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More Details on Baffin’s “Long Way Home”

Robert Jasper traversing on Take the Long Way Home (5.13 A4, 21 pitches, 2,300’), on what the German team called “the Bastion,” Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. The five-man German team made the first ascent of the formation over the course of two weeks, then traveled 350 kilometers back to Clyde River under their own power. [Photo] Klaus Fengler /

During six weeks from April to June 2008, German alpinists Stephan Glowacz and Robert Jasper, together with photographer Klaus Fengler and cameramen Holger Heuber and Mariusz Hoffman, traveled by snow machine from Pond Inlet to the northeastern coast of Baffin Island, Canada, where they made the first ascent of “the Bastion” via Take the Long Way Home (5.13 A4, 21 pitches, 2,300′), one of Baffin’s most difficult, before literally taking the long way home–skiing and kiting 350 kilometers back to the safety of Clyde River.

Upon arriving in Pond Inlet on April 20, the team became acquainted with the reality of two threats: “We were greeted by the Inuit celebrating the warmest day of spring (-4 degrees F), when a hunter told us he had just seen eleven polar bears. It was so cold that our lungs were burning and our noses bleeding.” Although the team had hoped to carry out the whole expeditions by “fair means” of transport, they were forced to snowmobile into Querbitter Fjord, where no active climbers had been to date, because dog sleds may only be used legally to hunt bears.

After five days of cold and difficult travel in whiteouts and over rough ice formations, the team set up camp at the base of China Wall. With the help of their hunter guide, Scheti, the team set out to find the finest line on the 3,300′ wall, a picture of which–taken aerially by American Eugen Fischer in the 1970s–had inspired their trip. With so much to choose from they explored the region extensively, and upon entering the Buchan Gulf, they saw what they had come for: “It was love at first sight. The ‘Bastion’ is a 2300-foot-high wall crossed in the middle by a horizontal rusty band, above which the smooth headwall is split by a single crack system: a perfect line.”

Pressed for time–they would have to begin their return to Clyde River by May 20 to beat ice melt–the team built their camp at the wall’s base. They began climbing immediately, but the rock took some getting used to: “We had to use extreme caution: obvious flakes would brake off unexpectedly because of the great gradient in temperature. None of us had ever climbed in such an exposed setting. In the distance, icebergs were floating on the open sea, which stretches all the way to Greenland. An accident in such remoteness would have dramatic consequences,” Glowacz said.

Because of extremely cold temperatures, storms and unpredictable rock quality, they resorted to a mix of aid and free climbing. Cracks were filled with frozen dirt and sand, and the leader was forced to clean them with a hammer and thin pitons to make room for fingertips. The team spent twelve days on the wall, at first descending and ascending fixed ropes back to base camp, then moving up the wall with a portaledge.

Glowacz added that “although the main objective was to move up fast to be done as fast possible, I couldn’t help but climb a few of the pitches free.” He freed sections up to 5.13, some of the most difficult on Baffin Island. They topped out on May 11.

Pulling 150-200-pound sleds behind them, the team walked toward Clyde River when wind did not allow them to travel by kite. Eventually southern winds picked up and quickly delivered them to their destination: “Everything is like in a dream when we see the houses growing on the horizon: boats lay on the ice like fat seals at bay and uncountable sled dogs lament as we near Clyde River. Words cannot express the emotions that filled us then. Such moments are the main reason why we keep leaving on new adventures,” Glowacz said.