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In the morning, one at a time, we got ready for climbing, putting on overpants and jackets, climbing shoes, and helmets before setting out. Along a thin finger crack, we initially had to climb on aid. Then we followed a white vein of quartz, jubilating and squealing alternately as the crystals offered superb jamming but bit into our hands without mercy, leaving deep cuts. The weather remained stable for four days, long enough to reach the summit, and long enough to climb most sections of the route redpoint. We managed to free even the tricky finger crack. At 5.13c A4, the route may offer the hardest free climbing on Baffin Island.
Once we were back on the pack ice, our thoughts wandered back to the fortnight we had spent on the Bastions. In the endless expanse of the arctic, the wall had been a form of refuge, something solid that had made bearable the surrounding unrealness. The sea of fog, forced to the ground by a lid of cold air. The midnight sun shining red on the granite. The pure, untouched, blue shimmering ice... which very soon would be gone.
Just a few hours after we set out for Clyde River, the march became unendurable. Our hipbones were rubbed raw by the straps of the pulkas. But more than pain and deprivation, uncertainty was worrying us: "What will happen if we get pinned down by a blizzard? If we lose too much time? If the ice breaks up?" We could not have been reached by skidoos over the ice, and the boats of the Inuit are not sturdy enough to travel the open sea. A rescue would have been very unlikely.
An ice-cold wind blew from the northwest, whirling clouds of spindrift over the frozen surface. Although it plastered our hair and our beards with rime, we were full of glee. For now we could unpack our kites: eleven-square-meter sails that maneuvered like parapents, with which we whizzed over the ice on our skis at a breathtaking speed. On those days we easily made 20, 30, or even 40 kilometers. We sailed past icebergs, jumping over cracks through which already the seawater was welling up. We steered past holes filled with melt water and past unfathomable viscous blue lagoons until, in the livid light of midnight, we made up our minds to call it a day.
// 19 Days LATER // Almost no one took notice of the five disheveled, bearded men approaching Clyde River, except for local sled dogs, who started to bark wildly. The light was sallow, and dark clouds were gathering. Another storm was moving in, but we no longer cared.
We named our route on the Bastions Take the Long Way Home, since it was only after the end of the climbing that the true adventure began. To move over the ice for hours without getting closer to the next landmark. For this frame of mind, the Inuit have a word: taulittuq, the experience when you are resolutely moving towards a goal, yet filled by a sense that you will never reach it. It is a word we are sure to remember.
Stefan Glowacz, 46, of Bavaria, spent his teenage years as one of the world's best sport and competition climbers, and in 2001 was the first to climb all of the "Big Three " long, hard free climbs in the limestone Alps. He has since gone on to pioneer extreme rock and mixed routes in the remote ranges.
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