North America, Canada, Newfoundland, Blow-Me-Down Wall, Lucifer's Lighthouse
Blow-Me-Down Wall, Lucifer’s Lighthouse. Towering nearly 1,300' above Devil’s Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland, the solid white granite of Blow-Me-Down offers some of the best sea cliff climbing in North America. Accessible only by boat, the bottom half of the wall is just shy of vertical while the top half steepens considerably and is capped by three intimidating roofs that guard the summit. Justen Sjong and I lived at the base of the cliff for three weeks in September, the first 10 days of which we shared with friend and photographer Celin Serbo.
We adopted a top-down approach to route finding, since this would be the most efficient way to establish a high-quality full-length free route. On our first day, we hiked 45 minutes from our camp to the summit and rapped through fog and rain over the roofs, deciphering a free passage. Sunshine prevailed for the next two days, as we repeated the process, top-roping difficult sections where possible.
On September 13 clear skies abruptly segued into one of the most powerful storms the south coast has seen in the last half-century: Hurricane Florence. Fortunately the three of us, along with a young duo from Maine, were rescued from our primitive campsite by Kim and Charles Courtney, the friendly couple who had ferried us to the cliff three days earlier. We settled into their dilapidated cabin for two nights in nearby Rencontre West, an abandoned fishing village, while the hurricane raged. Just a few miles to the west a house was ripped off its foundation, broken in two, and blown into the sea.
Florence dissipated as quickly as she arrived, and we returned to Blow-Me-Down on calm waters, under sunny skies. We took advantage of each daylight hour with renewed urgency, by spending as much time as possible on the wall. We placed a dozen bolts and pins for lead protection and another dozen at anchors before redpointing individual pitches.
Celin began his journey home as four grueling days of non-stop rain plagued the coast, leaving Justen and I to fester in our sodden tents. On the first cloudless day we were like pent-up dogs, squirming to climb. We allowed our route to dry for a few hours, then acquiesced to our impatience and gave it a redpoint attempt starting at 1:30 p.m. We climbed nine of the route’s 12 pitches before an arctic wind and total darkness stopped us cold three pitches from the top.
The following day was forecast to be the driest of the next five, and our time was running out. Weary but determined to finish our project, we began at 10:30 a.m. in sunny, windy conditions. Each pitch felt more difficult than the day before, but we managed a no-falls ascent in nine hours, topping out at dusk, just as lighthouses were becoming visible on the horizon, reminding us that we were not alone. Lucifer’s Lighthouse (V 5.12c) is the most difficult free climb on Blow-Me-Down, offering everything from hard crack and face pitches to overhanging corners and arêtes. Our final day in Devil’s Bay dawned clear and warm, but after breakfast we could only muster enough energy to collapse onto the granite floor of our cooking area and relax.
Chris Weidner, AAC