Mountaineering in Greenland

The Development of Mountaineering in East and North-East Greenland An Outline History

Compiled by Jim Gregson, with additional notes by Paul Walker

 Most early expeditions to Greenland had scientific rather than mountaineering objectives. Nevertheless, there was considerable exploration and discovery of mountain ranges and a number of ascents were made, perhaps the earliest being J. Payer’s 1870 climb of Payer Spitze (2133m) above Kejser Franz-Joseph Fjord. Further interest in Greenland was catalysed by Nansen’s first crossing of the Inland Ice in 1888 from Umivik to Godthåb (Nuuk).

A number of other routes crossing the ice cap were pioneered at the end of the 19th Century and the start of the 20th. Significantly for future mountaineering, the Swiss Alfred de Quervain’s west to east crossing of 1912 partly discovered and named the Schweizerland area for its array of alpine peaks. The British explorer J.M. Wordie led teams into north-east Greenland in 1926 and 1929, in the latter year making the first ascent of Petermanns Bjerg, the highest mountain in the High Arctic and once thought to be the ‘loftiest in all Greenland’.

The decade of the 1930’s saw a surge of interest in Greenland’s mountains. Between 1930 and 1932 the Gino Watkins-led British Arctic Air-Route Expeditions travelled extensively on the Inland Ice and in the east coast mountains. Attempts were made on Mont Forel, and aerial survey flights led to the discovery of what later became named the Watkins Bjerge, where the highest peaks on the whole island were discovered. In 1933 Miss Louise Boyd’s American Expedition made a number of ascents to the north of Petermann’s Bjerg. Further important discoveries were accomplished by Martin Lindsay’s British Trans-Greenland Expedition which in 1934 crossed the Inland Ice from west to east to fix the position of the “Monarch”, later renamed Gunnbjørns Fjeld, confirming its primacy of altitude. Lindsay then sledged hundreds of kilometres south-west to Ammassalik discovering en route the extensive ranges of the Kronprins Frederik Bjerge.

In 1935, Lawrence Wager, who had been a member of Watkins’ expedition, returned to the icebound east coast to pioneer a route inland from Sødalen to make the first ascent of Gunnbjorns Fjeld (c.3693m) as well as sighting the Lemon Bjerge to the north-east of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord. During 1938 a Swiss expedition including Andre Roch travelled through Schweizerland to make the first ascent of Mont Forel (3360m) and thirteen other significant firsts, among them Laupers Bjerg, Rødebjerg and Rytterknægten, drawing attention to the wealth of fine peaks in this district.

The Post-World War II years heralded an increasing rate of visits to east and north-east Greenland as awareness of the mountaineering possibilities grew. Lauge Koch’s series of East Greenland Expeditions from 1950 to 1953, although scientific in intent, numbered keen mountaineers among its personnel, notably J. Haller and W. Diehl, who climbed many important peaks in Goodenough Land, Swuess Land and other districts of Christian X Land. The ascents of Lauge Kochs Bjerg, Payers Tinde, Hamlet Bjerg, Shackletons Bjerg and Pluto Nunatak date form this period. More northerly still, the Barth Mountains and Dronning Louise Land were also the setting for pioneer ascents by the British North Greenland Expedition 1952-54.

More here from Paul Walker, Greenland Expeditions

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