Weathering Baffin Island


Editor’s Note - This past summer Michelle Kadatz and Angela Vanwiemeersch, supported by the John Lauchlan Memorial Award, travelled to Baffin Island with hopes of establishing a new route. There they were met with the wettest summer on record, facing storms and freezing conditions. While they were not able to put up a new route, Michelle’s trip report does a great job of covering a common reality of many big trips and the hardships that encompass the whole expeditionary process. Glad you two made it back!

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Pre-Expeditionary Logistics

This summer Angela Vanwiemeersch and I travelled to Baffin Island with hopes of establishing a new route on one of the impressive granite faces.  Organizing an expedition to a remote location is extremely complicated. The chance of rescue is difficult due to weather impeding the ability for travel of any kind, including flights. Two weeks prior to our departure, my original partner Gemma, was diagnosed with kidney stones and was unable to go on the trip. I was scrambling to find another partner. Angela was psyched to go on the trip and although we had never met, we had been trying to climb together for some time. A month long adventure in a remote setting seemed like an appropriate “blind date”.

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Gunning for Baffin’s granite walls

One of our climbing objectives was the impressive North-East face of Mount Freya. After reaching our gear cache at Summit Lake, we had a good forecast and established a camp at the base of Freya. Setting out to climb the following day we could see our breath as the wind howled around us. We had all of our layers on and the north face had not yet gone into the shade. Hiking up the steep moraine warmed our bodies and after a few icy jams in a snowy gully, we gained the lower headwall. Upon closer inspection the chimney above looked less appealing, with many loose blocks and the belays unprotected from rock fall. It felt beyond our risk tolerance so we abandoned Freya. We still had a short period of good weather and used the visibility to scout a peak for a future weather window. We explored 15 kilometers of the “Unnamed Glacier” above Half Hour Creek. The flat glacier was not to be underestimated. As we were walking, Angela suddenly fell into a crevasse up to her armpits, but I quickly pulled her out!  We found two peaks that looked promising during our exploratory mission.

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Socked in: Baffin’s Wettest Summer on Record

A low pressure system set in over Baffin Island for the remainder of our trip. We were trapped in the “wettest summer on record”. We made friends with two other climbing teams and many hikers who were travelling through the valley. The hikers would carry gifts of chocolate and poetry to our friends camped up the valley, and spread tales of “the nice climbing girls giving away pancakes and doing pull ups in their gymnasium”.

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Pushing through on bad weather

We made several attempts to climb our unnamed peak. On our first attempt we waited under a tarp at the base of the route for 9 hours. The rain never stopped. Near the end of our trip, we received a forecast that sounded promising and took a heavy load to the base of route, prepared to wait several days if needed. Upon gaining the glacier, we were immersed in a thick cloud, blending the sky and glacier together. This was so disorientating it was causing vertigo as we moved forward. Shortly after setting up camp, our tent site flooded. We moved camp to a large boulder on the glacier, but most of our belongings got fairly wet. Our forecast had drastically changed and was now predicting 45 ml of rain over the next 24 hours. The storm released its fury. The mountains were falling apart and the glacier had turned into a raging river. We were trapped in the tent for 36 hours. Going out of the tent to get water or to empty our bladders became an arduous task.

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Photo: Michelle Kadatz

It’s not over till it’s over

We quickly abandoned thoughts of climbing and changed our objective to making our boat ride back to Pangnirtung. We had several serious river crossings on our hike out, the worst being before the Thor shelter. It took several attempts to commit to this crossing, grabbing boulders underneath the raging flow for stability as water pushed against our chests. Hypothermic after being submerged in the water, we rushed to the shelter where the French climbers gave us their dry sleeping bags and hot drinks. We both developed trench foot from hiking in cold wet boots, but we did make our boat ride.

Many thanks to the John Lauchlan Memorial Award which made this adventure possible.

Photo: Angela Vanwiemeersch

Psyched on a big trip?

Apply for the John Lauchlan Memorial Award and get funding for it!

Submission deadline for award applications is September 30th each year. The award period covers endeavours starting December 1st through to November 30th the following year. 

Award amounts are based on funding, and the budget requirements of each particular trip. 

Recipients are announced at the Banff Festival of Mountain Films, held annually on the first weekend of November.