Then and now – coastal transport

Cruise Greenland’s West Coast

Sarfaq Ittuk

In 2016 it’s easy to cruise the west coast of Greenland as an independent traveler or on a travel agent package (for example Mammut in Reykjavik).  We sailed on the 73 metre MS Sarfaq Ittuk of Greenland Umiaq Line for three days from the World Heritage Ice Fjord at Illulissat to the village of Narsaq in southern Greenland.  The voyage features delightful cabins, local food and fabulous views of icebergs, mountains and wildlife.  The ship carries a local guide, and we also greatly enjoyed our Arctic Adventure hosts Ane in Ilulissat and Ida in Narsaq. Continue reading “Then and now – coastal transport”

Then and now – global warming?

The Icecap and Global Warming

South Greenland ice-cap 1971

In the 45 years since 1971 some things have remained the same and others have changed dramatically.  In 1971 Greenland was an exotic destination mainly visited by large formal expeditions.  In 2016 it’s fairly easy to be an “adventure” tourist with regular flights from Iceland and regular flights up and down the coast – not to mention the delightful Arctic Umiaq Lines ship “Sarfaq Ittuk” that we used to get from Ilulissat to Narsaq.  But of all the obvious changes, the most disconcerting is the clear evidence of global warming. Continue reading “Then and now – global warming?”

Then and now – transit via Keflavik

Transit via Keflavik airport, Iceland

Expedition member Ian Walton has just returned to California from a July 2016 anniversary visit to the west coast of Greenland, 45 years after the 1971 University of St. Andrews mountaineering expedition.  Here, in the first of a short series of then and now pictures and thoughts, are details of transit via Keflavik airport in Iceland.

Keflavik airport 1971
Camping at Keflavik

In 1971 it was a single room terminal with no passenger comforts, and we had to spend the night before our ongoing flight to Narsarsuaq.  We were hard up students.  So we gathered our packs and headed out to the end of the runway to unroll our sleeping bags on the tundra.  In the middle of the night we were woken by the sound of an American Military Police jeep – Keflavik was still an active NATO base in 1971.  A broad Texas accent said “You can’t sleep here ..…–….. but I don’t see why the hell not!”  And with that the jeep departed and we returned to our interrupted slumbers.  In retrospect, the red flag may have been an unnecessary provocation. Continue reading “Then and now – transit via Keflavik”

Where are they now?

Recollections of a journey to Nanortalik aboard the Taterak

A stop off en-route to Nanortalik

It was a misty mystery journey over two days aboard the coastal vessel Taterak**, from Narssarssuaq to Nanortalik, with an overnight stop at Qaqortoq (then called Julianehaab). This was the first sailing of the 1971 season – previous attempts had been defeated by the density of the summer pack ice. Small settlements would emerge out of the sea mist as our transport nuzzled its way towards a quay through the pack ice. Fish drying racks, large aerial masts and coloured timber dwellings characterised the settlements. At times, the mist would retreat and we were gifted dramatic views in all directions – superb seascapes or glimpses of remote coastal settlements against a background of magnificent mountains. Continue reading “Where are they now?”

An unforgettable view

The picture was taken on 21st August 1971.  Well, two pictures really, stitched together some 40 years later from the scanned slides.  Bad weather had recently left a dusting of snow on the tops and good weather had helped spur us back into action.  We had little idea of what was ahead as we left our bivouac among the boulders on the north shore of Taserssuaq.  It was a fine day and easy ascending of grassy slopes, scree and snowfield led to a summit that overhung the glacier below.  There were four of us and and we were the first people to gain this amazing view – for this was the first ascent.  We lingered long, absorbing the incredible view – reluctant to leave this amazing sight of the ice cap flowing into Tasermiut and the dramatic rock walls of Imaha and Pingasuit.  Detailed memories of the ascent have faded but the view from the summit was unforgettable.


Setting the scene

A map of the area and ascents of the expedition

In 1971, ten members of the University of St Andrews set off to explore the area around Tasermiut and Taserssuaq, in the Cape Farewell region of Greenland.  Over 30 first ascents of peaks in the immediate vicinity were made and a prolonged stay in Nanortalik took in the celebrations of the 25oth anniversary of the arrival of Hans Egede in Greenland.  Forty-five years on, in 2016, an updated and illustrated account of their expedition experiences was produced.   Following the link at the right will lead to further information about the e-book version of the 2016 publication.

Putting together the new account was a moving experience.  Memories were refreshed and some dramatic experiences relived.  The aim of this site is for us to take some of the images we recorded and individually reflect, reminisce and revisit on various aspects of the region and our experiences.  Thus, the postings here are from any one of the ten, providing their own recollection or comment on some aspect of a particular image.

Our starting point is to summarise where the main ascents were and where our climbing camps were.  What follows is an enhanced and much cleaned copy of a map from the original 1971 report.  The weather in the area is notorious and a clue as to why one camp was named Desolation Camp.  The image at the top of the page was taken from the summit of one of the peaks marked on the map to the immediate north of Taserssuaq.