Saturday, October 29, 2011

-throwback- Greenland 2007: Chapter Two- Getting Oriented


Once we settled in to Base camp, our mission was to get oriented to the mountains around us and keep gathering info about the rock climbing.

We went to Greenland basically to climb mountains that no one had ever climbed before. If the mountains that looked cool had already been climbed, we'd "settle" for climbing them by a route that had not been done before. Rock climbing in the States usually starts with consulting a guide book. Guide books have information about where the climb starts, how hard it is, how to navigate tricky sections and how to get back down to level ground. In Greenland (and other remote mountain ranges) this information is much harder to find. If it exists at all. Maybe no one has been where you want to climb. Or maybe they just didn't record or relate any thing they learned while climbing. Times are kinda changing in the rock climbing world. In the "imperialistic age" of rock climbing, you did something new and exciting so you could write about it. With a dwindling supply of new mountains and routes, some choose to record less. Some of us really appreciate the adventure of heading off into the unknown. We could just ignore the guidebooks. But some of us like researching as much as we can. For those of us who like the adventure AND the researching, we must go where we at least think no one has gone before. Places like this are kind of a "non-renewable" resource. As soon as someone writes down what they've done, or draws and publishes a picture of their climbing route, it has officially been done.

So, in Greenland we found a whole range of information available and route records. Before we left we read journal articles about climbs completed. Josh swapped e-mails with people who'd been there before. Nate sat down and talked with a climber who'd been there before. We visited a hut, 3 hours walk from our basecamp, and read the log book to learn more. Finally we could sit in our meadow and look through Dad's spotting scope at the mountains. Finally doing our own on-the-ground research, filling in the gaps of knowledge. We wouldn't know the whole story until we actually climbed the peaks, but we kept looking and dreaming.

After the researching and scouting, the boating and the flying, the hiking and the grocery shopping, actual rock climbing was much welcome. This is what we'd trained for. This is what we came for. We climbed in groups of three, usually two groups out on different peaks and different routes, sometimes talking to each other with small radios.A rock climbing day in Greenland starts with a bit of a walk. We'd walk up a grassy and mossy slope and onto the glacial moraine. Moraine is basically huge piles of unsorted sand, rocks and boulders, somehow perched well above the angle of repose. Walking on moraine is a "two steps forward and one step back" kind of exercise.



There's Annie hiking to the base of a climb, on the moraine and in the fog.

Above the grass and moraine, but before getting on the rocks, is the glacier itself. Glaciers are picturesque, novel to us 'Mericans, and present a unique logistical challenge. Glaciers are moving masses of ice, cracking as they move and covering and uncovering with snow as the seasons change. New snow in the winter accumulates, filling in the cracks. In the spring, at least some of the surface snow melts, exposing the cracks. The cracks, or crevasses to be more correct, are slippery, cold, and taper evenly from the surface width to nothing at about 100 feet down. Translation, you don't want to fall into one. If you do fall into one, you really don't want to fall too far. To prevent this, first we like to travel either when we can see all the cracks, and can just walk around them. We'd call this a "dry" glacier and just walk to where we want to go. The next best scenario is to walk on a completely snow-covered glacier. That mid-winter scenario, where the crevasses are covered and usually filled in, leaves us a smooth unblemished surface to walk on, but still some uncertainty as to whether the cracks are really completely filled in. Against that uncertainty, we tie ourselves together, 2-3-4 people depending, along a single rope about 30 feet apart. If someone unexpectedly falls in a crack, the others on the rope can hold their weight while the fallen climber climbs back out or is hauled back out. The 'tweener season, where some cracks are exposed and others are barely covered, is even harder for glacier navigation. Simply, we're even more likely to fall in the hidden holes. And we have to walk around or jump over the cracks we can see. Pretty much all of our climbing in Greenland was on glaciers in the transitional period. And, all of us fell in at least once. Annie was the first to go in and I actually fell in the same crack twice, once going to a climb, and again on the way back home. After the glaciers, at long last, is the climbing. We'll get into that in the next chapter.

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