Dronning Louise Land, North-East Greenland
Dronning Louise Land is in a remote part of North-East Greenland, at latitude 76º-77º north. It is an unusual area as there is an extensive range of rock mountains, penetrated by a few glaciers, that is completely surrounded by ice-cap and glaciers. The first visitors to this area approached from the east coast, from a large bay known as Dove Bugt. This is a long and arduous approach route.
I was a member of a British party, organised by Tangent Expeditions, that visited the area during a brief 11-day trip in May 2000. We used a ski-equipped aircraft to set up a base-camp on a glacier at an elevation of 1,870 m, at latitude 76º 22½' north, and longitude 26º 20' west. The camp was near the point where a major glacier, the Budolfi Isstrøm, heads off from the edge of the Greenland ice-cap down to the sea. We were thus near the south-western extremity of Dronning Louise Land, and the area near our camp was more in the form of ice-cap and glaciers with nunataks, than a rocky massif.
Our arrival was delayed by a week on account of the fact that our aircraft was being held on standby for emergency evacuations in southern Greenland. Hence our stay was much shorter than planned. During the limited time at our disposal we climbed all the mountains that were within reasonable range of our camp. Mountains climbed are listed in the appendix. Many or all of these were probably first ascents. The most distant mountain climbed was about 12½ km from the camp. Earlier surveys suggesting that the mountains were up to 2,500 m appear to have been in error. As we were camping at 1,870 m, and as the mountains were at most 2,275 m high, the elevation gain required for ascents was very modest, sometimes no more than 300 m.
Given that we were in the area in May it might have been expected that there would be good snow-cover on the mountains. The mountains were however almost bare of snow, and there are probably two reasons for this. Firstly, the area is very dry, so very little snow gets deposited. Secondly, winds coming off the ice-cap probably remove what little snow does get deposited on the mountains, and blow it down on to the glaciers.
As a consequence of the conditions mentioned above, almost all the ascents were on rock. The rock was mostly loose—satisfactory for scrambling but poor for climbing. There was only one ascent on snow which might be classified as a snow-climb, albeit an easy one. Given the absence of snow, and the condition of the rock, the conclusion drawn was that this was a poor area for mountaineering.
The snow on the ice-cap was dry and very hard-packed by the wind. This meant that it was fast for skiing, but bumpy with sastrugi. Travelling 12½ km by nordic skis out to our furthest mountain was quick and easy. But the general flatness of the glaciers, and the lack of snow-covered slopes on the mountains, meant that the was area was not interesting for skiing.
The weather while we were in Dronning Louise Land was mostly excellent. We were quite early in the season, and temperatures were mostly in the range -10º to -15º C, with the thermometer creeping up to near zero when it was in the sun in the middle of the day. But it felt colder than these temperatures might indicate as there was a fairly persistent wind coming off the ice-cap. There was one night when there was a near storm, and some digging was required the following morning to clear the tents. But snow-fall was very slight, and most of the snow that accumulated was transported from the inland ice-cap.
Although the area was of little interest for mountaineering and skiing, there were some striking features. Most noticeable were massive wind-scoured cavities along the sides of the glaciers. And there were other aspects of the landscapes that would interest a physical geographer or glaciologist. Some of these features were of photographic interest. In summary, one might say that the area was worth a visit so long as one's interests were not restricted to mountaineering or skiing.
Any reader who wants a very detailed and illustrated report on this trip, complete with an account of the participants' foibles, will find one by Andrew Lunn at the LUHC Alumni Website.
08 November 2003
Mountains climbed include the following: