Leo Houlding’s First Reflections of the Mirror Wall

Leo Houlding scaling the Mirror Wall

“Such a huge wall – taller than El Cap.  So blank and smooth you can almost see your reflection.  So steep and featureless, so remote and hazardous. Guarded by a crevassed glacier, towering seracs and a loaded snow slope, it was far from clear if we would be able to find any way to storm this castle.

Two weeks of glorious weather gave us the chance to find our feet in this wild and unforgiving, desolate yet majestic landscape, to find a way to the foot of the face and after close examination select the most feasible line.  It was sunny just long enough for us to get established on the wall and then clouds, rain and snow hid the warming glows for the reminder of the trip.


We have all worked hard and tried our hardest through the suboptimal conditions – the crew, little experienced in this game, have all excelled and not just survived but thrived on the challenge.

Strategically simple, tactically highly complex, the month long process of gazing deep into the mirror looking for a way to the top is over and we found it.  Mirror, mirror on the wall you are the fairest of them all!  You didn’t relent easily but provided all for which we prayed, presenting us a hard won way to the summit.

The marvellous Bedouin Camp early in the climb, followed by the magnificent Arctic Hotel Ledge complex, a harness-off penthouse with en suite, private snow supply and epic views served as the perfect staging posts for the hostilities above.

The climbing has been hard.  Once known and on paper the numbers are modest, but in reality going up into the unknown each shift has tested a lifetime of experience and knowledge.

Hard free, hard aid, wide crack, loose face, grand traverses and complete blankness have all been tackled and overcome with effort and cunning and at 4:20am on 22nd July we all stood on top of the Mirror Wall in an upwards snow storm, having spent  12 nights on the face.

We free climbed 23 of the 25 pitches, the two remaining requiring serious aid through serious big wall terrain.

We did it, descended smoothly and safely and now await our exit lift from base camp back to reality tomorrow.

I am ready for home.  Ready to see my wife and daughter, ready for comfort and convenience, safety and security.

Reflections on my life of adventure and new life as a father have been inconclusive.  I know I am now more risk averse, and I have felt danger keenly throughout this trip for both myself and the crew.

I know I do not want to miss out on the ephemeral joy of Freya’s childhood.  But I also know that expressing myself in this landscape is a part of me.  Having the privilege of running wild with these strong guys out here in this grown up playground for weeks on end is to be cherished too.

Still battered from the last fight my mind already drifts towards future ambitions.  I look forward to sharing all this wonder with Freya, teaching her what I have learned and showing her these magical places.

I have thought much about Stanley, his widow Annemeika, and fatherless son Finn.  We shared a phase of maturity together that had just entered the next era.  We had pushed hard together and independently and were both hyper aware and fearful of our new responsibilities as dads to be.

His death, pursuing his dream of freedom and flight, at such an untimely moment has made me question my own values and drive fundamentally.  One day a tiger or a life-time as a sheep?  Surely there is another path?  A life-time full of years and living.

I suppose I’ll continue to strive to find the balance between domestic and wild, comfort and epic, family and adventure.

All in all, it’s been a fantastic expedition, and I’m proud of what we have achieved.

All we need now is for a fine day tomorrow for the helicopter pick up.  It will be my 35th birthday and our home bound extraction will be the best present ever!”

Leo Houlding



Writer and expert