Big Wall Free Climbing on Baffin Island
Sean Villanueva, Stephane Hanssens, Olivier Favresse and I Just came back from an expedition in Baffin Island. We had an awesome trip! Free climbing in Baffin is amazing and the potential for free climbing and first ascents seems endless. Our main target was to climb around Mount Asgard (in Inuit, Sivanitirutinguak), which is one of the craziest looking mountains I have ever seen. It consists of two cylindrical towers with super steep and long walls all around. (hit the jump for more story and loads of amazing pictures)[Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll practicing what his fellow Pataognia Climbing Ambassdor Nicolas Favresse calls "his best skill," in the heart of the high lonesome. Photo: Stephanne Hanssens]
spend all the effort of putting up a new route solo. Instead she decided to do some trekking.
We decided to invite her to come along climbing Mt. Asgard. For us as free climbers, we found it would be interesting and that we could learn from having an aid climber along. Plus she had a Portaledge which was a nice thing since originally we decided
Right as we started hiking up the Weasel Valley, many walls appeared. After a few days of hard hiking we couldn’t handle it anymore and had to climb something. We split in two teams and between the hard choices of all the walls around we picked two and went for it.
Sean and Steph made most likely the first ascent of the Northwest Buttress of Mount Tirokwa by putting up Chocolate Boomerang (700m, 5.11) then reached the main summit in a 24-hour push camp-to-camp. Chocolate Boomerang follows a line previously attempted by Australians. The rock is excellent and the climbing thin with some run-out sections.
While Sean and Steph were on Tirokwa, my Brother Olivier and I went for a virgin tower detached from Mt Odin. We climbed the most obvious feature of the spire, which is the prow, and put up Le bic rouge d’Odin in 20 pitches of 5.10 which is likely to be the first ascent of the spire.
With a bit of climbing in, we felt better ferrying loads all the way (60km) to the base of our main target: Mt. Asgard. After a reconnaissance on two already established aid routes, Inukshuk on the north tower and the Bavarian Route on the south tower, we chose to attempt to free climb the Bavarian Route. We found the climbing to be of excellent quality and very sustained with a bunch of pitches in the 5.12/5.13 range. And after an 11-day stay on the wall splitting the lead of the hard pitches between all of us, we almost succeeded in freeing a line. Because the ice melted since the first ascent in 1996, we found the starting anchor of the route hanging 15 meters above the ground, so now the route has a new pitch in a blank section of rock. After a failed attempt to free climb it ground up, we sent Silvia (our aid expert) with her babies (copperheads, hooks and other funky tools) to solve what turned out to be “a really nice A4+” in her own words. For us the potential ground fall hanging on a #1 copperhead seemed pretty nasty! We had to headpoint that pitch but it went free at 5.12-X or E8. Most of the harder pitches had to be redpointed and a few headpointed in order to not add any bolts. We found the quality of the rock and the climbing to be outstanding on that wall. Most of the pitches were splitter cracks combined with hard face climbing traversing from one crack to another.
In order to free climb we did a bunch of variations from the original line so almost half of the route is new terrain. We called our variation “The Belgarian” to underline the joint effort of the Bavarians with the Belgians. Although we have to say that the first ascent wasn’t done in best style: many bat hook holes, rivet ladders and a few bolts next to perfect cracks.
On pitch 7, there was a short section of 1 meter that I wasn't able to link with the beginning of the pitch. I did all the moves so there is no doubt that the route goes free. It was just a bit too hard for us, especially after all the hiking. That crux pitch would go probably at a minimum of 5.13+. So instead of freeing everything we had to use a move of aid. We should also mention that some of the other pitches were redpointed after we reached the summit.
After a few days of recovery and jamming with accordion, mandolin, tin whistle, harmonica and drums we set off for the North Tower in alpine style. Sean and Stephane repeated the Porter Route in 24 hours of non-stop climbing. They onsighted every pitch except for 3 which they say would go free with a bit of work.
Olivier and I climbed the North-East face of the North Tower on what we believe is a new line following Serenity-Crack-style splitters. We think the upper part of the climb might share some pitches with a line put up this season by Canadian climbers, Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau. The quality of the climb was amazing; both of us climbed it free with no falls and onsighted it in about 24 hours. The climb is very sustained in the 5.10/5.11 range and the climbing is at times delicate with run-outs on faces between cracks.
Overall we had an awesome time climbing in Baffin. The weather was extremely good with comfortable temperatures and almost no precipitation. In the summer, there are no nights in Baffin so it’s great for long alpine pushes. We didn’t have to use any headlamps the whole time we were there! We will definitely have to go back. The future of big-wall free climbing is out there.
We would like to thank our sponsors for their crucial support: The Belgian Alpine Club, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Sterling Ropes, Milo, Five Ten, Boreal, Petzl, Seeonee, Crux, Julbo, belclimb.net, climb.be, UPMM.
The routes climbed on this trip were:
- First ascent of Le bic rouge d’Odin (5.10, 800m) unclimbed virgin tower climbed onsight in a single push.
- First ascent of Chocolate Boomerang (5.11, 700m) Mount Tirokwa climbed onsight in a single push.
- The Belgarian (5.13 A1, 850m) west face of Mount Asgard’s South Tower climbed in 11 days, big wall style. One aid move.
- First ascent Whisky Gonzales (5.11, 1200m) northeast buttress of Mount Asgard’s North Tower, climbed onsight in a single push.
- Porter Route (5.12 /A4) climbed in a single push, north face of Mount Asgard’s North Tower. 3 pitches not freed.
The trip was supported in part by the Belgian Alpine Club, which offers an expedition blog with additional pictures and details. Nico's personal website is also worth a visit.
[Routes pictured above: Top - Chocolate Boomerang; Middle - Mt Asgard with the Porter Route highlighted on the left and The Belgarian on the right; Bottom - Whisky Gonzales. Photos, Nicolas Favresse]
Keep scrolling for more photos from the expedition . . .
Le bic rouge d'Odin - Odin's Red Pen