National Geographic’s Mark Synnott’s Baffin Island Climb

“It was an accepted rule that if you topped off the piss bottle, it was your job to go outside and drain it. When I awoke with an urgent need and found both the skull and crossbones bottles full, I let loose with a string of curses intended to wake up the maggot responsible.”

And thus begins National Geographic Explorer Mark Synnott’s account of a 1996 expedition to Baffin Island.

One of the first climbers to explore Baffin Island’s remote east coast, Mark has been on five trips to the island and has pioneered four big wall first ascents on the east coast, including a grade VII on the 4,700-foot north face of Polar Sun Spire—an epic wall that required Synnott and his team, Jeff Chapman and Warren Hollinger, to spend 36 nights in portaledges in 1996.

(A portaledge is basically a tent that hangs on the side of a rock wall. Yes, you sleep in it, possibly thousands of feet above ice, rock, or water, or all three.)

The pioneering wall climber is one of the most prolific adventurers of his generation, his search for unclimbed and unexplored rock walls having taken him on nearly 30 expeditions. Synnott is a regular contributor to National Geographic magazine, and his work has appeared in many other publications, including Men’s Journal, Outside, Climbing, Rock & Ice, Skiing, and New York Magazine.

In 2007, he published a guide on climbing Baffin Island, the fifth largest island in the world, called Baffin Island: Climbing, Trekking, Skiing.

Finishing off his 1996 online travel journal entry, Synnott writes, “The summit is often anticlimactic, but on this one, my earlier apprehension made it all the more sweet when I finally pulled over the lip. I had given up a lot to visit this perch, including my home in Colorado, a girlfriend, and also any chance at having a real job. Throughout the 39 days it had taken to climb the wall I second guessed myself a thousand times. Was it worth it? Had I sacrificed too much in my selfish quest for adventure?”

With dozens of expeditions to places like Alaska, Baffin Island, Greenland, Iceland, Newfoundland, Patagonia, Guyana, Venezuela, Pakistan, Nepal, India, China, Tibet, Uzbekistan, Russia, Cameroon, Chad, Borneo, Oman, and Pitcairn Island, Synnott has a lot to tell you about.

But has he sacrificed too much? Decide for yourself by coming to his talk, “Life on the Vertical,” part of the National Geographic Live series on Wednesday, November 14th at 7.30 PM. Order your tickets now.