New Climbs on Baffin Island

Noah Besen, James Klemmensen, Shira Biner, and Amanda Bischke spent 20 days climbing on the granite walls around the Coronation Glacier on southeastern Baffin Island. The team kept a low profile but has just reported on their expedition to the American Alpine Club. These might not be the hardest routes in Canada, but the young climbers showed a real sense of adventure in a difficult arctic environment.


A Cutting Edge Grant helped fund the expedition. The films of Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll gave them the idea to start searching for objectives on Baffin Island. For digital natives like them, it was funny that they chose their goal based on a landscape painting by the late Canadian artist Cory Trepanier. It showed the granite cliffs surrounding the Coronation Glacier.

A glacier covers sea water in a fjord, with rock walls on both sides.

Great Glacier by Cory Trepanier, depicting Coronation Glacier. Photo: Cory Trepanier


The team used kayaks to bring their gear to the glacier, although they had to find a suitable launching point because the sea ice was thicker than usual this season.

“It was the first crux of the trip,” the climbers admitted.

Once on the glacier, they made several trips hauling gear to their base camp, set at the point where the glacier bifurcates.

location of the BC marked with a triangle, on a glacier terminating in the sea.

The approximate location of the team’s base camp on Baffin Island’s Coronation Glacier. Photo: Google Maps


After some days of looking for routes on the granite faces, the climbers split into two pairs with different goals. The first route, close to base camp, was an 800m, 20-hour climb. Besen and Klemmensen slept on the summit and returned to camp the following day. They graded the climb as V 5.10 and named it Salami Exchange Commission because of all the salami they ate as fuel during those weeks.

Salami-fueled firsts

This was Klemmensen’s first experience opening a line.

“By today’s standards, I don’t expect our route to turn any heads, but damn, I’m proud of it,” he wrote. “This route was probably the single most meaningful climbing experience of my life, but it’s hard to find the words without babbling clichés. So I have chosen instead to write about salami because that’s a lot easier.”

Meanwhile, Biner and Bischke opened The Big G (350m, III 5.8 ), further up the glacier. Here, the climbers said, the rock was not so chossy.

After waiting out a week of rain, they went for a second round. Besen and Klemmensen opened Escape from Azkaban, a 650m route (IV 5.10+). Despite looking difficult, it provided “the best alpine rock ever” Besen told the AAJ.

“Escape from Azkaban looked heinous,” he said. “Blocky rocks and blank faces…but once up closer, perfect splitter cracks formed the route.”

They encountered the greatest difficulties they descended along a side glacier with a river running along it. They had to make their way back to Coronation Glacier around the river and over a boulder field with water running beneath it. Said Klemmensen:

We had no choice but to spend several hours detouring back uphill and around the obstacle, through treacherous terrain…By the time we reached the Coronation Glacier the next morning, our souls had been completely drained. With several hours of walking still between us and our base camp, we decided to call it a day there…right in the middle of the Coronation Glacier! As the saying goes, it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun!

All four climbed the final route together. A pond of blue water between the glacier and the rock face forced some ingenuity. Besen had brought his dry suit. Anchored with ice screws, Besen crossed the moat and installed a Tyrolean traverse for everyone.

From that point, the route took all day to climb. The team descended at night — likely twilight in the arctic summer — and managed a similar amphibious operation to return to the glacier. They named the route Raise the Drawbridge! (400m, grade III, 5.10)

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.