Baffin Island climbing, The Belgarian and more for Favresse, Villanueva and Hanssens
Nicolas Favresse, Sean Villanueva, Stéphane Hanssens and Olivier Favresse have recently returned from an expedition to Baffin Island where they carried out the first ascents of 3 different routes and attempted to free climb the Bavarian Direct on the South Face of Mt. Asgard.
Last week we reported briefly about a Belgian trip to Baffin Island and Mt Asgard by Sean Villanueva, Stephane Hanssens,Olivier Favresse and his brother Nicolas, who has now sent us comprehensive expedition report. The climbers established a series of new routes and only just failed to free the Bavarian route on the South Face of Mt. Asgard. Interestingly the four opted for an expedition "by fair means", which involved hiking 600km with all their gear for two weeks of climbing. By the sounds of things, the fortnight spent in the vertical was only part of a greater adventure, shared also with expert Spanish solo climber Silvia Vidal. This Belgian team is undoubtedly one of the strongest big wall teams in the world at the moment and after trips to Patagonia, Yosemite to Pakistan to name but three, Nico states cooly about Baffin that "the future of big wall free climbing is out there!" Here goes...
Big wall free climbing in Baffin Island
Sean Villanueva, Stephane Hanssens , Olivier Favresse and I have just come back from a expedition to Baffin Island. We had an awesome trip! Free climbing on Baffin is amazing and the potential for free climbing and first ascents seems endless. Our main target 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!
Besides the climbing, one of the main difficulties out there is the remoteness of the place. Over the course of 45 days, we hiked a full month (about 600km) ferrying loads ( 3 weeks up /one week down) for only two weeks of climbing! It seems ridiculous, but the climbing and the place is so unique that in the end it felt well worth it. At least all along the way up to Mt. Asgard there were tons of incredible boulder fields with perfect soft tundra landing to keep ourselves in shape. Bouldering out there is definitely something to consider!
Expert solo aid climber Silvia Vidal from Catalonia came on the trip to make her logistics as a soloist easier. After a few days of carrying loads to the base of her original objective, the Tirokwa wall, she felt she didn't have enough connection with the wall to 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. 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 to go with one portaledge and two hammocks to be lighter. Now only one of us would have to sleep in a hammock...
Right as we started hiking up the Weasel Valley many walls sprung into view. After a few days of hard hiking we couldn’t handle it anymore and had to climb something: we split in two teams and, spoilt for choice of all the walls around us, we eventually picked two and went for it.
Sean and Steph made what is likely to be the first ascent of the Northwest Buttress of Tirokwa peak by ascending "Chocolate boomerang", 700m, 5.11, all free. 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 prow, the most obvious feature of the spire, and established "Le bic rouge de Odin", 20 pitches of 5.10. This is likely to be the first ascent of the spire.
With a bit of climbing under out belt we now felt better ferrying loads all the way (60km) to the base of our main target: Mt Asgard. After a reconnaissance of two 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 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 a 11 day stay on the wall splitting the leads of the hard pitches between all of us, we almost succeeded in freeing a line. Because the glacier ice had melted since the first ascent in 1996 we discovered that the starting anchor of the route hung 15 meters above the ground. So now the route has a new pitch up 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 copperhead #1 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 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 traversing from one crack to another.
In order to free climb the route we opted for a bunch of variations from the original line, and almost half of the route explores new terrain. We called our variation "The Belgarian" to underline the joint effort of the Bavarians with the Belgians. At this point we feel we have to say that the first ascent wasn’t done in best of styles: numerous bat hook holes, rivet ladders and a few bolts next to perfect cracks...
Unfortunately I was unable to link a short one meter section at the beginning of pitch 7, but I did all the moves so there is no doubt whether the route goes free or not. It was just a bit too hard for us, especially after hiking for a month. 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 hour of non-stop climbing. They on-sighted every pitch except for 3 which they believe could go free with a bit of work.
Olivier and I climbed the North Towers NE Face via what we believe is a new line which follows Yosemite-like splitter cracks, such as the classic Serenity crack. We think the upper part of our climb may 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 and both of us climbed it free with no fall and onsight 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 on Baffin. The weather was extremely good with pleasant temperatures and almost no rain. It never gets dark in summer so it’s great for long alpine pushes: we didn’t have to use 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 thanks our sponsors for their fundamental support : The Belgian Alpine club, Black Diamond, Patagonia, Sterling ropes, Milo, Five Ten, Boreal, Petzl, Seeonee, Crux, Julbo, belclimb.net, climb.be, UPMM.
List of routes:
"Le bic rouge d’Odin" First ascent, 5.10, 800m, unclimbed virgin tower climbed onsight in a push
"Chocolate boomerang" First ascent, 5.11, 700m, Tirokwa wall climbed onsight in a push
"The Belgarian" 5.13 A1, 850m West Face of Asgard’s south tower climbed in 11 days, Big wall style. One aid move. Variation to Bavarian Direct (08/1996, Christian Schlesener, Mani Reichelt, Toni Grad, Luck Guscelli and Markus Bruckbauer)
"Whisky Gonzales" First ascent, 5.11, 1200m northeast buttress of Asgard’s North Tower, climbed onsight in a push
"Porter route" 5.12 /A4 climbed in a push, North Face of Asgard’s North Tower. 3 pitches were not freed.