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New Dog, Old Tricks on Baffin Island

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Jonas Haag, novice big-waller, high on a 17-pitch new route on Baffin Island.
Jonas Haag, novice big-waller, partway up a 17-pitch new route on Baffin Island. Photo by Mike Libecki.

6/17/14 – Mike Libecki and Jonas Haag have climbed a 17-pitch new route on Baffin Island, making the first ascent of Lurking Tower. For Libecki, this was the sixth expedition to Baffin since his first climb in the Canadian Arctic 17 years ago. Remarkably, it was not only Haag’s first time climbing on Baffin but also his first ever big-wall ascent.

Libecki had planned to head to remote, ice-bound Sam Ford Fjord alone, but two weeks before his departure he was out for a walk with Haag outside Salt Lake City, and as he described the trip Libecki’s Swedish friend got more and more excited. “Dude, you should just go!” Libecki said. The next day Haag called to say he’d managed to get a month off from work and would buy a plane ticket.

One of the locals. The climbers slept with a loaded rifle in their tent when they were at base camp. Photo by Mike Libecki.

After snowmobiling across the frozen ocean to Sam Ford Fjord, the two chose a line on an unclimbed pillar across an inlet from the Walker Citadel, the enormous wall that Libecki, Josh Helling, and Russ Mitrovich climbed in 1998.

“The goal was to go into Sam Ford Fjord and look for the best line we could find,” Libecki said. “It was not necessarily about the formation, as it sometimes can be. We were going to reconnoiter all the walls and towers to focus on finding a line that any obsessed climber would be organically drawn to.”

The result was New Dog Old Tricks (VI 5.11 C3+), which the pair  climbed and descended over 13 days. Libecki led and hauled every pitch as Haag learned the nuances of following and cleaning aid pitches. “I was blown away by the work and psyche and commitment from Jonas, especially his trust,” Libecki said. “When climbing a wall like this, you hand over each other’s lives. I don’t know a more intense trust or bond.”

Jonas Haag and Mike Libecki celebrate their new route on Lurking Tower (back right). Photo by Mike Libecki.

About half the route was splitter cracks in golden granite, but there also was some rotten rock, including a huge flake that came off in Libecki’s hands, pinning him into a corner until he could heave it off—luckily without cutting the ropes or smashing his partner below.

The two climbed capsule-style and tagged the summit of the tower in a 35-hour push from their high camp. Unusually for an Arctic wall route, the climbing went completely hammerless—with no bolts or pitons—though Libecki did place some anchor bolts.

Date of ascent: May 2014

Source: Mike Libecki