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Baffin Island.


Astonishing land of vertical walls,
Unearthly landscapes,
Permanent Sun
And erotic dreams.

Unreal time in the land, where the Polar sun never sets down. And if you are standing somewhere on the summit of the Baffin Island, you see the sun going forth and back, just touching vertical peaks in the night and then rising again.

Our gang included:

  • Alexander Odintsov - continuous leader of crazy project "Big Walls - Russian routes".
  • Valery Rozov - flight leader of even more crazy "The Russian Extreme Project", Moscow Batman, The Man with Wings - menace for birds and planes.
  • Alexander Ruchkin - just climber, versatile, moves often, cosmopolite.
  • Alexander Klenov - good climber, singer, doctor, has his own women fan-club.
  • Michael Devi - climber, permanent partner of Klenov.
  • Michael Bakin - permanent and kind doctor, threat of tuberculosis. Jobless during the expedition.
  • Ivan Samoilenko - Coordinator.
  • Lev Dorfman - tireless director of video scenery.
  • Dmitry Lifanov - relaxed director of the video scenery, Singer of Russian folklore, Moscovite.
  • Sergei Porodnov - businessman, porter, sponsor.
  • Vladimir Morozov - Russian-Canadian adventurer and researcher, perfect fisherman and hunter.

Getting to the Baffin Island is difficult, as it is difficult to get into any fairy tale. Russian emigrants met us in Toronto airport. Encounter with us just sharpened their nostalgia about ungrateful but so much loved Russia. Nowhere we were greeted with such warmth as in Canada, not even in Russia. Everybody was ready to help and tried to do as much as possible.
In Toronto we lived in Russian family, emigrated 10 years ago but still closely linked with the Homeland. They told us that it was a good luck for them when we decided to stay in their house. Experienced in life and resilient Host - Dima - did not stop to amaze us with his speeches and toasts; Hostess - Lucia - is a hospitable culinary expert; and their incredibly educated son, Grisha, who generously has given us his computer.
The house became an attractor for other Russian emigrants, even for people who did not know each other before our arrival. Lot of songs, speeches, drinks… The hostess cried when we left.
For three days our new Canadian friends were helping in incredible rush to different shops to buy everything needed for eleven Robinsons Crusoe to spend 1.5-2 months on almost inhabited island - Baffin Island. With great difficulty we put ton of our luggage in two cars and left for Ottawa to depart to Baffin. Green grass on the roadside was covered with snow. We ran after winter.
Ikaluit - the capital of vast Northern Territories - Nunavut Province, is placed on the south of Baffin Island. Native inhabitants - inuits. In their struggle for life in harsh Polar conditions where winter lasts for ten months and night for six, northern people are similar in different countries. They are dumpy, but very skillful and good-natured and find fun even in this long winter.
The Ikaluit airport stands on piles. It looks like the Beatles' "Yellow submarine", ready to dive to the Arctic Ocean at any moment. We did not expect to find such a civilization at the world's end, above the Polar Circle. Offices, schools, post, roads - everything is here and everything is Trans-Polar. There is a huge supermarket with fresh strawberry in winter and all other things. There are taxis in the town, though one can cross it in one hour without any rush. There are numerous hotels and bars. Well, it is somewhat more expensive than on the Main Land, but it is there.
Our last civilised point - Clide River. Finally we catch the winter. The plane with thirty passengers lands in the White Silence. Nipping frost and sun. The airport is small and huge 3 meter snowdrifts witness frequent snow blizzards. Smiling Inuit Lesli met us in the airport. The paper with the only one word in English - "Russia" - was in marked contrast with his tanned face. Lesli stayed as a boss and arranged our departure to the Great Sail Peak.
Close to the airport we found long exotic Inuits' sledges with Ski-doo's. Inuits were willing to bring us to the Wall immediately but we were not ready. We had to buy White Gaz, since normal fuel could not be transported by plane. Another surprise for us was the proximity of the wall: it can be reached in just seven hours. American team spent nine days, but, to tell the truth, the weather was bad and they made a lot of filming. We decided not to rush and spent one more day in the village. Besides, we bought some missing groceries and visited local curiosities.
Clide River is a nice village on the fjord coast. Three hundred houses, smaller, but still filled supermarket. Much better than our villages.
All inuits are on ski-doo's. For them ski-doo is like a horse for a nomad. It is not just a transport vehicle, it serves for work, hunt, fishing and, of course, for fun. Typical inuit life - a cottage with light and heat, Ski doo of father, the fastest one (to escape from bears), mothers' ski-doo for shopping, quardrocycle for children. Next to the cottage there are fathers' working sledges, mountain bikes, hockey sticks, small ledges - everything for children games. On the frozen fjord one sees a powerful motorboat for fishing.
The last shower for the coming month (we were not aware then) and our caravan from six motosledges started to Stuarts Valley with our goal - Great Sail Peak - in it. For every two members of the expedition we had one sledge, ski-doo and inuit-guide.

For the whole day we were moving along the snowy island, crossing fjords, covered with 2.5 meter ice and hummocks. Overcame passes and descents of our short travel to the target. On steep slopes our guides detached sledges, one or two left for scout and, already knowing the route, pulled one loaded sledge with several ski-doo's. Then they returned and helped to others.
One day was not enough to reach the Great Sail. In the end of the day our way was stopped by steep snowless moraine with huge stones, the obstacle too difficult for ski-doo's. Alex Low team used the same way, but there was much more snow that year and they reached the goal without serious difficulties. According to our map we have stopped at 25-30 kilometers from the Wall. It means at least one, probably even two, weeks of hauling of all the staff to the base camp. This perspective was not very attractive and we decided to find another way. This time we followed the famous Sam Fjord, which was just 12-15 km from the Great Sail Peak.
The way along Sam Fjord is an amazing landscape. Somewhere huge 600 meters walls rise from the ocean. Somewhere winds polished the walls to perfect smoothness. Numerous walls are unclimbable at the moment since there is no smallest crack on many hundred meters of overhanging stone. Ideal sleek shapes, inflated to huge dimensions, impress the imagination. Silent world of incredibly straight lines makes an illusion of outer planet. You are the Pathfinder. This is the island of modern and future mountaineering, BASE-jumping and other things to be invented by humans in coming years.

Sam Fjord did not let ski-doo's to the wall either. Fifteen kilometers to go. We treated our guides according to Russian tradition with Vodka, thus violating their law, and remained with polar bears. Inuits left us on the fjord coast. In a hurry we set a camp directly on the bears track. And went asleep, waiting for the bears. We were left with the small gun and a few signal flares to frighten bears. We were lucky. Several days before a group of American backpackers passed by and bears followed them. Up to now we do not know if they managed to meet. However, bears did not return - either the skiers were fast either the bears were full.
For two days we carried the load on the lakeside, from where the wall of the Great Sail was seen. There we decided to set our Base Camp and named the shore as Russian. The weather was challenging. North wind tear our tents and managed to put snow even into the smallest holes. Daytime temperature was -10 degrees Centigrade, and dropped to -25 in the night. No visibility, permanent low clouds and very windy. Later we started to move the staff to base of the Wall. Two hours forth and the same time back on the smooth blue ice of the lake under constant wind. Time consuming and not very efficient procedure. We made sledges from skis, loaded it to the maximum and hauled them in crampons. This was the way to set the ABC on May 6. The wall floats in mist. One poorly sees only parts of it. We traced a route following a system of ruined cracks, running to the sky.
On May 9, not waiting for the good weather and tired with inactivity, Devi and Klenov started work on the lower part of the route below a ledge. In this frosty day with slight blusts of wind and snow Misha climbed 30 meters. Next day the weather became worse and they came back to the ABC. The same day Valery made a BASE-jump from a vertical wall, called Pobeda ("Victory" in Russian **). To strengthen the Victory Valery made another jump.
Several following days were extremely windy. Even a bear will not leave his refuge. Neither did we.
On May 12 the weather recalled that we are in Spring and sun began to light up the wall. Hard work on the wall started. Working one after another we made one pitch a day, approaching the main wall. To reach the sledge it took six not very steep (75-90 degrees) pitches. Almost exclusively artificial climbing - A1, A2… Step by step acclimatization to Polar climbing. Adaptation to cold was much easier in perfect clothing by "BASK".
On May 16, together with brave video operators, who did not only their job but also helped to carry the load, we reached the main wall. Since our support group was so helpful and close, we had such a heap of food that were unable to eat everything. Not less than third was moved to the top.
There are five climbers and every one is able to lead - large resource of reliability and recovery. Unlimited stock of gear, food and fuel. It is cold and sometimes the wall throws few stones. In one word - the Winter. There are some cracks on the wall. It means an opportunity to climb. All constituents of successful ascent are there. Despite of very slow advance, two pitches per day as a maximum, the team finished the absolutely vertical wall in sixteen days. Two of them were intentionally spent for "directors of the visual scenery", or for our operators.
The fun of the large wall saddened by heaviness. Steepness of the wall deprived us of snow and water. Only on the big ledge, in the lower part of the route we were able to make some stock of water. We had to solve the problem of how much of it and how should we take with us. Using sun, heat, fuel and hits we melted some 60 liters into plastic canisters while working on the route from the shelf. Water freeze immediately in desired shape and was put in haul bags. Then the canisters were cut, ice was broken and melted again. Not very intellectual activity, but one wants to drink.
The team used two portaledges. Klenov, Devi and Rozov in one and me with Odintsov in another. Every "house" has its own hosts, kitchen, and food. Our friends' portaledge is larger, since it is for three persons and their life was much funnier. Quite often, after a good meal at large altitude Russian songs were sang and sounds, reflecting from vertical walls of Stuart Valley, combined into marvelous choral. Evenings were time for visits to neighbors if portaledges were close enough to each other. In general we have fun. During almost all the climb thick clouds hanged at 500 - 1000 meters and inside them we felt ourselves as Santa Claus, covered with frost. But when we penetrated this cloud blanket, we became children of Sun, which never sets down, heated and caressed us all day long.
Stubborn polar sun interfered with our sleep. We fell asleep only tired with climbing. Sun began to shine the wall at 3 PM and left it at 3AM. Therefore, despite of our resistance, our working day fitted the Nature. We started to work at 3 PM, and with considerable efforts went asleep at 3 AM. Unreal landscapes gave birth to unreal dreams. And women were far from being the last in these dreams.
Vertical climbing is a difficult thing by itself, but if it is complicated by corroded granite, the climbing becomes very tense and tricky. Your climbing is similar to work of a miner on a minefield. Many blocks are humming, hang. Freestanding stones hold yours weight in some mystic way. Unwittingly, remembers on the unity with Nature. Our gear permits to climb everywhere. Marvelous Camalots and Friends just allowed to touch, not to disturb this unreliable stony peace. The wall is mostly A3, A3+, but sometimes up to A4.
We just started to enjoy the climbing when the wall surprisingly ended. In sunny polar night of 26-27 May we reached the summit of the Great Sail Peak. Fantastic view: ocean of clouds covers everything till horizon. We are on a huge ship, on the mast of the Great Sail. Ships move in the ocean, tearing the clouds. New route - "RUbikon" on the Great Sail Peak (1615 m) in Baffin Island, Canada, 1300 meters, 6B difficulty*** , A4, 85-90 degrees.
Our Batman - Valery Rozov, tired of waiting and wistful of freedom, Icarus, attached to the ropes, spread his wings and jumped directly from the wall. Fifty seconds of free flight in the wing-suite, unbelievable performance. Many people do not believe and ask even now: "Does he has a parachute?" Descent from the vertical wall or mountain in one minute and stay alive - the dream of any climber. I am not an exception. Spread the wings and start flying. The only problem is the gear - somebody has to carry it down. But I think that soon this problem will be solved also.
Baffin Island - the Land of future, Terra Incognita, waits for Pathfinders.

This expedition became reality due to our friends who permanently support us.
BASK - highly functional warm clothing.
BEAL - perfect ropes.
IRBIS - any gear.
MOUNTECH and GARMONT - elite boots and clothing.
STREGOR - the best and reliable Russian friends.
CANON - reliable and high quality photo- and video
ALVO-TITANIUM - lightweight titanium gear.

* "Tired by the Sun" - Famous Russian song and movie.

**May 9 - Victory Day in WWII in Europe

***6B is the hardest category of the route in Russian mountaineering classification.

Translated by Andrey Shiryaev

January 2003