American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Baffin Island, Ursa Major, Midnight Watch, New Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001

Ursa Major, Midnight Watch, New Route. Ben DeMenech, John Millar, and I explored Gibbs Fjord near Clyde River on Baffin Island in May. With the help of our Inuit friends, Ilkoo and Jake of Quillikkut Outfitters, the trip in was an easy 12 hours. We passed the Ship’s Prow, Jushua Tower, and several 2,000- to 3,500-foot formations before picking an unclimbed, north-facing, 2,800-foot, continuously overhanging wall with an extra 500 feet of slope below.

Within six days, we had carried all our gear up the 500 feet of snow slopes and talus to the base and fixed six pitches to Camp I. From here, we committed, establishing two more wall camps before summiting in 18 days (25 days total, including time for gear shuttling and fixing). Our route, Midnight Watch, took us up the center of the wall; it followed an obvious pillar split down the center by a multipitch crack and ended at the highest point of the mountain, which we named Ursa Major. Most pitches were 55 to 60 meters long, and every pitch but two of the 18 had hard aid. The rock was mostly hard gray granite with large amounts of quartz. The cracks and comers were dark red, slammed-shut shallow seams with endless stacks of crumbling plates inside. One pitch involved over 14 birdbeaks, and another was an offwidth that had to be free climbed through a roof. Some highlights included a glacier that let loose massive pillars of ice beside our wall every four days or so, a 50-foot roof with nerve-wracking death blocks, and, at 2,500 feet up, a splitter crack (which we called “Proud to be Canadian”) out in the center of a dark-red, tidal-wave looking wall. With the addition of only four storm days and, despite lots of close calls, no injuries, the climb turned out to be a dream come true.

Matt Maddaloni, Canada

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