American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Nunavut, Baffin Island, Gibbs Fjord, Jushua Tower, Zen and the Art of Leadership

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Jushua Tower, Zen and the Art of Leadership. On May 14, Steph Davis, Brandon Kannier and I arrived in the small village of Clyde River. The next three days were spent traveling by snowmobile with Jushua (our Inuit guide) across the six-foot-thick frozen ocean to the Gibbs Fjord. We estimated our objective to be more than 2,500 feet tall; it sported many large roofs and a sizable ledge a quarter of the way up with snow on it.

The journey began with 600 feet of moderate free and aid climbing. From a big ledge, I led a 60-meter A1 pitch that landed us on a small snow- and rubble-strewn shelf. This ledge would become Camp I as we committed to a capsule-style ascent. From the small snow ledge, Steph led a very loose and dangerous free pitch (5.11) that ended under a small roof. Over the next four days we aided and free climbed through small roofs and thin knifeblade cracks. Snow, strong winds and very cold temperatures were our constant companions for the 22 days that we spent on the wall. Day 6 was spent hauling our massive amounts of water, gear, food and living quarters 800 feet to CII. From CII, Steph gracefully floated up a very steep and difficult face climb with tricky and marginal protection. On the next pitch, we encountered some of the infamous red loose rock for which Baffin is known.

With only 600 feet of rope fixed, we moved home again to establish CIII. On the next pitch above CIII, Brandon had the wretched luck of blank rock. Steph and I agreed this would be a good day to polish off the rest of the whiskey. Sixteen hours later and only 100 feet of vertical gain, Brandon at last arrived at a feature. He was so exhausted from drilling that he called it a day, drilled some more for the anchor and rappelled back home.

By day 14 everyone was beginning to feel the effect of a poor diet, lack of drinking water and uncomfortable sleeping conditions. Brandon and Steph ascended a short 40-foot pitch to a large ledge. From the ledge, the wall was severely overhanging and sported a large thin flake in the center and a very thin comer on the right. With a big ledge below, this pitch definitely looked like hard aid. I was forced to climb the overhanging A4 head seam with a busted chisel.

The following day we moved the camp; we were now 2,500 feet up the wall. The next pitch saw Steph free and aid climbing through large roofs and even larger chimneys. The next day, Brandon and I ate a quick breakfast, jumared up and I began my lead. Three hours later I was yelling with joy to be on the summit. When Brandon and Steph arrived, we hiked the 300 yards to the true summit. Once there, we broke out the cigars and began flying the kite that we had hauled up this 2,700-foot cliff. Brandon rappelled back down to the portaledge while Steph and I cleaned the fixed ropes. After a long sleep we got up and organized the 18 rappels back to the sea ice. Eighteen hours later we were at last down on the scree ledge. We called the route Zen and the Art of Leadership (VI 5.11 A4).

With six days still left before pick-up, we took a hike to some surrounding walls and relaxed around camp. On our 35th day in the Gibbs fjord, our Inuit guide arrived. On the ride out, one of my Baffin dreams came true. I saw a polar bear. Jushua said it wasn’t a large bear, but it was quite impressive in my eyes.

Russel Mitrovich, unaffiliated

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