We’re finally back to civilization (well close enough to it in the tiny town of Upernavik, Greenland) and can report on our last few weeks of climbing.

Two weeks ago we arrived at the impressive Sortehul Fjord just South of Upernavik and happily dug out our climbing gear from the boat’s hold. The position and scale of the cliffs really impressed us and we felt more than a little nervous about the bold plans we’d laid an ocean ago.

Checking out an iceberg that floated right by the start of Impossible Wall

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First up was the 450m Red wall, ostensibly our warm up, but a 20 hour push in itself.

We split (paper-rock-sissors!) into two parties (Clinton/Steve and Dave/Andrew) and chose two potential new lines on the wall. A short sketchy dinghy ride later, and we were on the wall and ready to go.

Some hours later each party stumbled up to the summit, two proud new lines established on virgin rock. The Clinton/Steve party suffered a difficult night huddled behind a rock after missing Bob’s new anchorage position – eventually traversing an entire fjord with tape bound feet to reach the only other yacht within miles, which was just on its way out as they approached (but could thankfully ferry them to the Dodo’s new position). Lucky! The incident really hit home how isolated we are out here.

Clinton high on Red Wall

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Before and after. Steve taping up on the summit and then showing off his handiwork 10 hours later

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Looking on the Belgian topo for a new crack in the armour of Impossible Wall

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After a few days rest we picked out a potential line on Impossible Wall and packed our haulbags: 80 litres of water, 100 cans of food and a mountain of hardware and ropes, over 300 kg in total. After a nervous night of sleep we woke early and sailed across the fjord to mount our assault. Another round of Paper, Rock, Sissors picked Steve to lead the first pitch and with a hop, skip and a jump we were off. We would next see horizontal ground nine days later.

The route in all it’s glory!

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Steve fighting grass on pitch numero uno

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Bob’s deck takes one for the team

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Ready-set-JUG!

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Wide-cracking it up. Andrew on his scary chimney pitch

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Ningo seconding the second Sword of Damocles pitch

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Steve forging ahead on a recon day

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Rather than provide a blow by blow account of our adventure, here are a few fun facts:

1) Midnight Sun. We climbed at “night” when the sun fell on the wall from the North, and slept during the shady “day.” This worked well apart from the occasional sleep-sunburn when we turned in early!

El Cap by the sea? The 850m Impossible wall bathed in midnight sun

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2) Tuna Surprise. A frequent and particularly unpleasant experience was being puked on by protective mother seagulls. It wasn’t long before everything smelled of roting tuna: hair, gear, ropes, sleeping bags, portaledges, etc.

Very cute, but the reason a lot of semi-digested fish was wasted

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3) Hygiene. Given the steeepness of the rock and remoteness of the area we were able to avoid the hassles of carrying a poop-tube, favoring instead the “air-dump” method. This involved abseiling a few metres below camp, unclipping the leg loops of ones harness, pulling down ones pants, and voila, bombs away!

Clinton satisfied with himself after a good execution

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4) More Hygiene. Virtually all forms of washing were considered too extravagant for our precious water supply (body, clothes, cutlery, etc). But our mothers will be pleased to hear that we did all brush our teeth every night. A surprising comfort when it’s all you can get clean!

Another dirty belay

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5) Rock Quality. While the rock was mostly of good quality, there was much grass and mud to deal with, and occasional sections of rotten granite. We all carried heavy gauge wire brushes and nut tools which seemed to do the trick. Poor belayers often dissappeared under growing mounds of debris as leaders carved their way up. One evening we were treated to a massive rockfall. A worried Dave asked rhetorically: “What the hell was that?”. Clinton’s stoic response, “Rockfall. It happens in the mountains”.

Clinton getting his grass on

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6) Balls-to-the-wall. Given our boat-side start combined with the fact that Bob disappeared for most of the wall, retreat was all but impossible. Nothing like a little forced commitment to focus the mind!

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7) Hanging out. Living on two large postage stamps (portaledges) for nine days had a certain charm, but also brought with it a raft of inconveniences. Everything needed to be tied in at all times, desired gear was always at the bottom of the haulbags and midnight bathroom escapades involved coordinated counter-shifting of bodies, an awkward abseil and then a jumar to get back up. Tea and meals were cooked from stoves hanging above the ledges, and there was always the possibility of the ledge flipping–an interesting proposition given our long leashes (sometimes up to 5 metres in length.) All that said, the cool-factor definitely outweighed the inconvenience. Theres no better way to enjoy a good horizontal sun-rise!

The finest portaledges around, thank you Black Diamond! These pictures were taken from the same position – one looking down and one up.

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8) Awef-haul days. Some days were devoted to moving our camp up the wall. These were miserable days filled with never-ending logistics and an even greater number of opinions on how to solve them. Luckily, after we finally reached our new camp spot, erected the ledges and circulated a few cups of hot chocolate, all was well with the world again.

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9) The Route Name. We named our route Improbability Drive after the propulsion unit on the Heart of Gold spaceship in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. By calculating exact improbability, the Drive allows you to travel to any point in space and time; the only way to scale an impossible wall?

Steve emerging from his rotten overhanging corner and on to a changing corners move – one of several lucky links on the climb

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10) Celebrations. How to celebrate, once safely back in the boat? Nothing beats a round of pancakes with speculoos (in honor of the Belgians) and chocolate spread!

And, of course, Greenlandic beer joined the party once we hit town

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Here are some more pics from our journey:

Scoping out Red Wall

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Time for a dip!

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Careful where you stand! Sometimes perfectly normal looking ground turns out to be mud-soup

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Bob sails by Impossible Wall

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Ledge-mates Dave and Steve on set for their upcoming rap video

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Chief Safety Officer Dave gives thanks to the 11mm static as we top out. No rope has done finer service!

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Enjoying the views high on Impossible Wall

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Ningo, showing off his chicken-legs on the summit

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Back in camp at last – now to wait for the elusive Captain Bob

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Our trusty jetboils ready to fire out some victory hot chocolate

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Pickup!

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Four amigos ready to celebrate

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On to the next adventure. Baffin here we come!

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Helmets ready for action in case of a rock-sighting!

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Since Andrew’s Rock and Ice article comes out this month, I figured it was a good time to upload our full video to the interwebs. I’m going to do one last edit for a few film festivals next year so please let me know if you have any feedback or ideas.

 

Also I came across this amusing list of animals we saw and ate during the trip that we never published:

Seen
Musk ox
Musk rat
Caribou / reindeer
Bobcat
Arctic fox
Arctic hare
Dolphin
Phosphorescent jellyfish
Pilot whale
Humpback whale
Beluga whale
Bowhead whale
Arctic char (the one that got away)
Snow goose (This one didn’t get away!)
Ptarmigan
Bearded seal
Ringed seal
Many other unknown whales, seals, fish and birds!
Alas no Polar bear – as far as we know we’re the only boat that made it through last year without a sighting… boo

Eaten
Musk ox
Caribou
Moose
Whale meat and blubber
Seal meat and blubber
Narwhal blubber (Muktuk)
Amershuk (the fish that saved Greenland apparently)
Dried arctic char
Halibut

It’s been a few weeks since we hung up our winter gear and settled back to our former lives. Since personally that means lounging about Miguel’s at the Red River Gorge, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a few pictures from the end of our adventure.

Last stop in Canada, Tuktoyaktuk

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Pingos (mounds formed by thawing and refreezing tundra) rise in the distance

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Another failed fishing attempt by Dave (moments before Ningo nabbed the onsight!)

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Dave checking out the local ice-cave, an underground freezer dug into the permafrost

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Ever heard the phrase “sitting ducks”? Dave finds out what that really means on his hunting trip with some locals!

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Tuk is at the mouth of the Mackensie river so there is a LOT of driftwood

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A critter swims across a puddle

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Dave caught with his figurative finger in another pie

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Andrew surveys the bridge of a very kind tugboat that hosted us for a few days

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The Dodo entertains for a change. Hard liquor (a novelty in a dry town) mixed with game and dried Arctic Char (kind of like smoked salmon), not a bad evening!

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An early warning base (remnant of the cold war)

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A scene from another early warning base (this one torn down)

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Steve coming in for landing on an abandoned airstrip

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A cool license plate

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Locked and loaded! The guys load up their lockers with treats for the final stretch to Alaska

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Stormy seas hit us hard on the final stretch

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Steve showing off his handiwork (a 2 metre rip in the main)

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We sailed by some crazy colored slopes…

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…and enjoyed some amazing slow-motion sunrises

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Dave taking down the sail for the last time, a somber moment

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Bob making the final peach and rhubarb crumble of the trip

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Steve, as usual video editing while the real work gets done

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Clint giving his famous celebration pose

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And finally we reach the US of A!

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The land of gas-guzzlers!

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Our last port of call, former gold-rush town, Nome Alaska

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After we landed in Alaska we rented a car and explored some of the surrounding country including an amazing hot spring in the middle of nowhere

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A creepy abandoned homestead near the hot spring

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First-ascentionist of the Northwest Passage (1903-6), Roald Amundsen

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No, we couldn’t see Russia across the strait!

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Nome’s primary industry these days? Extreme gold digging, performed with giant under-water vacuum cleaners and men in wetsuits (under the ice in winter), all filmed for reality television of-course. Pictured here is one of the many trawlers that cruise around.

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Local bling, moose antlers

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Yup, it ends here…

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Another faux-la-bear sighting

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Hangin’ out at the local saloon

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Andrew peering out from a bright pink outhouse toilet

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Snow capped peaks around Nome

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Our first caribou sighting!

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Found in the Nome museum! Unfortunately we couldn’t find any locals who would play it for us…

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Well, that’s all folks!

We’re doing a few slideshows around South Africa over the next couple of months. As an added bonus, we’ll also be showing Steve’s awesome film of the trip.

Herewith the dates:

Tues 23rd October
MCSA Cape Town
97 Hatfield St
7:30 for 8pm
Bouldering wall open from 6pm
Liquid refreshments will be available

Wed 7th November
MCSA Durban
7:30 for 8pm

Wed 14th November
MCSA Johannesburg
7:30 for 8pm

Hope to see you there!

Not our videos but wanted to share these two amazing captures of the aurora borealis, one from Tromso, Norway and the other from the International Space Station. Our experience of it was less green and slower moving but still incredible. Happy watching!

Tromso, Norway


 
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