American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Baffin Island, The Fin, Earth, Wind and Choss, New Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

The Fin, Earth, Wind, and Choss, New Route. On May 7, Russel Mitrovich, Mike Libecki, and I, plus expedition camera crew Peter Mallamo and John Middendorf, departed from Clyde River on a 120-mile dogsled journey over the frozen Baffin Bay. We hired two native Inuit dogsled guides with Qullikkut Outfitters for team transportation, and we sent a gear cache ahead by skidoo. The original plan was to explore the mountains, valleys, and passes inland from the northeast coast of Baffin Island in hopes of finding an unclimbed big wall jewel, but an unusually cold, dry, and windy winter had swept the earth clean of snow, making conditions poor for land travel with dogs and sleds. Continuing north for five days on the wind-scoured sea ice allowed the team to explore the coast line of Sam Ford Fjord and the Walker Arm until we found a wall that inspired a new route. On May 13, we established a base camp at the base of The Fin. This three-mile-wide, 2,500-foot wall was one of the steepest formations in the area, with its only previous ascent coming from a Spanish team in 1998.

The next ten days were spent scoping a line of ascent, hiking gear loads up the loose 800-foot talus slope to the base, fixing 400 feet of rope, trundling loose rock from the hauling path, and hauling way too much stuff up to Wall Camp I. On May 23, Russel Mitrovich, Mike Libecki, John Middendorf, and I committed to a capsule-style climb, and we began living on the wall. Cameraman Peter Mallamo stayed on the ground to film landscape, wildlife, and cultural footage. From Cl we began fixing pitches up what we hoped would lead us to one of the only consistently featured crack systems on the entire wall. Our goal was to climb a steep clean line with as little drilling as possible, but as Mike led pitch five, the loose comer he was climbing brought him directly into loose blocks the size of doors that were miraculously sitting on top of many other detached flakes that all rested on a single chockstone the size of a soft ball. With no way around it, and certain death to attempt to climb through it, Mike lowered down to the belay, and we rappelled back to our portaledges, pulling our ropes as we went.

As we climbed up a new system from Cl, our new route set a consistent pattern of loose and unknown. Some pitches were beautiful cracks while on others we wrestled with loose blocks. On June 6, Russel, Mike, John, and I ascended 800 feet of fixed rope above CIII to our high point. I climbed 150 feet of mixed aid, free, and snow until it we were on the summit. Without much debate we all agreed a fitting name for the route would be Earth, Wind, and Choss (VI 5.10 A2+) We all had done much harder, and more technical, A5, but this was the most dangerous climb we had ever done. It just goes to show that putting a rating on a climb means very little.

Josh Helling

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