In the spring of 2010, Ben Ditto, Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll, Nicolas Favresse, and his brother Olivier got on a sailboat to search for big wall first ascents in Greenland.
"I crawled my way out of my bunk and out of the cabin, up on to the deck. Big waves were shaking the boat all over the place, making every move feel like a heinously awkward wrestle. The wind was blowing hard into the sails and pushing us forward. "We're moving along nicely” Olivier shared with me as he saw my pitiful face appear, "unfortunately not in the right direction” he added.
It had been more than a week since we left Greenland and we had been treated to tough head winds and an infinite view of salt water ever since. I had been seasick as soon as we started the Atlantic crossing, vomiting multiple times every day. No food or water had managed its way down into my body, and as a consequence I hadn't gone for a poop in five days. A new personal record!"
We went to Greenland looking for adventure, and adventure was sure as hell what we found! Lots of it!
We started our trip by flying into Greenland and meeting captain Bob and his sailboat "Dodo's Delight”. Bob is a 75-year-old reverend, who we had never seen before, and with whom we were committing ourselves on a three-month climbing-sailing expedition. The only contact we had had with him was a few exchanged e-mails, but he turned out to be the perfect man for the job. He was always totally committed to our climbing objectives, never hesitating to do dangerous manoeuvres with his boat to get us close to the walls.
With the sailboat filled to the rim with climbing gear and food for two months, we set sail and explored some of the fjords about half way up the west coast of Greenland. It was my first sailing experience and most of the time I was just pulling on ropes without really knowing what I was doing.
We quickly spotted some incredibly attractive looking rock faces that had never been climbed before. It was unbelievable to be able to float around this giant playground and just pick whichever fresh juicy cherry you wanted. Big walls of 500 to 900m shot straight out of the sea towards the heavens. The climbing was very wild, and never simple. We encountered grassy cracks, guano covered slabs, mossy offwidths, vertical kitty litter, and vomiting seagulls. The perpetual daylight was a huge advantage, there was never any pressure of getting caught up in the dark.
We climbed one route in big wall style. Because it was a North face we mostly climbed at night, enjoying the midnight sun. However, because there was no night to stop us from climbing, our days became longer. As a result, we were more tired after a day of climbing and subsequently our nights also became longer.
In the end we were completely lost in time. We topped out after 7 days, which turned out to be 11 calendar days! It was an amazing climb and every single pitch was a challenge, right up to the very end.
One of the main features of this climb was a big giant funnel about halfway up the face.
The big dark overhanging chimney that lured above us looked like a black hole that was so heavy it could swallow the whole universe. It was covered with dark lichen, green moss and a waterfall was dripping out of it. It was very intimidating. When analysing the wall from the boat, this was the most ambiguous feature of the whole wall, and it was our biggest uncertainty of the line. However, for some strange reason, that I can't really explain other that my thirst for adventure, I was super attracted to it.
As I climbed up into the darkness, tension was high, and I could feel my heart beating it's way up my throat. At the entrance there was a big giant blob what looked like solidified mud, definitely an object that I did not fancy touch nor that I would consider putting any protection behind. If it came off it would most likely either crush me or Ben, my belayer. After some hesitation I threw my foot across to the other side of the corridor, and to my surprise discovered that I could just barely get it across. Almost doing the split I managed to stem past it and up into the obscurity. Once inside the wet slot, I tried to look around to find some protection to boost my confidence, but so much water was dripping down into my eyes that I could not keep them open.
I knew I had to keep moving and try to get out of here as fast as I possibly could, it felt like a time bomb was ticking. With my eyes closed I grovelled my way out the other side and back into the light, happy and relieved to find a perfect hand crack to bury my hands and protection in. However the battle was far from over, above a big wet mossy dihedral awaited me. After a fierce fight, and almost running out of rope, I desperately mantled onto a grassy ledge. "How does the next pitch look?” Ben asked. "It looks like a wide overhanging wet mossy crack. It looks amazing!” I yelled down.
We later sailed down to the southern tip of Greenland to the fjords near cape farewell. This is the region where most climbing expeditions go to when they go to Greenland and with reason; the place is littered with amazing big walls.
In the spirit of adventure, and taking advantage of our floating base camp, we decided to take a look in some of the fjords away from the nucleus. We put up three new routes. The climbing here was a lot cleaner than up North, with good quality granite and amazing splitter cracks.
We ended our expedition by sailing across the Atlantic back to Europe. For 15 days we didn't see any land. While sailing everything was happening all around us, i.e.: everything and nothing. There was mostly salt water, rain, waves in our faces and occasionally visits of birds, whales and dolphins, which we always appreciated very much. The first nine days my activities were limited to: vomiting, helming, more vomiting, sleeping, and so on...
It was an experience I lived to the fullest and in contrary to what you might think from my description, it really was great! Sailing has much in common with rock climbing, and the combination of the two was amazing. Definitely something to do again!