Huge First Ascent in Remote Baffin Valley

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The team on top (from left): Mike “Twid Turner, Mark Thomas, and Stuart McAleese. Photo courtesy of Twid Turner

The team on top (from left): Mike “Twid Turner, Mark Thomas, and Stuart McAleese. Photo courtesy of Twid Turner

6/3/10 - Stuart McAleese, Mark Thomas, and Mike “Twid” Turner have climbed an enormous granite prow in Baffin Island’s super-remote Stewart Valley. The three British climbers spent 20 days on the 1,400-meter (4,600') route, with 18 consecutive nights in portaledges.

The Stewart Valley is about 100 miles north of Clyde River, well above the Arctic Circle, and farther north than the well-known Sam Ford Fjord. Only three or four big-wall routes had been completed in the valley before this May, including one climbed by Turner and three partners in 1999. The valley is approached by snowmobile over frozen sea ice, which means climbs must be completed before the spring thaw.

The new route, Artic Monkeys (1,400m, A4), ascends a striking, previously unclimbed pillar, with 500 meters of easy snow and mixed climbing leading to the wall. After 1,000 meters of steep rock, the wall eased off for another 200 meters to the summit, which they called Welshman’s Peak. The team climbed capsule-style, with two portaledge camps on the wall.

“We generally climbed for up to 12 hours a day,” Turner said. “The climbing was hard aid, with most pitches requiring pegs, hooks, and beaks at some point. Two pitches took three days each.”

Newly climbed Welshman’s Peak in Baffin Island’s Stewart Valley. Arctic Monkeys follows the prominent left-facing corner system on the right side of the 1,200-meter prow. Photo courtesy of Twid Turner

Newly climbed Welshman’s Peak in Baffin Island’s Stewart Valley. Arctic Monkeys follows the prominent left-facing corner system on the right side of the 1,200-meter prow. Photo courtesy of Twid Turner

In addition to serious aid climbing, the biggest challenge was the cold, windy weather. Turner said the climbers usually had to lead with gloves on, as temperatures generally were below –20°C (–4°F). Strong winds also buffeted the team.

Because the cold made their stoves perform less effectively, Turner said, “Often it would take one and a half hours to boil water enough for a drink and food.” The team ran out of food and fuel near the top but had just enough energy to continue.

“The walls of the Stewart are some of the cleanest and most spectacular in Baffin,” Turner said. “There are hundreds of amazing big-wall climbs to do. [But] conditions are very hard, and climbers need to be able to deal with extreme cold. Free climbing is impossible unless you want to lose your feet and hands.”

Find more photos and info about the expedition at Baffinbigwalls.com.

Dates of Ascent: May 2010 (Summit reached May 24)

Sources: Twid Turner, American Alpine Journal, Baffinbigwalls.com