North America, Canada, Ellesmere Island, Ski Tour and Various Ascents

Publication Year: 1997.

Ellesmere Island, Ski Tour and Various Ascents. Flying from Resolute on the last day of June, Californians Les and Bev Wilson (leaders), Sergio Aragon, Gary Bard, Jane Koski, Ellen Lapham, Jeff Tarmy, and myself, joined by Alex Jolies of Switzerland, discovered the only clear patch of sky in the Canadian arctic approximately seven miles east of Barbeau Peak. With our landing site thusly dictated, we established our initial camp at 81° 55’N, 75° 42’ W in unsettled weather. Our location fit with our overall goal of a two-week ski traverse over the Barbeau range, across the ice cap, and out to Tanquary Fjord.

Our first days were devoted to local ski touring and perfecting our load-hauling system, which split our supplies between packs and lightweight plastic sleds. We then placed a camp on a ridge three miles west of Barbeau at 81° 55’N, 75° 26’W at 6,600 feet. Our clear views of the ice cap north to the British Empire Range were short-lived, as we spent the next 30 hours holding down the tents, which bowed under the load of high winds. Abandoning the ridge, we traversed over a saddle immediately to the southwest of Barbeau Peak. The route appeared so easy that we mockingly named the feature “Killer Fang Pass.” To our surprise and consternation, the descent of the opposite side down steep, icy slopes in high winds while maneuvering our laden sleds convinced us that this pass was more appropriately named than we had realized.

Our next camp at 81° 53’N, 75° 02’W afforded us views of the south side of the range and a base for mountaineering endeavors. On July 6, Sergio, Alex, Jane, Ellen, Jeff, and I climbed an eastern satellite of Barbeau at 81° 54’ 39” N, 74° 58’ 20”W at an elevation of 7,810 feet. We were unable to continue on to the main peak, as the winds precluded standing upright. We have been unable to find any record of any climbing or skiing activity on this side of the range. The peaks along the entire Whistler-Barbeau ridge appear more technically challenging from the southern exposure. Later on the same day, Jane, Sergio, and I ascended a strikingly pyramidal summit at 81° 54' 46”N, 74° 43’ 16”W, 7,280 feet southeast of the main range we referred to as “Mount Woodmont” (in honor of the Wilsons’ travel organization).

As we continued south across the ice cap, the lifting cloud cover aided our exit down the Adams glacier, whose surface melt water channels gave us and our sleds great challenge.

Once off the ice, we followed a route along Atka Lake, down the Lewis River valley, and finally through the MacDonald River drainage to Tanquary Fiord. Burdened by sled loads that were now consolidated into our packs, we trudged slowly over rocky ground and forded rivers with uncountable frequency. During this trek to the fjord, we were graced with the wide presence of arctic flowers and wildlife, including a musk ox encounter. As we arrived at the Tanquary encampment in the brilliant, warm sunshine of the 1:30 a.m. arctic morning, the multitude of peaks with their accompanying glaciers curling down to the fjord revealed themselves with perfect clarity. Despite our fatigue and pains, our departure from Ellesmere was accompanied by hopes for a future return.

David Graber