Having been to Greenland before and captivated by its isolation and incredible space, this time we were traveling further north to climb...

Scorsby Sund at seventy-one degrees north is the largest fjord in the world. The entrance to the fjord is unique as it is clear of ice all year, however the open sea and the fjord itself are another matter, with a fairly short weather window of around 6-8 weeks in the summer allowing the fjord to be accessed by boat.

Having been to Greenland before and captivated by its isolation and incredible space, this time we were traveling further North to climb.  Deciding to explore the area using sea kayaks, a traditional method of transport it meant that we could be totally self sufficient during the trip.  We did foresee a couple of problems with our plan, firstly shipping the boats out there and secondly fitting all of our kit and food supplies for our months expedition into the kayaks.

Scorsbysund is the main settlement in a vast area and with only one ship dropping off enough supplies for the year, we had sent out our kayaks and stores for the expedition some months earlier in order to catch the boat.  We carried all our climbing gear with us in the vague dread that the kayaks didn’t arrive.  We flew by helicopter from Constable Point and on our arrival were told that the kayaks and food were safe and in tact…Big relief! 

The idea was to get dropped off at the east side of Milne Island and either circumnavigate the island or explore the other branches of the Fjord.  The sting in the tail was that we would have to make our own way back to Scorsby Sund some 500km extra paddling on our expedition.

It was overcast for the following few days so we used this time checking the boats, dividing the supplies and wondering how we were going to pack it all into 3 small plastic kayaks.  The immortal words “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” (Jaws I) sprang to mind on several occasions as we packed and re-packed the boats, eventually accepting that we were defeated and strapping the last bits of kit on top of the kayaks., before going out on a few warm up paddles.

The weather improved and the first couple of days were great as we weaved between the icebergs eerily creaking around us, ending each day at campsites along the base of a large valley.  It was suggested that we carry a gun; polar bears may look nice from afar but close up is a whole different ball game.  Having little experience with a sawn off shot gun (lead slugs supplied), we felt that some target practice was in order.  Apart from have one hell of a kick back we very quickly came to the conclusion that shooting a polar bear from 10 feet away was not such a good idea and with our aim, we would be better off hitting it over the head with the butt and making a run for it!!!

Keen to climb, the next day we took the climbing gear and went off to explore, underestimating the scale of this place 6 hours later we were still a long way from any climbing but we did see some spectacular spires in the distance.  We had brought crampons and an axe in case we had to retreat into glacier terrain but we decided to try and climb something nearer to the coast.

A few more days paddling and we were at the start of the western end of Milne and ahead of us, a peak called Hermelintop loomed with its steep North facing side.  After setting up camp and a hearty meal of dehydrated chicken curry or was it lamb? We settled for the night in anticipation of the long day ahead of us.

We loaded up and left camp early the following morning, the advantage of these latitudes is the long daylight hours and so the urgency (with long mountain days) is a little more relaxed here. We estimated the cliff was about a thousand feet with corner systems and slabs littering the face.  The route was a line up the middle and we planned to do three pitches each.  The great thing about climbing, as a three is not only the good crack but also that all the gear and climbing are shared.

The climbing was steep from the start and the granite fairly good, a steep wall lead to a corner system and after changing leads a couple of poorly protected slab pitches lead us to a good stance.  The views were incredibly clear over to Renland and all three of us were very aware of how alone we were.  But for the peregrine falcons that had taken a keen interest in us and had spent the last hour dive-bombing our climb. Close enough for us to hear the whoosh of their wings as they veered away from the cliff.

Eight pitches of good climbing brought us to easier ground and after another 4 we were at the summit.  As we sat staring at the breathtaking scene before us we could see below the next stage of our sea trip.  It had been a long days climb as we headed back to base at around 11 p.m. Still day light as we hit camp we discovered that my kayak had gone.  It had drifted away along the coast, 40 minutes of stressful searching and I was relieved to be towing it back to camp.  Thank *!?*** for that! Contemplating the prospect of no communications out here and 2 weeks of waiting for help.  I dismissed this thought from my mind immediately and was glad of a cup of tea when I got back to shore (securing my boat well an truly; Never to drift away again!).

The next morning tired from our climbing, we knew we had to press on.  Although we were making good progress, we still had a long way to go, time was short, food was low but the weather was on our side, calm and fairly stable.  We were undecided about what to call the new route we had climbed the previous day and as we paddled down the fjord we looked back to a silhouette of a sleeping man, we realized its name instantly.  “The Sleeping Giant” Viola.

At the western end of the island we came across a stunning sandstone area of pinnacles and ravine, it was here we met up with the only people on the whole trip.  Some Australian climbers who were traveling around by Zodiac.  Greg ran his own artic cruise company and his ship was going to try and get into Scorsby in a few weeks.  The North side of Milne Island was the most impressive of the trip, Granite spires and huge vertical walls emerging straight out of the sea. 

Looking cross the fjord toward Renland we could see other impressive rock scenery, the campsites were small and scarce around this area and as we headed towards the open fjord and the unfortunately named Bear islands (a set of islands that has some climbing potential on the largest of these) we had run out of time.  Although we couldn’t get any more climbing in, we had discovered some amazing sites with fierce climbing potential.  Very little has been done on the big rock spires and walls, we had seen (found?) a gold mine of, climbs waiting to be challenged.

It took us another six days of difficult paddling to get down the fjord, we were exhausted, the foods supplies were sparse, our energy levels at an all time low but it didn’t matter.  As ever this Greenland, with its spectacular scenery, melting glaciers, massive groaning icebergs and graceful narwhales had left a lasting impression on us.  I wondered how different it would look in a few years time.


New route 12/08/06: Sleeping Giant XS 1000FT 10 pitches 7/pitches 5b,4c,5a,4b,4c,5b,5a, and 4 easy pitches to summit. Dan Jones, Ben Lawes and Olly Sanders

Thanks to Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for funding and Mountain Equipment and Palm and Lendal for Equipment.