Baffin Island First Ascent: Trip Report

Paul McSorley's Baffin Island Expedition Trip Report
Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

By Paul McSorley.

We arrived in the village of Clyde River, NU July 27 and connected with our outfitter, the gruff but straight-shooting Levi Palituq. Over the next few days we made two attempts to reach Sam Ford Fjord by powerboat. On the second effort we managed (barely) to get out of Clyde Inlet amidst a sea of slowly fracturing pack ice. The 160km nautical trip which takes six hours in good conditions, lasted nearly twelve hours as we jockeyed and bumper-boated our way through a giant jigsaw puzzle of icebergs.

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

Highlights of the boat journey included spotting two majestic bowhead whales, and a polar bear (which thankfully was the only encounter we had with the earth’s largest carnivores). When we rounded Baffin Bay into Sam Ford Fjord, the sight was flabbergasting; wall after giant wall shot out of the sea like a hundred Yosemites sardined into one place.

 

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Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

 

Once in the Walker Arm of Sam Ford Fjord we were dropped off on a rocky point at the toe of the Broad Peak glacier and bid farewell to our Inuit guides. Our base camp was 3 km up the glacier by a small pond at the edge of the moraine under a peak aptly named Turret. The next day we motored a leaky 2-horsepower boat a few kilometres up the fjord to the base of the un-climbed 1300m north face Beluga Spire. We pulled the boat out of the water at the only landing available and started scrambling up approach slopes to the foot of the wall.

 

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

 

Over the next two days we climbed the 1100m north pillar of the mountain, making the first ascent of the formation. The climbing was continuously engaging and we found good ledges for bivys. The experience can’t adequately be summed up with a grade but for the books it went at VI 5.12 with two short sections of A1 in 29 pitches. We christened the route “Harpoon” in honour of the whale hunt that was going on concurrently in Clyde River.

 

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

Good weather continued for a three more days and in that time we made an attempt on the Turret’s west face. Storms shut down a summit bid but a few days later in near freezing temps Crosby and Josh snuck in an ascent of a new route on the north side of the mountain. The remaining days in camp were characterized by cold rain and snow with a few short “sucker” windows of clear skies. During one of these, Tony and I made an attempt on the un-climbed south buttress of the Turret but were caught in a snow storm a third of the way up the climb.

 

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

“Wall after giant wall shot out of the sea like a hundred Yosemites sardined into one place.”

 

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

A few days later Levi’s boat buzzed into the bay where we’d been dropped nearly three weeks earlier and whisked us back to civilization amidst choppy seas with metre-high whitecaps. All members of our team had long wondered what climbing in this storied place would be like; this trip was a realization of the area’s massive potential and a dream come true. Climbing a virgin big wall right out of the ocean is indeed a rare experience, and one that we will never forget.

Photo courtesy Arc’Teryx.

Baffin Island Expedition July/August 2014. Team: Crosby Johnston, Joshua Lavigne, Paul McSorley and Tony Richardson. 

Reblogged from Arc’Teryx.

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