Three New Routes, Two Nearly Free Walls in Baffin

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Sean Villanueva milking a rest on the sixth pitch of The Belgarian. Photo by Nicolas Favresse.

Sean Villanueva milking a rest on the sixth pitch of The Belgarian. Photo by Nicolas Favresse.

The Belgian team of Olivier and Nicolas Favresse, Stephane Hanssens, and Sean Villanueva completed a remarkable expedition to Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, during which they established three new routes, nearly free-climbed a big-wall route on Mt. Asgard along with Silvia Vidal, and repeated another big-wall climb.

Below is Nico Favresse’s slightly edited account: The main objective of our expedition was to climb around Mt. Asgard, which is one of the craziest-looking mountains I have ever seen: two cylindrical towers with super-steep and long walls all around them. Besides the climbing, one of the main difficulties on Baffin is the remoteness of the place. Over the course of 45 days, we hiked a full month to ferry loads (about 600 kilometers; three weeks up /one week down) for only two weeks of climbing! It seems ridiculous, but the climbing and the place are so unique that in the end it felt well worth it. Along the way up to Mt. Asgard, there were tons of incredible boulder fields with perfect soft tundra landings to keep us in shape. Bouldering out there is definitely something to consider. The expert aid soloist Silvia Vidal from Catalunya joined our trip to make her logistics easier. After a few days of carrying loads to the base of Mt. Tirokwa, her original objective, she did not feel enough connection with the wall to spend all the effort of putting up a new route solo. Instead she decided to do some trekking. However, we invited her to come along with us on Mt. Asgard. For us, as free climbers, we thought it would be interesting and that we could learn from having an aid climber along. Plus, she had a portaledge, which was nice because originally we had planned to go with one portaledge and two hammocks. Now only one of us would have to sleep in a hammock.

Stephane Hanssens on the fifth pitch of The Belgarian (5.13 A1) on the south tower of Mt. Asgard. Photo by Nicolas Favresse

Stephane Hanssens on the fifth pitch of The Belgarian (5.13 A1) on the south tower of Mt. Asgard. Photo by Nicolas Favresse

As soon 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, picked two walls, and went for it. Sean and Steph made the likely first ascent of the northwest buttress of Mt. Tirokwa by putting up Chocolate Boomerang (700m, 5.11). They 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. Meanwhile, my brother Olivier and I went for a virgin tower detached from Mt. Odin. We climbed the obvious prow of the spire and put up Le Bic Rouge d’Odin (5.10) in 20 pitches, likely making the first ascent of the spire. With a bit of climbing in, we felt better ferrying loads all the way (60 kilometers) 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 Direct on the south tower, we chose to attempt to free climb the Bavarian Direct. We found the climbing to be of excellent quality and very sustained, with a bunch of pitches in the 5.12/5.13 range. After an 11-day stay on the wall, splitting the hard pitches between all of us, we almost succeeded in freeing a line.

The line of Whiskey Gonzales on Asgard’s north tower. This route may share some ground with a line free-climbed by Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh earlier this summer. Courtesy of Nicolas Favresse.

The line of Whiskey Gonzales on Asgard’s north tower. This route may share some ground with a line free-climbed by Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh earlier this summer. Courtesy of Nicolas Favresse.

Because the ice below the peak has melted since the first ascent in 1996, we found the route’s starting anchor 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 words. For us, the potential ground fall while hanging on a No. 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 avoid adding any bolts. We found the quality of the rock and the climbing to be outstanding. Most of the pitches were splitter cracks combined with hard face climbing while 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. However, 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 the seventh pitch, I was unable to link a short, one-meter section. I did all the moves, so there is no doubt that the route will go free. It was just a bit too hard for us, especially after all the hiking. That crux pitch would probably go at a minimum of 5.13+. But we had to use a move of aid, making The Belgarian 5.13 A1, 850m. We should also mention that some of the other pitches were redpointed after we reached the summit.

Bouldering in the Weasel Valley, Baffin Island. Photo by Nicolas Favresse.

Bouldering in the Weasel Valley, Baffin Island. Photo by Nicolas Favresse.

After a few days of recovery and jamming with accordion, mandolin, tin whistle, harmonica, and drums, we set off for Mt. Asgard’s north tower in alpine style.Sean and Stephane repeated the Porter Route (5.12 A4, Charlie Porter, 1975, 40 pitches) in 24 hours of nonstop climbing. They onsighted every pitch except for the third, which they say would go free with a bit of work. Olivier and I climbed the northeast face of the north tower with what we believe to be a new line following Serenity Crack–like splitters. We think the upper part of the climb might share some pitches with a line put up this season by Canadian climbers Chris Brazeau and Jon Walsh. The quality of the climb was amazing. Both of us climbed it free with no falls and onsight in about 24 hours. Whiskey Gonzales (1,200m, 5.11) 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 is no darkness on Baffin so it’s great for long alpine pushes. We will definitely have to go back. The future of big-wall free climbing is out there.Click here to see a photo gallery by Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Stephane Hanssens, Sean Villanueva and Silvia Vidal from the expedition. We would like to thanks our sponsors for their crucial support: The Belgian Alpine Club, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Sterling, Milo, Five Ten, Boreal, Petzl, Seeonee, Crux, Julbo, Belclimb.net, Climb.be, and UPMM.The expedition blog:www.xpedition.be.

Dates of Climbs: July-August 2009

Sources: Nicolas Favresse, Xpedition.be, American Alpine Journal

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