July 14th: The North Tower
I breathe heavily as we race up the rock. I throw my hands and feet down wherever they land - there’s no time to choose specific holds - and propel my body upwards, always chasing the tug of the rope, chasing Jacob who charges on above me. I know how Jacob is feeling. He’s ecstatic to be moving over rock; the comfortable familiarity of the granite masks all fears of the unpredictable melting landscape, as we leave it further and further below us.
He climbs 60m, plugs a piece with a traction device to protect him if I should fall, and then charges on. Another 60m, another single piece with a traction. My calves are burning. I’m starting to sweat through my merino wool. I feel like I’m midway through a foot race, not midway up Mount Asgard! We’re on the Scott-Henneck Route (est. 1972), a full 1000m on the east face of Asgard’s North Tower. Finally Jacob stops to belay, I catch him and pause to gulp down some water, only to realize that I had forgotten to re-fill at the base. I lead the next simul-block up to the steepening headwall. We start pitched climbing here, it feels like a snail's pace.
Jacob pulls onto a big ledge and stares up disheartened at yet another dripping chimney. I catch up and he's already filled his water bottle, I fill mine too. Earlier in the day, I'd offered to lead the chimney pitch, the technical crux of the route. I look up in dismay at the water streaming down inside. Jacob offers to investigate a crack to our right, it turns out to be a sweet finger splitter! I follow, desperately stabbing between finger locks. I’m getting tired. I start inching my way up the next pitch, an offwidth. I've slowed to nearly a halt. I get stumped at a sopping short roof until my arms fail and I slump onto the rope. Exhausted, I aid through the move and then carry on to the top of the pitch.
At midnight we stand atop the North Tower. Again it’s totally calm, totally silent. And cold, colder than the other night. Again we watch the beautiful sunset/sunrise - we’re ready this time and capture the moment with our camera. After 18 hours, we stumble across the glacier into camp. We have Zack and Thor on the radio. We can see them, little orange specks on the summit of a previously unclimbed peak directly across from our tents. We’re discussing their descent.
I’ve known Zack and Thor my whole life. They are two of my closest friends. Coming on this trip, they didn’t have huge climbing resumes, but we knew they were incredibly hard-working and would embrace any challenge with their unrelenting positive attitudes. Thor has been climbing for about five years and Zack for only three. I introduced both of them to climbing; I brought them on their first multi-pitches. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride seeing those guys put up a first ascent out here, it’s rad!
They decide to rap the face, retracing the way they came. Jacob and I look up nervously at the huge swathe of granite. But we trust them. They’ll be fine. We continue with our bi-hourly check-ins as they descend. After 27 hours they stumble wide-eyed into camp. Jacob gets out of our tent to greet them; I roll over and fall into a deep sleep. The midday sun shines brightly on our camp, the tent is warm and cozy.