Jacob Cook and Team add First Ascents on Baffin Island

Jacob Cook, Bronwyn Hodgins, Thor Stewart and Zack Goldberg-Poch travelled to Baffin Island, Canada this summer, where they established a handful of new routes and repeated some long existing lines during their 40 day trip. Jacob sent us the following report.


We put into the Arctic Ocean and paddled our way up the Pangnirtung fjord, riding the tide towards the mountains. From the mouth of the Weasel River we started dragging upstream, taking turns wading through knee deep water with our packrafts tied to ropes around our waists. Mount Asgard still seemed like a long way away. Finally, once the Weasel became too fast flowing, we deflated our boats and hiked with heavy loads for 3 days through a raging storm towards our cache at Summit Lake. Here we were grateful to find our climbing gear, food and fuel, which had been stashed by Peter Kilabuk, our local outfitter, via snowmobile 4 months earlier.

Dragging upstream on the Weasel River.  © Jacob Cook
Dragging upstream on the Weasel River.
© Jacob Cook

The morning after arriving at our cache the weather suddenly got good, blue skies and calm winds. With no rest we immediately set off to make an advanced base camp on the Parade Glacier underneath the South face of Mount Asgard. I found the glacier spooky; the whole place was on a scale I'd never experienced and everything seemed to be moving. Huge avalanches ripped down couloirs and every so often giant boulders would creak and roll over of their own accord.

Overflowing psyche and pristine weather allowed our team to have an extremely productive 5 days here.

The team.  © Jacob Cook
The team.
© Jacob Cook

Bronwyn and I set out to climb the South Face of the South Tower of Asgard. We intended to repeat a route put up by Jon Walsh and Chris Brazeau in 2009, but as we approached the face our eyes were drawn by another crack system up the middle part of the wall, on the spur of the moment we decided to try a new route! After 300m of snow, scrambling and a couple of blocky pitches the rock got good, really good. In the middle of the wall we climbed about 100m of perfect hand crack. We were grinning and whooping and I almost considered lowering down just to climb it again!

Bronwyn enjoying the perfect hand crack.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn enjoying the perfect hand crack.
© Jacob Cook

Several pitches higher I found myself under an icy, black, dripping chimney. "Screw that I'm going out onto the face!" After a pitch and a half of airy face climbing we rejoined our corner system and continued up the icy chimney to the summit.

Bronwyn in the chimney.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn in the chimney.
© Jacob Cook

We were on the summit of the South tower of Mount Asgard at exactly midnight. It was perfectly calm and totally silent. We watched the sun dip below the horizon for a total of ten minutes before it popped up again and started to rise.

Bronwyn and Jacob celebrate their climb.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn and Jacob celebrate their climb.
© Jacob Cook

We couldn't believe our luck to be standing there only one week after landing on Baffin Island, having made the first ascent of "Never Laugh at Live Dragons." We completed the route in a 20 hour continuous push from base camp. It's the easiest free route on the South Tower and a route I would definitely recommend to future climbers in the area. In fact, we met the only other climbers there this summer, Thomas Bukowski and Brian Knowles from San Francisco, and gave them our hand drawn topo. A week later they repeated our route! They confirmed the quality of the climb, and managed to stay in the chimney up high, so the whole route now goes at 5.10+ or E2. The name is a quote from Bilbo in The Hobbit and it sums up my feeling of interacting with these huge mountains in such an otherworldly and in-hospitable landscape. We snuck up on the dragon and slipped away with the treasure unscathed.

Meanwhile Thor and Zack were having their own adventure. Over 23 hours they made a rare free ascent of Polar Thievery 5.11a on the South face of the North Tower of Asgard. We were whooping back and forth between the towers as we climbed.

Thor and Zack on the summit of the north tower of Asgard.  © Jacob Cook
Thor and Zack on the summit of the north tower of Asgard.
© Jacob Cook

A few days later Bronwyn and I set off across the ice for a second time. This time our aim was to repeat the famous 1972 Scott-Henneck route on the North Tower of Asgard. As we rappelled down the rock band from the Parade onto the Turner Glacier I felt acutely aware of how committed we were. We now either had to climb the route or hike for 30km back around to our base camp.

The North Tower of Asgard.  © Jacob Cook
The North Tower of Asgard.
© Jacob Cook

The first half of the climb flew by in an hour and a half long blur of calf pump and simul-climbing. Up high we found ourselves under the infamous chimney that was supposed to lead us to the summit, only it was soaking wet and running with water. I filled my water bottle from the base of the chimney whilst we considered our options. We traversed right to find a perfect dry finger-crack that we followed with glee to the summit. We think this crack is the top of the aid route Bilfrost Buttress. Our new three pitch free variation goes at 5.11+ or E4 and is a great alternative if the upper chimney is wet.

Bronwyn on the new 3-pitch variation.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn on the new 3-pitch variation.
© Jacob Cook

Meanwhile Thor and Zack set off in search of "Mount Zacky," still unsure if it was more of a state of mind or an actual physical mountain. Sure enough they found it, making the first ascent of a beautiful dome-like sub-summit of Mt Midgard in a very long 27 hour round trip. Their route "Beach Vacation" 5.10+ 600m on Mount Zacky is an amazing achievement given Zack started climbing 3 years ago and Thor not long before!

Thor and Zack on the summit of the north tower of Asgard.  © Jacob Cook
Thor and Zack on the summit of the north tower of Asgard.
© Jacob Cook

After some welcome rest days at Summit Lake we set off down the Weasel river in our packrafts and a variety of inflatables...

The inflatables make their appearance...  © Jacob Cook
The inflatables make their appearance...
© Jacob Cook

We paddled some sweet white water up to class 3 or 3+ and had one particularly exciting section of rapids where Zack fell completely out of the boat and swam through some huge waves just above Mount Thor.

Riding the rapids.  © Jacob Cook
Riding the rapids.
© Jacob Cook

As we were planning this trip, one objective was so glaringly obvious we couldn't ignore it. "Climb Mount Thor with Thor!" Myself, Bronwyn and Zack were all keen to accompany Thor on his namesake mountain! We team simul-scrambled the South Ridge at about 5.8, with one of the tallest vertical drops in the world a metre or so to our left. Thor was psyched, and can now get on with the rest of his life…

Thor on Mount Thor.  © Jacob Cook
Thor on Mount Thor.
© Jacob Cook

The impressive Mount Thor.  © Jacob Cook
The impressive Mount Thor.
© Jacob Cook

After an unsuccessful attempt on the West Face of Tirokwa (we bailed from 3 pitches up due to loose rock and a core-shot rope) we continued downriver to a final base camp at the mouth of the fjord under Mount Ulu. Bronwyn and I packed to attempt the North Face of Ulu, but once we arrived under the wall our eyes were drawn by a 400m unnamed tower of golden granite to our left that was glowing in the afternoon sun. The upper half of the pillar was cut by a beautiful splitter, which was calling our names.

The unnamed tower that is now home to The Niv Mizzet Line next to Mount Ulu.  © Jacob Cook
The unnamed tower that is now home to The Niv Mizzet Line next to Mount Ulu.
© Jacob Cook

We spent the first day climbing 6 long pitches of wandering and sometimes run-out face climbing to navigate our way to the base of the crack. On one pitch I found myself stood on a scrittly sloping ledge, miles above some sub-optimal gear. I tagged the hand drill and spent an intense 20 minutes drilling a bolt from the stance. I clipped the bolt with a locking biner and ran it out another 10 metres to a belay. This is not a style of climbing I intend to engage in regularly, but it was definitely a memorable pitch! We spent the night at a beautifully exposed free-hanging bivy on Grade 7 pods, AKA those newfangled inflatable portaledge things.

Jacob hanging out on the inflatable portaledge.  © Jacob Cook
Jacob hanging out on the inflatable portaledge.
© Jacob Cook

The next morning we set off up the splitter, only to find it was much thinner than expected. What we thought was going to be a hand crack turned out to be just wide enough for tips and protected by micro-cams and beaks. The climbing was incredible and my two summers of trying and failing at the Tom Egan Memorial Route in the Bugaboos turned out to be training for this moment on this crack! After two intense pitches of 5.12 the crack steepened and it looked like we were going to get closed out. I led off, took a couple of falls, then lowered. I managed to send the pitch, just barely scraping through on pinky locks and gastons in one of those magic moments of climbing flow.

Bronwyn and Jacob enjoying the exposure.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn and Jacob enjoying the exposure.
© Jacob Cook

Bronwyn on The Niv Mizzet Line.  © Jacob Cook
Bronwyn on The Niv Mizzet Line.
© Jacob Cook

We were so lucky to find this route and were thrilled to put up "The Niv Mizzet Line" 5.13- 400m, in a two day push. Named after my favourite dragon from my favourite nerdy card game Magic the Gathering. We thought the tower itself was unclimbed, until we found a mystery piton at the summit! It was a Simond brand and looked to be at least 20 years old, so I blame some Frenchies… We rapped the route, the second day turned into a 20 hour push back to camp.

photo
A perfect crack on The Niv Mizzet Line.
© Jacob Cook

Meanwhile Thor and Zack set off to climb Ulu peak via the South face. Mark Synott's Baffin Island book describes Ulu as, "definitely attempted and probably climbed." But now, it has definitely been attempted and climbed! Over two days they put up "The Beached Whale" 5.10 A1 600m. By spending the night on the wall Zack completed his major goal of the trip, which was to "climb a big wall!"

Zack relaxing on The Beached Whale.  © UKC News
Zack relaxing on The Beached Whale.

After a rest day, lounging on the beach we set off back down the fjord.

Team Baffin + Flamingo.  © UKC News
Team Baffin + Flamingo.

We opted to paddle the nightshift when winds were calmer and made it back to Pangnirtung at 3am. Not thinking anyone would be awake, we were amazed to be greeted by a huge gang of local kids, who immediately got in our boats and started racing in circles around the harbour!

The local kids try climbing.  © UKC News
The local kids try climbing.

During our final days in the community we wanted to do something to interact with the locals in a more meaningful way than just flying in and out. We put up posters around town and the next day about 20 kids showed up to go rock climbing. They loved it! We left bolted top rope anchors in a boulder above town so hopefully future climbers to the area can get the kids out again!

Giving something back to the local people: a climbing set-up for the kids.  © UKC News
Giving something back to the local people: a climbing set-up for the kids.

Summary of climbs

Bronwyn and Jacob made the first ascent of "Never Laugh at Live Dragons" 5.10+ (E2) 600m on the South Face of the South Tower of Mount Asgard.

Thor and Zack made an ascent of Polar Thievery 5.11a (E3) 400m on the North Tower of Mount Asgard.

Jacob and Bronwyn repeated the Scott-Henneck route via a new 3 pitch free variation at the top, 5.11+ (E4) 900m on the North Tower of Mount Asgard.

Thor and Zack made the first ascent of Mount Zacky, an unclimbed sub-summit of Mt Midgard via "Beach Vacation" 5.10+ (E3) 600m.

All four team members made an ascent of Mount Thor via the South Ridge route 5.8 (HVS)

Over two days Jacob and Bronwyn made the first ascent of "The Niv Mizzet Line" 5.13- (E7) 400m on an unnamed West Facing tower next to the North Face of Ulu peak.

Over two days Thor and Zack made possibly the first recorded ascent of Ulu Peak via their new route "The Beached Whale" 5.10+ (E3) A1 600m.

Trip sponsors:

Rab, Grade 7 equipment, Scarpa UK, Alpacka Raft

Additional trip sponsors: Grivel, Edelweiss, Mountain House, Katadyn, Honey Stinger, Optimus.

Grants: The Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, The BMC, The Mount Everest Foundation, The Mec-Vimff Adventure Fund, The Royal Canadian Geographic Society.


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29 Aug

Hats off to these guys. Great stuff all round.

30 Aug

nice to see climbers actually engaging with these communities and the kids, especially in such remote regions.

setting the bar, for sure.

Great article with a brilliant post script about the kids. Love the flamingo.

30 Aug

Looks and sounds just such good fun as well as getting some great climbing done.

That inflateable ledge looks sweet. Not sure about the price (~$1000) but a bit of innovation there. Clever how you can set them up in a bunk bed orientation.

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