First Ascent in the Fjord

 

Written by Mountain Hardwear Athlete, Mike Libecki

People often ask me, “Out of all the places you have been, what is your favorite?”

The answer is difficult, but Greenland is definitely the most incredible place I have been. It’s part of me – the people, the flora and fauna, the unexplored massive big walls waiting for mysterious first ascents.

Ethan Pringle on lead as he onsights first ascent 5.13. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

I first landed on the magical land of Greenland in 1998.  Little did I know it would be the beginning of a long love affair with grand rock walls and towers, majestic polar bears, giant diamond-like icebergs, unique Inuit friends and an endless list of wonders that would seem from a thick book of fairytales.  Oh, the seals, whales, polar bears and fox!  The bright yellow, pink and purple flowers!  And oh, the grand, steep, pointy mountains of stone that rise a mile into the sky!

Throughout the course of 12 expeditions, I have spent over an accumulated year of my life in Greenland. It’s a place still known as one of the least explored areas on the planet, making it a dreamland for climbers seeking remote new routes in unspoiled Earth.  My explorations here have documented countless unclimbed mountains, walls, and towers, many of which are world class to the vertically obsessed and inclined, thanks to years of studying topo maps and satellite imagery of Greenland.

Mike Libecki and Ethan Pringle amongst a maze of glacial ice as they search for big stone in unexplored East Greenland. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Last fall, I invited one of my best friends and one of, if not the best, all-around rock climber in the world to be my partner – Ethan Pringle.  Along with National Geographic filmmakers Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann, we set sail into the unknown for 40 days of mystery, climbing, survival, and immaculate mayhem.

We set off from Tasiilaq, a small Greenlandic Inuit village, on a 350-mile boat journey to a mysterious fjord that I discovered on a previous solo expedition a decade prior.  We got stuck in a maze of thick sea ice for ten days, but a little optimism and our captain Siggi pulled us through while we climbed icebergs and paddle boarded with polar bears and whales.

Ethan Pringle getting some fresh air and making peace with the rough sea on the 10 day boat ride in the Arctic Ocean, where the team was stuck in sea ice for a week. Photo: Andy Mann.

Ethan Pringle fights off bugs and rain as he packs up to leave base camp and begin the team’s approach. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Mike Libecki and Ethan Pringle setting up Base Camp at midnight in a deep, remote fjord in East Greenland. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Once we arrived at the destination, there was no time to lose. After setting up a basecamp in a setting comparable to a Lord of the Rings landscape, we began shuttling loads through marsh and mud, up steep boulder fields, knife edge talus ridges and mazes of crevasses through glaciers (the crux of the trip).  After retreating from a particular 5,000-foot tower (the biggest known wall in Greenland) once we realized that, due to weather and schedule, we did not have enough time for, we set our sights on a neighboring 3,000-foot tower and began the siege.

Mike Libecki navigates crevasses and glaciers as he leads the first snow and ice pitch on approach to the base of the tower. Photo: Andy Mann.

The team racks up for an attempt of an unclimbed tower in East Greenland. Photo: Andy Mann.

With Mike Libecki belaying, Ethan prignle leads off the glacier on the first attempt of the unclimbed tower. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

We quickly gained 1500 feet of mellow climbing and set up our high camp perched on a small ledge.  Soon I watched Ethan Pringle onsight, on first ascent terrain, a 5.13 pitch, something only the best climbers in the world could pull off. Ethan was on fire and quickly led several more pitches to the summit as I belayed.  Supporting Ethan to onsight this climb was an honor and privilege. A 20-hour push put us on the summit, trying to stay awake while peering at the Greenland icecap as the last light of the almost-24-hour sun faded. My goal was for the entire team to stand on a first ascent, both Ethan and I, but also our friends that were there to capture the journey with their cameras, Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann.  We danced and celebrated the Year of the Cock Expedition first ascent.

The team tops out just after midnight. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

Supporting the Adventure Scientists Microplastics Initiative, the team also took water samples in Greenland to help add to a global database. With this data, Adventure Scientists can seek a deeper understanding of microplastic pollution. Microplastics, which mainly come from nylon debris, are imperceptible to the eye, yet can be found in some of the remote places of the earth, like Greenland. Learn more at adventurescientists.org. 

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