4:20 a.m. on July 22 Leo Houlding lead Joe Möhle, Matt Pickles, Matt Pycroft and Waldo Etherington to the summit of Greenland’s Mirror Wall, claiming the first ascent of its nearly 4,000-foot northwest face. The British team had been on the wall for 12 days and free-climbed 23 of the 25 pitches. An upward snowstorm greeted them for the topout.
They endured crevasses, freezing rain and polar bears to complete this historic ascent.
“After spending a lifetime climbing in the Arctic, I believe that the main face of the Mirror Wall is the single most impressive unclimbed wall in the whole of Greenland,” said Paul Walker of Tangent Expeditions. “It’s an extreme objective of the highest caliber in every sense. Just getting there is a major logistical challenge.”
The team was dropped off June 25 on the nearby Edward Bailey Glacier in eastern Greenland, and made their way overland to The Mirror Wall. A helicopter would pick them up June 28, Houlding’s birthday, whether or not they succeeded.
The trip began with excellent conditions, though the team soon encountered heavy winds and freezing rain as they began their ascent, slowing their progress and turning the last pitches and the descent into a race for their helicopter pickup.
Despite their hasty descent, all five members reached the base safely.
Houlding began climbing at age 10 and has been establishing routes for nearly two decades. His first ascents include the West Face of the Leaning Tower (5.13a) in Yosemite and the mile-long northeast ridge of Ulvetanna in Antarctica, an expedition that took his team 35 days to complete. In 1998, his first ascents of Rare Lichen and Trauma, both E9 7a, in North Wales were considered the hardest routes of the day.
This was Houlding’s first expedition since the birth of his daughter, Freya. She turned two while he projected the hardest pitches of the route. Being a father has changed his perspective while climbing.
“I know I am now more risk averse,” Houlding said in an interview with Berghaus. “I have felt danger keenly throughout this trip for both myself and the crew. I do not want to miss out on the ephemeral joy of Freya's childhood, but expressing myself in this landscape is a part of me.
“Having the privilege of running wild with these strong guys out here in this grown up playground for weeks on end is to be cherished too.”
For additional information about the trip, photos and updates, visit the team’s website.
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