Scarpa North America Blog

From Yosemite to Baffin: Dave Allfrey’s First Ascent on the Great Cross Pillar

Jun. 29th 2015

Editor’s Note: On May 19th, SCARPA athlete Dave Allfrey and his partner Cheyne Lempe summited the Great Cross Pillar on Baffin Island via their new route Deconstructing Jenga (Grade VI 5.9+, A3+, 900m) after a 10-day push. We asked Dave to explain why he searches out new routes on remote big walls.

From the first time that I walked to the base of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley I knew that big wall climbing would captivate me. Laying my hands on the granite with the wall soaring more than half a mile overhead, I fell in love with the idea of passing day after day in the wild vertical world. To this day, the thought of days or weeks on the wall makes my heart race with excitement.

Dave Allfrey's First Ascent on Baffin Island

Dave Allfrey and Cheyne Lempe’s route up the Great Cross Pillar.

Climbing upwards with gear, food, and water for several days, all packed into haul bags that followed you up the wall was the ultimate adventure. Big wall legend Jim Bridwell had once said something to the effect of Yosemite being the training ground for climbing around the world and over the years I have always kept that idea with me. Climbing the established routes in the Valley teaches the prerequisite skills for casting out to more remote regions, bigger walls, and new routes. While I have climbed a fair number of Grade VI routes and have spent more nights than I can remember on a portaledge, I am far from a honed big-wall first ascensionist. It is one skill that Yosemite can no longer teach its disciples. Yet, the more big-wall routes I climbed and the smoother the complicated systems became, the more I dreamed of other grand big walls around the world. The allure of the little explored and remote regions drew me, as did the self-reliance, skill and judgement required to choose right, execute safely and be successful.

Dave Allfrey's First Ascent climb

Dave Allfrey negotiates a tricky corner using his Phantom 6000s

When I first found photos of Baffin Island, I was just an aspiring big wall climber with only a few ascents of El Capitan under my belt. I spent years dreaming of Sam Ford Fjord on the island, the grandest big wall arena in the world. The confluence of the Sam Ford and the Walker Arm is an incredible example of glacier carved granite with fjords formed over a billion and a half years ago as ice spread through the entire Arctic. At this confluence the walls rise over 4500 feet straight from the water, but for most of the year that water is frozen over several meters thick with sea ice. This place is the ultimate test. Baffin is one of the few places where unclimbed formations and never ending new routes still stand, hiding right in the open. Yosemite had prepared me, but the real adventure lies in the unknown. It’s that kind of adventure feeds my soul and makes life sweet.

Read more about Dave and Cheyne’s exploits in Yosemite here.

Dave Allfrey's First Ascent on Baffin Island.

Dave Allfrey and Cheyne Lempe on the summit of Deconstructing Jenga and the Great Cross Pillar

3portaledge copy

Camping on a granite face.

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