In “Forgotten First Ascents,” Owen Clarke is digging up cool climbs from the past and talking to the climbers who made them happen. This week: Nature and Technology, Greenland, 2000.
The Italian mountain guide Alberto Zucchetti is no stranger to remote first ascents. A veteran of climbs around the world, Zucchetti has been on the wall for nearly 40 years. From new lines on Mitsinjoarvio in Madagascar to the Ala Dağlar in Turkey to Venezuela’s Auyán-tepui, Zucchetti has tackled new routes and peaks on every continent.
Still, his route Nature and Technology in Greenland stands out among all the others. The line runs 800-meters, towering out of the water on Sanderson’s Hope (1,042 m/3,419 ft), a rocky prominence only 1,000 km (620 mi) from the North Pole.
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Zucchetti’s team was made up of fellow Italian Paolo Paglino and Englishman Graham Austick. They approached the mountain via the tiny town of Upernavik (only 1,000 inhabitants but still the 13th largest town in the country). Sanderson’s Hope sits 45 km (28 mi) to the south, across Baffin Bay. The team traveled via a small boat, the Dodo’s Delight—made famous in the climbing community by the short film of the same name starring Nico Favresse and Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll—helmed by the legendary Scottish skipper Reverend Bob Shepton. They then paddled a small raft loaded with their gear to the base of the wall. “It was difficult to find the line to start,” said Zucchetti. “The face was so big, we weren’t sure which line to choose. We ended up choosing one from the middle of the face, and it luckily took us on a direct route to the top.”
Roping up on their raft, the team started onto the wall directly from the water. They encountered pristine granite, no ice pitches or mixed terrain. The August temperatures were regularly above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, with only a few days dropping near freezing. Over 20 hours of summer daylight made for long and productive days of climbing. Near the top, however, a snowstorm descended. “We prayed and prayed all day long for good weather to finish our route,” said Zucchetti. “We were running out of time, we thought we might have to descend and give up.” After a day of heavy snowfall, however, the weather abated, and the team aided through snowy terrain for the last 200 meters (600 feet) to the summit.
Nature and Technology went on aid at A3+, with some free sections up to 7a (5.11d). The team reached the summit after seven days on the wall. They then descended a glacier off the backside, back down to the sea, where Dodo’s Delight was waiting.
Owen Clarke, 23, is a climber and writer based in Alabama. He enjoys Southern sandstone and fresh fish tacos. He is afraid of heights. Follow him on Instagram at @opops13.