American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadia Arctic, Axel Heiberg Island, Ski Traverse and First Ascents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Axel Heiberg Island, ski traverse and first ascents. Over six weeks, from April 19 to May 31, our team made an unsupported north-to-south traverse of the island. The team consisted of Louise Jarry (Canada), Vicky Lytle (USA/Australia), Sarah Boyle (Australia), and I (Canada). A three- hour charter ski-plane flight from Resolute Bay dropped us off on the south side of Rens Fiord. Each skier pulled a pulk 1.75m long and weighing 80 to 100kg, with all their equipment, food, and fuel for 47 days. We used no resupplies or caches. The rate of travel ranged from 2 to 24km per day, depending upon snow conditions, terrain steepness, and obstacles present. Including side trips, we skied about 475km.

Our principle route went from Rens Fiord into the headwaters draining to Aurland Fiord, across a watershed divide to the lower Bukken River, then up the Bukken through its spectacular canyons to its headwaters. Next, we crossed the length of the Müller Ice Cap to Eureka Pass. We made a side day trip to ascend Outlook Peak. The web site of The Atlas of Canada by Natural Resources Canada lists Outlook, at 2,210m, as the highest mountain of the island. The 1:250,000 topo map likewise corroborates this height by positioning the summit above the 7,000' (2,134m) contour line. However, at the summit two Garmin GPS units indicated a much lower height, 1,963 to 2,012m. Something is amiss. A nearby peak, White Crown Mountain, was previously thought to be the island’s highest. On the same topo map its spot elevation is indicated to be 6,720' (2,048m). Due to the distance away and time constraints, it wasn’t possible to cross-check the elevation of White Crown by GPS. Undoubtedly, Outlook had been ascended previously, but we don’t know details.

South of Eureka Pass we climbed two more peaks above 1,700m. Then we continued south across another icefield to Strand Fiord Pass and over two more icefields to the pass separating Wolf and Strand fiords. We then traversed the Glacier Fiord/Steacie Ice Cap and finished at the head of Surprise Fiord. In total, we ascended seven mountains and three minor viewpoints en route [see table below], using ice axe and crampons, with all but Outlook probably first ascents. Mammals seen included fox, wolf, hare, caribou, and musk ox.

The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Integral Designs, and The North Face Canada supported this expedition.

Greg Horne, Alpine Club of Canada

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.