Patagonia North: Baffin Island

There have been stories of two impressive new routes on Baffin Island in Nunavut Province. In late July Bill Borger Jr. and John Furneaux of Canada have free climbed a new route on the southwest face of Mount Thor (5,495 feet) that they named  “The Great Escape” and rated 5.10+. And back in May, Marek “Regan” Raganowicz and Marcin “Yeti” Tomaszewski of Poland, put up a new route on Polar Sun Spire, which they named “Superbalance” and rated VII/A4/M7+.

Both were epics for different reasons and like all good climbs they have the element of responding positively when faced with adversity. Borger and Furneaux dropped relatively early in the climb a bag with all pitons meant for their descent, which sunk their hearts momentarily; they knew they were committed to reaching the top and getting down another way. They were about half way up the world’s highest vertical drop: 4,101 ft. / 1,250 m. at 105 degrees.

Raganowicz and Tomaszewski on Polar Sun Spire struggled against all conditions to put up the route. It took 24 days to establish the 37 pitches necessary for a reasonably direct route to the summit. Alpinist.com reports that they were proud — and rightfully so — that they did so without any “excessive aiding and drilling,” as Reganowicz told them. Cold was their ally and their hurdle to the top. The cold held the chossy portions of the wall together but the bitterness at night made resting conditions difficult. Occasional days of rest mixed with gear hauling made progress possible, and gear had to be fixed daily: “We cut five ropes, one of which cut 4 times in the course of 2 days. All because of falling stones,” Reganowicz told Alpinist.com.

It appears the suffering here was marginalized because the teams embraced it or at least their patience overcame it.

I’ve been thinking of the climbing in Baffin Island — or at least their stories — as the new Patagonia. I’m as enamored by Patagonia as every other romantic rock and ice climber, but I love destinations that people, upon hearing the name of the destination, say “Where?”

Baffin Island is as remote as Patagonia had once been before El Chalten basecamp was pitched and the buses rolled through carrying all sorts of visitors. I’ve heard that some residents are compensated to live their to ensure Canada’s claim to the land. Most of the residents are First Nations — Iniuit. There, it is easier to travel in winter than summer and the snow machines are the preferred automobile between settlements.

Then, around a seemingly barren arctic landscape, rising high, are vertical walls of opportunity. Mix a little adversity of conditions for the chance at greatness and or enlightenment.

It’s my Patagonia. What’s yours?

Thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, I’m sure you’ll enjoy following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook and/or Twitter, because if you’re like me, you believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

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