By Katie Hansen
Alternate Team Member
May 15 – April 14 a team of 20 BASE jumpers plus a photographer traveled to Sam Ford Fjord on Baffin Island to discover new exit points to jump from, as well as leap off old favorites. Baffin Island is located in northeast Canada up in the Arctic – the same island where the BASE jump off Mt. Asgard was filmed for the James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Me.
The team met in Ottawa then flew north to Iqaluit, boarded a smaller plane and flew into the small town of Clyde River, population 800. We stayed the night in town camped out on the baseball field where kids were excited to take us sledding, ask us questions, and play tag. In the morning we loaded up our big 12 foot sleds the Inuits call “Qamituks” with our gear, piled in, and were taken by a fleet of snowmobiles north into the fjord. Seven bumpy hours later we set up our tents in 30mph wind to establish our base camp.
With camp set, let the jumping begin! Our first jump was off Kiguti, a 3000’ overhanging cliff that camp was set up near. We hiked up a gulley and across a ridge to the exit point in about 3.5hrs kicking steps into the snow the whole way. I made my first wingsuit BASE jump! Flying the Team Ill Vision colors in Jhonny’s (“Medusa”) suit, I had a beautiful first flight. Camp made an awesome reference for scale to judge how high I was since depth perception is a challenge over the frozen sea ice below. Unfortunately, it didn’t help with my first snow landing in awhile. I ended up doing a home-run style slide and put my crampon through the back of my (Jhonny’s) leg wing…sorry Jhonny… It was nothing a little rip-stop tape couldn’t temporarily fix.
With the wing repaired and a string of good weather, we set out each day with different groups of teammates to different exit points all over the fjord. We jumped the Chinese Wall, one of the widest big walls in the world, towering over the fjord at 5000’ with a clear view out to the frozen Atlantic. It was cold and windy on top of this particular exit, making for a stressful gear up. Putting on crampons and stowing ice axes, hiking gloves, radios, stash bags, layers of clothing while sweat dries and fiddling with camera gear with numb fingers, James’ nose dripped onto the metal friction bar of his leg strap which froze instantly. With the friction bar iced over with snot, there was no longer any friction and James had to punch it and beat it to break the ice off, with us laughing while he punched himself. Everyone had awesome flights. I did a sweet 2-way with Douggs, flying left along the wall with Douggs below me.
Overall, we were camped on the sea ice for 28 days, half of which were jumpable. Of the 14 jumps I did, all of them were amazing. I would half to say three of the top jumps though, were Walker Citadel, The Citadel of The Sail Peaks, and Vertical Playground.
Walker Citadel was a 4 hour hike straight up a steep couloir. As we emerged out of the narrow passage, we were rewarded by the breathtaking view from the top overlooking the fjord. Constant antics of Jim Mitchell, Douggs, Livia Dickie, Cato, Ted Rudd, all while trying to follow the crazy Frenchman, Rudy, made the hike fly by. The exit was in the back of a huge bowl over a snowfield thousands of feet below. We flew out over the bowl and made it out between two enormous pillars of rock, then carved around the wall on the left, flying even farther. Livia and Ted Redd went to a different exit point and jumped the main wall of Walker Citadel, opening a new exit point that had never been done before. Livia had a beautiful and long flight, carving back and forth along the wall, and Ted did one of the most impressive tracking jumps (a jump with no wingsuit) that I have ever seen. He was proximity tracking along the ridges! Ted, you are my hero.
The other citadel we jumped was The Citadel, one of the Sail Peaks of Stewart Valley. Ben Mitchell, James MacDonald, Livia Dickie, Rich Webb, Rudy, myself, and our photographer, Krystal Wright, loaded up two Qamituks and set out with the help of our two Inuit guides to leave the fjord and pass into Stewart Valley. Snow conditions were better suited for traveling at night, so with our 24hrs of daylight, we headed out in the evening to face a pass full of rocks and boulders guarding our way. Our guides were able to pick their way through the pass with us in tow, except for one stretch that was just too treacherous. We unloaded from the sleds and using teamwork were able to push the sled over the rock field. After arriving at our destination and setting up camp, we finally crashed around 4:00AM. We slept in and started hiking around 2PM the next day. Judging by the topo map, and with Ben being an IFMGA mountain guide, we decided the best looking way up to the top was up the glacier. The route was growing increasingly windy to avoid crevasses until finally Ben and James said to stay put while they scouted out the best way to proceed. Ben’s exact words were, “This is getting borderline retarded!” So we took his word for it, got off the sketchy glacier of doom, and headed straight up the scree and rocks for the next few thousand feet to the top. It was definitely the direct route.
After an hour of 6.5 second rock drops with a “good push,” aka hucking the rock as hard as we could…we finally found what we were looking for; a 20 second rock drop with a beautiful, easy access exit point directly in line with camp – perfect. We named the exit point, “Qamituk Push” in honor of our epic journey into the valley. James jumped first, tracking, followed by me in my wingsuit, then Ben in his, Rich, and Liv and Rudy did a 2-way bringing up the rear. Everyone had nice long flights over the biggest talus I have ever seen. After we landed, we warmed up, ate some delicious bag food, and broke down camp. Shortly after, Krystal arrived from hiking back down (staying off the glacier) and we did the epic journey back that night, stopping only for a little 3AM bouldering session on one of the rocks guarding our way.
After some rest and a few other jumps, Livia, Wildman, Randy, Jay Moledski, Ben, Cato and I headed up to an exit point called Vertical Playground. It was across the fjord from our main camp, spotting originally from one of the boys while he was relieving himself on the pee ice-sculpture they had made. Every group that had jumped it came back saying it was the best jump in Baffin. 4900 feet and 4.5hrs later after looking over the edge, I could see why it was named Vertical Playground. There were so many potential lines to fly! Ridges and gullies… we had perfect weather; sunshine and no wind. I exited off the diving board rock outcropping, got flying and headed hard right. I dove down steep and mobbed through a gully between the cliff and a ridge. I shot out of the gulley and banked left around the front of the main cliff face then turned right to get away from the wall and fly out over the ice for a safe deployment. So far, this has been my favorite exit point I can recall to date. It blew my mind…
Between the quality of the BASE jumps, the majesty of the fjord, and an awesome crew of jumpers, the Baffin 2010 BASE jumping expedition, lead by Collin Scott, was the best expedition I have ever been on. I can’t wait to go back with the rest of the Ill Vision playas…