Arctic Monkeys play Baffin Island

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 02/06/2010
Great Sail walls, Baffin Island. Mike 'Twid' Turner

Supported by the BMC, the Baffin Big Walls Expedition has completed the first ascent of a previously unnamed formation close to Great Sail Peak in Baffin Island's Stewart Valley.

Stu McAleese, Mark Thomas and Twid Turner spent three weeks completing Arctic Monkeys (VI A4 V+) on the 1,400m vertical North East Face.

Turner had spotted the line on his previous visit in 1999 (see below) and had always had it in his mind to return.

The trio reached the top at 4pm on the 24th May and were back on the ground 12 hours later. They had spent 18 consecutive nights on the face in portaledges.

Life on Baffin walls at this time of year is harsh, with temperatures averaging -20°C.

Climbers opt for late spring because of generally stable weather and relative ease of access by skidoo across the frozen ocean. Any earlier and it is just too cold; later and you risk an early thaw, which can make escape problematical.

An early thaw proved the case on this occasion. The skidoo was unable to reach base camp and the trio had to make a quick exit, wading through freezing slush for around 25km to meet their Inuit drivers.

Cutting into the east coast of Baffin Island, the Stewart Valley was probably connected to Sam Ford Fjord many years ago but glacial moraine has now blocked both ends, leaving a narrow, c16km-long lake in the bed.

In 1977 a 14-member Canadian expedition climbed 19 peaks in the valley, including the highest in the area and the only named peak, Longstaff. One of the summits they named Sail Peak.

This appears to be the only recorded climbing in the area before 1998 when, after aerial reconnaissance up the east coast, John Catto, Greg Child, Alex Lowe, Jared Ogden, Mark Synnott and Gordon Wiltsie, on a trip sponsored by National Geographic and the North Face, climbed and filmed the North East Face of a neighbouring summit to Sail Peak, which they called Great Sail Peak.

The Americans named their 1,150m big wall route Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (VI 5.10 A4+), and came back with photos of an almost-as-impressive wall to the east, which became known as the Citadel and was climbed the following year by Jerry Gore, Shaun Hutson, Twid Turner and Louise Thomas, to create The Endless Day (900m: 25 pitches: VI A3+).

The Russian big wall project (The Russian Way - Walls of the World) came to the area in 2002 and established a second route on Great Sail, close to the American line: Rubicon (Michael Davy/Alexander Klenov/Alexander Odintsov/Valeri Rozov/Alexander Ruchkin: 1,150m: VI A4 5.11 85-90°). Rozov made a BASE Jump from the top of the wall.

McAleese, Thomas and Turner were also supported by the Mount Everest Foundation, and received a Mark Clifford Mountaineering Grant.

Arctic Monkeys climbs the wall on the left edge of the picture. Great Sail Peak is the tower on the right. The rock walls are guarded by more than 300m of difficult mixed terrain at the base.



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