Barbeau Peak - Trip Report - Part 7Click here to go to the Peak Page for Barbeau Peak
Monday, June 22:
Today was the day we had all been dreading--our first day of moving our loads across dry tundra instead of the ice cap, where skis and sleds made things easier. We all took our time packing up, lashing all our gear to our packs, and we were all appalled at the dead weight we were humping. Tony, Pete, Dave, and I had not done much sled hauling, so we were more used to it, but the addition of skis and showshoes to our packs was no help. Dan lashed his and Jack's sleds to his pack, and Bill somehow crammed or tied his stuff into one misshapen load. Tom decided to continue hauling his sled, and we thought he was nuts, but he set off up across the talus and tundra and it seemed to go OK.
|Hiking across the tundra towards the Air Force Valley.|
It was a cloudy, overcast day, with high winds, so at least we could carry our loads without sweating too much. Our route was along the stream we had followed yesterday, but in the opposite direction, west and then southwest. We also paralleled the ice cliff of the Air Force glacier, just as imposing this direction as it had been yesterday. However, the easiest going seemed to be up high, across huge talus fields, and we slogged along. Tony, Dave, and I were usually in the vanguard, and Dan would have been except that he and his father found that hiking in rented plastic Scarpa telemark boots gave them huge blisters. Tom chugged right along, dragging his sled as he traversed steep rock fields, and Pete and Bill usually hung back. Still, we generally stayed together well.
The terrain got pretty rough for a while, but soon the glacier below us started getting smaller. We crossed a small, steep ravine with a brook flowing through it, and then started to angle downhill on steep rocky slopes towards the deep canyon between our rocky slope and the glacier ice cliff opposite. We were really glad we had exited the glacier where we did--for several miles in either direction from our exit point, a hundred foot ice cliff plunging into a rushing stream marked the edge of the glacier.
We all had lunch at a nice bench area overlooking the ice/rock canyon--it was my turn to supply it, and my freeze-dried pineapple was a big hit with Pete and Tony. It was cold and windy, and we could see black wisps of rain coming down from the dark clouds ahead. Ellesmere Island is a polar desert, getting as little as 4 inches of rain in a year, but it seemed like we were witnessing one of the rare rain storms. We were glad we were not up on the icecap right now--looking back, it seemed pretty stormy.
Another chore we did at our rest area was to take stock of our fuel supply, and it turned out we had over twice as much white gas as we needed for the rest of our trip. Finding meltwater streams at our last glacier camp had helped, and our stoves were more efficient than we thought. So it was decided to dump and/or burn off our extra gas to save weight. I protested a bit, but Dan, who considered himself an ardent environmentalist, said that if we dumped it out on rocks it would evaporate and do no harm, especially in such a remote area. Dave burned some of his gas, but we decided against doing that again because of burn marks on the rocks.
From our rest area we angled downhill, and soon we could see the toe of the glacier, and the broad, grassy valley below where it terminated. Our next rest was in view of the valley, where the others had their lunch, and we watched more rain up ahead. Tony, Dave, Pete, and I, having already eaten our lunch, set off well ahead of the others--Pete lagged behind, but the other three of us were soon down on the valley floor, almost at sea level. We were on the left (east) edge of the wide Air Force Valley, and the many broad, braided streams on the valley floor would keep us on this side for the next few days.
Almost immediately after reaching the valley floor there was a small glacier flowing down from the right nosing its snout just barely to the valley floor, and it at first looked like it's sheer ice cliffs might reach to one of the wide streams on the valley floor. When Tony, Dave, and I reached this area we happily discovered that the glacier's moraine of rocks and dirt provided a dry and easy path below the ice cliff and above the nearby stream. The many streams running off of the glacier were all very small and we could easily jump over them, and we suspected that there might be a bigger stream that flowed out under the moraine.
Once beyond this obstacle we started to look for a camping spot--we had been going for a while, and it looked like it might rain on us soon. We futzed about for a bit, and finally I discovered some very pleasant areas of grass and dried mud, right by a stream bank, not far beyond the toe of the small glacier. We happily threw our packs down, interested by the hollow thumps these areas made as we walked on them. We had been hiking from 10:30 to 3:30 this day. Soon our whole party was there, and we set up our tents to rest a bit as it started to rain lightly.
We all rested inside our tents for about an hour and napped as it rained quite a bit, but by evening it was clearing and we all did the usual cooking, hanging out, socializing, and fetching of water.
Tuesday, June 23:
Today our party moved four miles down the Air Force Valley. Once away from the glaciers and the many streams they provide, the terrain got very dry and dusty, and the midday sun was hot--I felt like I was in the Sahara at times. Also, we still had not seen any wildlife--except for Dave having seen one Arctic hare on his solo hike a few days earlier, none of us had seen any mammals. Birds were everywhere, and we saw tons of hoof and paw prints from musk ox, caribou, and wolf, plus skeletons and droppings, but no actual animals.
Our packs were still heavy, and Bill joined Tom in hauling his sled across the tundra. The terrain here was much more suited to it than the rocks of yesterday, but I kind of wondered about the environmental impact--they were making some pretty bad tracks across the dirt, mud and grass. However, our boots were probably doing the same or worse.
|A side glacier in the Air Force Valley, with it's terminal moraine showing its former extent.|
Our big landmark of the day was another small glacier that came down towards the valley from the right, but this one's snout was well above the valley floor. It's outflow streams formed a wide, rocky delta which we had to cross, and once again Tony, Dave and I were in the vanguard. Dave crossed the delta and its many streams high, while Tony and I stayed low, but beyond the delta the terrain was bleak and waterless--we could see no campsites. Dave hailed us, though, and told us of a nice flat, non-rocky area he had seen above right near a stream, just "5 minutes" away. So Tony and I followed him for fifteen minutes of strenuous uphill, and finally found his place--it was actually pretty nice. We waved the trailing five members of our party over, and soon we were camped yet again.
At this point in the trip I think we started to get a little weary. The terrain, although spectacular, was now kind of passe, and we were all tired, dusty, and sick of hauling our heavy packs. And we all realized that we had another four days before the plane picked us up, and another full week before we got home. We had climbed our peak, done our skiing, exited the glacier, checked out the tundra, and now we didn't relish another four days of dusty hiking.
We took naps after camping, and in the evening Dave and I hiked uphill for forty minutes to the toe of the glacier above us. We took pictures of each other touching the icy wall, and I got a little wet when the wind changed while standing there and water from one of the many meltwater cascades got on me. The many streams rushing down the talus beneath the glacier were on a bed of rocks that had been fragmented into many long strands, like bundles of popsicle sticks that had come apart. Tony was roaming around the area, too, and I scampered up a little ridge nearby that he was on. Tony, Dave, and I clearly had the most energy of the group the past few days--Jack and Dan were still hobbled by blisters from their boots, and the others content to rest at camp.
In the evening we all hung out some more, and I joined yet another long bull session with my American compatriots after cooking for Tony, Pete, and myself. It was another sunny night, and the rain and clouds of yesterday were now gone.
Wednesday, June 24:
I made breakfast this morning, which was a rather disastrous attempt to make pancakes--I had terrible trouble with the batter sticking to the pan. We all packed up, and I was the last to leave the camp area, since I stayed back to take care of some personal business. In general, Tony, Pete and I did not bring enough food, and the three of us were losing weight, getting a little tired, and my digestive tract had slowed down. Our meals were getting smaller and smaller, too, since we had used up our big and heavy meals early on to get their weight out of our packs.
I finally set off, way behind the others, and it took me a couple hours to catch up. The terrain for today in the lower Air Force valley was particularly bleak, dry, and barren, and I was low on energy with my heavy pack as I traversed the dry mud flats, rocky plains, and occasional grassy bogs. When the sun was out, it was really hot, and I really dragged, but by late morning it became overcast, which I preferred.
I finally caught up to the widely dispersed trekkers in front of me, and I followed the route of Jack, Dan, and Tom along the river instead of cutting over a rocky area inland a bit. Tom's tell-tale sled tracks in the mud soon led up to a low col, and then I could see that there was a large area of jumbled rocks to cross, and a couple fairly substantial streams to leap in the middle of it all. The group was assembling at a little platform at the far end of this area, near a trash barrel, the first human artifact we had seen on the ground in a while. I arrived there very tired and thirsty, and just ahead of Pete and Bill, who had taken the inland route.
Here we all stopped and had our overdue lunch--Tony produced some Chambert cheese he had been hoarding, but a third of that plus yet another slice of his seemingly endless supply of fruitcake "logan bread" was all the lunch we got. We wondered if the trash barrel here was the "survival cache" on our maps, but we were not sure.
After our rest we set off, traversing across some grassy tundra for a short stretch to the day's major obstacle, the Rollrock River. Like most rivers on Ellesmere, it was a huge, wide area of tons of rocks, broken by innumerable braided streams. Tony, Dave, and I, ahead again, started across the half-mile wide rock zone after descending a sandy bank, and at first all we encountered was small brooks that we could easily hop across. We were almost across, to the sandy bank marking the edge of the river channel, and we were beginning to think that maybe the fearsome Rollrock had braided itself into insignificance.
However, right up against the far sandy bank, we came to the main channel, a cold, rushing torrent of water made gray by the glacial rock flour it carried. Tony, as usual, waded right across, but Dave and I futzed about--I had trouble finding my neoprene socks in my pack, and wound up unpacking the whole thing before double checking my outside rear pocket. The water was up to my lower thighs, and very cold, with two main channels to cross, but presented no real problems. We all made it across without incident.
Once across, we all scampered up the sandy bank on the other side to a pleasant, wide, grassy plain, where we dumped our packs and set up camp. It was a pleasant spot, on nice soft grass, and right near the rushing water of the stream (which, like most of the water we got on our trip, was kind of silty or full or rock flour). However, as we soon discovered when we individually went out to explore the area, the grass not too far from our tents was actually a rice-paddy like bog, and our site was plagued by mosquitoes. Poor Dave seemed to attract them the most, but I and some others were largely immune.
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