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Smith and Kadatz: Free Climbing on Baffin Island

Posted on: August 20, 2015


Anna Smith follows a finger crack on the upper headwall of Baffin Island's Mt. Loki (1920m) on July 23. Over three weeks in July, Canmore climbers Smith and Michelle Kadatz climbed two of Baffin's big wall routes in just over 24 hours each: The Scott Route (5.11, 1065m, Braithwaite-Hennek-Scott-Nunn, 1972) on Mt. Asgard's North Tower and the South Buttress of Mt. Loki (5.10+, 650m, Unknown NZ climbers, 1980s; FFA: Lavigne-Papert-Walsh, 2012). Smith and Kadatz became the first all-female team to free Mt. Loki's South Buttress and the second team to free the route. [Photo] Michelle Kadatz

"I believe that in Hell, they make you posthole," Anna Smith told Alpinist, recalling the conditions she and her climbing partner, Michelle Kadatz, endured while shuttling loads to one of Baffin Island's big wall routes in July. Over two attempts, the pair completed the Scott Route (5.11, 1065m, Braithwaite-Hennek-Scott-Nunn, 1972) on Mt. Asgard's North Tower (2011m) in just over 24 hours round trip. Two days after summiting Asgard, Smith and Kadatz became the first all-female team to free the South Buttress of Mt. Loki (5.10+, 650m, FFA: Lavigne-Papert-Walsh, 2012) when they climbed the route in 26 hours. The route had previously been climbed by unknown New Zealand climbers in the late 1980s.

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Smith and Kadatz, both from Canmore, met four years ago while projecting sport routes in Echo Canyon in Alberta's Bow Valley. Mark Synnott's guidebook Baffin Island: Climbing Trekking & Skiing (2008) sat on Smith's coffee table. Images of soaring big walls in a seemingly endless glaciated landscape inspired her; she picked out a few routes, recruited Kadatz, and began to hash out plans for an expedition to the area. Two years later they boarded a plane headed for Auyuittuq National Park, Baffin Island.

July 23: Michelle Kadatz approaching Mt. Loki's headwall. [Photo] Anna Smith

Arriving on July 13, the climbers began the nine-kilometer trek through Akshayuk Pass to the base of Mt. Asgard, passing Summit Lake, the site of their pre-arranged cache. The pair encountered challenging glacier travel, shuttling more than eighty-pound loads in an unsuccessful effort to reach the base of Mt. Asgard at the edge of the Turner Glacier. Their shins bleeding, they resorted to crawling in an effort to avoid sinking in the soft, deep snow.

On their first attempt on July 18, the high sun sent snowmelt rushing down the lower portion of the wall, rendering the route unclimbable. They left camp at 1 a.m. the next day, avoiding the midday snowmelt and completing the route in just over 24 hours round trip. Smith aided just one move through the wet 5.11 chimney crux.

For their next climb, on July 23, Smith and Kadatz jammed the sustained fingers- to hands-crack rising from glacier to summit on the South Buttress of Mt. Loki. The cracks were "a series of beautiful 5.10 pitches" with good protection, said Smith. They completed the climb in 26 hours.

July 19: Smith follows a pitch on Mt. Asgard's (2011m) Scott Route (5.11, 1065m, Braithwaite-Hennek-Scott-Nunn, 1972). [Photo] Michelle Kadatz

Despite two years of planning and preparation, "I screwed up—I had the wrong shoes and the wrong backpack," said Kadatz. "It was hard to envision what it was going to be like...and three weeks is a long time to try to plan out. Next time, maybe [I'll bring] more chocolate."

Their expedition was partially funded by Mountain Equipment Co-op's Expedition Support Fund and The Alpine Club of Canada's Jen Higgins Grant for Young Women.

Sources: Michelle Kadatz; Anna Smith, American Alpine Journal (2014), Baffin Island: Climbing Trekking and Skiing (2008)

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