North America, Canada, Canadian Arctic—Baffin Island, Mount Thor, West Face, Direct Attempt

Publication Year: 1980.

Mount Thor, West Face Direct Attempt. Steven Amter, Michael Sawicky and I attempted a direct route on the west face of Mount Thor. The face is about 4500 feet high, much of it overhanging. Lying above the Arctic Circle near a vast icefield, the mountain is exposed to high winds and violent weather. There have been three Japanese attempts, which relied heavily on bolts and fixed ropes. Our expedition had three 11mm and three 9mm ropes. We were well stocked with nuts, pitons and big-wall paraphernalia. We had single-point suspension hammocks made by David Feinberg. After leaving Base Camp for the last time, we spent 32 days on the wall. The route to Camp I was fourth class up low-angle snow and icy slabs. Above Camp I, we followed the Japanese route except for two pitches which could be called a route-finding error. The climbing on the first section was easy and enjoyable except for the loose rock and the distracting fixed ropes, bolts and litter left by the Japanese. In 32 hours we climbed 900 feet to a ledge where we leveled a bivouac platform and descended. We spent 20 hours hauling our gear up to Camp II. The rock was strange, hard in most places, but brittle inside and around cracks, and some of it loose. Each pitch took about twice as long as one would estimate. We climbed in 25- to 35-hour shifts, two shifts on and one shift off. After fixing most of our rope we prepared to move camp. Just when we had everything packed, the weather turned mean and pinned us down in Camp II for 96 hours. We should have quit, but we took food the Japanese had left and headed up the ropes to Camp III, the most exposed and frightening place imaginable, where we dangled 3000 feet above the valley. Without fixed ropes, we were hit by a serious snowstorm and 100 mph winds. We actually climbed through the blizzard in an effort to get somewhere else. The wind was so intense that I had to weight my stirrups to keep the wind from blowing them into my face. We finally reached a small ledge under the uppermost of the two large breaks in the face. When the sun came out again, we found ourselves once more under an icy waterfall. It took maximum effort to get sore minds and bodies to go through the motions of climbing. Having ascended 3400 vertical feet, we got off the mountain via the large ledge and an exit discovered the year before. Except for four bolts placed to free-climb across a 100-foot blank section, our traverse off the mountain was a walk.

Ronald H. Sacks