Photo story: adventure on Baffin Island

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 25/09/2019
Below our feet was one of the largest vertical drops in the world. All photos: Jacob Cook

This summer, Jacob Cook and his wife Bronwyn Hodgins, along with friends Thor Stewart and Zack Goldberg-Poch, spent 35 days in Auyuittuq National Park on Baffin Island, where they established first ascents, repeated some long, existing routes and gave something special back to the local Inuit children: a climbing lesson.

Jacob, the Brit amongst Canadians in this story, grew up in London, where he began climbing at the Castle Climbing Centre aged seven. It wasn't until he was 20, though, that he truly discovered outdoor climbing. Through Leeds University Climbing Club he met Bronwyn and the pair developed a love for adventurous big walls. They married last year and now live in Squamish. Thor and Zack, Bronwyn's adventure buddies since pre-school, are relatively new to climbing, but that certainly didn't hold them back on this trip. Sit back and enjoy a virtual tour of this majestic area, and all the climbing that is on offer, courtesy of Jacob.

Their trip was supported by a BMC expedition grant. 

1. Our team of four paddled up the fjord to the mouth of the Weasel River and began dragging our packrafts upstream. This was day 2 of our 70 kilometre journey from the Inuit settlement of Pangnirtung, where there is a small airport, to the base of Mount Asgard. The sometimes waist-deep water froze our feet, but dragging the boats was much easier than hiking with our heavy loads.

2. After a week of paddling, dragging and hiking through a storm, we made camp on the glacier under Asgard. That evening we racked up under crystal clear blue skies. I liked the silence on the glacier, especially in the evening when the rockfall and avalanches became much less frequent. It felt very apparent that we were the only humans for miles around.

3. We spotted this crack on the South Tower of Mount Asgard from the glacier. On the spur of the moment we decided to try and climb it! Here Bronwyn is enjoying 100m of perfect hand crack on our new route Never Laugh at Live Dragons, E2, 600m.

4. The other two members of our team, Thor and Zack, have been Bronwyn’s friends since pre-school. In the past few years she introduced them both to climbing and apparently they hit the ground running! Here they are celebrating on the summit of the North Tower of Asgard. A few days later they made the first ascent of the unclimbed Mount Zacky with their new 15-pitch route Beach Vacation, E3, 600m. Inspirational stuff from anyone, let alone two relative newcomers to the sport!

5. The snow crunched under our feet as we tramped across the Turner Glacier towards the North Tower of Asgard. We were tired from our climb of the South Tower a few days earlier, but we couldn’t pass up the perfect weather. Once we reached the rock we flowed up the first 500m of perfect low-angled granite in a blur of calf-pump and simul-climbing. 

6. After 16 hours of continuous movement climbing the classic Scott-Henneck route to the summit of the North Tower (E4, 900m), I took a moment on the descent to look around. In the background is the Frigga massif. 

7. We packed up camp under Asgard and returned to the Weasel Valley. From there we began to descend the river by packraft towards our next objective: Mount Thor, which is visible at the back of the photo.

8. Thor stood atop his namesake mountain, hammer in hand, and let forth a roar. We could see the distinctive two towers of Mount Asgard against the horizon. All four team members made an ascent of Mount Thor via the South Ridge route (HVS).

9. Looking down at the braided streams of the Weasel we could see our route home on the natural highway of the river. We watched the sunset from the summit of Thor; below our feet was one of the largest vertical drops in the world.

10. As the final route of our trip, we set out to climb an unnamed granite tower that was glowing in the afternoon sun. Our eyes were drawn by a perfect splitter crack on the upper headwall and we spent the first day navigating runout, complicated terrain to reach it. Beneath the crack we had a marvellously exposed free-hanging bivy on the Grade 7 pods (inflatable portaledges).

11. The next day we climbed the splitter in five incredible pitches, making the first ascent of The Niv Mizzet Line (E7, 400m). What had looked like a hand crack from the ground turned out to be just wide enough for fingertips and it took everything I had to climb it free. Cracks like this come along once in a lifetime!

12. After 35 days in the wilderness together, our small team returned to Pangnirtung by packraft. 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 around 20 kids showed up to try rock climbing. We set up some top-ropes down by the river - they loved it!

 

Summary of climbs

Bronwyn and Jacob: 

  • FA of Never Laugh at Live Dragons, E2, 600m, South Tower of Mount Asgard
  • Repeat of the Scott-Henneck route via a new three-pitch free variation at the top, E4, 900m, North Tower of Mount Asgard
  • FA of The Niv Mizzet Line, E7, 400m on a west-facing tower next to the North Face of Ulu peak

Thor and Zack:

  • Polar Thievery, E3, 400m, North Tower of Mount Asgard
  • FA of Mount Zacky, an unclimbed sub-summit of Mt Midgard via the FA Beach Vacation, E3, 600m
  • Possible FA of Ulu Peak via their new route The Beached Whale, E3, A1 600m

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

Trip sponsors: Rab, Grade 7 equipment, Scarpa UK, Alpacka Raft, Grivel, Edelweiss, Mountain House, Katadyn, Honey Stinger, Optimus.

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

FIND OUT: How to apply for a BMC expedition grant

WATCH Jacob and Bronwyn climbing their first big wall together:

 

WATCH War and Poetry: Big wall climbing in Greenland on BMC TV:


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