American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, Canada, Canadian Arctic, Axel Heiberg Island

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Axel Heiberg Island. Dr. Eduard Leuthold and I joined the Jacobsen- McGill Arctic Research Expedition 1960 from July 26 until August 18 on Axel Heiberg Island to survey, climb and provide medical care whenever required. On July 26 we finally arrived by air at Base Camp, situated on the shore of a lovely lake only a few miles from Expedition Fjord on the west coast of Axel Heiberg Island. There was plenty of activity there on the part of geologists, geomorphologists, botanists, surveyors, glaciologists and all sorts of scientists. Frequent arrivals and departures, lengthy discussions and organization of work hardly allowed Fritz Müller, expedition leader, even to exchange a few words with us on our arrival. Four hours later we were camped miles away on the upper Thompson Glacier (Most of these names have not yet been officially accepted.—Editor.) and the following day already saw us surveying nunataks.

The southern Swiss Range, about 20 miles northwest of Base Camp, runs in a north-south direction, roughly at right angles to the many glaciers flowing from the northern ice-cap. At the foot of the mountains these tributary glaciers combine to form a majestic mass of ice, the Iceberg Glacier, which makes its way to the southeast for 20 miles along the range to the fjords of the Arctic Ocean. Though we had hoped that there would be excellent springlike skiing, it was soon clear that we should have to use crampons from bottom to top. Our first camp was established on August 1, again by Piper Cub, in a wonderful arctic meadow. Joined by Dr. Roland E. Beschl, we climbed Foundation Peak (4750 feet) by its fairly long east ridge, which offered pleasant climbing and step-cutting. The ridge between the east and main summits especially gave the feeling of unlimited freedom and space. Only the large crevasses on the top, which are typical for arctic regions, proved somewhat annoying. A firm cairn was built to facilitate surveying this summit from a distance. As we descended over the icefields south of Foundation Peak and all along the Brant Glacier, the sky gradually covered. After awakening from a good 15 hours of sleep back "home” (the whole trip had taken us about 27 hours), we found rain and dense cold fog covering the glaciers and summits; so it continued for five long days and nights. Finally the sun broke again through fog patches and clouds, just long enough to create some hope. And when it dissappeared for another two days, we had just arrived at the summit of Midnight Peak, in time to see Ellesmere Island in the east and Ellef Ringnes Island in the west still in bright sunshine. It was our plan to traverse from here over the long and spectacular ridges and peaks to Foundation Peak. We balanced over ice and rock to Foggy Top, Triangle and Airborne Peak in light snowfall with vertical drops to the glaciers on the left and steep ice slopes to the right. Since dense fog prevailed on the summit of Airborne Peak, next door neighbor to Foundation Peak, it became somewhat too mystic, cold and wet for us; and so we decided to find out whether the crampons would hold on the very steep and time- consuming east ridge. We reached camp 26 hours after departure. A few hours later the Piper Cub made an end to our days in the Swiss Range.

From now until the end of our stay in Axel Heiberg, the weather remained perfect, but no plane was at that particular moment available for a ski landing near our desired objectives, the Trinity Peaks. We spent the last days of our precious leave surveying. Thanks to the courtesy of Dr. Jacobsen and the desperate efforts of Fritz Müller, we were fortunate enough to add another climb to our list: The White Crown (ca. 6890 feet), the highest peak of Axel Heiberg. On our way to Eureka and home, we were landed on the ice-cap about 600 feet below the summit, which is situated right at the western edge of the ice-cap. It was fairly late in the day when we arrived at the summit, where, after a two-hour siesta, the two airplanes circled us, signaling to pack up and come down. Only after they had landed far below, could we separate ourselves from the superb view and ski down through excellent powder snow to the man-made birds, which carried us off only minutes later.


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