Weekend Warm-Up: Anything to Catch a Ride to the Horn of Upernavik

In a world gone mad for bouldering gyms, an intrepid few lay it all on the line for a climbing art that’s scarcer by the day.

While growing hordes of climbing influencers dance up giant, colorful plastic molds bolted to anonymous indoor walls, Jacob Cook has kept himself more than busy on real, big rock all over the planet.

The Englishman recently helped his longtime partner in crime, Bronwyn Hodges, resurrect a Mexican big wall shrouded in a supernatural fog. The pair also opened Sea Barge Circus, a 900m ocean cliff masterpiece in Qaersorsuaq, Greenland, as part of a massive two-month trip.

Cook’s latest video, though, colors in the background for these recent escapades rather than cataloging another.

The Horn of Upernavik towers 1,000m above northeastern Baffin Bay. Cook and teammate Ian Faulkner pulled off the first ascent back in 2013 — but just now excavated the footage from their files and dusted it off for general consumption.

No guarantees

The adventurers launch with a cavalier disregard for objective danger that anyone familiar with the boys of Dodo’s Delight (released two years later) will likely note. The climbers recruit grizzled northern boat captains to ferry them toward their objective. The ensuing passage takes place under circumstances of grim sensory deprivation.

Their little boat churns through water densely packed with jagged ice, inside a visual void that looks like the inside of a ping pong ball.

The ride was a gamble; the seafarers Cook and Faulkner originally conscripted backed out because of the ice hazard.

“I quote the guy from the petrol station [who directed us] to the boats, who said, ‘There’s hardly any ice! What kind of p***ies are they?’ ” Cook recalls from the cabin. “So now we’ve managed to hitch a lift with some seal fishermen, in this tiny boat. And the crunching you can hear is icebergs going underneath the boat.”

Giggling all along, he notes the massive icebergs passing by outside the tiny boat’s portholes.

Seal hunters in gray weather.

Seal hunters. Photo: Screenshot


Yet, the inscrutable crew (and the man who seems to be their captain, who for some reason briefly wields a rifle) do land the climbers safely at a waypoint that leads to their objective.

Giant gray slab

It hulks: a giant gray slab, laced with endless cracks and crumbling pillars, steepening toward a craggy pinnacle against the equally gray sky.

The Horn.

The Horn. Photo: Screenshot


It’s dual action on the face. Having linked up with fellow arctic rock hounds Tom Codrington and Pete Hill, Cook and Faulkner tackle one aspect of the cliff while they explore the other.

What you’ll find: good, old-fashioned climber chicanery and down-home attitudes toward adventure. Self-deprecation intertwines with survival.

Don’t miss the episode where Codrington and Hill, hundreds of meters above Cook and Faulkner, unwittingly trundle rock straight past their position. “Like being shot at,” Cook says, “it was f***ing terrifying.”

Laughter — maybe more timid now — ensues. It’s 36 hours in, and Cook and Faulkner are still a long way from the top.

Basically, all the Greenland climbing ingredients play up here. Eccentric sea captains somehow navigate terrible waters. Exhausted climbers somehow ascend (and descend) prohibitive formations. There’s glee, camaraderie, chagrin, perseverance, and uncanny vigor.

climbers huddled in a cave eating processed food

Eating…food? Photo: Screenshot


It’s hard to tell how much of that adventure climbing requires — versus how much of it the discipline gives back in return.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.