This is the hardest way ever to climb big walls

Stefan Glowac and friends are trying to climb in Baffin Island by fair means – aka the hard way.
By Sissi Pärsch

Big wall climbing is hardly a sport devoid of gear, in fact, anything but. As if the actual climbing itself was not challenge enough, there's the logistics of actually getting the gear (and climbers) to the wall to factor in, too.

When attempting to tackle the remote, soaring walls of Baffin Island, it's a challenge usually undertaken with the support of a Ski-doo, boat, or both. That's the easy way. But Stefan Glowacz, Robert Jasper, and Klaus Fengler have no interest in doing things the easy way.

Their vehicle of choice? A lightweight sled made of carbon that they'll drag behind them as they ski towards the wall. And not just any old sled – a raft, rickshaw, tent, and portaledge in one. Their goal? To climb "by fair means." Translated, that means doing it the hardest way possible.

We caught up with Glowacz to find out more...

A big wall climbing expedition camp pitched on the wind-swept snow plains of Canada's remote Baffin Island
There’s no place like home © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

So, Stefan are you already packed?
It's a lot of gear. There's the kit of three people in my workout room, I can hardly move! It's tough to concentrate – I'm always fiddling with the gear and trying to optimise.

Because you only want to take what you'll need?
Yep, just the essentials. We've even slimmed down our climbing gear, which was difficult because we'd like to try challenging walls. The trick is to make things multi-functional. Our shovel is a paddle for example, but the most impressive is the carriage – it's a rickshaw, raft, and portaledge.

Big wall climbers on an self-powered expedition to reach huge cliff faces on the remote Baffin Island in Canada
80 kilograms per person for 150km? Bring it on © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

You built this specifically for the trip?
Yes. The idea came to me in Patagonia. I wanted to go to Baffin Island, but totally self-sufficient, and for that you need a special vehicle. Then the vision became a project. My athlete manager at Red Bull knew someone at Carbontech, who are specialists in carbon manufacturing. We told them what we needed, and even they got excited – a large part of their team got involved, with incredible enthusiasm.

Climber Stefan Glowacz builds up a custom sled for a self-powered expedition to climb big walls on Canada's remote Baffin Island
Building the sled © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

Tell us about the sled. 
It weights about 10kg, and you can slide it over snow and ice, or roll it over ground. During the climb, on the wall, it's a bed/portaledge. In the water, it floats. It has a Gore-Tex tent designed by Marmot custom built to attach to it. It's no off-the-shelf toy, everything is specifically built to work together.

Climber Stefen Glowacz testing a new sled design in the Alps before a self-powered expedition to climb big walls on Canada's remote Baffin Island
The first testing phase in the Alps © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

Does being an extreme athlete make you gear geek?
I don't know. Of course, you constantly think about how to make products better. I'm a 'why not?' type – whether that is trying a new expedition or a new product. Sometimes new gears lets us to do things we couldn't before.

Climber Stefan Glowacz putting a new sled design to the test in the high Alps ahead of self-powered expedition to climb on Baffin Island in Canada
Sometimes you’ve got to roll © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

That requires experience. Do expedition athletes age better?
Experience is the basis on which you build. You need to be mature and developed as a human – sometimes simply to deal with the other humans you see all day and every day on your trip! You always have to have respect for one another. One thing is sure: without our collective experience, we couldn't attempt what we're attempting on Baffin Island.


Do you ever get less inspired?
I'm driven by curiosity, and hopefully that never changes. One needs experience, but one also needs imagination. You have to always think that there's always something to discover. If you keep the fire, you'll find a new adventure.

Big wall climber Stefan Glowacz setting a route on a sheer cliff face in the Alps
This is what big wall climbing looks like © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

What's adventure for you?
Everyone defines that for themself. But for me it's to be completely independent, to bear sole responsibility for all decisions in a mis-anthropic environment. To leave civilisation behind, and move on your own through the wilderness. That's adventure for me.

Stefan Glowacz
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