Americans continue British exploration of rock towers in South Greenland

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 05/08/2013
Barnes Wall right of centre with Plenty for Everyone the buttress facing the camera. Lizzy Scully, www.climbinggreenland.com
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Three American women, Quinn Brett, Prairie Ciel Larronde Kearney, and Lizzy Scully, together with climber and professional photographer John Dickey, visited the Torssuqatoq Spires in South Greenland, coming away with three new routes.

The Spires, explored in the past by a succession of British expeditions, still hold huge potential for high standard rock routes on ridges and walls.

The women were immediately attracted to a wall on the west side of the valley, close to their advanced base camp.

Although later discovering that this summit had been reached in 2012 by a large French group via moderate climbing/scrambling up the south ridge, the three women were successful on a new route up a prominent rounded buttress to the right, which gave around 550m of climbing at 5.10+.

After a rest, all but Scully put up a four pitch route on the Submarine Wall, which was very close to advanced base. They called this Four Quickies (5.9).

Then all four went for what they considered one of the plum lines in the valley, the south arête of Breakfast Spire, which gave around 430m of climbing up to 5.11a/b.

Some of the difficulties could have been outflanked, but as they involved superb, generally clean, and exposed crack systems, mostly fingers to hands in  size, they opted to climb these high quality pitches.

The four named their new route Morning Luxury and rappelled the steep east face of the spire, noting its potential.

These three climbs were completed in the first week and a fourth attempted. There was certainly more to go at, including the unclimbed east face of Breakfast Spire, but first Scully's right foot was painfully burnt in an accident with boiling water, and then the team heard the tragic news that Andrew Barnes had been killed back home in Colorado's Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Barnes was Brett's soul mate and climbing partner, and Brett needed to return to America. The team decided to abandon any further climbing and departed, having decided to call the first formation Barnes Wall, and the route they climbed Plenty for Everyone, one of Barnes's favourite sayings.

Although this region of south Greenland was first visited by mountaineers in the mid 1950s, peaks immediately west of the Torssuqatoq Sound were not explored until 1975, when a large and productive St Andrews University expedition invaded the area.

Led primarily by Phil Gribbin, St Andrews University teams visited West and South Greenland on an annual basis during the 1960s-'70s.

Their achievements should not be underestimated. On the 1975 trip they climbed around 42 new peaks and made a total of 47 new routes up to TD and UIAA V.

They climbed in the area of bigger peaks immediately north of the Torssuqatoq Spires (which they refer to as the Land of the Towers), making first ascents of summits such as Agdierussakasit (1,763m) and Maujit Qaqarssuasia (1,560m. the eastern, seaward side of this holds the huge sea cliff sometimes referred to as the Thumbnail).

Their furthest foray south was to a peak in the Magic Arrow group, west of Maujit Lake and immediately north of Breakfast Spire.

The Spires were not visited until 1996, when Simon Inger's four-man British team placed their base camp at the head of the Narssap Sarqa fjord immediately west, and climbed a number of peaks, including Navaianarpoq (1,550m, AD) and Magic Arrow (1,200m, TD-, V+).

The huge potential for hard rock climbing encouraged a second British team to visit in 1997. Andy and Pete Benson, Kenton Cool and Al Powell made 18 ascents, some of which were major ascents in the ED grades, with climbing of E3 6a and E4 5c.

They noted several fine objectives to the east, notably the southwest ridge of Whaleback (ca 1,200m) but could not access them from their valley.

These would have to wait until 2000 and the visit of an eight-member British expedition, who based themselves in the same valley visited by the Americans this year.

Several shorter routes were climbed on the south flank of Breakfast Spire's east ridge, before Jon Bracey and Ian Renshaw attempted the impressive  800m east face.

A few pitches short of the top, Renshaw fell and broke an ankle. The pair managed to traverse to the east ridge and rappel the shorter north face before, with Renshaw in crawling mode, crossing back over a col. Renshaw was eventually evacuated to Nanortalik hospital by helicopter.

In 2010 Bob Shepton anchored in the Torssuqatoq Sound, dropping Ben Ditto, Nico and Oliver Favresse, and Sean Villanueva at the mouth of the same valley leading up to Breakfast Spire.

However, lost in mist, the four found themselves in the a valley immediately west, below the unclimbed peak between Navaianarpoq and Breakfast Spire. They climbed the south face of this peak by two independent parallel lines, naming the summit Shepton Spire after the skipper, then traversed the long ridge east (D/TD) to the top of Breakfast Spire.

The summit area of Breakfast Spire has several mini spires. The one reached by the Americans this year, and its close neighbour, are the highest, though, according to the Americans, which was the higher was hard to say.

However, the American high point could not be descended without a rappel and their was no in-situ gear, inferring their ascent was the first to this pinnacle.

Thanks to Lizzy Scully, Dougald MacDonald and Alex Messenger for help with this report
 



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