A day in the life of Northabout by Frank Nugent

Sunday 29th July      74,35N 57,10W

12 noon.            When I awake, Northabout is at anchor off the island of Kullorsuaq on whose eastern end stands the Devils Thumb (546 metres) or Den Store Tommelfinger as the Danes have translated it from the name given by the British whalers of the nineteenth century.  This thumb shaped tower of rock, was considered a bad omen by whalers, since many ships got into difficulties within view of this significant landmark on the west coast of Greenland.  Northabout is on a Northwest Passage from Westport to Alaska, it left Westport on the 23rd of June. 

Paddy Barry, the expedition leader has his walking boots on already I observe, as I dress myself for a day of climbing, while being plied with tea, eggs and beans by Mike Brogan and Kevin Cronin.  I gather my rocks, friends and slings and a fifty metre rope as we are dropped ashore by Terry Irvine in the inflatable dingy. 


The first and most striking feature of this Greenland fishing settlement is the smell and whining of the sledge dogs who are roped up in front of each of their hunter owners houses in teams of up to sixteen dogs.  There are many puppies evident as we follow the hill out of the village, following the new pipeline that leads to the glacial lake which provides pumped water to the settlement.  The Danish multi coloured timber houses dot around the jetty rising up above the sea the main provider of wealth for its residents.  Halibut fishing and seal skins provide trade for the Greenlanders in the trading post cum supermarket where a wide array of modern goods and supplies are available.  We climb the hill steeply and drop to the laake in an hour, from here the Thumb intimidates even more, looking steeper, higher and mopre slabby than I originally hoped.  We contoured right to take an easy slope to the rigde then follow the ridge to foot of the thumb.  Little was said, as I chose to start at the centre of the ridge trending rightwards in pursuit of a crackline.  This proved immediately profitable as the rock proved eminently climbable.  My instinct took me further right as I ascended steep, and razor sharp side pulls, bridging in style out in the security provided by the rough rock suface weathered by centuries of Arctic gales.  Paddy follows easily enjoying the full value provided by the nature of the climb.  The next pitch provides a spectacular hand traverse and exit through a shattered crack and out left to observe the thumb leaning back.  The difficulties over, we ran out three pitches of scrambling to reach the top and hour and a half for the base of the thumb and three and a half from Northabout.


Enjoying our summit view, we looked out to the ice cap to the east, and northwards to Wilcox Head.  Across the lake the summit cairn on the hill above Kullorsuaq was joined by figures whose silouettes Jarlath Cunnane our Skipper, Mike and Kevin and filmmaker John Murray.  Their waves and cheers was symbolic of the comradary possessed by this team.  Back climbing and three abseils brought us safely down to our sacks.  Gearoid O'Riain told us that roast chicken was underway and would be ready for our arrival.  Barking dogs were being fed as we arrived, a seal providing sustenance for the ravaging pack.


At dinner we decided to go ashore and give a public blast of Irish Music and singing to the villagers.  Mike Pied piper like led the children up the town where the school teacher opened the school.  Soon the hall was packed and we were blasting away at the "Greenland Whale Fisheries" and dancing waltzes.  A local accordian was sent for, and soon we were treated to four couples including Paddy to a local set.  You might have been in Clare such was the low stepping.  We responded with Paddy calling out a simple "Walls of Limerick" with local volunteers learning quickly the steps.  We finished up with a rousing "Molly Malone" and were escorted by the people of Kullorsuaq to the jetty who each shook the hand of each of us.


We lifted anchor at 01.30 in the 24 hour daylight, and left that Greenland village feeling good about ourselves and life.


More about this trip can be found at www.northabout.com  

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