NEW ROCK ROUTE IN REMOTE GREENLAND

Posted on: November 14, 2006


Roger Schali on the first ascent of Tartaruga ("Tortoise": 7b+ A2, sixteen pitches), the first route up Asta Nunaat in Eastern Greenland. The climb was accomplished amid constant rain. [Photo] Roger Schali collection

Editor's Note: Greenland holds one of the largest swathes of unclimbed mountains in the world. Inaccessible ranges guarded by precipitous fjords have kept many from exploring the coastal ranges, and the sheer expanse of the continent's mountains have contributed to its slow development.

From mid-July to mid-August, amid constant rain, Andi Fichtner, Roger Schali and Christoph Hainz made it a bit less of a blank spot on the map when they climbed a nameless peak in eastern Greenland via a crack system on formation's compact west face. Fichtner's note follows.

Asta Nunaat, First Ascent. "Why're you packing your headlamp?" Christoph Hainz looks dumbfounded; Roger Schali's rucksack is already full. "A Swiss never climbs without his headlamp," Roger shoots back.

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Now we're hanging on the dark wall, with only the clinking of carabiners. The headlamp's beam keeps growing dimmer; I can't even see my figure-eight knot. Dark clouds and a thick fog make an otherwise bright June night impenetrable.

"Andi," a voice shouts from the wall. "I think it's raining a bit less!" For days, we've been soaked through and we've only glimpsed our goal from time to time through the fog. Nonetheless we're on the wall, and we want to use this rare chance—which means getting started immediately if the rain lets up. Our bellies are full, the whiskey bottles are empty, and our determination will move mountains!

Swinging from their ropes, Christoph and I wait feverishly for the delay to be over. Roger makes his way up a dripping wet crack without any apparent effort. Suddenly, his unrhythmic movements scare us: don't fall, not now!

A climbing accident here in Greenland would have disastrous consequences for the entire team. One glance down into the yawning abyss, along the glacier that stretches beneath us, over the snowfields, and all the way to the fjord and the ice floes, reveals that we are alone in this unpeopled wasteland. The only means of transport back to civilization are the small, easily capsizable fishing boats that often can't even get through the fjord because of the sheets of ice floating in it. Furthermore, we have no radio contact, and the nearest Inuit village is days away by foot....

Finally the drill begins to hum—an anchor! We work our way forward meter by meter or sometimes centimeter by centimeter. Our bodies, soaked by the ongoing drizzle and chilled by the polar wind, slowly regain functional temperatures. But the freezing begins all over again as soon as we reach the hanging belay....

When Roger begins the next pitch, the cams, unfortunately, are too small—and the crack too wide, hurting his knees and elbows. With a disgusting, scratchy sound, the cliff seems to shift just as Roger pulls the drill up toward himself. The position is simply too uncertain, so he escapes upward. A few wobbly moves along the slick crack bring him to a little outcropping no larger than a beer coaster where he can find a better stance.

The wall goes on and on—longer than expected. It's been three more pitches; we should be standing about twenty meters above the peak by now. The terrain looks somewhat easier to manage, but also more precarious: boulders, loosely stacked like giant sugar cubes, just waiting for a push from us to send them toppling into the abyss.

About three ropelengths bar us from the top and the yearned-for sun.

One last slippery lichen-covered boulder sends us into a sweat—and into the light!

We aren't able to fully grasp our happiness at being on the peak until after an hour's deep sleep in the sunlight. The raw Arctic world has made us treasure the few moments of good weather all the more.

We named the mountain Asta Nunaat and the line Tartaruga ("Tortoise": 7b+ A2, sixteen pitches)—the first route that leads to its summit.

—Translated by Christina Svendsen

Christoph Hainz, Roger Schali and Andi Fichtner atop Asta Nunaat after the first ascent of Tartaruga ("Tortoise": 7b+ A2, sixteen pitches). [Photo] Roger Schali collection

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