Leo Houlding approaches the crux on one of the main headwall pitches. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Leo Houlding approaches the crux on one of the main headwall pitches. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Top climber Leo Houlding has spoken at length after his successful climb of the towering Arctic Mirror Wall, revealing that hungry polar bears threw a spanner in the works of the expedition.

The Berghaus-sponsored mountaineer said he was looking forward to seeing his two-year-old daughter Freya when he returns to the UK.

He summited the climb at 4.20am on 22 July, along with fellow climbers Joe Möhle, Matt Pickles, Matt Pycroft and Waldo Etherington.

The team battled against bad weather, illness and polar bears snaffling food that had been cached for the expedition, along with hard technical climbing that necessitated using aid on two of the 25 pitches on the wall, which is four times the height of The Shard in London.

Towards the end of the climb in Greenland, they faced a race to get to the top and descend safely in time for a scheduled helicopter pick up at base camp on 28 July, Houlding’s 35th birthday.

After almost two weeks of painstaking progress, the climbers completed their new route on the Mirror Wall, reaching the top during a snow storm blowing upwards. The descent was no less arduous, but they all succeeded in getting back down safely and returning to camp.

It was the first major expedition for the Cumbrian climber since he became a father. He also had to cope with news of the death of his friend Sean ‘Stanley’ Leary in a wingsuit flying accident.

Leo and the team on the summit of the Mirror Wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Leo and the team on the summit of the Mirror Wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Speaking after reaching Iceland on his way back to the UK, Houlding said: “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.

Houlding leads a pitch on the Mirror Wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Houlding leads a pitch on the Mirror Wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

“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 lifetime as a sheep? Surely there is another path? A lifetime full of years and living.

Home from home: the port-a-ledge camp on the wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

Home from home: the port-a-ledge camp on the wall. Photo: Matt Pycroft/Coldhouse Collective/Berghaus

“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.”

Houlding’s previous expeditions have included an ascent of the Antarctic peak Ulvetanna, the ‘lost world’ of Autana in Amazonia and Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, when he BASE jumped from the summit with Leary.

The Mirror Wall expedition was sponsored by Berghaus and the team was equipped with the latest kit from Berghaus’s Extrem range, including prototypes of new developments scheduled to be launched in autumn-winter 2016. After the climb, Houlding said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the Berghaus Extrem kit was essential to our success.”

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