Though notorious for its remoteness and weather, Baffin Island has earned a reputation as one of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful environments.
The Baffin Expedition team : “Overall the expedition was destined for success because the team worked so brilliantly together, something that cannot be taken for granted.”
Baffin Island - An adventure at the end of the world. A mission. A search.
The Huber Brothers have hit the trail again. The goal: decode Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. Nobody has yet managed to free-climb the almost 700-metre-high south face. And for good reason, since this challenge is at the very limit of physical and psychic feasibility.
Thomas Huber: "A couple of pulls. No more than two or three metres. That's not far. Nothing like as far as the ten thousand kilometres we have covered to get here and finally decode the moves needed to break these last two or three metres. Ten thousand kilometres for a couple of metres – isn't that kind of crazy?"
Baffin Island? Never heard of it? Baffin Island, this northernmost stretch of Canada to the west of Greenland, is the fifth largest island on the planet and at the same time the most uninhabited place you can imagine. So if you are into any kind of fresh air activity up there, then you better not be oversensitive about the weather, because up there the climate has a unique meteorological instability and basically does what it likes, without warning. The term "summer" is certainly not included in its frequently changing spectrum of offerings, however. Why Alexander and Thomas Huber - a.k.a. "The one and only Huberbuam" - and their team had travelled 10,000 km to one of earth’s remotest corners was not because of just a good reason, but the best-ever reason. A wider selection of virgin big walls with such beautiful lines isn't to be found anywhere else on this planet. Despite the huge choice of opportunities, the objective of this ambitious team was clear: Mount Asgard.
Their focus was on conquering "Bavarian Direct" (7/A3), a daring climb across the 700-m-high southern buttress of Mount Asgard, which was first climbed in 1996 technical-style by six Bavarians who are friends of Alex and Thomas. The information the initial climbers had spat out made it sound promising. We have to go there, the Hubers thought, we have to try it. Then, three years ago a mixed team in the company of the Belgian star Nico Favresse managed to free-climb all but one pitch of the "Bavarian Direct". They named their almost entirely free-climbed version "Belgarian" (5.13b or 8a/A1). Why "almost entirely free-climbed"? Because the crux on the tenth and most difficult pitch could only be managed with the technical assistance of a ladder. All the same, news of their success spread like wildfire so that Alex and Thomas couldn't ignore it either. They hadn't missed the boat; the opportunity to claim the first free-ascent was still there. For Alex and Thomas there was suddenly hardly no better excuse to travel to Baffin Island.
"Fate made everything so straightforward. Because they didn't quite manage the free-ascent it was up to us to see what we could make of it." Alexander Huber
Out there, all in!
August 2012. Tired following a tough 60 km hike Alex, Thomas, Mario and the film crew finally reach the foot of Mount Asgard. Suddenly the fog bank opens up to reveal the breathtaking vista of the mighty southern tower. But the euphoria evaporates with the impact of a hammer blow - there’s a constant cracking noise and the approach through the couloir looks like a battlefield strewn with fallen rocks. Danger is in the air, but it is calculable. Thanks to the information provided by the Bavarians and the Belgians who climbed the Bavarian Direct first, the team knows they will be safe as soon as they are on the wall. All they need now are perfect conditions…
Asgard gave the team a cool reception, no doubt about that, because just to get your feet off the ground you had to up the revs and give it everything you've got – a classic cold start. That it started off so tough was totally unexpected for Alex, Thomas and Mario. "Right at the start of the first pitch we were taken very much by surprise, because Nico and his team had rated the whole business 7c. For us it felt more like 8a+." Three whole grades more difficult! How did that reflect the rest of the grading? In particular, what about the grade ten crux pitch which has to be free-climbed? The next few pitches also seemed to be harder overall than the description implied. However, thanks to the pitches at the start the boys had been made less sensitive to unpleasant surprises. Next up was that visibility disappeared and poor weather moved in.
But a good team doesn't let itself go off the rails just because of a few hiccups getting started. Their patience paid off. At last it cleared up, and Alex, Thomas and Mario got back to work. "That's the real problem: in the mountains it's not enough to be a good climber with a load of experience, you also need a bit of luck." is how Alex describes the situation.
Due to the variable weather conditions, including snow, they had to abandon their original plan of climbing the route in a single push, returning to base camp again and again.
They climbed pitch after pitch until they had finally reached the belay point below the crux. What the three of them staring up into the unknown knew about the crux – those critical 2 or 3 m. The moment for which the team had travelled to Baffin Island was suddenly upon them and this immediacy meant carrying on without hesitation. It meant keep climbing. They quickly worked out the right hand holds and footholds. Next step: the sequencing. They analysed, tried out, deleted the code and tried again. The crux be free-climbed, no problem. Providing, of course, that you can handle stuff grade tens are made of in expedition conditions at the end of the world. As luck would have it, Alex, Thomas and Mario do belong to this rare species.
“This is the one we came for - this is the one we took home!”
The crux was behind them, but that didn't mean that it was all over, because first all the remaining pitches had to be free-climbed too. It was still risky.
Following several days and numerous attempts at the 700-metre-high wall, they finally had done it and Alex, Thomas and Mario reached the summit plateau. It was ten in the evening, the sun went down and you could see the moon pinned to the heavens. "A moment that was holy," remembers Thomas. After 28 pitches up to grade 10 and more than ten days on the rock face - the three climbers succeeded with a team free ascent. It didn't take long to decide on a route name that not only conveyed the feeling at the summit, but also accompanied the tour from the beginning: Bavarian-Belgian Friendship.
Three good reasons:
Firstly it was friends from their home in Bavaria who ascended the Direct in 1996 to pave the way for the 2012 project. Secondly, it was friends from Belgium who sussed out a way to free-climb the route, demonstrating that it was possible, even if they didn't have the privilege of solving the whole puzzle themselves. And finally it was Alex, Thomas, Mario and the Timeline film crew Max and Franz who undertook the long journey to successfully finish this major project.
To climb this big wall at the end of the world, ten thousand kilometres for a couple of metres, you've got to be kind of crazy to want to do that. "We are all born mad. Some remain so." Thank goodness!
Alexander sums up the expedition: "The Asgard did us no favours, only the last few metres were really easy… but that's always the way: the tougher the challenge the more vivid the lasting the memories" Thomas is also delighted with the expedition to Baffin. His verdict: "An amazing time on an amazing rock face. This route belongs among the top routes on El Capitan!"
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