We crossed from
the moraine onto the glacier, where the crevasse narrowed, and there its humped
back was free of gravel and scree. There were snow patches on the ice, but
mostly it was pure frozen water, cut with ravines and small canyons, strangely
sculptured in blue, silver and lime-green ice. It was a beautiful and awesome
place, but at a pedestrian's level the great virtue of glaciers, after
stumbling across the moraines and muskegs of Baffin, is that they provide very
good footing. The ice is level and firm, and is precarious only at the lips of
So we strolled,
enjoying the easy going, to the ridgetop of the glacier. As we reached it, the
sun and a good bit of very blue sky broke through the overcast. Across the
suddenly glittering ice field a 5,000-foot clock tower of rock popped into
view, wisps of mist and cloud clinging to its sides like leaf mold on the cap
of a new morel mushroom. This was Asgard. Whether this is the world's most
perfectly shaped big rock, as some Baffin mountaineers claim, is a matter of
individual taste. However, jumping out of the weather at us as it did, looming
above the glaring field of ice, Asgard seemed to Sam and me a very decent
mountain, well worth the trouble of finding it.
As we made our
way back from the glaciers and the summit lakes, the weather became cyclical.
In the mornings, from 4 a.m. to about midday, it was good, much like cool,
clear, early October days in the northeastern U.S. In the afternoon, the wind
rose and it became colder: clouds and precipitation blew into the pass from the
fjords, and for living purposes it became February. The storms ripped and
snorted until midnight and then moved seaward, and the good weather came
intended to return from the summit slowly, looking at geological, glacial and
botanical phenomena we had not seen enough of on the way up, this pattern was
convenient. In the October morning we moseyed along, taking the sun and
sightseeing. When clouds began to pile up, indicating that February was
approaching, we looked for the lee of a nice rock, pitched the tent and waited
there until the weather became more agreeable. Descending in this leisurely
way, we came again, five days after we had left it, to the Thor moraine. The
supplies that Steve, Rick and Ron had left, before leaving to climb Thor, were
still there, untouched.
non-happening presented us with both a practical and ethical dilemma. The
probability was that the three climbers were all right; perhaps they had left
the mountain by a circuitous route, had met and borrowed food from another
party and were on their way back to the cache. However, having been with them
when they packed and planned for the ascent, we knew that they were well past
their estimated time of return and it was certainly not impossible that the
delay was involuntary.
The day was
turning into February and the visibility was so poor that we could see very
little of Thor, let alone three small human figures. Even if we could locate
them from such a distance, we had neither the skill nor equipment for a rescue.
We could make a forced march to the fjord and there perhaps make contact with
Pangnirtung, but this seemed like a melodramatic response and probably a
pointless one, because it was unlikely that there would be anyone in Pang who
could retrieve climbers from Thor. On the other hand, or third hand, doing
nothing seemed like a weak choice and, should it turn out that the three were
in trouble, a weak choice with which we would have to live badly for a long
There being no
apparent good options, we turned indecisively to displacement activity—we got
out the stove and started to make soup. About the time the water boiled, we
heard distant shouts coming out of the mists on the far side of the Weasel.
Down the moraine scrambled the three missing persons, their fists raised in the
classic victory salute. They crossed the stream more rapidly and boldly than
they had on the way out. When they emerged on our side, they were cold,
shivering, burned by exposure, very hungry and a bit dehydrated, but absolutely
triumphant. For a few moments they babbled exultantly, like players in a locker
room who have just won the big game—which, in fact, the three of them had.
After they calmed down, they gave us the play-by-play.
food and water farther than they thought they could, they had made more than 25
pitches with their 150-foot rope; they had climbed almost 4,000 feet along and
up the west face. It was by far the longest pure rock ascent any of the three
had ever made, and one of the longest in the world. They had reached their
objective, the unclimbed shoulder of Thor, and had come down the backside,
returning through glaciers to the river. On two nights they had bivouacked in
very bad weather on high ledges, but they also had had one singularly good day.
"The sun was bright, almost hot," said Ron. "I was climbing in my
underwear. The Weasel Valley below us from the summit to the fjord was filled
with clouds. They looked solid, the color of ice. I thought this must be what
everything had looked like 10,000 years ago when glaciers filled the valley.
The scene was prehistoric."
Sam and I
continued slowly on down the valley, leaving the climbers to savor their
triumph and gorge on food. They rested for a day and then began packing out,
catching up with us again at Windy Lake. Together we walked on to the fjord
head and in time found a canoe ride back to Pangnirtung.
There are mixed
emotions about reentering society after such excursions. Immediately,
sensually, it feels very good, as dry rooms and beds, hot water, substantial
meals, a bottle of beer feel good. Also there is a sense of security. If the
roof blows off Peyton Place, it is not something that must be suffered and
coped with alone; coping materials and alternatives are available. It may take
some waiting, but even in an outpost such as Pang you can get at most of the
goods and services men have collectively devised. On the other hand, you are
once again dependent upon them; on the Hudson Bay's distribution apparatus; on
radio telephones; on computers that promise to make plane reservations in
Montreal; on air traffic controllers in New York; on money and all that it
entails; on all the arrangements and relationships, complex beyond
understanding, that link each of us, like it or not, to everyone else.