Part II - Read Part I
It was fully storming by now and yet despite the conditions I was totally gripped by the awesome antics being performed above me.The sky hook on which Warren’s whole life now depended was obviously not happy, forcing him to act quickly.Like a quick-draw Pro in a pistol shoot-out he whipped a small blade (like a wide nail) from his rack and threw a hand placement in the thin crack that issued up from the roof below him. He clipped the piece, was just about to weight it, when the hook blew and all 88Kg. of him went straight onto the fragile knifeblade.It immediately slid from 90 degrees to 180.Downward pointing, hand placed pegs just don’t inspire confidence.With that in mind Warren decided to take matters into his own hands, literally.Faced with an imminent fall of around 60 meters, with the death block for company en route, he decided the best option was to go for a sloping ramp up to his left.Wearing a full Buffalo suit (that is heavy fibre pile encased in Pertex), a 14Kg. wall rack and with Koflach’s (remember those?) on his feet he made a full out dyno, leaving his etriers (ladders made of climbing tape) for the soaked rock ledge above.He grabbed the ramp, but immediately his legs swung free and he hung suspended below the frozen sea ice 250m. below.My heart fell into my salopettes as he mantelshelfed the edge.His last decent piece of protection was a rivet level with the belay.Hanging from one arm, Warren pulled off a loose flake to create a foothold, then squeezed one butt cheek on to the ledge. Directly in front of him, just within arm’s reach, was a perfect No. 2 Camalot placement.He checked the rack and screamed.I still had most of the cams at the belay.He yelled his instructions and I fastened the required units onto the zip line.Balanced precariously on the tiny wet ledge Warren gingerly pulled the line in through his teeth, grabbed the Camalot and buried it to the hilt.A1 placement……..Big relief!Both Mark and I were left stunned at the sheer death- defying bravado of this gnarly Canadian freshman, cranking it out in only his fourth year of climbing.
As we abseiled down to our portaledge camp after the pitch I realized that if I continued with Warren and Mark then we simply would run out of food and water.I told the others I should be the one to go down, as I was the most inexperienced member, and the next day I abseiled off the wall. On June 3, after 13 days of capsule-style climbing, Warren and Mark topped out on the Wall.Crossfire (VI, 5.10, A4) climbs 19 sixty meter pitches, and ascends the South Buttress Direct of Great Cross Pillar.
Once safely down Warren got a really bad cold, so Mark and I started work on our original objective, Polar Sun’s huge North Face.After two days of climbing and over 300m. of ascent we both decided that it was too dangerous to continue.The route was threatened by huge hanging blocks of granite in the crack line we were climbing.As it was, Mark nearly died when the rope he was jumaring on, as he cleaned one of the pitches, dislodged a large boulder that caused a minor landslide!
With only 10 days left before our scheduled departure all three of us ferried loads to the base of the 700m. West face of Second Turret.We fixed five pitches during several days of bad weather, then blasted in a 40 hour push up and down, establishing Nuvualik (VI, 5.10+, A3+).This is the Inuit word for the formation, and means “High Point”.
Near the summit, we were shocked to find a vintage bolt.Mantling onto a small ledge just below the top Mark found an ancient-looking bolt with a heavy steel hanger.The Turret would clearly not be a first ascent (though our west face route was definitely a FA) but we were totally perplexed as to who had climbed this mountain before us.It was only after consulting that old Big Wall guru Geoff Hornby many months later that the truth emerged.As Geoff sardonically commented, if you want to know anything about Canadian climbing always consult the Canadian Alpine Journal.Geoff even remembered vaguely an article on Sam Ford and, once questioned, promptly sent me a copy of a report from a Swiss team who had visited the area in 1987.
They had actually climbed 2 routes on the Turret, and one of the climbers was a very young Xavier Bongard, now famous (albeit posthumously) for his ascent of “The Grand Voyage” on Great Trango, the mother of all Big Walls.
Climbing on the Turret was really extreme with pitches involving every discipline of the climbing game.One pitch that Mark led had both Warren and I staring in disbelief as he used free climbing and direct aid techniques to ascend an iced up, overhung niche, which would have not looked out of place among the pages of “Cold Climbs”.Nicknamed “The Tunnel of Hoar” this section resembled something like the iced-up interior of a wine bottle.
On top we realized we had to get off fast.Looking down into the Fjord we could see the unmistakable signs of early season break-up.Large cracks ran the entire width of the fjord and we knew it was only days before our skidoo would be unable to get in and many weeks would then ensue before the Inuit fishing boats would be able to rescue us.
Once back down from the Turret we crawled back to Base soaked to the skin in the by now, constant drizzle and bent double with our 45Kg. haul bags.Within 24 hours we were on the skidoos, in a rush back to Clyde River to catch our flights home.We ran straight into an horrendous storm and the snow mobiles got bogged down kilometers from shore in the early ice break-up.The machines stopped, we got drenched in the freezing slush, and suddenly frostbite and a slow death seemed a likely conclusion to our otherwise successful expedition.At the eleventh hour an Inuit Team, also fleeing the storm, turned up out of no-where and together we made it back in one piece…… It was the end of a brilliant trip.