The photograph of Mt. Turnweather grabbed Barry Nelson the moment he saw it: black and gray shadows on a 6,050-foot spire of rock carved by glaciers and scoured by 100-m.p.h. Arctic storms.
Nelson, 24, of Vienna, immediately began organizing what next month will become a six-man expedition to the far reached of Eastern Canada. "I bought this book (Big Wall Climbing," by Dough Scott) in January. We wanted to go on an expedition and then this picture started it. Wham!"
Ken Hunter, 24, of Falls Church and Stan Grossman, 23, of Vienna, nodded agreement. the other three members are Larry Davis of Great Cacapon, W. Va., Frank Gordon of Wintergreen, Va., and Ray Smutek of Renton, Wash.
"Most of these mountains were formed by glaciers," Nelson said. "Imagine a dome of pink granite, sliced in half. The south side is rounded, while the northern side is a serious climb. The route that we're taking has it all. Up 2,000 feet of ice, another 3,000 along the granite ridge, and then straight up the summit spire."
Mt. Turnweather is located on Baffin Island, within Shouting distance of the Arctic Circle and hundreds of miles from anything but the smallest Innuit eskimo village.
What maps there are spilled from Nelson's file folder, which had burst that afternoon under the weight of paper the plan has generated.
"I've never put together an expedition of this nature before," said Nelson, co-owner of a mountaineering school in Wintergreen, Va. "It's almost like climbing two mountains, one of them paper. Over 150 letters. I expected paperwork, but not this much; you wonder whether everything will come together."
"I don't worry about it," Grossman said. "It'll happen . . . I worry most about the climb. I worry about an injury. Making the wrong decision can be costly, either in time or people."
"We've gone through everything that's ever been written," Hunter said. "Turnweather has only been climbed once, along a ridge on the western side. Technical information on this area is minimal because there's been so little work done there. The people who have been there have no interest in doing, say, a guide book that would make it accessible. It's pretty remote."
In fact, it is north of nowhere. The expedition will fly from Washington to Montreal in a big plane, from Montreal to Frobisher Bay in a smaller plane and from Frobisher by bush plane to the eskimo village of Panfrirtung on Baffin Bay. Then they cross Pangrirtung fjord by whaleboat and canoe to Baffin Island.
The hike inland will be 10 to 20 miles across what would normally be frozen tubdra. Only in August it's knee-to-waist-deep muck. Hurrying the climbers along will be hordes of mosquitos and black flies.
"It's a series of tradeoffs," Hunter said. "We decided to go that late in the season for a number of reasons. We expect to arrive around the first good hard freeze of the winter, which should kill off all but the hardiest of the insect life. Rockfall is something else to consider. When temperatures start warning up, ice melts and the water melting and refreezing at night forces the rock away. Rocks starts coming down. That should also be pretty much over by August. The north face that we're climbing is away from the sun so there'll be fairly constant temperatures around freezing each day."
The tundra trek ends along the Weasel River, where the party will climb a glacial tongue of the Penny Ice Cap to establish the first of three base camps.The second will be six miles up the glacier at the foot of The Guardians, a mountain beside Mt. Turnweather.
Camp III will be 2,000 feet up on Turnweather, above a couloir, or ice gulley. That site, as well as the placement of Camp II, was selected because of a shadow on the photograph that suggests an avalanche track. From there it's 4,000 vertical feet of rock, requiring a different set of climbing equipment that must be hauled up over the ice.
To avoid rockfall or rotten ice, the party will begin climbing each day at 4 a.m., no problem because "the sun doesn't really set," Hunter said, "it's more like twilight. The sun hangs on the horizon dor 20 hours and just dips below it for the other four."
The climbers are equally divided between big and small men. Who will lead or follow will depend on whether power or agility is needed at he moment.
"Big guys are said to be better on ice," Nelson said. "More efficiency, less moves. But on a sustained climb it's mostly technique and balance."
Their experience complements each other. "It's a group of guys who know each other and can do it together," said Nelson. "It's got a lot of appeal because it's a small espedition. It's got everything - good ice, beautiful granite and a summit spire. The scope of the mountains and the route we're taking make it a serious climb."
The cost of the two-week expedition will be around $16,000. The climb itself is expected to take four days, if all goes well, which it can be expected not to do. Catabolic storms, fierce and sudden, periodically sweep the Artic region.
"Greenland, that massive piece of ice, sits right up there, building pressure," Grossman said. "It just blows the bottom out of the barometer."
"They fo have some outrageous storms," Hunter said. "Winds that come up from nowhere and smash boats against the shore."
But even before they find out whether they can master Mt. Turnweather, the team members are looking beyond.
"We don't have a picture of the mountain next to Turnweather, you know," Nelson said "It could be really fantastic."