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North America, Canada, Baffin Island, Auyuittuq National Park, Various Activities

Auyuittuq National Park, various activities. Three Australians, Marcel Geelen, Geoff Butcher, and I spent six weeks in Auyuittuq National Park during June and July.

A small prop plane was taken to the township of Pangnirtung, from where a skidoo was taken to the national park, a journey of 30 km over treacherous broken sea ice. Over the next six days the team ferried heavy loads up the valley by foot, bringing about 200 kg of equipment and provisions into high camp at Summit Lake.

For several days it blew a gale, snow fell, and views were obscured by thick clouds. Once the weather cleared Marcel and I spent a day plowing through knee- and waist-deep snow toward Asgard. Without skis the going was very slow. Camp was made in a small col between Friga and Asgard. In a 14-hour push we summited Asgard via the Swiss Route (5.9) and made it back to camp. Problems encountered included snow-covered loose rock, falling rock cutting ropes, and deep snow on the descent—so deep that we had to “swim” down by lying flat and doing freestyle and backstroke. We spent another day getting back to Summit Lake camp.

The next objective was Mt. Thor, via the 5.9 A4 Diagonal Buttress, which hadn’t been freed, as far as we knew. We crossed the raging ice-filled torrent of the Owl River to make camp in the huge boulder field directly below the northern end of Mt. Thor’s imposing east face. Geoff had left the previous day to explore surrounding valleys and returned home, leaving Marcel and I as the only two humans in the entire national park. The lower part of Thor was horribly loose, with every hold and ledge waiting to send rubble down on the belayer. The route wandered up slabby, angled cracks and slab systems with many options for variations. We climbed 13 60m pitches and simul-climbed easier ground to a large, sloping snowslope. No direct aid was used. The snow was deep, and slippery rock lurking underneath required much vigilance. Two pitches on this mixed ground led to the summit ridge. We did not reach the summit, as treacherous, almost vertical, snow blocked the path. Without ice axes or crampons we decided to retreat 100m below the summit.

The final climbing objective was a new route on Mt. Tirokwa. It was near Windy Hut and seemed to be free of the rockfall of many of the other mountains. More bad weather, however, forced us to rest for close to a week before we could begin the climb. Direct aid was used extensively, as most of the rock was either wet or too blank for ground-up free climbing. After two days of fixing ropes we committed to the wall, spending three nights in rain and storm before running out of bolts and food at 500m, an estimated 200m from the top. One particularly bad day saw us swamped with rain, as our portaledge was perched below a “classic” corner. The climb followed a prominent corner system for 10 pitches, with mostly easy aid (A2+) and hanging portaledge stances. The upper head- wall looked steeper and harder. We abseiled, making it back to camp on the fourth day.

The first hikers of the season arrived during the climb. The ice had cleared from the fjord, letting boats travel from Pangnirtung to the national park trailhead. These hikers were the first people that Marcel and I had seen in over a month. For further info visit www.baffinisland2002.com. A video documentary of this expedition will be finished in late 2003.

Neil Monteith, Australia