Marek Raganowicz / Baffin Island big wall interview
Interview with Polish climber Marek Raganowicz after his solo first ascents of MantraMandala (A3) and Secret of Silence (A4), two difficult big wall climb up the Ship's Prow on Scott Island, Baffin Island, Canada.
As reported last month, Poland’s Marek Raganowicz made the first ascent of two difficult big walls on Scott Island, Baffin Island. Raganowicz travelled to Canada with habitual climbing partner Marcin Tomaszewski but extremely cold conditions and strong winds forced them to abandon their attempt of climbing a new line at Sam Ford Fiord. While Tomaszewski returned to Poland, Raganowicz made his way to the base of the huge Ship’s Prow, situated on Scott Island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Raganowicz’s main objective was the mountain’s north face, but once again cold conditions forced him to change plans and so he moved to the east face where in an astounding 17-day, ground-up push he made the first ascent of MantraMandala. This breaches difficulties up to A3+, uses natural belays all the way and was climbed without any drilling for bolts or rivets.
After resting for a week Raganowicz then returned to the North Face where he proceeded to make the first ascent of Secret of Silence. Raganowicz fixed 4 pitches and required a total of 13 days spread out from 23 March to 8 April. Difficulties check in at an astounding A4, and once again all belays are natural and no bathooks, rivets or bolts were used. Secret of Silence climbs a line to the right of Hinayana, the original route up the mountain first ascended solo in 1999 by America’s Mike Libecki.
In total Raganowicz spent 12 weeks on Baffin Island, 7 of which in complete autonomy. It goes without saying that in many respects, during this period he took his already impressive solo climbing into a completely different dimension.
Marek, you initially traveled with Marcin Tomaszewski. Did you know at the time that you’d continue on your own?
The original plan was to split the trip into three parts: Marcin and me in March, me solo in April, then my other friend Magda and myself in May. Because of the horrible weather in March, Marcin's problems with his toes and bad weather conditions in May, in the end I only did my solo.
When Marcin left you moved to Ship’s Prow at Scott Island. Tell us about this
Five years ago we met Levi, a local outfitter who was born in those mountains. This year he took me to Scott Island, which was a 3-hour drive in sledges attached to his snow mobile.
You spent 12 weeks on Baffin, of which 7 were alone. What do you recall most?
Did you have any contact with the outside world?
I had a sat phone, but I contacted only with a few of my closest friends and relatives. No media reports, news etc. Silence!
Is there anything you hated?
There is nothing to hate in paradise. I love everything on Baffin Island.
MantraMandala stands out because you spent 17 days climbing it ground up, without ever returning to the ground. Secret of Silence on the other hand was done in several pushes, but with absolutely no drilling. Sounds like you found your dream routes!
Definitely. Secret of Silence is the cleanest line I ever done. Having said that, I still regard Superbalance on Polar Sun Spire is the climb of lifetime.
Marek, you often climb alone. Why?
Maybe it sounds strange, but when I climb solo I do not see any difference to climbing as a team. Solo climbing is something totally natural for me.
Presumably A4 on Baffin Island is somewhat different than A4 on El Capitan, because you're so completely alone?
I wasn't be stressed or paralised by fear... Some A4’s on El Cap are very, very scary, but for me just being on this trip was scary. Living in the tent, walking around, looking at the footprints of polar bears and into polar bear eyes. Having said that, climbing A4 on Secret of Silence was amazing.
To those not into aid climbing: how would you describe an ascent of an A3 route? And A4?
The main difference is the level of risk. If you fall on A4 you will hit some slabs. A3+ is technically similar, but a fall is potentially relatively clean.
So what was your mantra?
Climb, climb, climb...
Any thoughts about Mike’s lone first ascent of the mountain in 1999?
Great ascent and adventure, no doubts - very inspirational...
After 12 weeks away, you said that it’ll take a while to readjust…
After coming back to civilisation nothing is easy, but I am happy that I now have the chance to find the balance between these different worlds. I got the opportunity to experience the arctic winter, solitude and my solo climbs. Before this adventures I lived in only one world and never knew that paradise is cold and a thousand shades of white.
MantraMandala, VI, A3+, 450m, East Face of Ship’s Prow, Scott Island, 6 bathooks, no rivets, no bolts, all belays natural, no fixing from the ground. 23.03-08.04.2017
Secret of Silence, VI, A4, 600m, North Face of Ship’s Prow, Scott Island. No drilling at all. 4 pitches fixed. 16,18,20,22,23.04-01.05.2017
Marek Raganowicz thanks his sponsors: MBC Ltd (Grivel UK, Edelweiss UK, Sea To Summit UK), D4 Big Wall Gear, Patagonia, Polish Alpine Association, CAN Offshore, Zamberlan, Atest, Monkey’s Grip.