the weather now it was good! 
Matteo following the crux (8a) pitch.
We woke up early and went towards Super Cirill. Matteo had already done the route so I had the honour to try every pitch onsight. A little destroyed but still not to bad I started the route and managed quickly to climb the first two 7a/+’s. The third pitch is a tough and technical 7b+ ramp. Before I started my onsight try, Matteo told me about a very strong and experienced granite climber who could not onsight this line. I don’t know what happened but this gave me an incredible energy boost that made me onsight this pitch! Maybe I wasn’t so tired after Porte Interiori?

Satisfied and impressed by the beauty of these three first pitches I attempted the next 7c+ pitch, technical corner. Unfortunately I couldn’t climb this one onsight, but I enjoyed finding the right methods for this techy smearing corner! Afterwards I did it second go. Now the crux pitch and last hard pitch followed. It is a twin crack on a pretty steep wall getting into one single crack on kind of an arĂȘte. Like the other routes, I also gave this one an onsight attempt. I knew this kind of crack suites my style so I confidently jammed my way up and realised to onsight this crux pitch. We finished the last easy pitches to the top and I happily came down! Besides the 7c+ pitch I could onsight all the pitches of this breathtaking multi pitch full of pure classic routes with each their own style. I highly recommend this route!

Me, happy to send the crux pitch from Super Cirill onsight! 
The routes I came to Switzerland for this trip I could do in three days, I didn’t expect that. Unfortunately, these three days where the only ones with good weather I had on my short Swiss trip. But it doesn’t matter; I had a lot of fun together with Matteo. He’s an inspiring climber because of his experience and his great motivation! I’m definitely going back for more of the Swiss granite!

My focus face before sending the crux pitch! :)

One of the easier pitches close to the end. Super funky granite!

The crux pitch, sorry, without climber :)

zondag 9 november 2014

"The Changing Minds" - The trailer, After Summer KBF and Reflection of our adventure!

The trailer is online! Thanks to Iwona Pom! Feel free to share! 

In two weeks on the 23th of November, Tim and I will be guest speakers at the After Summer day of the KBF in Edegem. We will be presenting our stories, adventures, experiences, ups and downs together with some pictures and movies from 14h until 15h30. Entrance is free!!! For more information about the activities that 'Open' day of KBF check the After Summer 2014 Facebook page!

Reflection on the adventure! 

An expedition is not a normal climbing trip. It’s long, divers, insecure and exhausting mentally, physically as well ass socially. An expedition requires organisation, preparation, thinking ahead and communication. Most of all it requires a good team, motivation and commitment. So, a proper reflection is a worthy part of the whole story.

In many ways we succeeded in those requirements. Just some aspects were missing. From the start on we didn’t had one obvious and particular goal, one wall or area. Cause of that is the change of plans when we cancelled the Pakistan objective, this made us organise a new expedition in only three weeks. What made it hard to find a remote area were we could discover some unknown walls. Decisions like first going towards the famous and known Tasermiut fjord instead of taking the risk going immediately into the unknown towards the biggest walls could maybe be prevented if we had one distinct objective. It’s sometimes scary to go into the unknown because it’s uncertain what the future will bring. Reflecting, it might have been the unsecure feeling about the future or the missing of an obvious objective for the trip that made us decide going towards Tasermiut fjord first. With the result experiencing low motivation and exhaustion when we arrived at that part which we came for to Greenland. But maybe this few weeks were actually the “preparation time” we missed before departure. People usually have time to dream before starting a new adventure. Our minds were set on something different then Greenland.


On top of that we had a different team in Greenland, compared to our original Pakistan team. This made logistics and decisions more difficult undertaking the objective of climbing a first ascent big wall. Practically and physically it’s more difficult with two persons because the amount of gear is still the same. But also when it’s about decisions it’s more complicated. The key is to find each other’s interests and reasons behind decisions.

Like I said at the start of this story, this expedition succeeded in many ways. Just one objective we couldn’t reach. For us, climbers, this objective was the main reason of the trip so disappointment had struck us for the last few weeks back in Belgium. An undertaking like this is a complex but integral experience. Even if the main goal couldn’t be succeeded, the trip was still successful. Most of all we learned several lessons we will carry with us in the future. The importance of having a main and specific goal plus having the same mindset and clarity about that goal is a requirement I will remember for the next project. It’s only positive if the whole team looks in the same direction from the start and expectations are clear for everybody.  

This was the story of the two Gingers who went on an optimistic Big Wall and Kayak expedition towards Greenland. I hope you liked it and our experiences are shared with all of you. A movie about this trip is on its way to the net … 

I would like to thank all the kind people we’ve met on our trip! Thanks to Florian for bringing us all the way to Denmark and taking the van back. Thanks a lot to the Norwegians Marius, Ula and Roger for bringing us into Tasermiut fjord and spoiling us on their boat! Thanks a lot to Themo! Thanks a lot to the British crew; Simon, Tom, Tim and especially Maddy for giving us treats like cake, scones and fresh baked bread on the boat!

Last but not least I would like to thank our sponsors Petzl, The North Face, Avventura, Five Ten, Millet, Trek'N Eat, Care Plus, Brunton, kayakshop Arjan Bloem, KBF, BVKB, Klimclub Hungaria and Sportpraktijk Vanden Auweele for all their support providing the right gear and preparation for this trip!

Up to the next…

maandag 27 oktober 2014

Greenland Chapter 6: Upgrade - from kayak to sailboat crossing the Atlantic!

The boat life – quiet and peaceful in the Greenlandic Fjords.

Back in basecamp on day 37 since we had left Belgium after the Dreadlock Peak and the unnamed wall we prepared our bags for the ‘sail’ home. Late afternoon the Brits arrived like they had promised. From then on, the night of the 37th day, we would spend 14 days on the boat together with a great British crew. But who were those Brits? First of all the sailboat had a captain, Simon, an old school climber from back in the days when the white cliffs of Dover have been climbed. Passionate by climbing he admired our climbing and kayak adventures in south Greenland. It was great to meet him listening to his climbing story’s with little gear and if there was gear, it where old boots, hexes and heavy karabiners! The next crewmember was Tom, Simon’s son. He was a great dingui sailor and passionate about watersport. He took one of his better friends of university with him on this trip. The third crewmember was Tim (with us on the boat he was called British Tim to avoid confusion on the deck). Equally like Tom he is passionate by sailing and grew up with it. Last but not least there was Maddy (Madeline). Without her we would have been starving the whole ocean crossing. Maddy is a young sailor and even followed a course that allows her to accompany different boats as a crewmember. Her life is all about sailing, part time she lives on a boat and crossed the ocean several times. With her on the boat we didn’t starve. Because she would never be seasick she was the ideal person to have inside the boat preparing the food at different times of the day. On top of that, she liked cooking a lot! So the five lads of us were amazingly happy to have Maddy on board.

Themo and his speedboat. 
First of all we had to leave the fjords before arriving in the wide ocean. The first day we went past the little Inuit village Aappilattoq where we did a small amount of extra grocery’s for the road. Here we met up with Themo again who invited us for an afternoon of seal hunting. Laughing with the idea of going seal hunting in Greenland we accepted it and jumped on his fishermen’s boat, a small speedboat. For a couple of hours we enjoyed ourselves chasing seals with the speedboat when Themo tried to shoot the little head sticking out of the water. In the start I found it kind of odd shooting at seals but quickly I realised this is just nature and the way it goes. This is how the Inuits survive, in winter they mostly hunt seals when in summer they fish. This is their way of living. Although we saw some seals and Themo had a couple of good shots at one, we couldn’t get them. After seal hunting, Themo gave us some shooting class. We aimed for small icebergs and even tried to shoot a pillar off a glacier… This sounds even funnier when I write this down! Just try to imagine us floating in a small boat below a massive glacier pouring into the fjord while one of us is shooting at a huge detached ice pillar of that glacier. I guess nobody their will come and arrest us for that. Furthermore we did a small iceberg-shooting contest off the sailboat, ate some cake, drank tea and said goodbye to Themo. Thank you Themo for the great experiences you gave us and all the help and hospitality in the village.

Britisch Tim and Tom with the gun.
Tom and Belgian Tim climbing a First Ascent.
That second night on the boat we did some bouldering below Igdlorssuit Havn. This wall in Prins Christian Sund looks impressive and worth to come back for. The next day we climbed on the north side of the fjord, just east of Igdlorssuit Havn. This time it was not just Tim and I. We both took one of the British guys up the wall and both teams climbed a first ascent. Together with British Tim we chose the ‘wide’ line. Despite the fact my British climbing partner didn’t had much experience climbing outside, he followed the wide and sometimes awkward cracks nicely. When both teams returned to the boat with great success, Maddy and Simon welcomed us with some tea and scones! I have to say we got to know the British culture better on this boat in Greenland than in GB itself. That same day we continued following the 60 kilometre long fjord Prins Christian Sund. Before taking off in the Atlantic towards Great Britain we slept one last night in a bay in Greenland. The next day we would leave…

The last Greenlandic boat bivy!
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat

On day 40 of our trip we left the fjords and the beauty of Greenland. Soon the only thing we would see is just… water, water and more salt water. As soon as we popped out of the fjord into the open sea, the wind was strong enough to sail. For the first time Tim and I where on a sailboat and could experience the rigging of the sails. Once the sails were rigged, the boat was tipped to the side and the stability of the flat waters inside the fjords disappeared. Both Tim and I immediately felt the motion of the boat having an effect on our wellbeing and our stomachs. Only two hours since we left the fjords, I was seasick. I almost reached the point of vomiting my guts out! After I went into the cabin to go to the bathroom I realised this was not going to work without taking some seasickness medication. Simon as well as Tom both took this kind of seasickness patch you have to stick behind your ear and is efficient for about three days. I decided to cheat as well and got a patch on. After only two hours I felt better, pfiew! When I went inside the cabin a little later I saw Tim lying in his bunk. He was completely pale and didn’t look healthy either. I told him I was wearing the patch and the great effect of it, soon he took one too.

Crossing the ocean was a great and unique experience. Tim and I had never sailed before and now completely unexpected we were dedicated to a sailboat and an eleven day ocean crossing. For about nine days of the journey we didn’t see land, there was only water around us as far as we could see. Although we were wearing the seasickness patch I never felt great, definitely not the first few days. Walking around inside the cabin was horrible. I couldn’t stay inside very long without lying down in my bunk. The worst was the toilet, being locked up inside a small room sliding around from one side to the other. Just taking my three layers (baselayer, alpine pants and goretex) of pants off took me four minutes. In the start we didn’t have much to do, the seasickness made it impossible to read or write. So the only things we did were talking, eating, sleeping or staring at the ocean outside. This was a strange way of spending the days. Most of the time we lived from one meal to the next, definitely after the rationing we did in Greenland. 

Me in the mast trying to fix the jib.
How was the sailing for dummies like us? In the start there was a lot to learn but in general the basics are not that complex. Once the sails are rigged according to one course and wind direction, it was just important to hold the wheel and keep on the same course until the wind direction changed again. Normally most modern sailboats have an autopilot. But on the Questar (name of Simon’s boat) the autopilot broke down a long time ago. This made crossing the ocean a little bit more interesting since we had to have always someone at the helm (wheel) holding course according to the compass. We used a fixed schedule of two hours per person, so every one of us had to steer two times two hours in a 24 hour day. Are you still with me? Kind of complicated to explain. This was not too bad, but still, it made life on a boat more tiring, definitely when you have to steer at nighttime, with only moonlight when you have good luck. Even if you don’t have to steer for a while you often wake up because the others around you inside the cabin have to wake up and alternate every two hours. Furthermore, rigging the sails was fun. Slowly we got to know how it all worked. Also, Simon wasn’t scared to give us some jobs on the boat which made us learn a lot. Experience is the teacher of all things!

The one and only dolphin that jumped this high!

The endless sight of water around us wasn’t always boring. Almost every day we’ve seen some wildlife. Some day’s dolphins were following us for about 15 minutes, playing with the bow. Other day’s we saw a huge Basking shark, which we guessed would be 8 meters long. Some mornings a bunch of pilot whales (big dolphins) where following us. They have almost the same character and behaviour as the dolphins. They swim around in groups and are very playful. Once, even a normal small shark popped up close to the boat. Seeing all this wildlife every day we didn’t feel like having a mid-ocean swim but they gave us great animation to look at. It feels incredible to be in the nature like this, so alone, but still surrounded by these sea animals you don’t see every day swimming in your garden!   

After several days on the water we felt better and didn’t need the patches anymore. Definitely Tim didn’t need it any more. One day he woke up and popped his sleepy head out of the cabin, he looked like a drug addict who just came straight from Tomorrowland. I saw one of his pupils was huge while the other stayed small. He immediately took of the patch because having a bad sight was one of the side effects. One day further he still looked like the Tomorrowland drug addict and started to worry. Sly I hoped it would stay for some weeks longer, it would be great fun to see him like that entering Belgium. But luckily for him it didn’t last long.
On day 49, nine long watery days after we left Greenland, we made a short stop for one night in Ireland. Finally, some mainland!! The last days were rough, the sea wasn’t great to sail because the swells were coming from three different directions. This made the boat move in all directions what made sleeping horrible, rolling around from one side to the other. But most of all this was the first time in 40 days we got back into civilisation since we left Nanortalik. We had a great evening, going out for a proper meal and some drinks! The following two days we had no wind at all, so we were obliged to motor all the way back to Salcombe, the Questar’s harbour. Once arrived at our destination we were all tired and happy to be on shore again, sleep in a real bed that’s not moving and eating great food! I would like to thank Simon, Tom, British Tim and Maddy for their hospitality on the boat and the great chance they gave us to cross the ocean in a sailboat. It was a unique experience. But still, I’m not sure if I would do it again. It’s a lot of sitting and lying down, the contrast with our long time in the wilderness of Greenland was big. Also, I’m not known for my skills to do nothing at all, Tim either.

Oof... End of story! Next and last blogpost you can read a short reflection on the trip. What is big wall climbing? What is an expedition? At least, how I see it!

I would already like to thank our sponsors Petzl, The North Face, Avventura, Five Ten, Millet, Trek'N Eat, Care Plus, Brunton, kayakshop Arjan Bloem, KBF, BVKB, Klimclub Hungaria and Sportpraktijk Vanden Auweele for all their support providing the right gear and preparation for this trip!

Prins Christian Sund and the Questar Sailboat on the right.

Themo, spotting seals!
The glacier we shot at! 
Britisch Tim and myself at the top of our last climb.

This is how we looked like after the Ocean Crossing thanks to Maddy's food!
Tom, cruising the Questar.
Big swells behind!

vrijdag 24 oktober 2014

Greenland Chapter 5: The Thumbnail – A struggle with ourselves, the team and the goals…

The Thumbnail is a mighty granite big wall rising straight out of the Torsukattak fjord reaching a height of 1350 meter. This is definitely one of the biggest, maybe ‘the’ biggest, sea cliff in the world. It has been climbed the first time on the far right side of the wall in 2000 by a British team lead by Ian Parnell. Since then three more lines have been climbed on this big wall, but all of them where easier then the British first ascent with the grade E6 6b. The wall has still a lot of first ascent potential and looked like the perfect main objective of our trip.

We had over a week time to attempt a new line on this big seacliff. In the Stordalens basecamp we packed our bags for an adventure of seven days of vertical living. At this point I had the feeling something was wrong in the team. Tim’s ‘fire’ for climbing wasn’t like it was used to be. The packing went slow and logistical thinking was hard. Around noon we left basecamp and kayaked towards the base of the wall, which is about 6 km further south in Torsukattak fjord. Before reaching the base of the wall I peddled far out towards the other side of the fjord. This way I had a good overview of the wall to search for a new and climbable line. I took some pictures from different distances and joined Tim at the base of the wall. Here we found a great start straight out of the kayak. According to the pictures we thought this line would be possible to continue up to the big and spacious horizontal ledge halfway up the wall. The plan was to climb as high as possible that same day and haul all the gear up the wall to our highpoint. Like always in this kind of climbing you have to think several steps ahead. For the descent we would take a gully on the left side of the wall so we had to drop one kayak further south in the fjord at the base of the wall somewhere on shore. After dropping that kayak we would have to return towards the start of the route with the second kayak, jumare up and continue our climb. That second kayak we would leave at the base of our climb.

Most comfortable belayseat! 
Racking up!

Starting a big wall straight out of an inflatable kayak was something surreal. First of all we fixed a Camelot three meters above the water to attach our boats, otherwise they would float away all the time. Then we both struggled to gear up in the boat, it was exciting! Once I was ready, I took off. I was loaded with gear ready to concur the unknown terrain. Smoothly I climbed my way up the wall, enjoying this so much like it’s my first nature! After I made a little mistake and got into a blank section I down climbed and found the right way. Next, I made an anchor and finally saved Tim from the moving kayaks belaying him up the first pitch. He had been waiting quite a while lying down in the kayaks belaying when I was climbing. Tim wasn’t feeling well, his climbing skills weren’t like we were used too and his normally pretty strong and motivated mental state was missing. What could be wrong with him? Tired? No motivation? Intimidated? I didn’t know, but I was worried.
First pitch, off in the unknown.
I continued leading the second pitch, climbing a tricky corner onto a beautiful arĂȘte continuing by a dirty crack which I cleaned to place the gear. Again this second pitch was like the first one, a classic pitch on perfect granite, nothing loose and great friction. The technical grade was around 6c French so perfect to start with. Also this pitch Tim followed. At that second belay we discussed our situation and Tim’s tensed feeling. Good and honest communication is a key ingredient on a big wall trip like this one. Mental and physical tiredness from the last few weeks had struck and resulted in low motivation. Maybe it would get better when we had a good sleep on the wall and see the beauty around us waking up above the sea! We tried to give the low motivation a boost and Tim continued for the third pitch that gave way on another blank section. Probably we had to climb back down 5 meters and switch towards another cracksystem. 

But then, before we could even search for another way something surreal happened. While Tim was climbing I looked down towards our kayaks, 80 meters below. Suddenly I saw one of the two haulbags floating away with the current into the fjord. In some way it had flipped out of the kayak. 

I lowered Tim and he continued lowering towards the kayaks using the static line. Quickly Tim detached one kayak from the anchor and peddled towards the floating haulbag. Now the haulbag was full of water and super heavy to lift back into the boat. Tim clipped the haulbag to the boat and peddled back to the static rope. At the mean time I descended and helped Tim hauling the bag into the boat using the static rope. Unfortunately it was the haulbag with all our camping and sleeping gear. The damage wasn’t too bad because we used a lot of drybags. But still things like our sleeping bags, food and first aid where soaked with seawater. It became very clear we could not overnight on the wall with wet sleeping bags, we had to return to basecamp to sleep in a tent. Before returning to basecamp we first went up to our highpoint again, organised the ropes and the gear and left all of it behind with the thought to come back and continue our attempt the next day when everything was dry again.

Tim in the last grassy bit of the second pitch. 
But that time the wet sleeping bag and the whole floating haulbag situation was not the problem. Before we would be able to continue up this big wall the next day we had to sort out Tim’s and so, the team’s motivation. We are a team of two climbers, when one is not feeling a hundred percent strong mentally and physically, the second teammember cannot compensate this missing energy on his own. As a team of two there is only two angles of looking at the things. When the two are looking from the same angle in the same direction, like it should be on a big wall expedition, things are well and feel easy. But when the two are each looking in a different direction with different expectations, reaching goals will be more complicated. At a certain point one can motivate the other but there is limits on motivation and motivational powers that live in a team. On day 32 if the trip, the day after our Thumbnail attempt we got to the point we head to find a new headspace. We had to agree about the goals and each other’s expectations again, get back at the same level of looking at things, and make the decision of going for it with all our motivation and energy we still had left or to leave that Thumbnail wall behind and find other goals. This last decision meant a lot to me. It was not just a climb that we would leave behind; it was a whole expedition, great efforts, organisation and most of all… a dream. But this was reality and it hurts. Sometimes things are not like you expect them to be. I thought I knew the risks of an expedition. Not reaching your objectives can happen because of an accident or bad weather, but this? Leaving the wall behind because my partner didn’t feel well and motivated anymore, this I didn’t expect. But it had to be the right decision. I understand Tim, sometimes you feel just empty, mentally as well as physically. Continuing in this state could be dangerous and not worth it. So the second decision it became. We left the wall behind, I left a dream behind…

A dream which is still there to go back to...
New and smaller objectives – The Dreadlock Peak

Dreadlock Peak in the back.
The next day we decided to kayak back to the Thumbnail and take down the first two pitches we climbed. We recovered all the gear and returned to basecamp. But now we needed one more objective, we couldn’t leave this last destination of the trip without climbing a single wall and reaching a summit. It was hard to face the fact we hiked and kayaked all the way for just climbing up a big wall 80 meters. So we needed something to climb in our last 5 days before the British crew came back to give us a lift to England. There is a big difference between climbing a wall of 1350 meters or one of 400 meters, for a wall like this last one we still had the energy and motivation. From Stordalens basecamp we could see one beautiful peak further down the Qingeq Kujalleq valley. Like everywhere in this area it was hard to estimate the distance to the wall and the height of the wall. This wall was a lookalike of the Grand Capucin in Chamonix. We estimated the climb would count 12 to 15 pitches and 500 to 600 meters high.

When our minds were set on climbing this peak, our mental state got better as before. Motivation returned because we knew this could be an objective we could still realise in the exhausted state we were by then. But still, somewhere inside us, the odd feeling of not continuing for our main goal remained. We took off to the wall, a long and extremely steep two-hour hike brought us to the base of the wall inside of a couloirs. The first afternoon we climbed up four incredible pitches. Not only the wall looked like Grand Capucin but also the rock quality was at least as good! Pitch two, three and four where all classics, graded more or less 6c+. A lot of different small crack systems close to each other made the climbs feel very sporty with good but small gear. I lead the second pitch, when I left the first belay I realised this is what I like the most! I love granite climbing and I adore climbing new lines. There is this extra touch to it I can’t exactly describe. My mind is extremely focused and the awareness of leading on yet unclimbed terrain makes me extremely carful but steady. We fixed a static rope from the anchor of the third pitch straight to the ground and went down in the evening. This would give us a quick start tomorrow when we would like to top out the estimated 12 to 15 pitches. We left all the gear up and descended two hours by food towards our advanced basecamp only one hour from the real bas camp.

Tim in one of the last pitches at Dreadlock Peak.
After a night sleeping under the portaledge fly in full moonlight we woke up at 5:40 am and hiked back up. We were ready for a long day, considering the descent of the wall that would take a while since we had to make our own rappel anchors. We jumared up the static rope and climbed up to our high point. Continuing our route, the grades got easier (6a/b) and we made quick progress. Against all expectations we arrived on the summit after only four more pitches, so eight pitches in total. The day now looked different and shorter as expected when we toped out when it was only midday. We were both a little disappointed the wall turned out to be less big as we thought and the climbing besides the first four pitches was very easy. On the top we chilled for a while and talked about the process of our whole Greenland trip and how it could have changed like that. Great reflections were made on the top of this peak and we enjoyed the amazing environment on this exposed peak between all the other mountains and walls around us.

The top of Dreadlock Peak.
During our hike through Klosterdalen valley we talked about reaching a next summit. We hoped it would be the summit of a great challenge. I decided to cut of my two old dreadlocks I wore for three years and wanted to do this on the summit of a first ascent. Now we were sitting on top of the Grand Capucin lookalike peak and had just done a first ascent. It wasn’t the first ascent of a new big wall route on the Thumbnail. It wasn’t the most satisfying summit and the big challenge we had hoped for but it still was a first ascent. So this is where the Petzl Sparta knife came in handy. Like I had agreed with myself before, I cut of the ‘rat tails’ and left them on the summit. Symbolically: sometimes you have to break with the past! This is when Tim and I decided ‘Dreadlock Peak’ was born. We climbed an easy but nice and classic line of 370 meters on Dreadlock Peak, 8 pitches on a wall of 300 to 350 meters height, graded French 6c+/7a.

The dread is still there! 
The rappels went smooth; we left some pitons, tag and one nut. Tim always went first testing the rap anchor backed up with a proper anchor when I went lightweight on sometimes just one piton or sling, scary and exciting! In this climb I realised again how much I love the pure climbing when you have to make your own anchors, search your own way and decent your own route in your own style. It’s adventurous, exciting and it demands some thinking ahead.
Still we had three days left before the Brits would pick us up. Opposite of the Dreadlock Peak we had seen one other wall that looked climbable in one day. The upper part of the wall attracted us the most. It was a nice and smooth looking orange wall with some obvious corners. After one day of rest we approached this wall lightweight style. The first five pitches were funky with a lot of short technical bits divided by several ledges.  In the sixed pitch we traversed 60 meters towards a big horizontal ledge of which we started off straight into a perfect corner crack. These next two pitches might have been of the best we had done in Greenland. Once on top we could descent on the backside and walk (and scramble) straight towards basecamp in only 1 hour. This day was great, we both enjoyed what we thought would be our last climb in Greenland.
The walls opposite of Dreadlock Peak which we climbed on the left.
This part of the trip was mentally the most difficult. But I’m sure both of us learned some lessons about travelling, setting goals, being in the middle of nowhere with a friend, communication and way more. On this I will reflect in the last Chapter 7. But first there is the story about our return to Belgium, this time no plane but a sailboat will bring us home after a big trip! Getting sick and bored because of the endless amount of water… Coming soon: “Chapter 6: Upgrade – from kayak to sailboat crossing the Atlantic!”.

The Bitisch sailboat 'Quastar' in the evening sun!
Me placing a belay for the kayaks!
Fishing: 10 fish in one hour! 
The nature food: mushrooms, blueberry jam and fresh Arctic Char!
A cute Inuit kid from Aappilattoq playing at the water.
In Stordalens we caught loads of fish!
Drying our rope after getting our gear out of the Thumbnail.
Ready for a 'rat tail' cut!

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