EXPLORATION / by Angela Payne

I went to Greenland for the boulders.

Had you asked me six weeks ago what I wanted out of the trip, that is what I would have said—boulders.  Lots of them.  Untouched and made of perfect rock with gorgeous lines up every single one.  I had tunnel vision, as I often do, and I was dead set on establishing boulder problems in Greenland. In reality, I knew that bouldering was not the team’s sole focus.  For me, though, anything that we did in addition to bouldering would just be icing on the cake.  Or so I thought...

As it turned out, my feelings flipped at some point during the experience; Greenland itself was the cake (a gourmet, three-layer slice of scrumptiously moist carrot cake  balancing on the brink of complete collapse under the weight of its own delicious ingredients) and the boulders were the cream cheese icing.   Now, it could be argued that cake can be good even without icing, but everyone knows that icing is the best part (duh).  Greenland's icing was generously applied, at least in our cirque, and that is what set this cake apart from all the others I have sampled in the past.

Okay, enough cake talk.  Let's talk boulders (but feel free to eat cake on my behalf while you read about boulders...)

The bouldering in Greenland was amazing, as was the process of finding, cleaning and establishing new boulder problems.  Yes, it was just one part of something that turned out to be a much bigger experience, but it was a special part for me.  After all, this was the first time I have really explored an untouched boulder field.

Upon arriving at camp, I was itching to get out and explore.  Many days had already passed since I had climbed, and some of those had been spent in frustrating situations (sitting in the airport, sitting in the rain).  Needless to say, when the rain temporarily slowed, I was excited to get out of the tent.  What I found did not disappoint me.  There was a lovely fog dancing about in the talus, which made everything seem a bit more magical than it otherwise would.  Here is a gallery of my first views of the boulder fields and the rock up close:

My first impression was that we had happened upon a great little bouldering zone.  The rock seemed to be high quality in most places (with a bit of choss mixed in), and there were numerous classic looking lines that popped out right away.  I felt incredibly energized and excited running around the zone.  It is the first time that I have truly felt that I needed to go "just a little further" in case something amazing was sitting just beyond the next ridge.  It was a wonderful feeling.

Unfortunately, it was too wet to climb that day, as well as the next.  We did, however, start to scrub a huge boulder that was nearest to camp.  It was a beautiful bloc, with a very obvious vertical face and a difficult line up the middle.  Because it was located in the lower realm of the cirque, it was covered in moss and lichen.  Cleaning it up was a VERY dirty job, and Ethan and I ate our fair share of plant matter that day (the only greens we ate on the trip).

Ethan beginning to clean the big boulder near camp.

Ethan beginning to clean the big boulder near camp.

Cleaning boulders is a dirty job.

Cleaning boulders is a dirty job.

Ethan and I spent one day climbing on this boulder once it dried out.  The most obvious sequence that Ethan was able to find involved a huge dyno that he was never able to stick.  I pretended to find and use some nonexistent crimps on the face to avoid the dyno, but those quickly disintegrated into nothingness and my attempts were thwarted.  Unfortunately, we left this boulder unclimbed.  Its front face also had a few gorgeous lines up it, but the death landing below scared us away from trying it.  Here is a photo of the front face:

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After exploring the talus field in those first few days, I was feeling incredibly antsy to climb.  It had been more than a week since I had last climbed, and more than 4 days since I left home.  It would be another 4 days before I climbed again, because once the sun came out, the team opted to use the weather window for the ridge attempt (detailed in my last post "JOURNEY").  Waiting to boulder was one of the more difficult parts of the trip for me.  In hindsight, it was definitely good for me to take a bit of time away from the intensity of training and competing and projecting.  However, when tons of untouched boulders are sitting on the hill just minutes away from camp, it is incredibly hard to exercise self restraint.

Following our team ridge attempt and more rain, the day finally came when we got to climb.  Nine days after leaving Boulder, Colorado, I set out into the talus with Ethan to attempt some of the boulders.  The first boulder we went to was one that Ethan had found up next to the glacier.  Everything up in that zone was quite clean, which eliminated the tedious step of scrubbing from the process.  I climbed a nice line on the arete that was relatively easy, maybe V4, and named it The Legend of Hans Christian, in reference to the man, Hans Christian, who directed us to the cirque.  Ethan put up a great problem on the face of the boulder that was very technical and involved a big move to the lip.  He called it Richard Keil and this is what he had to say about it on his blog“Richard Keil” 7c FA, 14/8/2012 ...OMG we finally climbed after 4 days of epicing in the rain! And what an amazing zone, full of potential! This particular specimen is quite high quality, climbs like a camp 4 boulder, but without the sharp crystals, just totally smooth rock and perfect movements!

The Legend of Hans Christian.  Richard Keil climbs the arete to my right.

The Legend of Hans Christian.  Richard Keil climbs the arete to my right.

Just slightly uphill from this boulder was another one of Ethan's discoveries and the true gem of the area, The Ship's Prow Boulder.  I was blown away when I saw this boulder.  It was rather large and sat on a hill, with the uphill side measuring about 30 feet wide and overhanging about 30 degrees.  The rock was an amazing fine grain granite that felt more like sandstone.  And sure enough, there was an obvious line up the middle of the face.  After figuring out beta, Ethan quickly dispatched the first (and only) ascent of Shipwreck, which included a huge dyno in the middle (this was a trend in Greenland--very big moves).  The line was quite amazing, and it was a proud effort on Mr. Pringle's part.  Here is what he said about it on his blog: "Shipwreck” 8a FA, 14/8/2012...Wow, WOW! This bloc would be an all time classic testpiece at any area in the world, but it’s here! A massive, 30 degree overhang without any angle changes or protruding features the whole way, on the side of a huge ships prow boulder. About 20 feet long. A fine specimen indeed! Big moves between textured, but not sharp crimps (that needed no cleaning, just some chalk) to a big throw, then some easy moves in the highball part. Psyched to climb it in a sesh with Angie’s help figuring out the beta.

The Ships Prow boulder, with Shipwreck starting in the middle and trending left along the faintly chalked holds

The Ships Prow boulder, with Shipwreck starting in the middle and trending left along the faintly chalked holds

For me, Shipwreck was the one that got away on this trip.  I figured out an alternate sequence to avoid the dyno, but couldn't muster the strength and courage to top it out.  It's a true gem, as you can see.

After that first day of bouldering, Ethan and Mike began working on climbing a route up one of the prominent towers in the cirque.  That meant that I was without a bouldering partner for the rest of the trip.  Luckily, Keith was kind enough to add spotting (and pad hauling) to his photo and video juggling act, allowing me to accomplish a little more bouldering once Ethan took to the big wall.  Over the course of the remaining 9 days, I managed to get in a few more solid days of climbing, and a few half days.  Here are some of the boulders I completed in that time:

Fish Guts V7-9(?):  Ethan cleaned this boulder but left it for me to climb while he was suffering up on the wall.  I could have named it after the type of food Ethan would have settled for at that point, but it was actually named after the foul smell that lingered at its base for some unknown reason.

Fish Butts V4-6(?):  A fun little boulder with a pretty scary little top out

Climbing on Fish Guts (with Fish Butts to the left)

Climbing on Fish Guts (with Fish Butts to the left)

Roger Johnson V7-9(?):  Those are the words that Mike was to radio in if at any point on his solo mission he needed a rescue.  He assured us he has never used these words before, but I almost did when climbing this boulder.  I had already completed the first ascent, but I was repeating it for photos and video.  After successfully climbing it many times, the light got exceptionally good, and so I attempted it one last time.  

The broken hold and matching bruise

The broken hold and matching bruise

When I got to the top, I grabbed an intermediate, put my left foot up quite high, and found myself rocketing off the wall thanks to a broken hold.  Luckily, I narrowly avoided disaster by bouncing off the pads into the talus and taking the brunt of the fall with my hip.  Had I landed just a bit differently, I might have put that rescue insurance to use.  This moment of the trip snapped me back to the reality that I was bouldering in the middle of nowhere, with the closest hospital being an 8 hour boat ride away.  Needless to say, I was quite cautious from this point on in the trip.  The boulder was great fun though!

Cowboy Toast

Cowboy Toast

 

 

 

 

Cowboy Toast V5-7(?):  A classic little crimpy line that hugs the right arete and ends with a nice move to the lip.  I started this boulder from a low Colorado-esque sit start, so I thought it deserved a "Western" name.  Cowboy toast was also one of the foods we "enjoyed" at the Kulusuk airport courtesy of Richard Keil's doppelganger.

 

Aurora Borealis

Aurora Borealis

Replica Arete

Replica Arete

 

 

Aurora Borealis V2:  A nice little warm up boulder with a pretty backdrop.

 

 

 

 

 

Replica Arete V4:  A very nice boulder that sits up near the glacier and climbs like something straight out of the Big Bend boulders in Moab.  I really liked the way that the lines on the boulder mimicked the lines on the peak in the background, hence the name.

 

The process of exploring and developing this area was a great learning experience for me.  I have always known that development of a climbing area is tons of work, but I have a newfound respect for people who devote their time to establishing new climbing for everyone to enjoy.  Developing boulders is a journey in itself, full of unknowns and frustration and fear and excitement and eventually, extreme satisfaction.  I do not consider myself to be a very strong out-of-the-box thinker, but being thrown into a boulder field and having free reign to climb whatever I wanted definitely forced me to exercise my creativity.

Overall, the bouldering in Greenland exceeded my expectations.  We left many boulders unclimbed, due mainly to the fickle weather and time constraints, but the boulders that did get climbed were of a very high quality.  If all of the cirques (or for that matter, even a small percentage of the cirques) are like this one, there is some serious bouldering potential hidden in Greenland.  I hope that someday I might get to return to a different area of the country to explore another untouched boulder field.

The bouldering we found in the middle of nowhere Greenland, amidst the most gorgeous landscape a person could dream of, was just one more amazing part of an incredible experience.  I could talk and write about it for many years to come (and most likely will)....but hopefully another opportunity like this one arises so I can do it all over again!

I'm ready.