It was another busy climbing season in the Arctic for the ever-energetic Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll and his band of musical first ascensionists. Over 3 months, the group put up eight new routes on seven big walls and possibly became the first to stand atop several towers.
This fall found the rollicking crew of the Dodo’s Delight up to its same old tricks. After 45 days of sailing and 45 days seeking big Greenland granite, the de facto minstrels of the big-wall climbing world had logged 13,615 vertical feet of first ascents in 97 pitches.
Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Nico Favresse, Jean-Louis Wertz, and Alexej Jaruta sent their final tallies from the European mainland today, after an Arctic odyssey that started in August. We last heard from the team on September 21, when they were preparing to sail home across the Atlantic.
“The transition, from living three months completely disconnected to a high-speed world, has been hard, but slowly we are getting used to technology,” Favresse reported via Planet Mountain. “After so much time at sea, the feeling of returning to dry land where you can run and pee on a tree was fantastic!”
Cheeky as ever, the four climbers insisted on “testing the acoustics” of each sweeping granite wall onto which they launched themselves. They did so in the little-explored Kangertigtivatsiaq fjord, which they accessed with inflatable kayaks.
The area staggers the imagination with climbing potential. Despite the team’s formidable efforts, its ambitions outran its abilities.
“Every time we reached a new peak, despite being very satisfied, we could not help but see, just a little further, walls that looked slightly more beautiful,” Favresse wrote. “A bit like the grass that looks greener and greener in the neighbor’s garden.”
According to the group, other trip highlights included a pair of foxes (named Maxwell and Sasha) that helped keep their camp clean, Jaruta’s surprising acumen for cooking Belgian fries as recovery fuel, and Villanueva’s wanton nudity and ice bath meditations.
First Ascent Rundown: A Greenland Climbing Resume
Despite the group’s levity, don’t mistake the climbing for an afterthought; their routes appear serious, sustained, and high-quality.
First was “The Wall of Plank” (2,700 feet, 16 pitches, 5.12c), which was also a possible first ascent of the Siren Tower. Jaruta freed an 8a variant, and the team finished the route in 5 days. They’d surprised themselves by climbing it so quickly — it looked more problematic from the bottom. So with plenty of time to spare, they threw a portaledge party and put up some more first ascents.
The aptly named “Olympic Speed Climbing Record” on the adjacent Aurora peak was next. Villanueva and Wertz romped up 11 pitches of 5.12a climbing on 1,800 feet of rock in just 8 hours. Their time narrowly beat Jaruta and Favresse, who took 9 hours to establish the nearby “Russian/Belgian route” (1,800 feet, 11 pitches, 5.12b).
Other notables of the Greenland climbing trek include possible first ascents of three smaller towers, named after the team’s routes. “The Chastity Belt of Sean” (820 feet, five pitches, 5.11a) takes the cake for the best name among the routes on the new towers.
Another strong best route name contestant, “Daddy’s Sweet Tooth,” takes 17 pitches up 2,600 feet of Ataatap Tower at 5.12b. It finishes on the last seven pitches of Mike Libecki and Ethan Pringle’s “Built Fjord Tough.” Villanueva, Favresse, and Jaruta claimed the first ascent; Wertz sat out.
At some point, listing the group’s climbs gets as exhausting as it seems like it would be to hang out with them — unless you really, really like the sound of mandolins, accordions, and pennywhistles.
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Keep track of big-wall climbing’s most musical quartet. The quartet might be hard to locate via most conventional means, but they’re not going anywhere.