• Leo Houlding led team of five on remote Arctic climb
• The Mirror Wall (1,200m) is higher than the now famous Dawn Wall on El Capitan, and four times the height of the Shard in London
• Team battled Arctic weather, illness and won a race against time to complete the climb
• Houlding spent 12 nights living on the wall, completing the route in 25 sections of extreme climbing
British climber and adventurer Leo Houlding has led a team of five to complete a first ascent on a huge vertical rock face in remote Greenland. After a month in Arctic conditions, Houlding has succeeded in climbing a new route on the massive 1,200m tall Mirror Wall, which is four times the height of the Shard and higher than the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite.
Leo Houlding, climbing with Joe Möhle, Matt Pickles, Matt Pycroft and Waldo Etherington, had to deal with illness, terrible weather, crevasse falls on a glacier, and supplies that were ravaged by polar bears, before the team even reached the foot of the wall. Once they had established themselves at the base of the Mirror Wall, they scaled the previously unclimbed main face (the north west face), reaching the top via 25 difficult and dangerous sections.
Leo Houlding and team lived in a hanging port-a-ledge for 12 nights and faced a race against time to complete their climb as the weather closed in. They had to make it back to base camp by 28 July – Houlding’s 35th birthday – for a scheduled helicopter pick up. Due to the Arctic conditions, communication with the UK proved to be impossible during the latter stages of the climb, and family and friends waited anxiously for several days as radio silence continued.
After nearly two weeks of painstaking progress, the climbers completed their new route on the Mirror Wall, reaching the top during a snow storm. The descent was no less arduous, but they all succeeded in getting back down safely and returning to base camp, where they were able to transmit a short message to Berghaus to confirm success, and Leo tweeted:
“We nailed it! All safe in base camp after climbing Mirror Wall by the main face.”
The Mirror Wall is a massive granite ‘big wall’, taller than the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite that was famously climbed earlier this year, and much more difficult to reach. It is located beyond the Edward Bailey Glacier in eastern Greenland. Supplies were shipped to Iceland, flown by light aircraft to Greenland and then snowmobiled to an uninhabited hunting outpost deep in the Scoresby Sund fjord in early May, before the seasonal break-up of the sea ice. Houlding’s team left the UK in late June and after a stop off in Iceland, made their way by air to Greenland before helicoptering in to basecamp in the wilderness of Renland, and then approaching the wall.
The Mirror Wall was Houlding’s first major expedition since becoming a father and his daughter Freya celebrated her second birthday while he was climbing one of the most difficult sections of the wall. The trip was also Houlding’s first since the death in a wingsuit flying accident of his long-time climbing partner and close friend Sean ‘Stanley’ Leary.
Speaking to Berghaus, Houlding reflected on the different perspective he now has when climbing:
“I know I am now more risk averse. 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.
“I have thought much about Stanley, his widow Annemeika, and fatherless son Finn. Stanley’s death, pursuing his dream of freedom and flight at such an untimely moment, has made me question my own values and drive. One day a tiger or a life-time as a sheep? Surely there is another path? I suppose I’ll continue to strive to find the balance between domestic and wild, comfort and epic, family and adventure.”
Houlding’s expedition was sponsored by British outdoor brand Berghaus and the team was equipped with the latest kit from Berghaus’ Extrem range, including prototypes of new developments scheduled to be launched in autumn/winter 2016.
Houlding commented on the kit from base camp:
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the Berghaus Extrem kit was essential to our success – thanks guys!”
Speaking before they left the UK on the trip, Paul Walker of Tangent Expeditions, the world’s leading operator of mountaineering and ski touring expeditions to Arctic Greenland, added:
“After spending a lifetime climbing in the Arctic, I believe that the main (north west) face of Mirror Wall is the single most impressive unclimbed wall in the whole of Greenland. It’s an extreme objective of the highest calibre in every sense – just getting there is a major logistical challenge.”
During the expedition, Houlding and his team were able to send back some updates and images, which can be seen in full on a special section on the Berghaus website built for the expedition.