Baffin Trip Frustrations and Polar Bears
A story by Silvia Vidal
Photos by Olivier Favresse, Nicolas Favresse, Sean Villanueva and Stephane Hanssens.
Usually I write about a climbing. This time I'm writing about the reasons that brought me to climb a not planned route and with some other climbing partners as first expected, on Mount Asgard (Baffin Island, Canada).
I was planning a summer expedition to Baffin Island with a friend of mine (Luis Gomez, Madrid-Spain). We started to prepare things early in the season trying to have things under control. But it didn't happen like that and the previous part of the trip was an epic and a nightmare.
The original plan was to try to put up a new route on the main face from the South Tower of Mount Asgard. But our expedition was totally frustrated before leaving our country and at the end Luis decided to cancel his flights and not go to Baffin. The reason was that we had no option to climb something that motivated us.
Instead of this, finally I climbed the "Belgarian" route, a free climbing variation from the "Bavarian" route on Asgard South Tower, being a five member team. Because when things turned down something else appeared.
What happened to us was that we needed to send in advance a cargo with all the climbing equipment and the food we would need to spend a couple of months in the island. We wanted to use the outfitters services (they use snow mobiles) to bring the things just before the glacier from Asgard. But for that we needed to send it in spring before the ice melts, because they drive above the iced rivers. Mount Asgard is really far from the main village, about 50 Km. plus hiking up the glacier to the base of the wall. That means a lot of carryings if we need to do them by ourselves.
Finally, after being in contact with a Belgian climbing team (Sean Villanueva, Nicolas Favresse, Olivier Favresse and Stephane Hanssens) we decided to share the sending with them, because it seemed that things could be easier.
After some problems with the food, Canadian border has strong restrictions for the imported food; we were able to send the cargo. It was blocked there for a long time, more than a month and a half, and finally our cargo company (DHL) wasn't able to send it to Baffin. So, after many phone calls, mails and tension, the cargo came back to Belgium in June. We couldn't believe it!
During all this process, the National Park Director called at home to advise us that this year there was more polar bear activity in the area as usual, and for this reason they forbid us to leave any kind of food and fuel in the area, except if we were sending polar bear containers! There are no polar bear containers in Europe...
As Luis was working it was my turn to take the car and go to Brussels (2.700Km-1680 miles go and return) to take the cargo and bring it back to Spain.
Luis and I were desperately looking for a solution; it meant we were looking for a new goal. But there were not too many options and there were no closer walls that motivated us.
The day before our departure, Luis came to Barcelona and we spent some hours talking and finally he decided not go to Baffin. After months of preparations, phone calls, the food, the cargo, the National Park, the polar bears... the doubts... all our motivation was frustrated. We had no more energy to fight for... nothing. There was no climbing goal.
It was really sad to recognize it and we had no too much option because being just two people in the team was not enough to carry all the Km that are from the end of the fiord to the base of the wall. More than 50 Km. that we needed to do many times (going and returning, up and down). No option, for us, not enough holiday time.
Luis canceled his flight and I had a horrible night trying to decide what to do, if to cancel it as well or leave alone, anyway. I decided to go anyway, knowing that there were not too many options for me because I was going alone. And knowing that maybe I won't climb. I went anyway because to climb in remote areas that have something intense apart from the climbing; the landscape, the nature, the wilderness, the loneliness... But it was a hard decision, because climbing has been always the main goal, the reason. I left with all the gear, just in case...
I took the plane and I paid hundreds of euros for the extra weight. I decided to bring the whole gear in case I would like to solo something in a Big Wall style.
In Ottawa I met the Belgians and we shared the first part of our trip together. They were heading to Asgard but no concrete plans, and during the march they stopped in different areas to climb some nice walls in a day.
I was approaching Mount Tirokwa (its one day walking). At the second day of carryings I decided I wasn't motivated enough to climb it. The first time I saw the wall I didn't have de desire to climb it. And the first sight is always important for me. So, I knew I wouldn't climb it. And then I had no other options. That was hard as well, because one thing is to imagine a situation and another is to live it.
I rested for some days at Tirokwa's base camp, and during this time we (the Belgians and me) were sharing same camp, because they decided to climb there as well.
Then they proposed me to share a big wall ascent in Asgard with them. They were already 4 and for me their proposal was a surprise. I didn't expect it. We carried about 500 Km to get to Asgard and to come back. Being five people that was possible.
We were five in a wall and we slept in 2 double portaledges and a hammock. Every day we decided who was going to sleep there, that was an adventure. The night I slept there I twisted and I fell down, hanging on the jumars inside the sleeping bag. That was a new experience as well.