Few dreams fall straight into your lap, and the ones worth having are the ones you work for. Caro North – professional alpinist, mountain guide, climber – knows this all too well. To chase her dreams on the rock, she first had to set sail on the open seas. A three-month voyage, all the way to the Arctic Circle and beyond. An incredible expedition and a true-life lesson in patience, flexibility, and teamwork, which Caro has kindly put into words for us.
I'm tossed up and down in my bed, shaken around, desperately trying to catch some sleep. I need to be alert again for my next watch on deck. Outside, the waves crash against the aluminum sides of our 50-foot sailboat, tossing it up and down, again and again and again. It dives headlong into deep wave troughs, only to be pulled right back up again. The wind tears at the sails, which have been reefed several times over. We ran into a storm even before we reached the coast of Scotland, which turned out to be heavier than predicted. It starts with a bang, this adventure of ours.
We are a team of eight women, all from different backgrounds, making our way together from La Rochelle to Greenland. Our goal: the first ascent of a big wall. For the next two and a half months, Northabout, our trusty expedition sailboat, will be both home and transportation. We are on our way across the Atlantic to the far North. We left the port of La Rochelle on June 20th, after ten solid days of preparations making sure our boat was seaworthy and loaded with enough food, water, and climbing equipment. Four sailors, three climbers and a photographer on board. It was a journey into the unknown, into adventure, and we had no idea how many challenges we were going to face.
«That’s when the doubts start to creep in and we wonder whether we’ll ever get to climb in Greenland.»
After just five days at sea, a violent storm forces us to dock in Ireland. Watch and wait. None of us could possibly have imagined before we set out that this would become the theme of our trip. We spent three months constantly navigating between low-pressure areas and strong storms, without encountering a single area of high pressure. This expedition is a dream come true for me. A dream I’ve had for years: to be the first to conquer a big wall in Greenland – and to reach Greenland without an airplane. This dream has taken shape together with my friend and our captain Marta Guemes. A dream that we are living right now, but which at times, especially when we are stuck on land and condemned to wait, seems more like a nightmare. That’s when the doubts start to creep in and we wonder whether we’ll ever get to climb in Greenland. It’s easy to get frustrated: "Why are we having such a bad summer? Why haven’t we met any of the high-pressure areas you’d usually get in an arctic summer? Why won't it stop storming and raining?" Unfortunately, we are witnessing climate change in action. Long-established weather systems can no longer be relied upon. At least our team works well together. No matter what the weather throws at us, we can always shake off the frustration and laugh about our bad luck. There’s no doubt - without this "DREAM TEAM" we would have given in to the tough conditions long ago. But we pull together, always cheering each other up and staying optimistic.
Continuing our journey, we’re doomed to wait out bad weather, first on the Faroe Islands and then in Iceland, before finally sighting the coast of Greenland after six long, tough weeks. What an incredible feeling. We’ve waited for this moment for so long. However, the pack ice still blocks our way into the Scoresbysund – the place where the big granite walls are waiting for us. So, we must be patient for a little longer and wait in a fjord to the south. On the bright side, this gives us the chance to walk together to a small peak, and I am delighted to have the chance to paraglide down from here. Thankfully, the wait is shorter this time. We’re able to weigh anchor the same evening and move on towards Scoresbysund, passing between ice floes and icebergs of all sizes. Navigating through this labyrinth of ice, constantly guided by a person up in the mast, is an incredibly impressive and technical feat. And the natural spectacle all around us is made complete by a polar bear sighting on the pack ice, which was fascinating to watch through our binoculars. Finally, the weather eases enough to allow the sailors to set us down on land. Then begins a race against time… and weather. Our time is limited. We will set sail again in mid-August at the latest to avoid getting caught in the North Atlantic’s fall storms – after all, we’ve already experienced first-hand how unstable the weather is this year.
First things first – we need to find the approach to our wall. But we quickly come up against our first obstacle: an incredibly jagged icefall. Wide gaping crevasses rise up in front of us. After six weeks on the boat, we suddenly find ourselves in the wild and exposed mountain world. When we finally reach the base of the wall, we want to start climbing immediately. But such a challenging climb requires a lot of equipment – and that needs to be hauled here first. We spend two days carrying heavy backpacks to base camp. We are exhausted. But we work hard and fast so we can start climbing as soon as possible.
«Seconds pass that seem like an eternity, the polar bear looks over and seems just as surprised to see us as we are him.»
But then, another setback: despite the forecast, the rain arrives and washes away another day, forcing us to spend two days at base camp. Yet again we’re left waiting and working on our patience. At least we have a visit from a polar bear. A good way to break up the boredom! We’re enjoying a leisurely breakfast, when the huge, majestic animal suddenly splashes out of the water just 50 yards away from us, having itself onto the beach. We are frozen in place, waiting to see how he’ll react. Seconds pass that seem like an eternity, the polar bear looks over and seems just as surprised to see us as we are him. Nadia yells: "A bear!!!" which spooks him and he runs away. Lucky for us. We were prepared for incidents like this, but the shock leaves us weak in the knees all the same.
«We make good progress at first, but then we are suddenly slowed down: the wall becomes steeper, here and there the cracks dwindle to nothing.»
Then, finally, a day of sunshine and we can start our ascent. The following day, we set out to climb the wall in alternating pitches, length for length. We make good progress at first, but then we are suddenly slowed down: the wall becomes steeper, here and there the cracks dwindle to nothing. We slowly work our way forward yard by yard, partly on wet rock, partly technical. The climb is extremely challenging and requires our full focus. But this is exactly the kind of adventure we were looking for – so along with the adrenaline comes an amazing rush of endorphins. We have barely three days of good weather until the next snowstorm will hit us. The wall looms above us into the sky and with so little time it seems impossible to climb the whole thing. On the second day we reach a ledge, far above the glacier, where we bivouac and set up our portaledges. From then on, the climbing gets easier, and we make much better progress. We reach the ridge and actually climb out, on top of the wall. Unbelievable. After so much uncertainty, our dream has come true. We have sent the first ascent of the east face of the Northern Sun Spire. We climbed 780 meters, 16 pitches, up to about 7b+ (we didn’t have time to free climb the entire way) and we christen our route "Via Sedna."
Now, with the clock ticker, we just need to rappel down and haul our equipment back to the beach, where the rendezvous with the sailors is planned. Luckily it doesn’t get dark up here at this time of year, so we can work around the clock. Another month on the boat follows, with plenty more storms, rain, and waiting – along with a whole lot of laughter, thanks to this super team. An expedition marked by bad weather that required a lot of patience, but also a great adventure with incredible people. A three-month expedition for three days of climbing. A long journeytraversing the horizonwith little time on the vertical ascent, and yet it was worth every second. And we return home from our expedition north of the Arctic Circle richer for the experience and the many challenges we faced.