Words by Martin Feistl. Images by Felix Bub and Martin Feistl.
In August 2023, Martin Feistl and Felix Bub undertook an expedition to the so-called Mythic Cirque in the Kangertittivatsiaq Fjord on the east coast of Greenland. The pair uncompromisingly placed the "how" above the "what" in their approach to every aspect of the trip, travelling by train and sailing boat, and climbing in alpine style, without the use of bolts.
More than 3000metres of first ascents up to 7b+ in alpine style were climbed throughout the Mythic Cirque, 8 peaks and gendarmes were first ascended and a repeat of the 840-metre "Forum" (7c) on Siren Tower was realised. All routes were climbed without the use of bolts and basically free. The journey was made from Innsbruck by train and sailing boat "Zula". This resulted in direct mobility costs (excluding a one-month stay in Iceland) of about 280 kg CO2per person, which roughly corresponds to a single person's car journey from Munich to Chamonix and back. A transparent breakdown including the still outstanding journey home by ferry from Iceland will be given in the final report.
Furthermore, thanks to the unbelievably warm community there, 800 metres of first ascents on 18 routes were climbed in Iceland with the now 2 most difficult trad routes of the country "Usain Boltless"(25m, 7c; E6 6c) and "No bolts in paradise"(30m, 7c; E6 6c).
First complete traverse of the whole Mythic Cirque from left to right including all gendarmes. "Circus Maximus" (pictured) (39h of climbing spread over 3 days, maximum 6c). Comparable to the Peuterey Integral, but more loose, without bolts, helicopters, bivouac shelters, high altitude and mostly first ascended. Roped up were 22 pitches spread over 2130 m with difficulties mostly up to 6a with some more difficult passages up to 6c. 14 times we abseiled, additionally several times we climbed down with rope protection. In total, 16 peaks and gendarmes were climbed, 8 of which were probably first ascents.
A.No Tower I East
First ascent via north flank and east ridge, 1-2
No Tower I West
First ascent via east ridge, walking terrain
No tower II
First ascent via east ridge, 4a
D.Ganja Tower aka The Squid
first ascent via "Hanfparade", 270m, 4 pitches, 6a
E.Gendarme de Papi
First ascent via "Time to say I'm sorry", 190m, 3 pitches, 6a/b to the Gendarme
F.Father Tower aka Ataatap Tower
First ascent of the second part of "Time to say I'm sorry" in total 400m, 5 pitches, 6a/b, until meeting the last 250m, 2 pitches of "Coronis" (Bunn, Royer 2012)
G.Hidden Gendarme I
First ascent via "Wind of Change", 80m, 1 pitch, 6a
Mostly probably via the upper part of "Assembling the Tupilak" (Bunn, Royer 2012), 190m, 2 pitches, 6a
I.Hidden Gendarme II
First ascent via "Hidden Sand Box" 130m, 2 pitches 6a
First ascent "Sirens of Change", 160m, 3 pitches, 6c
K. Zula Peak
First ascent "Vertreibung der letzten Egoisten", 400m, 2 pitches, 6a
Via upper part of "Southwest Ridge" (Mc Sorley, Irving, Kenchenten, Marazzi, Percival, Weldon 2016), 250m, 2 pitches, 4a.
The last 4 summits
Follow the "Tortures Traverse" (Bunn, Royer 2012).
1st repetition of "Forum" (840m, 7c, Bordella, Schüpbach, Welfringer 2021), after 4 days on the wall. All pitches were climbed in swapping leads by redpointing by the first and fall-free by the second, the crux pitch was climbed redpoint by both.
On day 1, the approach was via the Coloir of Love, a cannon tube of rock and ice, which we christened, and the first 6 pitches were survived and climbed to a bolt belaying in order to set up the portaledge here. The first 4 pitches in the stem were not followed the original line, but the path of least resistance with 2 haul bags and a portaledge somewhere between "Forum" and "The Wall of Plank" (Favresse, Villanueva O'Driscoll, Jaruta, Wertz 2021). On day 2, the nasty and difficult to find 7th pitch (6c/7a) was really beaten down by an off width to the first crux pitch. In the lead over incredibly brittle scales, in the follow by Felix more direct and much harder. Pitch 8 (7b) Felix climbed in the 2nd attempt, I could flash it following. Pitch 9 (7b) avoids the 2nd bolt of the route via a hard traverse to the right and a very unclear line back to the left via hollow flakes. I was able to climb this length in the 4th attempt, Felix following in the 2nd attempt after intensive bouldering. This pitch took us both the most time. Despite mental fatigue because of the hollow scales and partly difficult line management, I still pushed pitch 10 (7a) to the next portaledge belay, because it was clear that we had to get as close as possible to the crux pitch for a successful climb through.
On day 3, Felix started with a short pitch to below the key passage: a 10-metre ideal finger crack, which we both climbed at our limits in completely different ways on the 2nd attempt. On the same day, 3 more pitches were climbed to the big ledge that heralds the headwall. Intimidated by seeing the loose headwall and the tales of other climbers, I chose the supposedly easiest way towards the summit on day 4 over 3 highly challenging pitches. Do you know the scene from "The Dodos!" (Reel Rock) where the brittleness of the wall is so highlighted? Yes, that's where we were. "Forum" was probably also first attempted here, but then the first ascenders found a less loose and more direct line to the right of it. I probably followed "The Wall of Plank" in parts and then crossed further to the left via the morally most demanding pitch into a big dihedral system. Here 2 peckers had to be placed(which removed themselves by rope drag). On the same day, we abseiled down the almost fully established abseil piste and descended to base camp, where we arrived after midnight.
The next day, old acquaintance Fay Manners and Michelle Dvorak unexpectedly turned up at the tent door, with whom we spontaneously climbed the next routes.
Attempted first ascent on Siren Tower with Fay Manners and Michelle Dvorak. Turned around after 2 days on the wall, 7 pitches and 245 m with difficulties up to 7b onsight, 7c obligatory on the crux pitch. Redpoint in at least 2 pitches in the French 8th grade. A piton was left in the 5th pitch, the retreat was done on 2 Nuts and 2 pitons with 4 times 60 metres abseiling in German economy style.
Here, it would have been easy to set a bolt at the point of return in order to be able to climb the whole line. We strongly criticise the current development in Mythic Cirque and beyond in Greenland in general regarding the use of bolts-mostly in top sport. I was simply too mentally weak after a demanding first day on the wall immediately following "Forum" to be able to decipher the missing 5 metres above a micro-cam in free climbing. Justifying bolts for safety reasons is not sustainable in this environment, if one has invested in appropriate training in trad climbing beforehand. In order to pay sufficient tribute to the adventure character in Greenland and also to leave space for future expeditions to develop, a rethinking towards less egoism towards one's own first ascents must take place here and failure -as happened here -must once again find more acceptance among the climbers themselves. Even if "850m 7c a.f. A0 with only one bolt" is a better sell than "aborted attempt".
First ascent of "The Mental Breakdown"(580 / 765m, 7b+, R), Martin Feistl, Fay Manners and Michelle Dvorak.
After a material transport on 16.08. over the stem to the start of the planned route, we started on 17.08. on my birthday at 2:30 to the wall of the Father Tower. Felix injured his shoulder and left with Hans from our boat crew on 17.08. via the “South Ridge”(Libecki 2012) to the Father Tower. In the stem, which we climbed rope-free, the third bolt ("a Petzl 10mm bolt of shame") was spotted in the Cirque. The first 3 pitches of unbelievable off width climbing ("Oh, it's a perfect hand jam, we won't need the Number 6 Cam?!") are followed by the crux pitch: 65 metres around 7b+without a hammer or piton as a backup with 9 points of protection and the uncertainty of whether it is possible.
The climbing and mental difficulties increase constantly towards the top, where a mistake in rope management can have fatal consequences. After another dangerous and very difficult to control pitch around 7a+on a hollow flake, where you could both see through and walk to the other side, the wall receded and we reached our bivouac under the roar of said flake and the drilling machine of the Spanish expedition below us. Because the terrain was too flat to haul a portaledge, we decided to spend the night sitting three on an inflatable G7 pod. This strategy paid off in full, so the next day, under the first harbingers of bad weather, we were able to climb the remaining 150 metres to the "Coronis" with maximum difficulties up to 6b and another 245 metres over it to the summit, spreading the luggage over 2 rucksacks. There, by chance, we met Tajo and Tim from Zula almost at the same time, who had come up via the "South Ridge"(Libecki 2012) -our descent. This extremely serious descent through crumbly ridge terrain took 7 hours. A further 2 very bad bolts at one abseil point were taken down as far as possible and abseiled next to them on safer natural structures. It is very much to be hoped that the Spanish expedition will not make good on their announcement and install a bolted abseil piste on the north face, which would destroy the overall experience and the possibility of a free mental breakdown of this terrible descent for all future expeditions. In addition, this would relegate Father Tower, which until now had been strategically very difficult to reach because of its flat but enormously long face, to a one-day undertaking.
The expedition was supported by Mountain Equipment, the German Alpine Club(DAV), Lowa, Katadyn, Stubai, Totem and Pecker Shop. The journey was made possible by our crew from Zula Expeditions.