We lunched beneath the summit in the shelter of some large boulders. For the descent we climbed down the rocks on the north west side of the face. Altogether a long enjoyable day on Spitsbergen's joint highest peak.
Venusfjellet was only the second peak in the adventure phase, and the first from our new camp. We had been on the ice for over a week now, and we had little to show for it. For most this peak would be another test of our skiing ability - although it wasn't far away we knew the distance would take time to cover. I had broken my binding on the load carry two days before, and so I was skiing on an improvised pilchard tin - surprisingly good! The start of the day was not too early - it took a long time to get people moving . Breakfast was prolonged and the subsequent necessary chores seemed to be bypassed by most. Living on snow is not easy, it requires a frame of mind that we hadn't yet acquired. Some took a long time to find their feet in this environment. Steve was not one of those - he stood ready to leave about 15 minutes before anyone else. Buckled into his skis, he leant on his poles and despaired at the confusion around him:Who had the rope? Who had the first aid kit? Where's my lunch? and so on. For one so experienced he gave no advice, just waited.
The start was not good - unless things improved a lot we were not going to make half our objectives in the area. Not far on Kris had broken her binding in a similar fashion to me. Steve was not pleased and showed it. There was nothing for it but to send her back with her foot tied to the ski. Lucy had swapped a ski that had the tell-tale hair-line crack across it with Kris ( a sign that everyone eventually got). Kris broke that one on her way back to the camp. Meanwhile we progressed around the shoulder of Bleigen into the valley between Eddingtonryggen and Venusfjellet.
Venusfjellet is a striking peak - it is almost conical except that the peak has been removed (at the uniform height that all mountains conform to here) and on it was a glacier - with huge walls of ice rising up where the rock left-off. The north face did not look too stable, we could see large debris tails at the base leading in to the main valley of The Veteran Glacier. Jutting from the cone of Venusfjellet is another smaller peak connected by a snow covered col. It was this that we chose as our way up. Actually reaching the base was made interesting by Jim. His annoyance of skiing on the bare patches of ice had caused him to take his skis off. He then proceeded to walk across the only snow patch around - he really should not have looked so surprised when he disappeared up to his waist in a hole. He climbed out easily enough - used to falling in crevasses by now I should think.
Once we had eventually reached a suitable spot to remove our skis , we found an interesting grade 1 slope up to the col - two Bergschrund crossings at about 40 degrees. Also an ice patch of about 100 meters. This had all the making of a long slow climb. And indeed it was. I brought up the rear on the second rope - I had not even reached the half way point when Steve lead the first rope onto the rock at the top of the col. This was not a problem - I'm just glad that I didn't have to wait as the first rope did. From the col the route was up the main 'cone' which was on rock. The going was easy and fast. The only problem was that as we went up we lost more and more of the view - we had entered the clouds. Lunch was eaten in the cloud, at a level point just before going back on to the snow that lead to the summit. And we reached the summit in cloud, not a thing was visible. The route back down to our lunch stop was zig-zagged to find our foot steps (we weren't sure of the direction back!). The down climb was along the same route, only slower. This time when I reached the skis the first rope was already to go! However, instead of going straight back we headed for a small pile of rock only slightly out or our way. Here we could survey part of the view we should have had from the top, and also notice that the summit was free of cloud. In fact, as far as we know, that was the only cloudy day in our entire stay! We made our own way back to camp, at our own leisurely paces - I took my time, as I wasn't cooking that night.
We approached the mountain by skiing north along Stuttbreen from base camp and past Venusfjellet to the east side of Marsfjellet. We were able to walk up the foot of the slope using skis and skins. However, the slope became too steep and we gave skis up in favour of boots. Crampons in the early stages were unnecessary as the snow was very deep and tended to ball up under the crampons. We negotiated a small bergschrund and made our way on to a flat piece of rotten ice. This sloped downhill to a small area of rock and then uphill across a gentle slope of ice. After walking across this we walked along more ice and skirted the rocky area. We reached an impressive snow ridge and we walked along this. The final peak in the ridge is the summit. Once again, the view offered good photographic opportunities. We had good views over Austfjorden, the Planetfjella and the east of Ny-Friesland. We walked downhill westwards from the summit to a rocky area which proved to be good for lunch and sun. We retraced our steps on the homeward journey. Altogether we had had a very gentle, pleasant day.
This was a smashing mountain. We left camp and skied towards the peak. At the bottom of Marsfjellet Kris' ski binding broke so she, Rollo, and Lucy went up there instead. The rest of us skied on into Banebotnen to the foot of Tritonfjellet. There were no particular problems here, only a few small crevasses. We skied to the bottom of the southern gully and left our skis at the base. Steve led straight up this ice patch which was steep enough to require front points but only the shaft of the axe. The ice was fairly rotten and those at the end of the rope found that they were climbing up a river of marble sized ice chunks!
The slope topped out onto a knife-edged ridge which allowed a fantastic view down Stubendorffbreen. We headed north along the rock ridge which turned into a knife-edged snow ridge for about 20m and then into an extended rock ridge. The rock was pretty loose, exposed and exciting. It led to the summit where we spent a couple of hours having lunch. The view was spectacular from the top, especially the 'tooth-like' Westbyfjellet.
We descended down the more northern gully as seen from the front. We got to the top simply by going down off the summit to the north. The climb down was led by Richard and was simple until we reached a huge Bergschrund which had to be crossed by a good ice bridge against the rock on the northern edge of the ice. Then we walked back to our skis and returned to camp.
On 20th August the weather was superb and we set off towards Galileotoppen in a north easterly direction across Stuttbreen. We took off our skis at the foot of the mountain having encountered a few cracks in the snow and ice. We made our way up a moderately steep ice field - ice axes were not needed. We then crossed a flat rocky area and walked up a gentle snow slope. We reached a beautiful ridge which looked fantastic due to the dusting of powder snow it had received in the past few days. The ridge alternated rocky outcrops with snow ridges and crampons were constantly being taken on and off. In places, the ridge became sheer and it was necessary to rope up. We lunched at one of the highest points on the ridge which gave us a good view of the rocky summit beyond. The wonderful view, along with the good weather, meant it was a very good opportunity to take some promotional photographs. An hour (and several reels of film later), we proceeded along the ridge, down over alternating snow, rock and ice, then up over mainly rocky outcrops. The summit was formed by an impressive pinnacle giving it a pointy appearance. More photographs followed. The view was fantastic and the Planetfjella, Bleigen and other familiar mountains around camp could be seen. We returned the same way as we had come. The initial ice field posed few problems. We faced the slope and descended. Altogether it was an excellent day out on a beautiful mountain.
Perriertoppen is the joint highest mountain in the Svalbard Archipelago. It is located in the Northwest of Ny-Friesland about 15km north of the 79th parallel and some 20km travel from our adventure camp on the edge of Eddingtonryggen. The ascent of Perriertoppen was one of the original aims of the expedition. However, its location in the northern limits of our range, coupled with unsettled weather made an attempt in the first half of August unwise. The 20th of August, the day of our ascent of Galileotoppen saw a change to more stable weather. The 21st 'dawned' to brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies. A discussion at breakfast raised the possibility of a small party of good skiers making a two day bivvy to the North of Ny-Friesland. The aim - to climb Ceresfjellet, Svalbard's third highest peak located next to Perriertoppen but much more easily reached down the Veteran from camp. Selection of the team was easy. There were four bivvy bags and four skiers with undamaged bindings. Without further ado the team packed and was ready to leave by 10am. This was actually earlier than the normal starting time! No mention was made of an attempt on Perriertoppen, although it was at the back of my mind at least.
We made excellent speed over the first kilometres. Skiing conditions above about 1050m were very good, with a surface layer of fresh (two day old) snow covering the harder icy crust. Venusfjellet was reached in thirty minutes and Neptunefjellet in an hour and ten. Steve, the most experienced and fastest skier led for most of the way. We had arranged a radio 'check in' for midday with the others who were climbing Bleigen, but by this time we were well out of range, obscured by the bulk of Neptunefjellet. Our route took us down the western edge of the Veteran, skirting crevasse fields in Manebreen. As we descended to around 900m at the entrance to Manebreen, skiing became more difficult as the glacier was a lot icier and very hummocky (small bumps about ten to twenty cm high). However, we were still making very good progress. At a brief stop for breathe, somewhere near Solfjellet the topic of Perriertoppen was broached. It was clear we all wanted to go for it, but was it wise? How would the others feel? Should we play safe? Two routes to Perriertoppen were proposed. The more conservative involved travelling to the head of Gallerbreen and descending over a col to Tryggvebreen which could then be followed up to a col between Pallasfjellet and Perriertoppen to climb via the East Face, or if it looked good, a direct ascent of the rocky South Face. The East Face route was the one Steve had planned to take when we first arrived in Ny-Friesland. The second route was rather more ambitious and involved a 'Grand Tour' of Ceresfjellet, Pallasfjellet and Perriertoppen by the East Face. The only merit of this route, apart from the views was that it did not involve the risk of descending in to Tryggvebreen down a rather steep and probably crevassed glacier. It seemed likely that Tryggvebreen would be dry-glacier and hence skiing could be difficult. The 'Grand Tour' did not seem practical. We felt that as Perriertoppen was 'in our grasp' and its ascent was an expedition objective, we really had to make an attempt. So we opted for Tryggvebreen.
With rucksacks slung back on, the four skied up Gallerbreen. The col was reached about one thirty - only three and a half hours out and well over half the distance covered. A marvellous view unfolded. Fantastic mountains everywhere and the great bowl of Tryggvebreen unfolded below. We could trace the surface rivers and crevasse fields across to the shoulder of Chadwickryggen which towered above, precipitous crags with a crowning arÍte of ice. A brief look at the descent in to Tryggvebreen before lunch confirmed that it was steep enough and crevassed enough to require roping up, so we proceeded Alpine Style. It wasn't as slow as we had feared, and after a circuitous route through a crevasse field at the base of the descent, we arrived on the glacier and had our first close up view of Perriertoppen. This confirmed what the map had shown. The easiest route would be the East Face, a simple plod up snow and ice to the top about 850m above our present height. Skiing on Tryggvebreen was difficult. We experimented and eventually, Richard walked, whilst Steve, Walter and I skied with skins. Richard was faster. We kept this up until we had ascended several hundred metres above the glacier towards the pass in between Perriertoppen and Pallasfjellet. When skiing became impractical, we put on crampons and continued to the pass and up on to the East Face. The ice conditions were good and although one small crevasse was encountered, we climbed to a rocky patch at the southern end of the summit ridge unroped. A short walk in virgin snow and we were there.
It almost goes without saying that the views were amazing. A near perfect day combined with Spitsbergen's best mountain ranges was definitely a winning formula. The panorama in all directions was superb. Familiar landmarks such as Kinanderfjellet in Dickson Land and Newtontoppen to the south, contrasted with a featureless sheet of ice stretching to the northern horizon. It was very cold. Photos and mars bars out of the way, we commenced the descent. The first 50 metres or so were steep and icy, but from then on, that most favoured of methods of descent, the bum-slide was employed with great success. Five minutes on and Richard and Walter at least were at the pass again. A happy but tired group of expeditioners completed the marathon day by walking back down on to Tryggvebreen to cook tea and bivvy for the night, dreaming of polar bears and nibbled toes!
It was well in to the next day before any further activity was seen. Arms snaked out of bivvy bags and groped for stoves and frozen water bottles. It took several hours to get ready for the long trip home. We retraced the route of the previous day. This could have been something of an anticlimax had it not been for the fact that the outward trip had been so fast we had missed most of the scenery. Nevertheless, skiing back was hard work and it was a relief to hard worn feet when base camp finally loomed once more from beneath Bleigen.
Bleigen was directly behind our camp - its shadow was our night which meant that climbing it would be in direct sunlight. For the last week we had been watching small slides of snow come down from the gullies of rock that outcropped near the top of the ridge. Beyond that we could see a large cornice.
There was no obvious route up, the bergschrunds at the bottom were a major obstacle - having to zigzag through the lattice. This took a lot longer than expected and left us much further north along the slope than I had wanted. Instead of traversing south across the steepening slope we headed up, with the aim of moving to the north and going for the shoulder. Picking routes up was harder still, trying to avoid going under too many outcrops. The gullies weren't much better, the snow bank at the top looking distinctly larger than before.
Our progress north was being slowed considerably by the rock outcrops - as we got higher they became more frequent, forcing us up various snow-paths between them. It was then that we noticed an appealing small gully that appeared to top-out. We took it. Unfortunately it led us to a col. Without down-climbing our only route was up a much smaller gully with a slight rock route at the top. The gully was thin ice at about 55 degrees (ask Jim), and 'topping it' was tricky without sending handfuls of rock down on to Lucy who was seconding.
The rock proved to be even shorter than I had hoped to imagine. From here on it was simply a walk to the shoulder of the ridge. The route to the summit was the razor sharp ridge, nothing harder than a roped walk, except when a foot went through the frozen snow. Eventually the ridge flattened out into the plateau that was the summit. And we could see the cornice - cracks in the snow showing at about 6ft back. In fact the whole area seemed criss-crossed with cracks, and we picked out a route to highest point. We had lunch there.
The descent was straight down the east face more or less from above the camp. There was much deliberation about the best way down, choosing from various spots along the ridge south of the summit. Here the top was bare of snow, no overhanging snow banks. The route chosen was a simple but steep down-climb, only getting interesting on icy patches or when crossing a snow chute. At the half way point Jim took the lead and led us the rest of the way down. He found a very interesting route over the Bergschrund at the bottom (which happened to be the one that we collected water from!), and lead us the rest of the way down into camp still all roped up - I think Kris was impressed with our entrance.
The approach to Wainfletefjellet involved a very pleasant ski south eastwards. Wainfletefjellet was a long, gentle looking mountain which our camp looked out on. The weather was fine when we left but as we reached the foot of the mountain we were engulfed in thick cloud rendering route finding almost impossible. After abandoning our skis when the slope got too steep to ski up, we crossed a series of small cracks in the ice and reached a rocky outcrop where we ate lunch and decided what to do. After a great deal of pondering, the cloud disappeared as suddenly as it had come in and revealed the summit and some rather indirect tracks with us at the end of them. A gradual slope lead up to the summit and we made our way towards it. Our progress was somewhat hampered by a huge crevasse - this was certainly not crossable so we retreated and bypassed it. We reached the top to discover it was not, in fact, the top. Beyond us lay an impressive ridge alternating rock and snow. We made our way along it and towards the end of the ridge it became very steep sided - we decided to rope up. The view from the summit was fantastic - Billefjorden and the familiar base camp mountains were surrounded in sunlight and very light cloud.
The return journey involved us simply retracing our steps. We had all had a very enjoyable day, and looked forward to finding out how the 'Cerresfjellet' trip had gone.
Astronomfjellet is an unusual peak. It is covered almost entirely in icecap. On first sight it was described as amongst other things, 'a giant slug'. At least part of its attraction was its novelty value. None of us had ever seen a mountain like that. The views were, as always, expected to be unique. The route from camp also promised to be an interesting ski, and after climbing Perriertoppen during the previous two days, it seemed an easy target.
After checking out on the VHF radio, we glided across Stuttbreen and skied around the shoulder of Wainfletefjellet tracing the tracks of yesterday's party. The route then involved a most excellent gliding descent to the col between Astronomfjellet and Jupiterfjellet. Underneath a fresh snow layer, the ice was quite icy and so as the gradient began to steepen we put on skins. In fact, we were able to ski all the way up the West Face of the mountain, which reached a maximum gradient of 24 degrees (geologists compass clinometeres do have uses!). There were a few crevasses, but none too large to side-step. The slope gradually lessened and only and hour and a half after leaving camp, we were standing next to a large cairn on the summit.
The view was rather spectacular. Bands of low cloud had moved in from the south during the last hour and now skimmed the top of the mountains. Steve compared the effect to a virtual reality tunnel, but I would say this did it poor justice. Some memorable photographs were taken. Astronomfjellet does command an impressive site overlooking Kvitbreen and Keplerbreen, two large glaciers which stretch down to the eastern coast. The summit view also gives a new perspective on Lomonsov Fonna to the south and the familiar peaks of Dickson Land.
We radioed news of our ascent to base camp, and began our descent as the cloud closed in. The descent was thrilling. We skied all the way, traversing or skidding in my case with skins on until the gradient lessened and we were able to glide nearly all the way home in sunshine. The fastest prolonged skiing of the expedition was recorded on the return journey with an average speed of 11kph. In fact, we arrived back in time for lunch completing the best morning of the expedition....
Eddingtonryggen is a mountain sandwiched between the Stubendorffbreen, Harkerbreen, and Stuttbreen glaciers in Ny-Friesland. It comprises a number of peaks including Bleigen (1510m) and the highest summit (1548m). This section is concerned with our attempt on its highest summit.
The mountain was one of my favourite of the whole expedition, partly because of the summit views, but mainly because of the incredible mixed route that we took to reach it. We started with a snow/ice climb up the back face of a small corrie glacier just off Stuttbreen (to the right of the 1400m ridge peak). We took a route just to the right of some exposed rock, which formed the end of the mountain's NW face. Having reached the top we continued along the ridge towards the impenetrable-looking rock step ahead.
The quickest route up this is as follows. Firstly scramble up an easy ramp to the right of the ridge, climbing up to and then crossing the ridge at the obvious place. Next traverse off to the left and scramble back up to the ridge again on scree to bypass a rock section. This brings you to a more formidable looking step with some impossible rock climbing routes on - do not despair! Follow a scree ledge off to the right again. This narrows unnervingly to where you have to cross behind a rather sheer gully (opening out onto Planetbreen, quite a long way below): however once you have crossed this hurdle you are past the worst. Continue along the slope and make your way onto the top. From here pick your way along the ridge, I'm sure I won't have to remind you about the wicked drops on either side and the rotten rock. The summit ridge, when it is reached is an icecap so crampons would be useful. At the time our map was printed the highest peak was the East most one, however by 1993 it had changed to the middle one. Having reached the top we retraced our steps, the summit seemed unreachable by almost every other route.
This route is not one for the inexperienced. I would definitely not recommend it unless you had plenty of scrambling or rock climbing experience and could cope with the sight of huge drops. The route is an advanced scramble and not a rock climb, even so necessary safety equipment is essential. The scree slope behind the gully may well erode away with time so don't count on it being there. This route was one of the most advanced (and most exhilarating ) ones we did.
We skied northwards from our nunattak camp on Formidablebreen. We decided to move east to try and join the south ridge of Toreryggen at its beginning. This proved unfeasible so we skirted the south-east side of the ridge keeping close to the side of the mountain until the ridge was more easily accessible.
We climbed the south face . This involved crossing a wide snow bridge. The first three skied across but this was proving to be very difficult so the rest of us took off our skis and gently walked across. We had all roped up before crossing. We stayed on foot and reached the ridge, then walked west to the summit. We walked down the north face to a col then descended Stormbreen putting skis back on at varying heights depending on ability.
We left our camp on the nunattak and headed for the valley we could see that seemed to be a haven of snow gullies up to the plateau top of Bleikfjellet. We headed west from the camp across the top of the ice cliff and then went down it where it was less steep. We then continued walking to the bottom, where we had heard an enormous rockfall the night before and put our skis on to head for the valley. Once there we discovered that all the gullies were very steep and topped out onto an overhanging cliff of ice about 50m high! This was the ice cap on the top of the mountain and there was evidence of bits of it breaking off. Well no easy climb there!
There was however one route that went up a narrow gully that did not look too steep. Steve, Richard, and I went up it with our skis whilst the others went to climb Hutchinsfjellet. The gully ran up the northern side of the amphitheatre and about half way in. At the bottom was a bergschrund which could easily be climbed over by heading to the right and then it was simply straight up staying close to the left hand side. It was a very narrow gully and I found it far more satisfying than the other gullies we had climbed which, for the most part, were wide steep plods. Once at the top of the gully we had our lunch before heading on to the actual summit on skis. They were essential even though they were a bit of a problem on the climb. The whole of the top was covered in about 6 inches of powder snow and, with our skins on, the hill was no problem at all. The view from the top was another "best yet" looking across our science camp area and even out to Isfjorden.
We crossed the narrow ridge on foot and then continued on skis along the rest of the ridge. Skiing along the edge of a ridge at 1500m was a very weird experience and pretty exciting. We were usually on the bottoms of the valleys whilst skiing. Once at the top, we headed down to the top of Formidablebreen and skied home. There were a few steep parts on the way but once down onto the shallow gradient the ski back was the best we had had. We managed to get all the way back to the southern tip of Lynkamman going downhill, even though the last part of this was on dry glacier which made things all rather more exciting!
This was our last day in the mountains and I think it was probably the best.
The last mountain climbed of the expedition. We walked south from the nunattak on the Formidablebreen to the base of Hutchinsfjellet, crossing a large crevasse field on the way. There were several desperately hard looking gullies that reached the top but we took the obvious route straight up the north face. It was steep so we zig zagged up the climb. Near the top we emerged out of the shadow into sunshine. We reached the ridge and walked west to the highest point. From here we could see all the way down the Mittag-Lefflerbreen almost back to the science phase base camp.
For the descent we walked backwards using axes. We were roped up throughout the approach and climb because the glacier was snow covered and the climb was steep.
(The Pinnacle with the Hole)
We were at our final camp site before going to Skottehytta to catch the boat back to Longyearbyen. The weather was foul. There was low cloud, and a bit of rain. Noone wanted to go anywhere. But we had seen the amazing "Pinnacle with the Hole" while we were around base camp. I really wanted to go. Steve and Dave didn't want to spend their last day in bed and so we departed and left the others to sleep. It didn't really look like a nice approach walk but we were determined to check it out. We left our camp and crossed the melt water river to the drilling rig on the other side and stopped to have a look. We found a port-a-cabin with onions growing in the window so we supposed it was used still. Otherwise it looked quite deserted. Piled up beside the drilling rig were stacks of trays of core samples going down deeper than 300m.
Passing on we headed for a col, we were dreading a long scramble up scree but to our surprise found a glacier running up the valley. So this became a lot easier. The glacier turned out to be a continuation of the glacier marked on the map. The slope relaxed for a while and here the moraine on the valley sides had almost covered the glacier leaving only 10 feet uncovered in places, only just enough for a melt water stream. It looked more like a snow patch in the wrong place but there were kettle holes at least 30m deep in it.
Eventually the moraine covered the ice completely and we had to scramble up the moraine to where the ice was on the side of a fairly steep mountain (this was the glacier on the map) we continued to the top and had lunch.
At the top we were faced with a decision, either to go all the way down into the valley and so lose a lot of height which we would have to climb up again on the other side and walk across a long stretch of snowy glacier roped up (we had no skies). Or we could traverse along the scree, which would also be quite a slog. We went for the scree. After about 20m we found that the scree was frozen into ice. We nearly quit but decided to try going to the very top and walking along underneath the cliff. As the cliff was slightly overhung, there was walkway next to the cliff. So we simply walked under the cliff. This cliff had caves in it with luscious mosses and flowers growing in them, it would be a spectacular bivvy site. At the end of the cliff we reached a ridge which led directly to Tarantellen.
This pinnacle is a double arch of rock about 50 metres high and is an awe inspiring sight. Rather like a large version of Stonehenge but natural!
We then returned home along the same route satisfied after finally seeing the "Pinnacle with the hole".