Jöttnar photo blog
- Mount Asgard, Baffin Island -
In Norse cosmic mythology, Asgard was one of the Nine Realms and the location of Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain: a legendary spirit world to which warriors who had died in combat would be led by the Valkyries.
In the second part of this photo blog, filmmaker and photographer Alastair Lee reveals the hardship and suffering of the 2009 British expedition to Mount Asgard, led by Leo Houlding. The expedition's objective was to make the first free ascent of the mountain's North Face. Yet with the onset of a major storm high on the wall, the team were forced to endure the full wrath of the ancient Norse gods Thor, Odin, Frigg, and Baldr who were said to have once dwelt on Asgard. Lee's photographs show the spectacular rewards of surviving the mountain elements, the uncompromising nature of big wall climbing in an Arctic environment, and the captivating landscape of Baffin Island.
After a long period of very poor conditions on the wall, the weather finally cleared when the team were close to the summit of Mount Asgard: the perfect moral boost for the final push.
After 5 days of very poor weather, a window comes. Here, Alastair Lee captured the first sunlight in a long time hitting Asgard at around 3:30am.
During the enormous haul to the base of the wall, one of the most physically challenging sections was the 100m cliff below the wall itself. Here, Jason Pickles makes his way up the final snow slope fully laden, and ready to do jumar battle.
"One of the most memorable and gripping experiences I have ever captured on film"
- Alastair Lee on filming Sean Leary on Mount Asgard's North Face
The late Sean 'Stanley' Leary free climbs an exposed pitch in the centre of the wall at around E6 / 5.12. Lee filmed the first attempt on the pitch the evening before in sub-zero winds. He recalls that "it was one of the most memorable and gripping experiences I have ever captured on film".
The fourth day of the expedition's approach to the mountain had a bit of everything: freezing river crossings, mud flats and sand bars. This tyrolean traverse, set up by the Belgian team who had come this way a month before, was a good taster of the adventures to come. Here, Chris Rabone shows us how it's done.
Wall camp life was made a little easier by the small but priceless rock ledge just below the upper portaledge. Lee recalls that "it was my first time living in a portalege, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I actually found it pretty comfortable".
The world's largest cliff as defined by a single vertical drop, Mount Thor is seen during the approach trek to Asgard in the Weasel Valley. The sunlit face of Thor visible in the image has a drop of 1,250 m (4,101 ft), with the cliff overhanging at an average angle of 15 degrees from vertical. There are a number of hard artifical routes on the main face of Mt. Thor, and it is also a highly sought-after BASE jumping location due to the enormous height of the wall.
Two of the expedition's haul bag parachutes failed to open when the bags were dropped by a DC3 prior to the team's approach to Asgard. One of these haul bags had most of the climbing gear in it. Leo Houlding wisely threw in an extra rack of gear in just before leaving the UK. All the team now had to do now was get the message to the ground crew to pick it up from Pangnirtung before starting the walk-in.
"When the weather seriously closed in, the slow progress, poor conditions and lack of winter gear was all too much to take. The only option was to hunker down and hope..."
When the weather seriously closed in, the slow progress, poor conditions and lack of winter gear was all too much to take at some points. The only option was to hunker down and hope...
"Cruising around a glacier looking for good photographs is just one of my favourite things in life" says photographer Alastair Lee. "I found this tarn just a few hundred yards behind basecamp, we experienced some brilliant light during the first few evenings."
In the spirit of the original objective to free climb the entire North Face of Mount Asgard (an ambition that proved elusive due to the severe weather and route finding issues) Leo Houlding free climbs the final pitch to the summit on the 12th day on the wall.
The magnificent North Face of Mount Asgard catches some late Arctic sunlight.
On the 12th day of the climb, the whole wall team reached the summit of Asgard, and enjoyed the best weather in a couple of weeks.
"At the end of a truly epic expedition, the exhausted, battered and bruised team took shelter at the head of the Weasel Valley"
At the end of a truly epic expedition, the exhausted, battered and bruised team took shelter at the head of the Weasel Valley awaiting the boat pick up from Pangnirtung, the nearest human settlement to Mount Asgard.
Postcard from Valhalla: adrift in the upper realm above a cloud-inversion, otherwordly light floods the sky beyond the summit of Mount Asgard, once the home of the Norse gods Thor, Odin, Frigg, and Baldr.