“I got to know dimensions in the expanse of water and ice that I had not realised were possible. In the morning climbing out of the tent and seeing nothing other than a sheet of white all the way to the horizon. Hanging on the kite and seeing the snow race by under my skis. In the evenings after ten hours in a storm crawling back into the tent and feeling safe and sound. These moments I will never forget. To me, they are the true riches of life.”
— Stefan Glowacz | LOWA PRO Team
The athlete had planned this adventure for 18 months, preparing, testing and training. His longest expedition up until that point was three months.
On 11 July 2018, at 9:30 am, he headed out from the west coast of Scotland: The “Santa Maria” sailboat was launched, and the adventure began. Glowacz was accompanied on the expedition by Philipp Hans, Thomas Ulrich, and the ship’s crew with skipper Wolf Kloss, son Dani Kloss and mate Jan Kiehne. Whilst Glowacz and his team intended to take on the Greenland inland ice, the ship crew was to steer toward the southern tip of Greenland – about 1,800 nautical miles. Both teams planned to meet at the pre-arranged rendezvous point of Scoresby Sund on the east coast after a solid month. But even at the start of the expedition, the itinerary started to look uncertain. First, the sailboat had to defy heavy storms. Icebergs, fog and a north wind at the west coast of Greenland also shook up the tight time schedule. Before they were able to reach the Greenland mainland, the venture already was 10 days behind schedule. At Disko Bay in Atta Sund, Glowacz went ashore for the first time, accompanied by Hans and Ulrich. Here then is where the two crews went their separate ways.
Glowacz, Hans and Ulrich had allowed themselves 30 days for the crossing of the inland ice. A tight schedule that was only imaginable with the use of the kite for the sled. The conditions were in any case quite extreme. At times, temperatures reached minus 40 degrees Celsius. “In the morning, when I’d take one arm out of the sleeping bag, I felt as if I was reaching into a freezer. The problem was, that my entire body then had to jump out after my arm”, says Stefan Glowacz about the icy temperatures. The headwind while kite-sledding also contributed to creating a chill for the men. Still, every kilometre with the kite saved them long, tiresome walks. They made good progress and the earlier thoughts and worries about not accomplishing the plan suddenly flew away: The inland ice team knocked back the planned 1,000 kilometres better and faster than expected.
Meanwhile, it was not going so well for the ship and crew, unfortunately. In early September, the Santa Maria was still in the Tasiilaq Fjord, more than 700 nautical miles from the meeting point. Mate Jan had gotten an infection in his finger and had to be treated in the city. The start of autumn storms also created a worry that the sailboat was not going to be able to go any farther. The expedition hung in the balance. But then a few days later came the all-clear: The Santa Maria could continue its journey. Mate Jan had to however leave the crew due to his injury, whilst skipper Wolf sailed on with his son Dani.
Glowacz, Hans and Ulrich thus stood on September 17 at their camp 100 metres above the water and saw the “Santa Maria” sail into the bay from behind an iceberg. Both crews did it! Together, they headed back. After a few short nights, metres high mountains of water and heavy autumn storms, the nearly intact crew finally reached the harbour at Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland on 6 October after a good three months.
The coast-to-coast expedition was a success. But Stefan Glowacz was not in the mood to really celebrate it. The reason was simple. His expedition list included one item that he could not check off: the first ascent of a big wall in Greenland. Unending snowfall buried any hopes of reaching this goal.
The missing piece that Glowacz needed to successfully complete his adventure puzzle called Greenland was to be slipped into place in 2019: the first ascent of the 1,300-metre-high north wall of the Grundtvigskirken mountain (1,977 metres) on the east coast of Greenland. The expedition got under way once again at the beginning of July in Starnberg. This time, the group rode by train to Scotland and then climbed back aboard the Santa Maria, the ship used in last year’s expedition, for the trip to Greenland via Iceland. Once again, the team was intent on keeping the environmental footprint as small as possible. After putting up with a delay that lasted a few days, the rope team consisting of Stefan Glowacz, Philipp Hans, Markus Dorfleitner, Christian Schlesener and the photographer Moritz Attenberger and the ship’s crew reached Greenland at the end of July. They set up their base camp at the foot of the Grundtvigskirken on 1 August.
Everything was primed and ready to go the next day. In the early morning hours of 2 August, the mountaineers set off from their base camp to begin their ascent of the north wall. Stefan Glowacz and Philipp Hans, who was also a part of the team last year, started things off. The rest of the team had to bide their time down below at a glacial moraine. The plan was simple: The separate teams were to ascend the wall at an interval of one to two days. But this best-laid plan soon went awry. After Stefan drilled two pitons into the wall and ran rope through them, a loud cracking sound shattered the morning silence. “Even the guys standing below on the glacier heard it. We all thought it was the sound of glacier ice, ” the LOWA-PRO Team athlete said in recalling the precarious situation. A second crack soon followed, and Stefan realised one thing: That was no glacier! “I’m completely exposed out in the open and stuck in one place, ” the extreme climber wrote in his diary. “There is no ledge nearby where I could take refuge if rocks started to fall. A third crack then pierced our ears, one that was much louder than the other ones. I started to panic. I was certain that something terrible was about to happen any second now. I just didn’t know how terrible: Would it be just a few rocks or a shower of them that came flying down?” It turned out to be a shower. A plate of granite silently slipped free from the wall about 100 metres above the two climbers and plummeted towards Stefan and Philipp, who was hanging on the wall 15 metres below Stefan. Their only option now was to simply press themselves as tightly against the wall as possible and pray. Luck was on their side! The plate crashed into a ledge about 50 metres above the two men and split into pieces: “The rocks shot by us on the right and left like bullets as they plunged downward, ” Glowacz wrote. “With a thump, a rock slammed into my right thigh. Excruciating pain shot through my leg. The lower section of my right arm took the next hit. I wasn’t scared or panicking at that point. I was totally in control. The shower of rocks eased, and suddenly everything was still. I held my position and waited for the next round of rocks to fall. The shock made me feel nauseated as I slowly tried to right myself. I was afraid to look down at Philipp. But miraculously just one rock had ‘grazed’ his thigh.” With Stefan’s painful wounds bleeding, the two climbers worked as fast as possible to get off the wall. The remaining team members rushed to meet Stefan and Philipp when they reached the moraine and attended to Stefan’s wounds. Some returned to the base camp, while Philipp and Christian gave it shot at two other locations. To no avail! They had no better luck the next day either – the north wall is brittle and, thus, incalculable.
The team decided to tackle the south ridge and to try the south wall. No sooner said than done! The team set off on 6 August – Stefan was not about to miss this opportunity and headed off with the rest of the group. But he needed to take pain killers and lean on his teammates who handled his gear and gave him pep talks and encouragement. Even though Stefan Glowacz has successfully completed many tours and expeditions, he was unable to simply shake off the encounter on the wall. “I’m totally unsure of myself, ” the LOWA PRO Team athlete said in describing his feelings. “I’m wrestling with myself every step, kick and grip of the way. I keep panicking when I reach sections that are especially exposed. It is simply physical and mental torture.” The group reached the area that was to be their bivouac late in the evening. They resumed the climb the next morning. Even though they made good progress, it still took until shortly before midnight for Stefan Glowacz, Philipp Hans, Markus Dorfleitner, Christian Schlesener and the photographer Moritz Attenberger to reach the summit after 16 hours.
“In the east, a blood-red strip of light from the sun, the orb that never actually set, signalled the start of a new day. To the north, countless huge mountains of ice glistened in the bluish haze of the non-existent night. The wind had vanished, and I was simply happy and grateful to experience this particular moment. Grateful in particular to my teammates. I never could have reached the summit without their support, encouragement and help!”
— Stefan Glowacz | LOWA PRO Team
The group took the same route down that they used to go up. They took a short break at the bivouac site and then set off for the base camp, which they reached shortly before midnight. They pulled it off. The Greenland piece of the jigsaw puzzle had been slipped into place. They quickly came up with a name for the tour after drinking a glass of Scottish whiskey: suffer and smile – boys don’t cry!
“I am wearing real mountaineering boots for the very first time, and they feel as light as gym shoes. I think the Alpine SL GTX represents a revolution in the mountaineering boot segment.”
- 3 months
- 1000 km