American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Arctic, Mount Asgare, East Face, Cumberland Peninsula, Baffin Island

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Mount Asgard, East Face, Cumberland Peninsula, Baffin Island. We were lured back into the Canadian Arctic by two granite walls that reached into the sky, making a beautiful 2000-foot dihedral on the west face of Asgard (6600 feet). Californian Dennis Hennek and I had been to Baffin Island the year before; Englishmen Paul Nunn and Paul Braithwaite were on their first visit. The dihedral’s granite was coarsegrained but not crumbly and the cracks were clean cut. In 1971 Hennek and I had reached its foot after 1000 feet of mixed alpine climbing only to be stopped by a fierce five-day storm and the cold of the onset of winter. In July of 1972 we arrived at Pangnirtung by air and went by Eskimo sledge pulled by a skidoo up the still frozen fjord. The noisy machine left us standing by 130-pound packs at the entrance to Weasel Valley. They would have been considerably heavier but for freeze-dried food and Hennek’s granola. We reached Summit Lake after 25 miles and two awful days of falling into slushy snow, bogs and cold, turbulent side streams. We made two carries the length of Summit Lake and up the Turner Glacier to pitch camp by a glacier lake. Six days out of Montreal, we were ready to attempt the west face dihedral. Nearly all-day sun and mild July weather made for sloppy snow which gave us a few nasty moments before we reached the foot of the dihedral. I led the first ice-choked pitch into the true dihedral and Dennis led through on Lost Arrows and angles for fifty feet to stop under a small roof. Beyond it was blank, blank with not a hair crack for the next sixty feet. We had been deceived by a water streak that might well repeat itself above. Since neither of us felt like drilling holes, we came down. Going to the east side, we climbed the fabulous open slabs that ascend towards the cylindrical left pillar, nearly all free climbing. Most aid equipment came from Chouinard: wired chocks and clog chocks on nylon, lodged in vertical cracks and under small overhangs. The slabs were wrapped around the base of the mountain, one on top of the other, boiler-plate fashion, forming a huge bulge that eased off before the actual pillar, which seemed to overhang the bulge. The climb went on past midnight and into the next day. Hennek and I got the last two leads at about three A.M. when the white mist rolled back below us and the summit snowfields on Friga, Freya and the many unnamed peaks glowed pink against the grey sky. The sun had moved around Asgard during the climb, above the skyline except for a few hours. Hennek stripped to his underwear to squeeze his bulk up a tight chimney that was the hardest pitch of the climb, F8 for 100 feet. Gritstone-like jam-cracks brought us up the last pitch to the summit plateau. It had taken us 30 hours of continuous F6 to F8, A1 climbing to scale the 4000 feet. We were dropping off to sleep when Hennek looked down to our tents by the lake—now in the lake! We steamed through the summit snows, rappelled down to the crotch between Asgard’s twin summits and reached the snow basin. Then the nightmare began—wading up to our chests and sometimes disappearing altogether in mushy, wet snow. It took eight hours to descend two miles of easy-angled snow to reach our snowshoes. Half an hour later we had covered the last two miles on snowshoes and reached the lake. Our tents were mercifully on an island of snow protected from the sun by the canvas. Nearly forty hours after our start we were back in our tents, now repitched well above the rising lake, to mull over our effort, gradually aware of a great and classic rock climb. (A full account will appear in the Alpine Journal.)

Douglas Scott, Alpine Climbing Group

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