The almost-but-not-quite-impossible wall

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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38 comments
  1. Tessa said:

    Well done team!!! And go enjoy Baffin Island, one of my favourite places. Wild, remote and GORGEOUS. Went up there last summer for a
    Project. Go find some narwhals for me, but avoid the polar bears please… they can get nasty….

  2. Stewart Webb said:

    Its good to see you living the dream Yacht Nanna Loch Creran(Stewart & Val)

  3. MarkM said:

    Good job fellas!
    Dave still needs to put up his “Meet the Team” video…
    Dance monkey.

    • froglet said:

      indeed!!

  4. Coleen said:

    Stunning pictures and wow what an achievement.

  5. Luke Savage said:

    Did you drill any bolts for the Improbability drive? Are you using pitons? Tell us more!

    • capetownsteve said:

      No bolts, no pitons. Just blood sweat and tears (and seagull vommit)

    • Andrew Porter said:

      We took a few bolts and pitons up the wall with us, but did not have to place any. We did use the hammer though to help free a few nuts that we had placed on a stance that we used for hauling.

  6. Sean Villanueva said:

    Fair play boys!!!!!! Absolutely fantastic!

  7. froglet said:

    true Arctic Monkeys.

  8. Amazing, amazing, amazing! Glad I found this blog :)

  9. stunning pics and adventures…love it . Fantastic & thanks for sharing with the world !!

  10. Woow amazing, you climb a large rock. you guys doing a dangerous thing, but it makes me want to try it too. I am sure that you have the mental and physical readiness.

    kalian keren sekali. n_n

  11. Nyanyu said:

    incredible!

  12. Amazing! Nice job! Looks like a hell of an adventure.
    Those “seagulls”, by the way, aren’t actually gulls at all but Northern Fulmars – related to Albatrosses. They excrete that gross concentrated salty mess all the time (to get rid of excess salt in their diet), but with gusto when they’re defending a nest. I can’t imagine it would be very pleasant when you’re suspended on a sheer cliff.

  13. Great pics, crazy adventurer, mad people.

    Good luck with your next challenge.

  14. Elena said:

    oh my dear god!! WOW! speechless!!

    ps – ” time for a dip ” : )) classic ..

  15. INCREDIBLE climbing adventure!!! You guys had beyond an extravagant experience!

  16. Stunning scenery. You guys are amazing daredevils.

  17. OMG fabulous pictures detailing your adventure. I am in awe.

    • capetownsteve said:

      Hi Katie,

      This little chick was left behind when its mother flew away to avoid us climbing through (it did fly back once we’d passed). This particular chick actually threw up at me, the little blighter! They were super cute things though. Very soft downy feathers and cute little faces!

  18. You guys are freaking nuts! And beyond awesome! DON’T PANIC!! (note the large, friendly letters) Congrats on Fresh Press, and for the undertaking that got you that award.

  19. Outstanding pics. A great perspective for those of us who won’t or can’t see the world from this point of view. Nice.

  20. Vikki G said:

    Totally inspiring, you guys. Thanks for all the photos!

  21. Amazing! It takes amazing people to go through a really amazing experience. Hats off !

  22. Rodney Franks said:

    Good reading – and of course , congratulations on summitting safely.

  23. WORLD RECORD DATED 20120829 – CAPTAIN DAVID COWPER IN M/V POLAR BOUND is the first to navigate the original Northwest Passage since discovery in 1851
    Date: 20120829 1200hrs – Position 74 21 62N -124 57 36W

    U.K. Captain David Scott Cowper, age 70, aboard M/V POLAR BOUND has become the first in history to successfully navigate solo through McClure Strait over the top of Banks Island on the original Northwest Passage route discovered by Captain Robert McClure in 1851 aboard HMS INVESTIGATOR.

    Captain David Scott Cowper has done what no one else in the last 161 years could – not even the 1,005 foot, 43,000hp Icebreaker SS MANHATTAN could not transit through the sea ice – she had to turn around in McClure Strait – Captain Cowper achieved his accomplishment with his specially built aluminum 48 foot M/V POLAR BOUND powered with a single 170hp Gardner 8LXB engine carrying 10 tons of diesel fuel.

    Captain David Scott Cowper now becomes the only person to complete four solo Northwest Passages and is on his seventh(?) world solo circumnavigation. Might this be a Polar circumnavigation? Time will tell…

    My hat goes off to you!!! A job well done!!!

    GOD SPEED POLAR BOUND AND HER GOOD CAPTAIN!

  24. annathrax said:

    Most amazing thing I’ve read/seen in ages. Congrats!

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