“There is no better example of magic, power and beauty mixed with the biggest, steepest walls in the world than Baffin Island,” Mike Libecki writes after returning from his sixth trip to the northern island this spring. Libecki, along with Jonas Haag, completed the first ascent of a previously unnamed tower they called Lurking Tower in the Walker Arm of Sam Ford Fjord in May. Their route, which had some of the best pitches Libecki had ever experienced, was christened New Dog, Old Tricks (VI 5.11 C3+, 3,000′). “Any climber or mountaineer needs to experience Baffin. GO. GO. GO,” he urges.
As the fifth largest island in the world, Baffin’s glut of huge gneiss and granite walls has given climbers plenty to explore through the decades. In the 1995 American Alpine Journal, American Eugene Fisher wrote: “[W]hat confounds the first-time visitor’s senses are the miles of ‘smaller’ cliffs, literally thousands of buttresses and aretes that are Grade V and VI. Yosemite Valley would count as a minor side fjord if it were located along this vertiginous coast.” Libecki’s own love affair with the island’s walls began 17 years ago. He originally planned this Baffin expedition as a solo mission, but when his close friend Haag expressed interest in wall climbing Libecki encouraged him. “This was one way to get that experience fast and intensely,” he explained.
“This trip was about the route–we spent many hours just scoping wall after wall and tower after tower,” Libecki said. They chose a line that connected a series of cracks and features all the way from the sea to the unclimbed summit, one of the coolest first ascent lines Libecki said he had ever seen. Climbing hammerless and in capsule style, Libecki led and hauled each pitch while Haag followed.
Spending a total of 13 days on route, the pair experienced some of the best and worst quality rock they could imagine. “[T]here were close to 1,000 feet of incredible thin splitters straight into golden granite,” Libecki wrote, “but some of it was the worst. I had a huge flake come off on me–it was super scary and easily weighed 300 pounds.” As a result, Libecki deemed that three of the pitches should be classified as RRR for “Russian Roulette Rating.”
Although the RRR pitches sparked brief moments of doubt, and Libecki admitted that, “things got intense to say the least,” the duo summited during a 35-hour climb from their high camp. “[T]here is always something special about reaching a pointy true summit, as sometimes walls end in a plateau,” Libecki explained. “It was so amazing to stand on the tip-top together.”
The trip proved to be a learning experience for both climbers. “We relied on trust, communication and joy,” Libecki said. “[T]here was not a moment that was not joy–scary at times, but full of joy…[I]t was full teamwork that made it happen–a huge shout out to the sweetness and bad-assery of Jonas.”
Continuing his obsession with arctic walls, Libecki departs for Greenland today on a “solo immaculate mayhem mission” to an unexplored area with huge walls. He intends to complete 100 expeditions before he turns 100, and he is well on his way with over 50 already under his belt.