North America, Canada, Canadian Arctic, Beluga Mountain and Rock Tower, Sam Ford Fiord, Baffin Island, 1987

Publication Year: 1989.

Beluga Mountain and, Rock Tower, Sam Ford Fiord, Baffin Island, 1987. Christian Dalphin, Bernard Wietlisbach, Xaver Bongard and I flew from Montreal to Clyde River at 71°N. On June 18, 1987 at 10:30 P.M., we set out with Eskimos towing kamatiks (sledges) behind three snowmobiles toward Sam Ford Fiord. We had supplies for six weeks. We traveled in the night hours, although the sun was still up, in order to make use of the cooler temperatures. We were stuck a half dozen times in pressure ice. After eight fatiguing hours, we halted on a small island for the day. Finally on June 21, after 180 kilometers, we got to our goal with two snowmobiles. (One had been left behind with piston trouble.) The fog was so thick that we could not see the mountains. From photos taken by French on a ski traverse in 1985, we could locate Base Camp near Beluga Mountain on the western side of Sam Ford Fiord where Walker Arm enters the fiord. As the Eskimos left us, it began to snow heavily. The weather on June 23 was fantastic. Bongard and I broke trail for four hours to the south face of a 3500-foot rock tower which lies southeast of Beluga Mountain and north of Broad Peak. The whole wall had good crack systems in granite of the best quality. Each rope pair alternated fixing rope while the other pair rested until at the end of four days we had fixed nine pitches. On the fifth day we four all climbed together and two days and five pitches later finally stood on the summit (UIAA VIb, A3 + ). Some days later, in a 17-hour non-stop ascent, we climbed mostly free and in alpine-style the 700-meter-high north buttress of the same tower (VIb, A3). This climb took place at the end of two weeks of good weather. Dalphin and Wietlisbach on July 8 had to start for Clyde River, being due back for work in Geneva on July 20. The ice was no longer solid enough for snowmobiles and had many open leads, but there was too much ice for a boat. They set out, hoping the ice would hold them on Eglinton Fiord and Ayr Lake. We later learned that they had to paddle across one open lead on an ice floe. Bongard and I were to be picked up by boat on July 20. The weather was terrible, with no two good days in a row. We made a 25-kilometer reconnaissance to the Stewart Valley, where the French had reported Yosemite-like walls. We could only see the base of the walls rising in the mist. We rationed our food. On July 19, we started up 4500-foot Beluga Mountain and bivouacked after eight pitches. On the 20th, we climbed the remaining five pitches for another bivouac on the summit. The descent was nerve-racking because of loose blocks. The first ascent had been made from the west on August 3, 1973 by Canadians Dick Butson, Mike Frame and Barry James. After that, the real waiting began. Finally on August 13, we saw three boats on the horizon. The Eskimos had in the past two weeks made two attempts to reach us but were driven back by the ice outside the fiord. But now, they wanted to have a caribou hunt before returning. It was seven days before, on August 20, we started for Clyde River with boats overloaded with 13 caribous, our expedition gear and 20 people. After 30 kilometers we were in the pack-ice. To minimize the danger, the Eskimos sailed between the coast and the ice and pulled the boats on shore when too threatened. A number of times we had to unload the boats and winch them onto the shore. After we had covered a third of the distance, one of the motors developed a terrible knocking. One could see that the valve stem had broken close to the driveshaft. Having studied auto-mechanics, I set about repairing it under the skeptical eyes of the Eskimos. We crept forward with three cylinders and reached Clyde River on August 23, 1987.

Peter Gobet, Schweizer Alpen Club