vrijdag 10 oktober 2014

Greenland Chapter 1: How an idea turned into ‘big wall’ reality…

An expedition… The Idea

Once upon a time… there were two young Belgian climbers with a lot of ambition. One is a ginger head and the other’s just a ginger chin. In the little Kingdom of Belgium, the normal life is about cutting trees for Ginger Head while Ginger Chin is mixed up in this system called university where they try to shape him into an over social animal. More than over a year ago me, Ginger Chin, and Tim, Ginger Head got the idea to plan a trip in the summer of 2014. Searching the web for information, the inter-web as well as the social-web, we heard about this place called ‘Characusa Valley’ in Pakistan. During several months we prepared to go and climb one particular wall in this intimidating valley high up in the Karakorum mountain range. For this life changing experience two other climbing addicts were lured into our plan. One addict comes from the jungle of Colombia, Jairo Bogota, while the second was based in the jungle of Brussels, David Le Duc. But then, two weeks before getting airborne, hesitation about the trip overwhelmed us. The political situation in Pakistan hasn’t been stable for the last several years and, according to the news, got suddenly more dangerous in June. As climbers, we’re conscious about the dangers of the mountains, but the dangers of humans and terrorism are things we could not deal with.

So the plans changed in only two weeks time. It wasn't that hard to find a new objective, my head is full of ideas. One of those ideas and dreams is to travel for climbing in full autonomy on own power. Quickly Tim and I agreed about our new idea of going to south Greenland. This is when the rest of the team decided to keep a trip like this for the future, which I understand. Practically, financially as well as mentally it’s hard to suddenly change objectives like this. From then on it was just Tim and myself who were going to continue this summer expedition.

In South Greenland we hoped to find our desire to combine climbing big walls with travelling on ourselves, as pure as possible. The massif fjords of South Greenland offer a perfect way to travel by water. Renting a boat would be too expensive, renting a kayak as well. We did some research, contacted some specialists and one impulsive morning Tim and I decided to drive to Amsterdam to buy two new inflatable kayaks in the kayakshop Arjan Bloem. In only three weeks time we prepared and organised a whole new expedition. With limited time to plan, we decided to do further research when we arrived in Greenland, to choose a particular wall.

The Journey

Loading up Tim's Van in Belgium
It was 5am on the 15th of July, we woke up in Tim’s new Transporter Van in a park near the airport of Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a beautiful morning after a short night of sleep. One last cup of coffee fresh from our Bialetti coffeemaker and we took off towards the airport of Copenhagen. Drinking coffee with the morning sun on my face my thoughts drifted off to the moment we left Belgium 24 hours ago. This is when we loaded the Van with all the expedition gear, which added up to a total weight of 200 kg. Sounds a bit unrealistic, don’t you think? How were we going to get it into Greenland? How would we drag it to the wall and how far? Would it all fit in our kayaks and if so, is there still place for us, monkeys? We still didn’t know much about the walls and what we could expect. We were really going into the unknown. We couldn’t wait to do more research. This information we hoped to find in the tourism centre of Nanortalik, the last town just before we would leave civilisation. All the gear we dragged along the trip had one purpose, like the whole expedition had one purpose: climbing a new and virgin big wall. One thing was sure: we were READY! Little did we know… . 

Suddenly my Bialetti coffee was finished, I woke up from my daydream and realised that for now only one thing was certain. We had to leave to catch our flight from Copenhagen towards Narsarsuak. While waiting for our plane, we said goodbye to Florian, my dear friend from high school, who accompanied us to Demark and would take care of Tim’s Van. We are very thankful for his company and help on the beginning of our journey. Thanks man! We flew with Greenland Express, to our knowledge the cheapest company that provides flights between the continent, Greenland and Island.

On the way to Denmark
Cheap in money but not in experience: the flight was amazing and arriving in Greenland was impressive. The large fjords where spread out like the veins of Greenland dividing the big mountains and rock face into different groups. Fjords where full of icebergs, making us dream about the kayak explorations peddling in between all the floating ice. From that moment we knew this place on earth might be the most beautiful area we had ever seen! Narsarsuaq, the South-Greenland airport, is nothing more than an airport, a couple of houses, one coffee bar, one hostel and a harbour. Overloaded with bags we decided to take the boat instead of the helicopter towards the next town, Nanortalik, where we would prepare for the trip. A four hour motorboat ride brought us there.

Iceberg arch on the way to Nanortalik
We arrived in Nanortalik on day four since we left Belgium. Nanortalik is a beautiful and peaceful town and is the last biggest town in the southwest of Greenland. More to the east you can find just one more small town called Aappilattoq, where we would end up four weeks later on. Over the whole of this trip we have to say people in Greenland are amazingly friendly and helpful. The locals don’t even look weird if you pitch up your tent close to the houses. Soon the remote nature of Greenland would be the only thing around us. Next, we ended up in a cosy bar amongst drunken Greenlandic citizens, being treated one beer after the other! Some of them didn’t speak any English, definitely not when they were drunk. So a lot of the conversations ended up in funny noises, hugging and laughing. When the bar closed later on, the party went on at some generous Greenlanders’ home.

With a small hangover present, we woke up early the next day in our tent between the little colourful houses. A lot of work was waiting for us before we could leave civilisation. First of all we had to decide which area we would go to. Therefore we went to the Tourism office where we looked into the climbing library of Niels, the owner of the Tourism office. During the last 15 years he collected a lot of information about the climbing in South Greenland. The two most famous and developed areas are Tasermiut Fjord and Pamiagdluk Island. With our goal in mind, to find an undeveloped area, we first searched for information around Torsukataq Fjord, Pamiagdluk Island, Igdlorssuit Havn Tower and more to the southeast. Soon we realised that a lot of the biggest walls in the whole of South Greenland are already climbed. Still there are some amazing walls, barely climbed, which we could aim for. From the start it looked like a good idea to take a boat and let them drop us near the village of Aappilattoq, which is in between the biggest ‘known’ walls. From here we hoped to use our kayaks with all the gear to transfer from one fjord to the next. Going 3 to 5 km/h we set the goal to peddle more or less 25 km in a day. However, there is not a lot of information available about these areas, so at this point we were heading for the unknown. But we were free and flexible to peddle around when and where we wanted, searching for good walls. We also made a back up plan to move towards the more known walls like The Thumbnail, Igdlorssuit Havn and Pamiagdluk Island. 

After the information-gathering we did what one would easily forget in all the excitement: our groceries. In total we planned to be 48 days in the wilderness, so we needed to think about shopping for 7 weeks without buying too much weight. Fresh food was not an option, so we had to rely on frieze-dried meals from Trek’n Eat, which was a good alternative. On day five of the trip and our second day in Nanortalik we organised our food. What a ton of food we had, it looked too much. But was it…?

Next, Tim showed his dirtbag skills, while we were organising the food he spotted a new sailboat in the harbour of Nanortalik. Without hesitation he approached the sailboat and met up with three nice Norwegian sailors. Friendly as they were, they invited us for some rum and a nice dinner. We started talking and they offered us a ride on the boat into Tasermiut Fjord. Once again, we changed plans. Tasermiut Fjord is an area without virgin walls but still too amazing to reject. Also we were eager to climb and whilst the weather was just perfect we didn’t want to loose any time travelling in good weather. This way, only two more days until climbing! On top of that, the sailors brought us for free and it was way more fun going with them then renting a boat to drop us off, which is ridiculously expensive in that area. So off to Tasermiut Fjord we went, the next morning, day six, we left with the sailboat overloaded with our stuff. But these three Norwegians were not easily scared!
First time on a sailboat!
Although I was more eager to go straight to where the big virgin walls were, we were blinded by certainty that we could climb pretty soon in good weather and on walls we knew had good rock and good routes. Looking back to it, it was a short-sighted decision. Some might say I’m stubbern but I didn’t want to give up our goal to climb a new wall and line more to the east. The new plan would be to climb more or less two weeks in Tasermiut and afterwards cross the Klosterdalen valley towards the fjords Kangikitsoq, Torsukattak and Prins Christian Sund for some virgin climbing. I knew it was an ambitious plan… but still realistic. Or not?

Into Tasermiut Fjord

We immediately discovered the luxury of a sailboat on calm waters like the Greenlandic fjords. You sit, chill, eat and look at the amazing surroundings containing dozens of big walls, glaciers, rivers, lakes, beaches and more of nature’s beauty. The Norwegians (Ula, Marius and Roger) were awesome, we hadn’t even spend two hours on the boat yet or Roger came out of the cabin with fresh baked eggs, bacon and beans followed by a cup of coffee. Tim and I knew we had to enjoy this food because soon it would be just porridge, nuts and more basic energy food. On the first night in the fjord we went fishing in a riverbed. We caught about five Arctic char, which is great fish and easy to clean and cook. It is pretty similar to salmon. This made us excited, if we could fish like this everywhere we could leave some of the food behind. Of course we didn’t. Unfortunately not everywhere in the fjords and riverbeds the fish were abundant.

The Norwegian captain: Marius!
Tim enjoying his fresh picked muscles! 
After we visited the Sermeq glacier at the end of the Tasermiut Fjord, originating from the enormous Greenlandic icecap, the Norwegians dropped us at the entrance of the Klosterdalen valley. We chose this place so all of our gear would be on the right spot for the hike towards the other fjords, in two weeks. But first: getting to Tasermiut basecamp. That first night when we got dropped off we camped straight beneath the west face of Ketil Fjeld, this is the highest yet climbed peak in the Tasermiut Fjord area. The west face is 1500 meters high and pretty impressive. On day 8 of the trip, we left the entrance of the Klosterdalen valley by kayak loaded with all the climbing gear for the first time. Blowing up the inflatable kayaks and loading them up with one heavy bag after the other was exciting. Even more engrossing was the peddling itself. Surprisingly the overloaded inflatable kayaks where super stable and comfortable! YES! Enjoying the freedom and autonomy of our own way of travelling with everything we needed, we made progress in the direction of the Tasermiut basecamp, about 8 km and two hours peddling further. The aim for the next two weeks was to repeat some lines on the famous walls Nalumasortoq (600m) and Ulamertorsuaq (1200m) located near the popular Tasermiut basecamp.

Hmm, iceberg swim!
While peddling through the cold seawater I looked at Tim realising he was so exposed to the danger of the ice cold and deep water in the intimidating fjords with his kayak. We knew that as long as the water was calm and the wind was absent we were safe. But when the Piteraq would come we would have to stay on shore! Piteraq is the strong and cold wind that comes from the Greenlandic icecap. It is the local name for “that which attacks you”, so knowing this we would take care when the wind sets up and the waves where coming. But that day no Piteraq appeared and we could peddle in our ‘Sevylor Colorado’ flat water kayaks to Tasermiut basecamp without problem. Every time I would step into my Sevylor kayak I would think about that moment back in Belgium when I opened the box of this new toy and I saw the picture on the box of a happy soccer mom with her five year old son peddling on some small and peaceful flat water. They always make it seem so easy. It might not be like this in the Greenlandic fjords.

Ketil Fjeld and our first night alone in the wilderness!

Peddling with Ula in the background.

Ketil Fjeld in the background.
It was the afternoon of day 8 of the trip when we arrived in Tasermiut basecamp. The walls Nalu and Ula where waiting at us… we were ready for something big! 

Nalu is the 'open book' on the left and Ula is the tower on the right!

Hold on…"Chapter 2: Getting into it... Big Walls!" will follow soon!


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