August 1st/2nd: The Splitter
I crouch on the ledge. This "ledge" is about the width of a picnic table bench at its widest, and gently sloping outward towards the abyss. My left hand grips the edge of our pot, my right stabilizes our little stove. The water rolls to a boil and I quickly cut the fuel before any splashes onto my hands. Jacob helps as I pour the water into pouches of rice. There's no space for Jacob on the ledge, instead, he kneels on a Grade 7 Pod (inflatable portaledge). We look at the watch, it's 1 am; dinner in ten, and then we'll try to get some sleep.
I wake up around 7 am. Jacob is already awake, lying in his sleeping bag unable to sleep. We take a few photos - we aren't really in the mood, but we can't deny that this is one of the wildest places we've ever spent a night! Our free-hanging camp is halfway up a 400m unnamed tower on Baffin Island! Above us, a headwall stretches upwards, totally blank, immaculate, but for one striking splitter crack that rises above our camp and disappears into the sky. Yesterday morning we'd spied the splitter from the glacier below. An unclimbed beauty.
I focus on belaying. Above me, Jacob has reached the start of the splitter, but he looks sketchy like he could pop off any second. "What's going on?" I shout. "It's not a finger crack!" He manages to shout back, "it's a tips crack, the seam is almost closed!" He finishes the pitch and puts me on belay. "Climbing!" I set out cautiously along some flakes, pull a roof and then I'm desperately crimping up the splitter seam. I arrive at the anchor totally worked, what a warm up! Above us the seam continues and the wall steepens slightly, it’s going to get harder before it gets easier. Jacob sets off again, now he’s really using some crazy granite mastery. He plugs in our smallest totem cam and pulls up the rope to clip… then woosh, his feet pop and he comes sailing down next to me. Next go he falls just one move higher, sagging onto the cam. He looks down at me, “do you have the brush?”
I have a funny moment where I feel I am outside my body, looking down at the two of us, watching Jacob as he scrubs the rock. It feels almost comical to be in such a wild place faffing with the minutiae of hard free climbing. He swings about, tests some moves and puts little marks in chalk as he works out a quick sequence. I lower him to the anchor. “I give myself a 20% chance of sending this right now,” he shrugs, takes a deep breath and pulls on. Jacob and I started dating 7 years ago. Since then we’ve climbed a tonne together, and I know that this is Jacob’s perfect state: when he thinks he will probably fail but there’s just enough of a chance for success that he’s going to give it everything he’s got. I’m consistently amazed.