American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Baffin Island, Eastern Fjords, Ascents, Descents, and Exploration

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Eastern Fjords, ascents, descents, and exploration. From mid-April to mid-May, Brad Barlage and I explored the ski mountaineering potential of Baffin’s legendary eastern fjords. It was a highly experimental trip, as we were going into an area that few people have ever visited, let alone skied in. To further the commitment we planned on using lightweight NASA wing kites to move around on the ice. As these kites are capable of high speeds, we also built sleds that could handle our heavy loads, track well at speed, and step over rough sea ice. These sleds also had to break down for shipping and be light enough to carry if necessary. We were going into an area known for its carnivorous polar bears, extreme cold, high winds, and remoteness. We had no idea if the winds would be strong enough to pull us across the vast distances, if the couloirs would be safe to ski, if we would be pinned down by late winter weather, or if other unforeseen calamities might befall us. There were many opportunities for things to go wrong.

But this trip seemed to be charmed. We ended up traveling through five fjords and valleys, covering hundreds of kilometers with our kites and sleds, climbing and skiing 19 new couloirs, with a mix of good and impressively bad weather. The couloir skiing was beyond our wildest dreams. All the couloirs were superb, with the top 10 being in a league by themselves and providing the best skiing I have ever experienced. However, as good as the skiing was, it was perhaps eclipsed by the kiting. With 24 hours of daylight, smooth sea ice, towering rock walls lining vast fjords, seals, and strong, steady winds, Baffin has to be one of the most exotic places on earth to practice the fledgling art of kite skiing. Map and photos can be found at /baftemp/home.html.

First ascents and descents (couloir names by Barlage and McLean, heights in vertical feet): Eglington Fjord: Eileen's and Innushuk couloirs (1,700' each).

Walker Fjord: Broken Dreams (on Walker Citadel), Polar Star (on Mt. Beluga, 3,640', “best chute we’ve ever skied”), Southern Cross and Iron Cross (both on Great Cross Peak), Crosshairs, Debris, Northwest Passage (4,000') couloirs, and Polar Sun Spire, east face (5,100').

Sam Ford Fjord: AC Cobra, Mustang, Pinto, Escort, Model T, and Bronco couloirs (all on Kiguti Peak); Inquisition (4,100'), Intestinal Fortitude (3,760'), and Polar Disorder couloirs.

Andrew McLean

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