In early May, Cheyne Lempe and I traveled to the Sam Ford Fjord of Baffin Island and established a new route, Deconstructing Jenga (5.9+ A3+, 900m), on the Great Cross Pillar. Three days of travel, one canceled flight, two town-side tent bivies, plus a five-hour snowmobile ride left us alone and exposed on the sea ice of the Sam Ford Fjord. We spent our first day and a half preparing camp and hiking our gear to the base of the Great Cross Pillar at the northeast corner of the Sam Ford Fjord and the Walker Arm.
We began climbing the Pillar capsule-style on May 9. The wind blew steadily and unwavering down the fjord from the east, and rarely changed directions or stopped for the entire trip. When it did the sun almost felt warm. We climbed with the motto of the Polish big-wall experts, Regan and Yeti: “Climb every day.” So our second and third days on the route were in a proper Arctic blizzard with temps below -20 F. As soon as we began climbing, we were awed by the absolute lack of perspective–what we thought might be 30 meters became 60 meters.
Our route worked up the right-hand slab to the base of the Right Pillar in six pitches and 365 meters of climbing. We established our first camp here on the large talus ledge. From that point, we began climbing 30 meters left of our camp up the obvious cleft between the Main Pillar and Right Pillar. Friends Ben Ditto and Sean Villanueva had attempted the route to about one-third height in an all-free effort in summer 2014. They were turned around due to poor rock quality.
We climbed in 200-foot rope-stretcher pitches and fixed four pitches up the massive, steep, right-leaning corner where we encountered myriad rock types and qualities. The first half of the main wall contained incredible choss and massive chimneys. While heel-toe camming difficult offwidth cracks in double boots and Arctic battle gear, we were thankful for our Yosemite roots. Despite regular loose rock, the route leaned consistently right, which let us safely climb through the amazingly steep and wild features. We found occasional towers of blocks in the bottoms of the chimneys that required delicate deconstructing, like a game of Jenga; the climbing was wild, unique and fun.
Two-hundred-and-seventy-five meters up the main wall, we established “The Nighttime Nibbler Bivy.” After another 155 meters of mixed-quality rock, we exited the decomposing corner system via a sporty A3+ traverse. We crossed onto a large golden face right of the corner where we climbed tiny cracks and small corners that connected upward through immaculate and perfect rock. The following day, May 19, after a frigid 36-hour blizzard, we ascended 200 meters of fixed lines, climbed another 60-meter pitch and decided to push through the “night” to the summit of the route. The 24-hour daylight made the event surreal, far easier than any overnight push I have done. We climbed two short alpine-style pitches from the top of our fixed ropes and two difficult aid pitches through crackless, bullet-hard rock. The final climbing was exposed on the upper headwall and gave me a serious A3+ lead that was reminiscent of the Reticent Wall before dumping me on an El Capitan-like summit.
From the top of the wall, we hiked to the top of the snow-and-talus summit slope to take in the view. We descended our route on two-bolt anchors installed on the way up. After 24 hours of sleeping and eating on the portaledge, we packed up Camp Two and descended to the main ledge, then to the sea ice for a rest day.
Our trip was unfortunately cut short while attempting to establish a second route, to the right of our new line. A loose block was dislodged while at Camp One on the main ledge, striking me in the lower back. I was surprised and banged up, but apparently not broken. We did a quick assessment, discussed our options and then collected our emergency kit and rappelled to the ground, leaving fixed lines back to Camp One.
The following day, Cheyne returned to the ledge alone to collect our kit while I remained at base camp. After two days on the ice, our friend and guide Levi Palituq picked us up on his snowmobile. We changed our flights that night and were back home in fewer than 48 hours after leaving the ice. X-rays revealed no broken bones, and I seem to be healing fast.
[Photo] Cheyne Lempe