5.12 WALL CLIMB IN NEWFOUNDLAND

Posted on: December 8, 2006


Justen Sjong, Pitch 6, Leviathan (IV 5.12a, eight pitches). [Photo] Chris Weidner

Tucked neatly into Devil Bay on the south coast of Newfoundland, accessible only by boat, the massive, white granite of Blow-Me-Down makes you think at first glance, "I want to climb that!" This wall juts 1,200 feet straight out of the North Atlantic ocean. Its bottom half is just less than vertical, while its top half steepens considerably, capped by an intimidating system of triple roofs below the summit.

Justen Sjong on Pitch 1 of Leviathan (IV 5.12a, eight pitches), a previously established route on Newfoundland's 1200-meter granite wall, Blow-Me-Down, in Devil's Bay. Sjong and Chris Weidner climbed the route as a warmup to their own contribution to the cliff: Lucifer's Lighthouse (V 5.12c). [Photo] Chris Weidner

Justen Sjong and I spent three weeks in September climbing here, the first ten days of which were shared with our friend and photographer, Celin Serbo. We adopted a top-down approach to route finding—El Cap style, since this strategy seemed the most efficient way to establish a high-quality, full-length free route. On our first day, we hiked to the summit and rapped through fog and rain over the roofs, deciphering a free passage. Sunshine prevailed for the next two days as we repeated the summit hike each morning and proceeded downward, toproping difficult sections wherever possible.

On September 13, the clear skies abruptly segued into one of the most powerful storms Newfoundland's south coast has seen in the last half-century: Hurricane Florence. Fortunately the friendly couple who had brought us there rescued the three of us from our primitive campsite, along with a young duo from Maine. We settled into their decades-old rickety cabin in a nearby bay for two nights while the hurricane raged.

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Once Florence dissipated, we took advantage of each daylight hour with renewed urgency, making route-finding decisions and working the crux pitches. We placed nine bolts and four pins on the route for lead protection where natural gear was unavailable, and a total of twelve bolts at the anchors.

Celin left Devil Bay just as four grueling days of nonstop rain commenced. Justen and I felt like pent-up dogs, squirming to climb, so on the first cloudless afternoon, over-enthusiasm convinced us that a 1:30 p.m. start for a redpoint attempt was a good idea. After nine of the twelve pitches, an Arctic wind and total darkness stopped us cold just three pitches from the top.

Justen Sjong on Day 2 of routefinding near the top of the Blow-Me-Down. Sjong and Chris Weidner adopted a top-down approach to route finding—"El Cap style, since this strategy seemed the most efficient way to establish a high-quality, full-length free route." The result was Lucifer's Lighthouse (V 5.12c). [Photo] Chris Weidner

The following day was forecast to be the driest of the next five. Our time was running out. Weary, but determined to finish our project, we began the route at 10:30 a.m. in sunny, windy conditions. Each pitch felt more difficult than those of the day before, but we managed a no-falls ascent in nine hours, topping out at dusk, just as lighthouses were becoming visible on the horizon, reminding us that we were not alone. Lucifer's Lighthouse (V 5.12c) is the most difficult free climb on Blow-Me-Down, with everything from hard crack and face pitches to overhanging corners and aretes.

Our last day in Devil Bay was clear and warm, but after breakfast we could only muster enough energy to collapse onto the granite floor of our cooking area and relax.

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