Baffin Island is home to some of the wildest big wall climbs on the planet. From June 30 to Aug. 20, Maria Parkes, Neil Chelton and Owen Lee travelled there, climbed a new 20-pitch route and paddled out. It sounds like a great adventure in Canada’s far north.
They flew into Pangnirtung, Nunavut, then travelled up Pangnirtung Fjord into Auyuittuq National Park. Their main objective was Mount Turnweather, which is located a few kilometres east of the park boundary, up the Turnweather Glacier. Below is a short report by the team about their trip.
Rainy Day Dream Away
We flew from Vancouver to Ottawa on June 30, where we spent several days preparing food and equipment (some of which was stored in Ottawa from our planned and postponed trip in 2020). On July 3, we flew from Ottawa to Pangnirtung, and then used a local outfitter (Peter Kilabuk) for boat transport from Pangnirtung to Overlord (30 kilometres) on July 5. We were dropped off around 1km south of the Overlord Shelter close to high tide.
From here we hiked to a preliminary campsite three kilometres up the Weasel Valley, utilising pack rafts to drag upstream, enabling us to move a large amount of gear more efficiently. We scouted out a feasible new route on Mount Turnweather – we had initially planned on climbing the centre of the north face, based on existing photos and route information, however upon arrival this face looked loose and unappealing.
However, on the northeast side of the mountain (at the far left of the north face) we found a good-looking line with approach pitches up a steep side glacier to a vertical wall. This wall led to a large ledge/ridge on the east ridge of the mountain, under the summit tower. Observation from the base with binoculars showed continuous crack systems with several possible lines.
We shuttled food and equipment to the base over the following nine days, moving camp to a moraine near the bottom of the side glacier. Our initial hike up the Turnweather Glacier involved traversing several difficult and dangerous moraines, however we managed to find a much safer alternative route up a more stable moraine immediately to the south of the main river flow. The hike from our initial camp to the base of the side glacier was approximately seven kilometres over varied moraine, dry glacier, and boulder fields. The last 1.5 kilometres over flat glacier was very slushy in early July and we opted to bring our dry suits up the glacier to make shuttling this section more enjoyable.
Once our food and equipment were all at the base, we climbed and fixed ropes up the initial steep glacier, climbing ice up to 70 degrees. We then hauled up the glacier to a belay at the base of the rock.
We climbed the first rock pitch of the route and fixed a rope on it. The forecast then gave several days of bad weather, so we opted to hike down to the main Weasel Valley to sit this out, and to meet up with friends who were arriving at this time.
Once the weather improved, we hiked back up to Mount Turnweather, and ascended our fixed lines, sleeping on portaledge at the base of the rock. The following day we climbed pitch-two and hauled to this belay.
We spent the next days climbing capsule style, with camps at belays three, five, eight, 10 and 15. The weather was consistently poor throughout our climb, with rain at some point every day. This slowed our ascent down considerably, however we still managed to climb every day except one, sometimes just fixing a short pitch.
Most pitches were aided and followed obvious crack systems and weaknesses. The rock was generally good, although the removal or avoidance of many obvious detached blocks was necessary. The route generally followed a series of left trending diagonal weaknesses, with other pitches linking these. We found no evidence of previous ascents in the first 15 pitches.
After 15 pitches we reached the lower angle east ridge of the mountain. We ascended this to the base of the summit tower at fourth class, fixing ropes straight down a blank wall to our previous camp (belay 10) and hauled direct to the ridge, avoiding hauling over the loose and traversing ground we had climbed.
At the base of the summit tower, we found two sets of bolts – one very old (1980s?) and the other much newer (probably around 10 years). These were both located at the top of obvious corner systems on the north face.
We climbed the summit tower in a further four pitches, finding excellent quality golden granite. We rappelled back to the ledge using the existing newer bolts; however, we think that this party had climbed a different line to us on the tower, due to the location of the bolts.
From the ridge we rappelled our route back to the glacier, taking a full day for the descent. After hiking multiple loads out of the valley and back to our first camp, we spent a few days exploring further up the Weasel Valley.
From our first camp we pack rafted back to Pangnirtung, around 30 kilometres. This took three days, paddling for up to five hours each morning before the southerly headwinds picked up making progress very difficult. The large tidal range in the fjord (up to seven metres) meant that we had to use discretion when picking camping spots so that we were not cut off by large tidal mudflats.
After one night in Pangnirtung we flew back to Ottawa on 20th August and on to Vancouver.
Rainy Day Dream Away
Rainy Day Dream Away Beta
P1-P3: Climb ever steepening ice to the base of the rock.
P4: Sustained thin nailing. If you fall, you will hit the glacier and probably die.
P5: More thin nailing with big fall potential.
P6: “The Gong Show”. Awkwardly squirm up wide cracks behind the enormous gong flakes.
P7: Follow the splitter crack on sometimes not-so-awesome rock.
P8: “Jenga”. Do not remove the wrong block on your struggle up this pitch.
P9: Climb the steep and wild crack that splits the roof. Pull the lip to a neat ledge.
P10: A long, wandering pitch with a cool pendulum.
P11: Gingerly negotiate a heap of choss and then follow good cracks.
P12: Continue up the same crack systems, passing a perplexing thin section, to a good belay ledge.
P13: A legit free-climbing pitch on mostly solid rock.
P14: A short easy pitch to gain the ridge.
P15: Scramble along the ridge to a massive ultra-cool ledge. Take your harness off and enjoy the views.
P16: Easy terrain along the ridge to the base of the summit tower.
P17: “The Labyrinth”. An awesome pitch on bomber rock. The difficulty depends on how lost you get in the maze.
P18: “The Splitter”. A splitter finger/hand crack. A real classic pitch.
– Most belays are bolted.
– Belays 5, 8, 10 and 15 offer some shelter from rain and rockfall, and are excellent portaledge camps.
– Climb pitches 11-15, and then fix 3 ropes straight down to belay 10. This allows you to haul direct up the smooth wall, instead of dragging haulbags along the 4th class ridge.
– The summit tower (pitches 17-20) is outstanding, high-quality, super-bomber rock.
– Descend by rappelling the route with the variations shown on the topo. Below P3, rappel using V-threads for approx 300m to reach low angled snow.
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