On July 9, Michelle Kadatz and I boarded a flight to Ottawa to begin our surreal adventure on Baffin Island. Our arrival was delayed several times by inclement weather, forcing flight cancellations.
I guess everyone needs a northern travel story, right?
With the onerous voyage complete, we made our way deep into the heart of Auyuittuq National Park. The treeless landscape is Sisyphean in scale, making distance calculations treacherous at best. Summit Lake became our haven for a few stormy days, both before and after our weather window. It was from there that we launched our sieges on Asgard and Loki. Travel was something that we were quite calculated about, as the glaciers promised better or worse travel conditions depending wholly on time of day. Postholing to my waist quickly made its way to the top of the list of activities I despise, and was not always avoidable. We did our best to work around it, however, and were largely successful.
Asgard loomed high above our initial camp on the central moraine along the Caribou Glacier, snow clinging to it upper flanks. This snow deterred us on our original attempt, but we were prepared for the second round. I, at least, was prepared for siege warfare, and I know Michelle has always had a deep capacity for stubbornness and suffering. We were not looking for failure another time.
The route was everything it had been advertised as, from granite splitters which made me giggle as I climbed to wet chimneys (just one of those, thank god..). We reclined on the summit plateau after shedding all our gear onto a dry rock, and tried not to think about the descent for just a minute. That descent proved to be almost as worthy as the route. Not only was our tolerance for rusty pins stretched, but we witnessed nearby avalanches while making our way down a seemingly interminable snow slope.
Asgard, home of the norse gods, was telling us go back to our own home. Our welcome had expired. Or maybe I was just hungry.
We then set our sights on Loki, the ‘Matterhorn’ of Baffin. When I first saw that gorgeous thing, I knew I needed to experience it. Loki is as iconic a peak as I have ever seen, launching up in a perfect triangular shape from the horizon of the Turner Glacier.
Access to the South Buttress was guarded by a small (but mighty!) crevasse field. We belayed and crawled and generally had a blast navigating this section of terrain. Once we found our way to the correct system, continuous and sustained climbing took us up and up and up and up.. and up. We even had the pleasure of re-climbing several pitches to collect stuck ropes on rappel. Thankfully, the storm that threatened never quite arrived, but I did move pretty quickly back to the tent.
The Loki of Norse mythology is known as the trickster, and I don’t think this Loki disappointed in any sense. From navigation of crevasses, to finding the correct route, to consistently incorrect approximations of remaining pitches, to a storm that never quite arrived – Loki kept us on our toes.
We returned to Summit Lake after sleeping for a day on the moraine. Just in time, too, as our weather window ended as abruptly as it began. The wind wailed at apocalyptic speeds and the rain came down in sideways torrents, while Michelle designed half hour exercise regimes to keep herself sane.
I occupied myself rolling cigarettes.
The weather was never again quite as cooperative as it had been for our Asgard and Loki and we had a couple of unsuccessful bids along the way back to civilization. Our packs were horrific in size and weight, and I now sincerely regret not giving mine a name at an appropriate time. I mostly just whispered profanities as I battled to stand up underneath it.
There’s a lot left in Baffin to explore and enjoy, and I hope to go back for more adventures after a bit of time allows the memories to settle. It’s without a doubt one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever seen, and will likely haunt my dreams for some time. I’m supremely grateful to have shared this opportunity with Michelle; she is a talented and driven young woman, and we really wouldn’t have made it through without her determination and her capacity for suffering. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on this adventure.
Our trip was made possible by the Jen Higgins Memorial Fund through the Alpine Club of Canada and the Expedition Support Fund through Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Alpinist contributor, Holly Blanchard wrote a really nice piece on us. Check it out here: http://www.alpinist.com/doc/web15x/wfeature-smith-kadatz-free-climbing-in-baffin-island
And we made it onto the list of notable Canadian sends of 2015: http://gripped.com/news/top-canadian-sends-of-2015/