Exercise Midnight Sun - Greenland 2008

Christmas Tree Mountaineers - Phase one covering 7th August to 15th August 2008


15 August 2008


15aug08Still camp bound today, Val and John HW got up at 07:00 to make the camp porridge for breakfast. Bit of luxury after days on ration bags in the morning, which are all beans based, it added to the mornings easy start. We chatted to the VIPs while watching the mist curl around the mountains, the water was still and mirrored the horison making one of the more dramatic vistas I've woken to.


The VIPs went out for a walk, leaving our group to go for a trip up a local ridgeline. I (Phil) stayed in camp to satisfy my artic fishing craving, something to suppliment to depleted rations. The two BT guys left in camp and I headed out round the coast and found a spot we could cast into deep water. In two hours we managed to catch 4 Cod and one Artic Char, unfortunatly our two lures were lost to seaweed and a massive cod. Still, well enough caught for a good meal (the fish are large!) and a bucket of mussles wil add to it all.

My stink has been dinted by another swim, clean hair for the first time in a few days, after which the Kayakers arrived and I ran over like an attention deprived child to have a chat. Then back to camp for some admin, tent cleaning, fish gutting and so on until the group came back.


The second bit of the blog is from the other side of the group, to give a bit of balance

Matt, John G, Greg and Val spent a very pleasant day wandering up the local 505m peak. Good weather and entertaining conversation was a fun way to wind down towards the end of the exped. It was slightly disappointing to find a cairn on the summit but we got over it.


On our return we stopped off at the Kayakers for a brew and catch up before another refreshing dip in the sea and then catching up with the other groups as they came in.

Overall, an awesome couple of weeks. Christmas tree signing off.


14 August 2008


After returning to camp last night in the pouring rain and putting up the large communal tent, most of today was spent trying to dry out kit and then hanging out in the large communal tent when the rain started up again.


Alongside constant brews, Various ways were devised to try and utilise the time once the equipment had been handed in. Matt led the whole team in a game of "Conductors" with John HW on the keyboard, Greg on the drums, Phil on the violin, Val on the trombone and John G on the Jimi Hendrix electric guitar. For the first time in a long time my guitar and I lost out to the conductor of the orchestra. Gutted.


Next was Desert Island Discs where everyone chose their favourite five tracks, book and possession they would take to a desert island. You can still learn a lot about people....


Matt, Greg and Val then went for another swim in the rain with the mossies, before more brews. Then we had to start tidying up in preparation for the arrival of The Master of Signals and his wife and Commander 2 Signal Brigade. Matt and Val were co-opted in to assist in the preparation of evening meal after having previously created a rat pack tiffin, christened Tassy Tart. A fun evening ensued.


12/13 August 2008


After yesterdays epic of a summit the Xmas tree crew was afforded little rest. After getting to bed around 01.00hrs the team was up early to begin the tear down of Xmas tree camp (due to the extreme remoteness) and prepare our equipment for a two day trek back to Tassiusaq.


12aug08We loaded up all the equipment and stores and made our way to the south side of the fjord via map (increasingley unreliable) and JHW's memory, With extremely low cloud and fog the task certainly wasn't easy. As ever though the exped leader didn't disappoint. We unloaded and waved away the boats. As ever, being typically British, before any task being dispatched it is customary to have a brew. Then a masterstroke, Cath Stevens had brought us a fresh bacon joint, and after a quick collection of firewood, was wolfed down. A very welcomed change to the usual diet of compo. Thanks Cath!


Thoroughly brewed up and fed the team began its two day trek back to basecamp. When climbing in Greenland, on previously unexplored routes, every footstep must be carefully placed. Unfortunately Phil Bambi Thompson could find loose rock on a snooker table. No dramas unless you were right behind him. The loose rock made the going tough and it wasn't long before the harnesses and rope were deployed. A excellent call as any slip would have meant a fall into the icy waters of the fast flowing glacial stream coming off the mountain. Previously on the exped Greg Cairns had displayed what can only be described as the most unorthodox climbing technique ever seen by JHW. Personally i considered myself to be something of a mountain cat! But even the mountain cat can struggle on dust and pebbles. Thus the mountain tractor was quickly born.


12aug08After losing time on the rockfall it wasn't long before we were on the ice. Moving as a six meant we were slow but safer. After a quick crossing we were back on the rock albeit on a steeper gradient. As usual the team morale officer, Val, made the climb all the more bearable with valuble insights into the female psyche. If i didn't understand women before then i certainly don't know now.


After a lung busting climb the team reached the pass and our stop for the night where we were recorded with stunning views and our own private pool/ lake. Looking around at the steep summits surrounding us, i was hit by the realisation that this was a true once in a lifetime experience and something that could truly be classed as a first.

Whilst climbing we were all asked if we were a fruit, what type would we be. The ever wily JHW offered Val a choice of five fruits of which she should pick one that most suited him. She picked Melon. JHW had cunningly named a fruit with the first letter of each persons name. Matt was given the honour of naming the pass. In honour of his Mum, the pass has been named Kings Pass. Together with Mount Colbourne it will be recorded in Manitsoq and will forever be named as such.


With all the climbing complete on the first day, we set off downhill for our final leg into basecamp. However the mountains certainly weren't finished with us, Numerous rockfalls had left huge obstacles in our way and at times in was just like climbing again. With this came the first rain since we arrived in Greenland and certainly made the training in Skye more valuble.

Again the Arctic air made judging distance incredibly difficult. We could see the pick up point but as always it was just round the corner. On the journey down we were treated to a variety of folk songs sung by John Scout dog Griff and flora recognition lessons by JHW.


With the rain falling heavily we eventually reached the pick up point with the ever faithful Anders and David on the Zodiacs ready to bring us back to camp. Thoroughly wet and cold the team sat down to steaming hot brews and biscuit browns.


Each member of the team has earnt a nickname for their performances over the past week.


John= Scout Dog. Always at the front checking for possible routes for the Master JHW
Greg= Mountain cat, Mountain Kitten (when required to walk gently on the ice) and Mountain tractor.
Phil= Bambi. He could fall over on the spot.
Val= Team morale Officer. Always entertained the team with pure gems. One being that women have a third sense when judging a mans intentions.
Matt= The swiss army knife of the exped Doctor world. What this man couldn't fix wasn't worth fixing.
JHW= Consultant stove Technician. Also holds the record for the amount and frequency of brews drunk.


11 August 2008


11aug08The group had previously discussed a plan to attempt to climb to a snow capped peak that could be seen from Christmas Tree Camp (XTC). Local intelligence sources indicated that the peak was as yet unclimbed.


The team started early, loaded the zodiacs with equipment and crossed to the North side of the fjord. Cath had joined us and together we broke down into two rope teams of three climbers each, led by John H-W and Cath. Conditions were perfect. It was time for business.


The foot of the glacier began near the high water mark with a steep initial section. John's team set off at a stiff pace. The six of us quickly fell into a good climbing rhythm. First stop was on a more level section at around 300 m for quick drink and snack.


On setting off again, the character of the glacier changed noticeably, steepening and bordered by a seraced field to the right. We placed a ski pole to provide us with a landmark to use on our return. The going here was hard. Considerable concentration was needed to place crampons carefully and avoid creating slack in the rope system.


11aug08As we climbed, we crossed small crevasses more frequently. Most of these simply needed carefully stepping across, some needed a bit of a stride. As we progressed, the cracks became deeper and longer, the teams took wider and wider lateral detours to avoid them. Looking down into these evoked mixed emotions - the ice formed beautiful shapes and colours, but the depth of the crevasses was unnerving and made us think a little differently about the quality of the surface we walked upon.


As the second steep section of glacier levelled out, our objective came fully in to view on our right hand side. We could see a wide band of broken rock leading to a steep ice ridge forming the Southern approach to the summit. We had already learned that, in Greenland, distances could be deceptive. Although the peak looked a lot nearer now, there was still some distance left to climb.


Before we could reach the rock band, we faced our first serious barrier - a deep wide crevass without any crossing point. Looking into the crevass, a collapsed snow bridge could be seen about six feet down. By rigging an belay system with ice screw protection the party was able to cross one at a time. Stepping down into the crevass quickly made you feel alone, despite being attached to your climbing mates. Climbing up and out required some aggressive placement of crampon front spikes and ice axe pick.


We removed crampons to cross a narrow part of the rock band, before beginning to move up the South facing ridge we had seen from below. This was seriously hard work, made more difficult by six inches of snow on top of the ice. We had already spotted that the ridgeline was heavily corniced to its right hand side and so we kept well to the left. This meant that we were effectively traversing the steeper face rather than the relatively more gentle ridge.


Legs and lungs were really feeling the pace now. The hard work, hot sun and glare off the snow surface meant that the sweat was pouring off us.


Suddenly, a shout went up from the front of the group and one of the leading climbers fell away quickly down to the left. Val had fallen and lost her ice axe. Her fall was arrested by John H-W and John G digging in with their own axes and crampons. Val was shaken by her fall but fortunately not injured. At this point the group was near a second rock band. We recovered to this using a protected route, recovering Val's lost axe along the way.


From the top of this second band, we could seen a steep ice finish stretching up to the summit. In characteristic Greenlandic fashion, this turned out to be longer and harder than it looked ...


We had earlier drawn lots to decide who would summit first and name the peak. Accordingly, John G was the first to reach the rounded summit of the peak. Although we were under time pressure, we took time to savour the 360 degree view and take some team pictures. The climb had been tough and rewarding. The Chistmas Tree team had bagged its first Greenlandic summit - Mount Colbourne.


9th August 2008


It's the weekend now, 7 days since we arrived in Windsor and it's 20:30 in Greenland (which is about 4pm GMT).


13aug08We have just come back from our first trip up a glacial snout, to practice crossing and the ice. John G managed to tie his crampon into the safety line, Val had a bit of crampon buckle drama but it all went smoothly. Matt led us the second time, and placed Greg behind as he's the largest and should help arrest his fall if he found a crevasse. We decided to come back down for 7ish and decided a quick swim would freshen us up. We all ran down the beach as one, apart from John who face-planted halfway, ran into the water before bravely running back out again a few seconds later. It gets you clean and you do feel warmer for it, but it's a shock to the system.


The biggest problem with our days so far is planning and estimation. The maps are inaccurate, giving only a broad description of the area (we have been spoilt by OS mapping precision, very few need accurate mountain maps in Greenland). We are still finding the fitness levels of the group, plus John HW, John G and Matt are much fitter than Greg, Val and myself so the speed of the group is reduced. 9aug08The light is amazingly clear, you can see for miles with perfect clarity, so with no man made objects to give scale it all looks an hours walk away. The terrain is the major issue, with no paths in place and very little vegetation it's rocks everywhere. It's a geologist’s playground, the tectonic plates that formed the coast threw up all kinds of different rocks. Richard (the geology graduate who lent me a climbing rucksack for the trip) will be pleased to know I've seen black, red, grey, white and even yellow rocks. However I've only used his rucksack once.


Everyone is in good spirits, only 4 more days out in the remote camp before returning to the main camp and a few more rations (we hope!). Then two more trips out before turning the camp around for the new arrivals. We are all trying to make the most of everything while we are here!


The aim tomorrow is to go back up the glacial snout and go up to the main glacier which forms the middle of Greenland. We'll be setting off around 5am tomorrow, so we're just grabbing some food before heading to bed.


Hope everyone reading this is doing well,


Phil T


8th August 2008 2130


8aug08The first night at Christmas Tree involved our 1st Greenland command task, as the fresh water supply was rather gritty, and with no filter or anything that could filter the silt, we had to come up with a way of making the water supply more pleasant. We checked out my exped fleece (the fact that I'd worn it continuously fore the last 4 days wasn't an issue), but the stitching wasn't tight enough. John HW tried his thermal top (I was slightly concerned that he'd been wearing this continuously for 3 WEEKS!!!), but this didn't work. Matt then came up with the brilliant idea of my silk (and brand new) sleeping bag liner. This for me, would have been fine, however I'd listened to the wise advice from a Lt Col who said that a 2 season sleeping bag, with the silk liner, would be warm enough, and LIGHT is RIGHT. I've been cold every night & was already sleeping in most of my clothes, so I was a little concerned at how much I was now going to freeze, especially as our new location was sooo much colder than our last! The silk liner worked a treat, so at least we had the basics! This then got modified to doubling the silk liner (again Matt's idea...he also told me to add this!).


We cooked up some mussels and had dinner (that Cath had kindly collected for us), before taking ourselves to bed. I started off with two pairs of thermal trousers, some thick artic socks, a thermal top, a fleece, my softy as a pillow, a woolly hat on, and my mitts (which were a right pain, as every time I needed to add layers, I had to take them off). Matt snuggled into his 4 season sleeping bag, and promptly fell asleep...I was pretty jealous!


About half an hour into the night (it was a very loooong night) I heard some very funny noises. I took my earplugs out and listened closely. The noise sounded like some one was running around the tent with some coconut shells, banging them together,(or bones being banged together-but I didn't want to think about that) and then some spooky noises coming from the beach. Matt was sound asleep. I thought it was really funny, as I was convinced that it was John mucking about, and camping in a burial site it would have been very hard for John to resist. I tried to get comfy and go back to sleep, but just as I was dosing off, I had the sensation of being suffocated. It turned out that my eye mask (the material sort- not cucumber slices) was around my neck, along with the woolly hat strap, and having the sleeping bag over my head, also wasn't helping. It took me a while to dose off again, and whilst I was trying to get to sleep, I reminded myself that I didn't believe in ghosts, and even if I did, that they wouldn't be coming out to haunt us here.  This of course is for various reasons; firstly they only come out when it's dark...and Greenland doesn't get dark at this time of year, secondly ghosts only haunt weak solo individuals, and I'm hard as nails, and although Matt was fast asleep, the fact that he was next to me, meant that I was not alone, and thirdly, it was too cold (a weak argument, but it was very cold & I was very tired)...No sooner had I rationalised that the sounds were John, and there were no ghosts, did I hear another noise. This really put the goose bumps into me, as it was really close, I then felt something against my back. I was petrified, and then I realised that it was Matt turning over...his four season sleeping bag is very noisy!


I eventually got to sleep, at least I must have as moments later I was being woken up for breakie. The 1st thing John asked me was whether I'd heard the noises. I laughed saying I KNEW it was him. John had his sheepish grin, which convinced me even more..where he got the coconut shells from, I don't know! We’ll have to wait for another night!


8aug08We had our breakie, and headed off for a long day. Our start was very hard going, forcing ourselves through shrubs/ jungle which were at least 7ft tall, and the heat & mossies were adding to the pain. Once we were through this, and had reached the 1st ridge, the views were amazing. I didn't realise how far we were walking as the views were incredible. The sun was burning down on us, so I changed my long sleeved top to a t-shirt and Dr Matt, who was wearing his new RAB vaporised top (which looked like a fleece, with a waterproof outer layer), was too stubborn to take it off, as John G told him he'd be sweating like crazy. Matt really didn't appreciate it when I asked him whether he was hot!


We got to an end point, where we decided we'd keep going up to the next ledge point. We all had to guess the height..I started at 1300m, but everyone laughed, I told them that I must be looking at the wrong point (I'm not sure if they believed me!). My next guess was 950m, John G still laughed..but then he came up with 930m. The winner of the right height, would win a gold star, so there was a lot at stake! Before we headed off to find out the winner, we filled out water bottles up at as stream. John HW saw worms in it though, so we kept the water as a emergency source. As we climbed to the next point, we could hear that water was directly underneath us, but we couldn't see it..It was torture. As we neared the top, and had re-applied sun cream for the 100th time, we found a small trickle of water coming from the rock. John dug away the small rocks, so we could get a bottle underneath. It was so nice to drink cool water, and even better to pour away the wormy water!


We finally got to the ledge, and John was chuffed to pieces that he'd won the gold star, the height was 930m! (I hope John's mum is very proud).

We now had the long walk back, I really struggle going down. My poor knees were getting so sore, and it was pretty scary, with all the lose rock. We ended up wearing helmets for most of the downward trip. We finally got back to camp, after 12hr's, my feet were so sore!


We all had a well deserved dinner & lit a huge fire to warm ourselves up. I'm looking forward to going to bed, to see whether the strange noises come back! Matt says look after the bears, John says 'hello mum', Phil & Greg are off to spoon, and I'm looking forward to seeing FP!


Val O’Regan



7th August 08


It’s 1030 in the morning on Thursday and I’m currently sat at Tassy Bay camp looking out over the bay whilst Matt the doctor cleans the group cookers, which is nice.


Our first climbYesterday we had our first day on the hill attempting peak 968, about 5km as the bird flies from Tassy Bay camp.  We got dropped off by Anders and David in the zodiacs after a 40 min ride and then set off steadily up the hill. The mosquitoes were horrendous but the going wasn't too bad, although as there were obviously no paths it was a little slow. As we gradually gained height, the cloud and fog started to lift and we were rewarded with some incredible views of the fjord.  At the same time, the wind picked up and our little blood sucking friends started to disappear.


Our group of John HW, Val, Greg, Phil, Matt the doctor and me was supplemented for the day by Adrian the photographer who busily snapped lots of shots of us trying to look gnarly as we made our way upwards. Eventually we got above the broken ground onto rock proper where we stopped for some food and I kept everyone entertained with a few very funny jokes. Val then got everyone's attention with a description of how during the Skye week at Easter the girls had sat around and rated all the males on the expedition. Whilst the absolute rankings remained a secret, we were assured that none of the guys in our group had come in last, although apparently none had hit the top spot either........ 


We then pushed on over some slightly harder terrain, including a little bit of snow and some large rock slabs where the friction was incredible.  Meanwhile far beneath us in the bay we could see the speck of the zodiacs head towards the cruise ship which had just arrived in the fjord.  Anders then informed us via the marine radio of all the luxury food items he had managed to scrounge from the ship, which made our army biscuits seem not quite so appetising.


We kept pushing on, searching for a weakness in the rock wall now looming fairlyFjord intimidatingly above us, that would lead us onto the summit. However, despite John HW's best efforts it didn't look like we were actually going to find a way through.  As a result, with the zodiac pick up time looming, the decision was made to head on back down the hill. Now we had to utilise map, compass and GPS to make it back to the pre arranged point on the fjord side where we could get the zodiacs in to pick us up. After a couple of tricky sections down and a quick visit to Australia Lake, which apparently is shaped like Australia, we got to the shore and radioed David for our pick up.


David quickly arrived, and eventually we all arrived back at camp for some food and sleep. Now we have a bit of admin and refresher training to do before heading out later this afternoon to the wilds of Christmas tree camp, the most remote of all the camps, for some time on the glacier and some attempts on some bigger hills.  Should be good!


John Griff