A hypothetical look at which six routes might lead one to follow in Leo Houlding’s footsteps free climbing on big walls on Baffin Island.
Imagine our fantasy climber has learnt her rock skills on the crags of the UK and having read about Leo Houlding’s recent expeditions they fancy a go themselves. What progression would her skills have to go through to reach that level? Remember we at Berghaus aren’t recommending you attempt any of these extreme challenges but sometimes it’s fun to imagine.
Lord of the Flies, E6 6a, 40m, Dinas Cromlech, North Wales
Leo’s big wall free climbs have all been achieved on the foundations of his single pitch rock climbing skills honed in the UK. First in the Lake District, then North Wales and the Peak District. Lord of the Flies is a classic example of the bold traditional routes that fine tuned Leo’s ability to make hard moves a long way above protection. This pitch has seen some enormous falls and has several points where a lob could have serious consequences. You have been warned! While you are up there best not to think of Leo’s night time ascent in approach shoes.
Thing on a Spring E6 7a, The Roaches, UK
If you want to free climb Big Walls then you’ll need to refine your technical rock climbing skills back home first. Leo’s ability to climb E5 and E6 pitches in the Arctic is built on his experiences climbing routes like Thing on a Spring on the Gritstone of Staffordshire. This route lives up to its name with the crux a dramatic leap from tiny pebble holds.
Astroman, 5.11c, 11 pitches, Yosemite, USA
One of the most coveted free climbs in the valley and an essential right of passage for aspirant heroes. A route of sustained difficulty but with widely contrasting pitches covered the full smorgasbord of granite climbing skills. The first crux is a thin finger tip crack to test your power. Next the Enduro Corner works on yes you’ve guessed it your endurance with only a handful of footholds on this hand crack in a corner. About halfway up lies the infamous Harding Slot a super squeezy narrow chimney accessed by powerful laybacking; a pitch that has seen several climbers stuck for hours. And if that wasn’t enough there’s still the technical Changing Corners pitch to come. The ability to climb not just one but multiple hard pitches is one of the keys to big wall climbing.
Regular Route North West Face, Half Dome, 5.12b, 24 pitches, Yosemite, USA
In some ways Half Dome is more impressive than El Capitan. The view from the valley floor is particularly striking with the North West face begging to be climbed. It sees relatively few free ascents partly due to the long approach but also due to the sustained crack climbing and a challenging crux wall. Leo talks about Yosemite as the training ground for all major big wall free climbing around the world, and Half Dome is a comprehensive test of anyone’s granite climbing skills.
Freerider, El Cap 5.12d, m, 35 pitches, Yosemite, USA
This is the “easy” big wall free route on El Capitan, the others being 5.13 (E7) or harder. But when we say “easy” we mean it’s utterly desperate as opposed to impossible. Your warm up involves ten pitches of granite slabs and cracks up to E4 at which point the difficulties come thick and fast. The hardest technical moves involve a dynamic slap on tiny granite edges, but there are as tough pitches to come; the super sustained cracks of pitches 29 and 30 for instance, and of course the notorious offwidth crack of pitch 34. Graded a lowly 5.10 or E3 this pitch has reduced many of the world’s best to tears, some while being filmed for telly! Note Leo climbed this route with Sean Leary and then continued over to Half Dome for the North West face all in a single day, an exercise that built the stamina and mental toughness necessary for their Baffin climb.
Tasermiut Fjord Big Walls, Southern Greenland
Although this is an area that Leo hasn’t visited it’s a good example of the final step in preparation for considering freeing a route on Mount Asgard. For a start it’s on the edge of the Arctic Circle and so you will have to contend with cold, wind, glacial hazards as well as “normal” big wall hazards such as loose rock. Despite that the walls on offer here include the 700m Nalumasortoq, the 1000m Ulamertorssuaq and the 1400m Ketil. With an easier approach and many more established routes it could be the final test before you head to Baffin.