Weekend Warm-Up: Climbing Beluga

In 2014, four Canadians — Paul McSorley, Joshua Lavigne, Crosby Johnston and Tony Richardson — travelled to remote Baffin Island to attempt a first ascent of the north face of Beluga Spire.

The idea came to them when they skied Walker Arm — an offshoot of Sam Ford Fiord, home to the highest cliffs in the world — and they saw the 1,300m wall every day from their camp. They wondered why it had never been climbed and eventually they decided to take on the challenge themselves.


Photo: Paul McSorley


They arrived in the village of Clyde River in late July. They chose to deal with the open water and warmer temperatures of summer than late spring, when the weather is colder but the ocean is still conveniently frozen and the wall can be reached by snowmobile.

The group boat into precipitous Sam Ford Fjord. Photo: Joshua Lavigne


Over the next few days, they made two attempts to reach the Broad Peak Glacier where they would leave their guide and attempt Beluga Spire. The 160km boat ride takes six hours in good weather, but with wind and shifting pack ice, it eventually required nearly 12 hours to make it into the Sam Ford Fjord.

“When we rounded Baffin Bay into Sam Ford Fjord, the sight was flabbergasting,” said Paul McSorely. “Wall after giant wall shot out of the sea like a hundred Yosemites sardined into one place.”

The route. Photo: Joshua Lavigne


Over the next two days, they made their hard-earned first ascent. They christened the 1,100m route Harpoon and rated it VI 5.12 A1. Two of the 29 pitches required short sections of aid.