The year of three expeditions !
In April I took passage in someone else's boat, Shadowfax with Tim an Em to Norway via Shetland. A very pleasant trip and I had not bee to Shetland before, only, when I got to Norway I found I was not really fit enough fro the skit touring!
I June it was my privilege to take Dave Macleod, Britain's top rock climber, and Chris Prescott, climber/photographer, and Nat Berry (UKClimbing) to St. Kilda f or Dave and Nat to put up two superb new routes on the west cliff of Hirta. It was a steep learning curve for ther climbers as they had not sailed before and the 'Atlantic' passage across from the Sound of Harris to St. Kilda was ... rough!
Then at the end of August I flew to the Falklands to join Novara, a 60ft aero-rigged sloop, to sdail to South Georgia. South Georgia is a special place, a World Heritage Site (like St. Kilda!) with all sorts of regulations to avoid bio-diversity to keep it pristine. But it was a toguh expedition mainly because the weather was consistently vicious. I had to withdraw from attempting the Shackleton Trqaverse in spite of having trained hard for it this time, because the weather was just not going to give a four day window for an old man's pace. The three who did do it did so in two days plus, 'in foul conditions' - it was just as well I had withdrawn! But a special interesting place, millions of penguins, hundreds of elephant seals, fur seals, giant petrels, albatrosses, you name it. And we explored right down to the soouthern end of the island. being blown out of some anchorages! I did do a couple of short day ski tours. It took us five days to get down to South Georgia, and ten days and an extra 400 miles to get back tacking against the wind, including lying to a drgue for 42 hours in stormy weather.
Immediately on return I flew to Canada for the Banff Mountain Film Festival and met up with the Wild Bunch. We gave our presentation which people seemed to enjoy - though I have never done the rap with a cross-bow before instead of a 'props' rifle or ice axe! - and they looked after us very well.
Back across the Atlantic again and immediately went down with a severe dose of Man-Flu. Serve me right for joining the international jet set back and forth!
Another successful expedition, though perhaps somewhat muted compared with previous years, but which succeeded in both its main objectives. The plan was to sail the boat from Sisimiut where it had been left ashore for the winter and sail south down the west coast of Greenland climbing new routes on the way, before bringing the boat back across the Atlantic to Scotland. My crew this time were the Mild Bunch – non-professional ordinary climbers. They did show that there were new routes to be made by ordinary climbers in Greenland, making a number of not quite so hard first ascents in the lower extreme grades on shorter routes as we wended south. I did sometimes hope though that they would be a little more ambitious for the sake of climbing new routes! There were two glorious exceptions to this, both longer and harder, on the north east face of the Lin of Sal island by Maniitsoq, which I had dubbed the Shark’s Fin, where they really stretched themselves to make two fine first ascents. I added a lot of pilotage research to the expedition, submitted now to the relevant authority for the new edition of the Arctic and Northern Waters pilot book. The Atlantic crossing in these latitudes had its usual challenges with a depression stretching right across from Greenland to Scotland and beyond. We went south to get round it, hove-to for 26 hours in big winds, got hit hard by a wave amidships which burst open a repair I had done after some damage in Aasiaat the winter before. The bracket holding the boom vang sheared off when the vang got jammed heaving-to, and the wind instrument gave up altogether. The usual adventures; two of the crew had not sailed before and none had done an Atlantic crossing. They did well. Next summer I am under orders to take the grandchildren sailing. Now there is an adventure....
Another successful expedition with the Wild Bunch of 2010! Successful but hard, largely owing to the uncompromising, remote and desolate terrain of Baffin, and the conditions and weather in the Arctic this summer.
It was an expedition in two halves. The lads joined the boat in Aasiaat where it had wintered in early July. First, we went round to the Uummannaq area of west Greenland, and they put up five new extreme big wall routes, with the rock living up to its reputation of being loose in places. The weather was reasonable here but there were also some strong winds. We had to wait a while for the ice to clear from the shores of Baffin but then a three day passage took us across to Baffin. We were surprised early on the last morning to encounter big fields of pack ice 70 miles out to sea from the coast - the ice was at last moving out - but fortunately wind and swell had broken up the pack and we could weave our way through. Five new big wall routes were climbed in Sam Ford and Gibbs Fjords. All these climbs in both countries were completed without using any artificial aids. This was particularly noteworthy in the Baffin fjords where nearly all previous routes had been done using aid. The weather was not co-operative in Baffin, and the anchorages could be minimal. In both countries all these big wall climbs were done by long extended alpine style pushes of 20-24 hours (one in only 12 hours!) rather than the usual big wall style of sleeping on portaledges on the faces and taking several days. And of course there was plenty of music in between, and new songs composed. Watch for the eventual film!
We sailed back across to Greenland and entered through the rock strewn channel into Sisimiut in winds of 40-44 knots, to leave the boat there for the winter. A fitting finale to a tough expedition
It was a more difficult year in the Arctic, and in the North West Passage, this summer. We were held up by ice and had to battle against strong winds.
We started late (July 30) because crew member Rich had battles of his own getting an American visa. We waited off Point Hope for nine days to let strong contrary north winds pass through, motored against the wind all the way along the north Alaskan shore, sheltered for two days in a gale ‘behind’ Barter Island.
No engine oil or propane gas was available in Tuktoyaktuk. (The Mayor finally found us a 5 gallon drum of oil at a huge price!), we threaded through 2/10ths ice both sides of Bathurst peninsular passing through Snowgoose Passage and made it to Cambridge Bay. Thankfully Victoria Strait and Bellot Strait were open, but we were held up for eight days at remote Fort Ross by ice and wind.
It was getting late (Sept) – were we going to get iced in? Fortunately a short window opened and we made it through and out. Rode out another gale at Tay Bay. made it to Pond Inlet, then to Clyde River past huge ice shelves off east Baffin, and so across to Aasiaat, where we have left the boat for the winter. Maybe the only GRP boat to traverse the North West Passage twice?
After crossing the Atlantic from Scotland, and completing the long haul up the west coast of Greenland to the Upernavik area, the four South African climbers aboard set about climbing new routes in the Sortehul fjord. They made two first ascents on Red Wall, Flight of the Dodo E4, 6a (British) 400 metres, and Don’t be Gull-able E3, 6a, C1, 300 metres, before undertaking a major big wall new route on Impossible Wall here. Improbability Drive E6, 6b, 850 metres took them 9 days to complete, sleeping occasionally on the face on port-a-ledges. It was perhaps a little close and similar to the Belgian/American route of 2010, but it was a superb, technical and major first ascent.
Next the expedition sailed across to Pond Inlet, north Baffin, in Arctic Canada. Here a pioneering route was made, Bonfire of the Vanities E3, 6a, 280 metres, on difficult rock in a virtually unclimbed area of fjords 40 miles south west of Pond Inlet settlement.
The expedition finished by completing the nearly 3000 mile North West Passage east to west over the top of Canada and America in Bob’s small GRP sailing boat Dodo’s Delight. It was not without some difficulty, but fortunately on the whole it was a ‘good’ ice year.
May: A mini expedition taking a group of climbers across to Pabbay and Mingulay in the Western Isles. The climbers learnt a lot about sailing; I learnt a lot about the anchoring at Pabbay and Mingulay!
July 21: (onwards) Acted as a watchkeeper and Ice Pilot for Arctic Meanderings in Greenland and arctic Canada on board the 'new' Billy Budd, a 112 foot superyacht. Included visits to the seldom visited Carey Islands, Jones Sound and Admiralty Inlet - Polar Bears, Musk Oxen, Walrus.
This was followed by a 'mad dash' from the Arctic past Baffin, Labrador, Nova Scotia without stopping to Newport Rhode Island, 2500 miles, the nearest place the boat could be lifted out so the bow thruster could be repaired! Subsequently we put out to sea and then diverted to northeast Maine to shelter from a brush with hurricane Irene (up to 55 knots only in the end - the boat merely shrugged it off).
A highly successful expedition owing to the expertise of my team of 'world class' climbers. We met up in Aasiaat where I had left the boat for the winter and sailed - literally, as the engine would not start after the first 85 miles - whether the wind blew strong or not at all, until we finally reached Upernavik.
The aim was for my climbers to open up the big rock walls near Upernavik which they did with four superb routes on big rock faces. The tour de force was on Impossible Wall at 850 metres, E7 6c or 5.12d,19 sustained pitches of a high standard. In this and two other instances the climbs were started from the boat up against the sheer cliffs.
We hope that this will open up this area of huge potential to climbing at all standards in the future. We then made our way 900 miles south to the Cape Farewell area where my team again put up four quality new routes on rock walls on these Alpine type mountains at this southern tip of Greenland.
They even persuaded the skipper to go out with them and add another route, which was a grave mistake - far too long and hard for an old man at E2 and 500 metres! We called in at the Weather Station at the far end of Prins Christian Sund and were duly treated to Danish pastries before putting out for the Atlantic.
This proved quite a tough passage with headwinds and a couple of 'storms' for which we hove-to, before we could work south to pick up favourable westerlies, at last.
We stopped briefly in Mingulay and considered climbing but the skipper decided next morning that we had best proceed for fear of weather. We sped across the Minch with strong following winds and eventually arrived in Oban in a full gale.
This had nothing to do with it being their first Atlantic crossing, but my thirteenth! Click here for an account of the expedition, and www.xpedition.be gives some superb pictures on their website As well as being awarded the Piolet d'Or 2011. We won the Best Mountain Adventure Film Award at the Kendal Mountain Festival 2011 for the film the team had made of this expedition.
DVDs of the film can be purchased from me costing £20 + £1.50 postage.
Atlantic - Scotland to Greenland; whole of west coast of Greenland. First ascents of mountains on Akuliarusinguaq, new rock climb in Sortehul near Upernavik (Old Man's Benefit HVS 5a 200 metres), thorough exploration of Northumberland Island 77 23N - anchorages and nine first ascents (six on a technically difficult ski mountainering traverse across the spine of the island).
Set up an Automatic Weather Station on Littleton Island 78 22N for Scottish Association of Marine Sciences and Danish Space Agency. Two big storms. Left the boat in Aasiaat, west Greenland. Click here to read an expedition report. Awarded the R.C.C Tilman Medal for a second time for this voyage.
A work-up passage for the replacement Dodo's Delight. A faulty gearbox meant virtually no engine power there and back, and in the Azores. European Snowsports instructors for crew on the outward passage and a forestry consultant and schoolboy joined for the return.
Atlantic - Scotland to Greenland; whole of west coast as far as ice would allow. Furthest north for a production yacht in Greenland 78 32N; first ascents in Kangerdluriarssugsuaq, first ascents in Akuliarusinguaq; first ski traverse the length of Herbert Island, Polly Murray and Tash Wright 77 23N - 30k, 3 days.
Bob wintered alone in the boat in the ice near Upernavik. Loss of the first Dodo's Delight to fire January 2005. Awarded the R.C.C Goldsmith Medal for Exploration for this voyage.
Boat re-launched, Aasiaat; ski mountaineering Akuliarusinguaq on the edge of the ice cap, Long carry in 2 1/2 days with tents and gear. Six first ascents. One first ascent rock climb in Sotehul near Upernavik.
Met Northabout at Upernavik on their way to NW Passage. Passage to 75 35N to get over West Ice to Bylot Island, arctic Canada. Caught in pack ice at Cape Walter Bathurst. Repeated Tilman and Bruce Reid's north south traverse across Bylot Island - 70k, 10 days, first ascent of 8 mountains on the way.
Polly Murray and Tash Wright made 90k north south traverse - Murray-Wright Travese - fast 8 days but no first ascents! Return across the Atlantic Sept/Oct - stormy
Atlantic - Scotland to Greenland, west coast; two first ascents Kangerdlurssussuaq; sailors returned, big wall climbers flew out; first ascent of north face of Sandersons Hope - Arctic First Born E3, 6a, A3+ 1000 metres. Boat left in Aasiaat for winter.
Atlantic - Scotland to Greenland, west coast. Eleven first ascents at Akulkiarusinguaq either of mountains or new routes on mountains.'Discovered' new anchorages for Greenland Pilot. Return across Atlantic. Awarded the R.C.C Tilman Medal for this voyage.
Falmouth - Falkland Islands - Antarctica - Cape Horn - Easter Island - Pitcairn - Tahiti - Fiji - Vanuatu - Torres Strait - Darwin - Cocos Keeling - Mauritius - Durban - Cape of Good Hope - Capetown - St. Helena - Ascension - Azores - Ireland - Holyhead. Mast fell down in Antarctica - jury rigged back to the Falklands (730 miles, 7 days 1) - New mast flown out - back down to Antarctica - Round Cape Horn to Easter Island from there. With school leavers (Kingham Hill School), two came all the way round and we changed two at six or seven places on the way round. 38,000 miles, 22 months.
Falmouth - Faroes - Iceland - Greenland - Newfoundland (Lance aux Meadows) and back direct across the Atlantic (just under 15 days!). Pupils Kingham Hill School
To mark Centenary of Kingham Hill School. Portland UK to Portland (Maine) USA. Will Driver as Mate stayed on, otherwise changed crews in Portland USA. Very stormy passage back with contrary winds from halfway across. 35 days - late back to school!
Our first ocean passage - with pupils Kingham Hill School where I was Chaplain. Astro-navigation no sat nav or GPS in those days. No marinas in Azores, as it ought to be!