Even earlier tales from Tasermiut!

An account from the 1960 expedition

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We are delighted to include this guest contribution from Ian Wasson and Colin Martin of the 1960 expedition, which starts with their image of Nalumasortoq.

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The pack-ice was unusually bad around South Greenland that year and had caused us long delays in reaching it. Travelling by sea from Copenhagen our ship, the Disko, had been holed below the water-line, Titanic-like, off Cape Farewell. The crew managed to apply a canvas patch and we made our slow way to Narsaq with a severe list. The boat journey south then had to be postponed as the route was blocked by drifting ice. When we eventually reached the mouth of Tasermiut Fjord, a gale howling off the ice-cap blew the boat backwards and we had to camp ashore until it abated. When we finally set up base camp, only three weeks remained for climbing and as most of the peaks were formidably steep, our record of ascents was modest. This was the first of many St Andrews University expeditions in Greenland and even pre-dated the arrival of Phil Gribbon.

We named the valley behind base camp St Andrews Dal and at its  head was Nalumasortoq, a dramatic peak that dominated the area. We set off to climb it on August 21st after a very cold night at Glacier Camp at about 4000 feet – the tents were pitched on a platform hacked from the lip of a bergschrund below its granite walls. Ascending steep slabs and icy snow we reached a col and then headed up the steepening south ridge around or over numerous icy gendarmes. At about 6600 feet we were brought to a halt by a smooth wall of rock which we had neither the gear nor the skills to surmount – only about 100 feet below the summit! A member of our climbing team that day was Roger Wallis who was a climber-geologist from Birmingham rather than St Andrews University. He returned to Tasermiut the following year 1961 with two others and made the first ascent of Nalumasortoq but by a different ridge. On the way back to the tents we ascended the easier Col Peak; a rock thrown down its west face did not bounce for ten seconds – an estimated drop of 1600 feet.

The next day some of us climbed back up to the col and headed south-east across what we called The Big Snowfield towards the Qinguadalen peaks hoping to climb a twin peak which we named Donkey’s Ears. Ian was in the lead and, just as in the incident described by Phil on p.46 of the 1971 book, suddenly found himself 15 feet down in a cold green world with the crevasse plunging further into the depths only a few feet away and looking up at a small hole above. Inexcusably we had not been roped up and The Big Snowfield had turned out to be a heavily crevassed glacier! Looped ropes were lowered and he was mightily relieved to be hauled back up into the sunshine with nothing worse than a sprained ankle.

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View towards Qinguadalen

A magazine article written on our return included a description of Glacier Camp and it caused some hilarity on account of the somewhat over-the-top language: “— Nalumasortoq lay above us like the jaws of some giant primeval beast frozen into ageless immobility — and as the last rays of the dying sun which had touched the frozen heights melted into twilight, the heavens were filled with the glory of the Northern Lights, twisting and dancing against the silent stars.” Happy days!

(The excellent book about the 1971 Greenland Expedition has a photograph on p.96 of the site of our base camp in 1960 at Koromiut on Tasermiut Fjord with a more general view of the area on p.95.)