This August, ample effort and planning brought an elite foursome of The North Face® climbers to one of the most remote regions in the Northern Hemisphere, Devil’s Bay in Newfoundland, Canada.
Home to 1300-ft big walls and notoriously brutal weather conditions, Mark Synnott, Alex Honnold, James Pearson (GBR) and Hazel Findlay (GBR) traveled deep into the remote fjord lands off of Canada’s rugged coast to explore the mysterious sea cliffs of Devil’s Bay.
By Ford F-150 to Atlantic ferry to wooden dingy, the group traveled from the UK to Maine to Nova Scotia and beyond, deep into what Alex Honnold would later call “the grimmest place on Earth.” Better known for the gale-force winds and torrential rainstorms than its big wall climbing, the eclectic foursome passed numerous once-thriving but now vacant fishing villages to finally set up camp in Rencontre Bay beneath Blown Me Down--a 1300-ft sea wall that was quick to raise the spirits of the veteran and young gun climbers alike. With an impressive load of camping gear, food, climbing equipment and film gear, Synnott couldn’t help but notice how they stuck out like sore thumbs in this remote environment. The few local people remaining “…are engaged in a struggle just to survive and make ends meet. It always seemed to amaze them that there are people out there who have the time and inclination to pursue something as absurd as rock climbing.”
With expedition equipment suitable to sustain the winds on an 8’000m peak, the foursome was forced to put it all to the test, sustaining multiple days in multiple rounds of the area’s notorious maritime weather known to whip 50 to 75-knot winds up the fjord from the northern Atlantic. Seizing small weather windows when they presented, the group split off into smaller groups to tackle the immense wall. While not the first to visit Blow Me Down, Honnold and Pearson were quick to scope a new line among some of the established legends such as Leviathan (a 10-pitch 5.12) and Lost at Sea (5.10d). James didn’t dally on-sighting a 5.12 runout pitch complete with a tricky slime-covered top pitch common along the wall.
On the whole, the weather was less than cooperative affording the team only a handful of half-day climbs, but Honnold and Pearson made the most of the venture by squeaking out the wall’s hardest established route, a 5.12c called Lucifer’s Lighthouse. They topped out just as the rain came in hard, pulling off the ascent (and return to camp) by the skin of their teeth, just in time to wait out a 2-day storm with 70-mph winds.
As an added bonus, the crew got a great day of climbing on the way home at Quoddy Head at the easternmost tip of the United States. Alex and Hazel were elated to find Manic--a hidden and mysterious route claimed to be the first 5.14 route in the U.S in 1984 sent by “Spider” Dan Goodwin after two years of trying. After Honnold and Findlay sent the route, they decidedly settled on 5.13c, but gave credit to Spider Dan where credit’s due. They agree that this was surely the hardest route in the U.S. when it was first established some 27 years ago.