Sunday, August 22, 2010

Foraging 101: What not to eat in the Tasermiut Fjord, Greenland

If I could pass on the most important thing I learned from my climbing trip to the Tasermiut Fjord in Greenland, it would be this: don't eat foraged foods unless you are absolutely sure they won't make you barf. I thought I knew this already, but I guess when you turn 30 you have to re-learn lessons you learned in previous decades of your life. It's like the lessons have an expiry date, kind of like when you forget how bad a hangover feels so you have a few cocktails too many only to swear off drinking for the rest of your life when you spend the next day feeling like crusty Squamish slug scum.

It was all the weather's fault. My climbing partner Kate Rutherford and I hadn't climbed anything in over 10 days because of drizzly and unsettled conditions that had kept the huge, steep granite faces of the Tasermiut Fjord seeping and damp. Two days prior, conditions improved and we got all ready to head up the British Route (VI 5.12+ 600m/19 pitches) on Nalumasortoq for a second time, with hopes of redpointing the two 5.12 pitches we were unable to onsight on our first go up the route. We hiked to the base and bivied, waking the next morning to find the face still soaking wet with a thick fog preventing further drying and some pretty regular and large rockfall occurring near the base of the route. We completed the 2 hour hike back down to basecamp and shifted our objective to the quicker-drying but longer War and Poetry (VI 5.12c 1000m/31 pitches) on Ulamatorsuaq. On the same day, we repacked and hiked 2 hours up to the base of this route, hoping to begin climbing the following day, but by the time we arrived at the bivi boulder the drizzle had begun yet again. We had no choice but to stash our climbing gear and head back down to basecamp for more reading and chilling in the Megamid until conditions were right to go climbing.

I was going a little batty. I am a high energy person who generally needs a good amount of physical and mental challenge to feel satisfied. I had opted to go "coffee free" on this trip, which certainly helped to me to manage my impatience with the poor weather, but after almost two weeks of waiting I was beginning to lose the plot. The worst part was, the weather was actually not that bad for doing anything but climbing. Hiking - fine. Fishing - fine. Bouldering - fine. But the long-seeping nature of most of the climbs, combined with daily doses of drizzle and thick fog meant that full day to multi-day free climbs were not an option.

Not a bad place to spend your summer

Basecamp on the Tasermiut Fjord

Mussels for our muscles - gourmet eats in the Megamid at basecamp

It might be raining at our high camp at the base of Ulamatorsuaq, but at least we have brie

This little guy kept me company on one of my foggy hikes

So I went hiking. I hiked for a few hours up a hill behind basecamp, snapping photos of the vegetation and enjoying views of the spectacular scenery. On my way back to camp I noticed some large, brown mushrooms of the same variety that a team of Czech climbers at the same camp as us had been collecting and eating daily. A pair of Danish Peregrine Falcon researchers I got to know at a youth hostel in one of the Greenlandic villages we stopped off at on our way to the Tasermiut Fjord had also been collecting and eating the same mushrooms. Well, I am sure you can see where this is going... I picked one of the mushrooms and carried it back down to camp. Conveniently, the Czech guys were around when I got back, so I could double "Czech" that this was, indeed, the correct variety of mushroom. They confirmed that it was, and went so far as to trade a larger mushroom of the same variety for our smaller one so that we would have more for our dinner. Kate and I cooked up a pasta sauce which we thought was quite gourmet with the sauteed mushrooms, some tomato sauce, a bit of sundried tomato pesto, onions, garlic, oregano and some red wine. Bellisimo! Or not. Several hours later we were both barfing to beat the band. It was a rugged night. Really rugged. I managed to get down some breakfast and water, but after going on a short hike down the fjord puked it all up and realized that hiking solo away from basecamp in the middle of nowhere Greenland while suffering from some kind of mushroom poisoning wasn't the brightest thing I have ever done. I dragged myself back to camp where Kate and I spent the rest of the day being really pathetic and weak.

It doesn't look like this friendly Czech climber is trying to kill us, but don't be fooled

The irony is that the other two climbing teams in the area both ate the same mushrooms that night, including the one that I had picked and none of them got sick at all. Moral of the story, don't forage unless you are trying to send your steep single-pitch project and need to shave off that last few kilos.

Basically I am trying to scare you all away so that you won't find out how rad the Tasermiut Fjord is and I can have it as my own, private summer retreat with amazing granite big wall climbing, crystal clear blue ocean water, lush and flower covered meadows, super fun bouldering, wild blueberries, mussels and arctic char, oh and mushrooms. I am going back for sure.

In terms of climbing, we did the British Route (VI 5.12+ 600m 19 pitches) on Nalumasortoq over one and a half days with a light and simple semi-sitting bivi on a ledge with down jackets and a sil tarp. It's no wonder we didn't onsight the 5.12 pitches after that night of "sleep". If I could summarize the route in two words they would be HAND JAM. We did about a zillion of them. Not a single pitch was slabby, it was all vertical to slightly overhanging and mostly really good stone. The crux pitches were cool finger crack climbing with slightly licheny, flakey feet but would be very doable if they were pitch 2 and 3, a bit less so because they are pitch 16 and 17.

Nalumasortoq - The British Route

The British Route Topo, photocopied from the route library kept by the Nanortalik Tourism Service

Kate Rutherford in the golden evening light doing the 5679th and 5680th handjams on pitch 12 of The British Route, Nalumasortoq

Does this look like a bed to you? Nope me neither. Our bivi spot on "The Banana" - a sloping ledge on pitch 15 of the British Route

Sunset and moonrise over the Ulamatorsuaq massif as seen from the Banana Ledge, pitch 15 of the British Route, Nalumasortoq

Smiling after a long night on the slopey Banana Ledge on The British Route, Nalumasortoq

On the summit of The British Route, Nalumasortoq

The Greenland Gun Show, Nalumasortoq dwarfed in the background

After patiently and not-so-patiently waiting in the rain for two weeks, we climbed War and Poetry on Ulamatorsuaq (VI 5.12c 1000m 31 pitches) in marginal conditions. We soon realized that freeing a 31 pitch big wall with no haul bags and no portaledge in two days is difficult to begin with and made only more challenging when it becomes freezing cold, rainy and windy for parts of both of the two days. When we hit the half way mark and the weather went south, free climbing switched to a mix of free and french-free and second following went to second jumaring in an effort to just get to the top. It was on pitch 21 or so, as I dragged my meat through a gaping crack, leaving scabs on my shoulders, spine and knees, that I had 'the epiphany' . After poetically dancing and prancing our way up the 5.10 to 5.12 slab pitches on the first half of the route we were now waging war with steeper rough, wide, physical dihedral climbing. Ah ha! War and Poetry! The really proud thing was that the Czech team who did the route before we arrived didn't bring anything bigger than a #4 camalot. For reference: we brought a #5 and a #6 and placed them both on at least 10 of the last 15 pitches. We topped out in a rain and windstorm at around 21:30 on our second day on the route. We rapped all night, doing at least 28 raps to get to the ground in a variety of conditions that ranged from wet and windy to dry and windy to calm and pouring. The only consistent thing was the cold. I pretty much shivered the whole night except when I rapped down the wrong way off a ledge and had to jug back up. It's pretty safe to say that I have never been so trashed. My finger tips were completely raw and I was having some cool sparkly over-tired hallucinations in my peripheral vision, although maybe that was just a residual effect from the mushroom poisoning. We collapsed into our tent at the bivi boulder after feasting on ramen, herbal tea and ibuprofen. Five hours later we were ready, barely, to limp the 700 vertical meters back down base camp for a real feast and some more sleep.

War and Poetry, Ulamatorsuaq

War and Poetry Topo

Camp at the base of Ulamatorsuaq

Enjoying the sun and views down the fjord from pitch 23 of War and Poetry

The oh so splitter Bow String Crack, a 5.11d finger crack on pitch 25 of War and Poetry

Kate racing the storm to the summit on pitch 27 of War and Poetry

Despite the bad weather, it was hard to leave the Tasermiut Fjord at the end of our 20 day expedition. I could have easily spent another 10 days climbing or waiting to climb simply because the place is truly amazing. Beautiful stone, beautiful scenery and a great partner made this trip a success even if I could have done with a bit more time on the rock.

I have to admit, that it was nice to get back to the creature comforts. We stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland on our way home and treated ourselves to a spa day, complete with real beds, a trip to the Blue Lagoon natural hotspring, and cappuccinos and pastries galore.

Kate savouring the comfort of cotton sheets at our cute guesthouse in Reykjavik


The Blue Lagoon, doesn't get much better for muscles tired from climbing and travel. Did I mention you can get wine in the pool? Enough said!


Additional thanks to Patagonia, Black Diamond, Pro Bar, Sterling Rope and Five Ten for providing stuff we needed for the trip