Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Book Review: Bonington & Knox-Johnston's Sea, Ice and Rock

There is pleasure to be had reading about places you've visited, mixing the familiar with new viewpoints and perspectives.

I had both of these while reading "Sea, Ice and Rock" by Chris Bonington and Robin Knox-Johnston. In this classic from 1992 the climber and sailor join forces on an expedition to conquer a mountain on Greenland's east coast called the Cathedral.

This spectacular unclimbed peak rises up to 2660 metres 20 - 30 km inland as part of the Lemon Mountains (named after an earlier expedition rather than the fruit).

One of the key ideas of the expedition was to put both of them out of their comfort zone. So climber Bonington had to help sail Sulaili, literally learning the ropes while on land it was Knox-Johnston that was the newbie, again literally learning the ropes.

There was a nice contrast between the two, both bearded fifty something men, with some good friendly jousting about how the other's knots were all wrong.

They left from Whitehaven in Cumbria, headed north up to Iceland, stocking up in Reykjavik (where we ended last year's Arctic Circle sail) before heading across the Denmark (or Greenland) Strait to Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord.

This is where we spent four nights at anchor, getting a range of Greenland experiences including navigating through ice, studying the Admiralty Pilot, hiking barren terrain, kayaking, meeting hunters, hunkering down in bad weather and being awe struck by the surroundings - much like Chris and Robin.

As Knox-Johnson put it: "It is almost impossible to describe the absolute beauty unfolding around us as we entered Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord where enormous chunks of ice, many times the size of a Harrods or Selfridges, lay still in the peaceful water".

Here, with the help of Professor Kent Brookes from Cumbria, they found safe anchorage in what is now called Sulaili Bugt (Bay), which they also surveyed, their chart being a resources used by following yachts, including our own Aurora.

The actual ascent was from the north side of Watkins Fjord, which we inspected from Kraemer Island and found pretty packed with ice (see below), as they did, though Knox-Johnston found a way through.

Here the shore party set off towards the peak, using the Frederiksborg Glacier as the highway, until the serious climbing began: the push for the summit.

Robin Knox-Johnston did well to keep up with the climbers but eventually the party had to split with the sailors heading back down, Robin to his beloved Suhaili.

If you've read "A World of my Own" you might not be surprised to hear of a ritual on-board that related to alcohol, namely the "Headland" which basically was an excuse for a tipple. For example, during the crossing a giant half mile long 60m high berg was visited by inflatable and sampled for its ice, to be added to a row of glasses containing vodka.

This short book is full of gems like that and I can't recommend it highly enough to both sailors and climbers.

I'll end with a quote from Chris Bonington as they approach from the sea:

We're about fifteen to twenty miles out, now so the mountains are beginning to assume a real statue. You can pick out the mouth of Kangerdlugssuaq and, looking down the coast, you can see the glaciers, which come down to the sea itself and the dark loom of the mountains. Not a single one of those peaks that are on the coastline has, as far as I know, been climbed.

I have no idea how much has changed since then, but would be surprised if it is more than a handful of successful ascents.

The empty and wild east coast of Greenland retains its mystery and magic well.


Bursledon Blogger said...

beautiful and spectacular -Iceland was similar but too damm cold - why is it there aren't more mountains and fiords between 35 degrees north and south?

JP said...

It is spectacular isn't it.

As to the fjord question, it depends upon which coastline Slartibartfast has been assigned.

Tillerman said...

There are plenty of mountains including quite a few high ones in those latitudes BB, but not many fjords it is true.

Thanks for the review JP. Two of my biggest heroes doing an adventure together and writing a book about it! I will have to check this one out.

JP said...

It's a great read, wouldn't have minded if it had been a bit longer. I had to hunt on eBay as don't think its in print.

You can get a flavour of it in this paper by Bonington