Some days, when work overwhelms life, we take a stroll through our Adventure Archives for a little outdoor, wilderness refresh. One collection of images that recently caught our eye, and imagination, again was from Mason Earle and Katie Lambert’s climbing expedition to the Cirque of the Unclimbables in 2012, which included Earle’s first free ascent of At Dawn We Ride (VI 5.12c R) and Lambert’s all-free ascent of Women at Work (VI 5.12 R). The story, which originally ran in our Summer 2013 Outfitter Book, was incredible and the Ben Ditto photos included stunning shots of bush planes, big walls, nasty weather, backcountry pizza nights and the Northern Lights. So we asked Ditto to pick his favorites from this trip and Katie Lambert to caption the shots for a behind-the-scenes feel. We’ve also run the summary of the mission below. —LYA Editor
Images by Ben Ditto, Captions by Katie Lambert
The Original Outfitter Report: When big-wall free climber Mason Earle headed north to the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Canada’s Northwest Territories, it was with his sights set on the sheer 2,000-foot southeast face of Mt. Proboscis. The imposing tower of steep, hard granite has drawn climbers from Royal Robbins and Layton Kor to Todd Skinner and Galen Rowell to its remote location for decades due to the massive vertical challenge. Over a 17-day stretch, Earle completed a bold new free ascent of the 15-pitch At Dawn We Ride (VI 5.12c R) with the climbing support of Eddie Bauer teammate Katie Lambert, photographer Ben Ditto, and Bronson Hovnanian.
The foursome made steady free climbing progress up a variation of the Grendel route established in 1996 with a siege-style technique that utilized long rappels to their camp at the end of each day. They also experienced an uncharacteristically good weather window in this near-Arctic location that made for fast face-climbing progress up the wall, with Earle spending two full days redpointing three crux pitches of 11 total that had been previously only climbed on aid. The burly highlights of the expedition included 20- to 30-foot run-outs right off belay, closed off seams protected only with beaks, and one day when Earle spent seven hours on lead while hand-drilling protection and hanging on hooks. While Earle and Hovnanian were still working the final pitches of the first ascent route, Lambert and Ditto completed the first one-day, all-free ascent on the neighboring Women at Work (VI 5.12 R) route.
During the last day, bad weather descended while the team was high on the wall, which forced Earle to crimp out the last two and most difficult pitches in blizzard conditions with wet, frozen feet. At the top, Earle screamed in triumph before the team completed the 1,000-foot rappels back to their camp at the base of the climb. “It was a huge mental battle and it was one of those moments where I really, truly had to dig deep,” Earle says. “We just kept telling ourselves that we were there to try the biggest, baddest line and we had to stay committed to it.”
Top: 1. One of the most spectacular sights on Earth; The Northern Lights, Fairy Meadows. 2. Hot soup in Fairy Meadows, Northwest Territories.
Above: Ghostly storms are the things of norm in the Cirque of the Unclimbables. L to R: 1. EB athlete Katie Lambert and photographer Ben Ditto in the Hughes 500D heli en route to the Cirque of the Unclimbables. 2. EB athlete Mason Earle and Bronson Hovnanian loading the heli with all the gear needed for a month. 3. Sense of topographic place.
Above: Waiting out the weather at Mt.Proboscis base camp.
L to R: 1. Loading the Beaver at Finlayson Lake for the journey into the Cirque of the Unclimbables. 2. Large scale mining operation in the Yukon Territory. 3. Another Valley, Another River – true wilderness.
Above: It’s been a long day! Happy to be back on the ground after many pitches and many rappels.
L to R: 1. Wet and Wide; Eddie Bauer athlete Katie Lambert navigates her way up the start of “Women at Work” (5.12R V). 2. EB athlete Katie Lambert on the summit of Mt.Proboscis after completing the first one day free ascent of “Women at Work” (5.12R V) with Ben Ditto. 3. It’s hard work playing so hard. Katie Lambert wiped out after their free ascent.
Above: Mt.Proboscis, in all its glory.
L to R: 1. EB athlete Mason Earle and Bronson Hovnanian approaching the base of Mt.Proboscis for an attempt on the new route, “At Dawn We Ride” (5.12C V) 2. Heading back to camp after getting rained off the wall. 3. EB athlete Katie Lambert making pizza for the team.
Above: Rugged beauty, rough weather.
L to R: 1. 1. Mason working through an overhang on “At Dawn We Ride” (5.12C V). 2. Aerial View. 3. Double Rainbow in the Northwest Territories.
Above: Lotus Flower Tower in the early morning light.
L to R: 1. Lotus Flower Tower in vertical perspective. 2. It was a welcome sight to see the lush vegetation of Fairy Meadows after 24 days in the rocky basin bellow Mt.Proboscis. 3. Glacier Lake.
Above: 1. The light show went on for hours.
L to R: 1. After a month spent in tents in the Cirque the team was happy to find this shack at Glacier Lake to bivy in before their departure back to civilization. 2. The Beaver and the team at Glacier Lake gearing up for heading back to civilization. 3. Overflight on true wilderness.
Follow the epic missions of all our guides and athletes, including Mason Earle and Katie Lambert, twice weekly on the Live Your Adventure blog and daily via our Twitter and Instagram feeds @eddiebauer.
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