“Was I there?”

…and a great example of the rewards of keeping a record


A benefit of this blog is that it has enabled others to get in touch with us. Long-lost former climbing companions and others can re-establish contact or those with an interest in the area we visited might seek or share information. There’s no better illustration of this than what happened recently when a former climbing companion of Phil’s got in touch.

Bill Atkinson, now 92, climbed the east ridge of the Grand Teton with Phil in 1957. The above image records the completion of their achievement.  That photo and more appears in Bill’s interesting account which can be read on his blog1 along with further details of their exploits.  Of course, this contemporary blog is not constructed from memory but from Bill’s notes made nearer the time. Phil is also an avid record keeper. I was not.

Why didn’t I keep more notes? Firstly not wanting to be associated with a Munro bagging mentality – ticking-off hills that have been ascended for the purpose of ticking-off on a list was not for me.2  My preference was to seek experiences of quality, sometimes at short-notice instigated by the like-minded ideas of others.  Secondly, a what-now-seems-strange determination not to prepare for turning into someone who does little other than recount memories – this even led to my deciding not to take photographs for a significant period. I got one thing right! I kept a diary in Greenland and am now very glad I did. I’ve paid for my lack of record keeping in being unable to join in recollections of exploits with former climbing companions. As very faint memories are stirred by the reminiscences of others,  often, my only contribution to the conversation has been to enquire, “Was I there?”

1  Bill’s blog is a delight with a wide range of interesting items. Can’t be many bloggers able to incorporate personal (and moving) ‘thank you’ letters from former Japanese POW’s!
2  Progress comes in many forms – Geograph fanatics make 1970’s Munro-baggers look like normal people. And list-driven dedication knows no bounds – a few years ago I met someone who was ticking-off trig points. He was in the 4000’s heading for completing the around 5,500 still existing. We had an interesting chat and a pleasant lunch together on the summit of Ailsa Craig. A far from easy place to visit due to weather and sea conditions – this was his fifth attempt and he lived in southern England!  Meanwhile, I was quite taken with the industrial archaeology of Ailsa Craig, including the fog-horn pressure vessels shown below.  Nothing weird about that eh?




misunderstanding_00002 all you see  –  now where have I heard that, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a lyric from the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields.” Sometimes we fail to understand the obvious and then later wonder how we could have been so stupid. The following incident in a distant settlement in South Greenland illustrates the point.

He didn’t look all that important with his creased white shirt and checked trousers but he had aura about him and I’m not referring to the whiff of cooking that wafted into the wood-panelled room when he entered. No, without doubt he had some sort of air of authority. He was Danish, fair-haired (aren’t they all), big and chubby and he clearly liked the drink because his eyes lit up when he spotted our bottle of whisky. We suddenly became his friends. He sat with us. He chatted with us. Phil spotted a potentially-useful contact here and was keen to know more about his status within the KGH organisation. These initials stood for Den Kongelige Grønlandske Handel (Royal Greenland Trading Department), the Danish trading group whose relationship with Greenland seemed somewhat akin to that of the powerful British East India Company’s with China and the Indian subcontinent in earlier centuries. We were dependent upon their hospitality as we kicked our heels in Nanortalik , our expedition tea-chests deep in the hold of a ship miles offshore, navigating its slow way through thick pack-ice.

“Glug …. I am the chieff …gulp”.

This revelation seemed to impress Phil who had been matching the Dane, tumbler by tumbler, as was his rightful (perhaps that should be right fu’) duty as our leader. I wasn’t so sure, there was something not quite right here. It was the trousers as much as the big man’s demeanour that made me smell a rat. I don’t remember now why we ended up calling him Muggi but that’s the moniker that we gave him and he even ended up as one of the snakes on our games board. The temperature rose, he sweated and needed more whisky. Now was the opportunity to press our cause, homeless strangers in a distant land, so we fell upon his mercy.  We needed his help and surely he could use his position of power and influence to find us some temporary home and perhaps even some useful employment.

The bottle was finished, the last drop squeezed out into Muggi’s glass. He got up to go. Then I remembered who always wore trousers of light-blue small checks just as he uttered the words …

“No, I cannot help you. I am just the chef”.

Living is easy with your eyes closed …..


Then and Now – Nanortalik

…and somewhere to sit

In 1971 Nanortalik was a delightful little town – except that we spent three weeks there waiting for the ship with our food and equipment to penetrate the dense coastal pack ice. We had expected to be there for perhaps three days. But we made do. We ate the construction canteen out of food. We moved into an empty house. We got jobs mixing cement. We had philosophical discussions late into the night. And we walked all over the island constructing an elaborate decimal hill-identifying scheme that started with Hills 1, 2 and 3 and proceeded to Hill 1.5 and Hill 1.75 etc.

One of the best viewpoints was located at this boulder on Hill 1, looking across to Sermersoq Island.   In 2016 what appears to be the same boulder appears in a post from our Arctic Adventures guide Ida Nordkvist Permin.

Ida-Nanortalik-2016sm 800

(The earlier Then and Now – Coastal Transport, has also been updated with 2017 information)


Last Boat from Taserssuaq

August 26th 1971

A few months ago while searching for something (I no longer remember what!) in a cupboard an old manila envelope fell from a book. Unfortunately the envelope was not full of Scottish pound notes my ancestors had hidden from the taxman. However it did contain some ancient “treasure” – long- forgotten black and white negatives of our Greenland 1971 Expedition. Continue reading “Last Boat from Taserssuaq”

50 years have gone by…

A reunion of members of the 1967 expedition

Five members of the 1967 West Greenland Expedition held a fifty-year reunion on 21-23 September 2017 at a delectable wooden cabin in Glen Feshie.  They were Alan Robertson, Roger Nisbet, Bill Band, David Meldrum, and Phil Gribbon : Alan North sent best wishes and some pics to project.  Missing members were John Hall who has been untraceable for years, while Wilf Tauber tragically drowned in a climbing accident at Anglesey in 1971.  Nisbet and North are dwellers in USA and it was good to have their support. Continue reading “50 years have gone by…”

Some books make memories…

…and what I’m reading now

Reading What Makes a Mountain Beautiful?,  reminded me that my expedition diary contained an annotated list of the books I  had read.  The list reveals that among the books outside the light fiction category, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle got a rave review – though I remember nothing of it. Also, rated “good in patches”, was Gog by Andrew Sinclair and Bram Stoker’s Dracula was enjoyed. Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World didn’t fare so well getting a comment of  “interesting rubbish”! Payment Deferred by C S Forrester was recorded as “disappointing”. Continue reading “Some books make memories…”

What Makes a Mountain Beautiful?

Books are essential items for expeditions. I would like to say I remember all the books I read on the expedition but I don’t. Six books are mentioned in my diary. One, “The Poetry and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins” was lent to me by John (I think). Gerard Manley Hopkins was a nineteenth century Jesuit poet and the few verses of his that I have read are very seriously religious and uninspiring. However some of his prose interested me. “On The Origin of Beauty: a Platonic Dialogue” being one. I do not recall all the dialogue but I do remember that it began by examining whether a six-leafed chestnut tree fan was more beautiful than a seven-leafed fan. The seven-leafed fan was seen to be more handsome even though it was less symmetrical than the six-leafed. So was beauty some complex mix of symmetry and asymmetry or in more general terms regularity and irregularity? Continue reading “What Makes a Mountain Beautiful?”