I have never been to Ellesmere Island and as some of you will see very few ever have (except of course for Kenzo). I felt it was necessary to add this page to summitpost as it is the highest point in eastern North America and I am more than reasonably sure that none of our members have ever been anywhere near it.
Barbeau Peak is the highest peak east of the Rockies in North America. Barbeau is part of the Grant Land Mountains and is located within the confines of 37 800 square kilometer Ellemere Island National Park Reserve. Ellesmere is far and away Canada's most northerly point and Barbeau is one of our most northely mountains. Located only 800km from the North Pole and a scant 100km from the NW coast of Greenland, Ellesmere goes a long way to re-defining the word remote.
To the Inuit Ellesmere is known as Quttinirpaq which means 'top of the world'... an apt name.
Ellesmere Island is the tenth largest island on earth at 196 000 square kilometers. Icefields on the island date back to the last ice age and measure up to 900m deep. In winters the average temperature is between -35 and -40 (celsius), while in the brief Arctic summer the average daily high is between 8-15.
Barbeau Peak has two distinct summits. It's main summit is the apex of three main ridges and their nearly vertical faces. The northern ridge which is the most common route narrows to a point where one has to straddle the ridge with a foot on either side with precipitous drops of 800 meters on both sides. The route is lined with ice and avalanche debris, and tricky bergshrunds hidden beneath a caking of ice which can cause havoc. There are also a lot of deep crevasses that require some careful manouvering to cross or go around. One ends up climbing about 2000 meters of the peak on an ascent and a roundtrip takes in the neighbourhood of 8-10 days.
When climbing Barbeau it is suggested that you rope up as medical evacuations cost upwards of $15 000 per person... as the nearest hospital is over 1500km distant.
Access to the peak starts at Lake Hazen, the largest freshwater lake in the Arctic. Barbeau lies 35-40km northwest of the lake's eastern tip. Access to the peak once one gets onto the icefields is best accomplished via cross country skis.
Barbeau Peak has only been summitted by seven parties. It was first climbed by Englishman Geoff Hattersley-Smith in 1967, and wasn't climbed again until 1983 by an eight man Canadian team. The logistical difficulties of climbing Barbeau are staggering. Even if you were to go with an outfitter, costs would run between $5-7000. To try and get there on your own requires considerably more capital. The flight from Resolute to Lake Hazen alone costs $2500 per person.
*** Photos were used with permission from Eric Phillips and icetrek.com
Flights to Resolute (located on Cornwalis Island) originate either in Edmonton, Ottawa or Montreal. When you plan the trip come prepared to spend the night in Resolute ($200 per night) as flights rarely depart right away. The flight to Ellesmere is made in a Twin Otter plane. From Resolute to either Tanquery Inlet or Lake Hazen the flight is a five hour endurance test and costs around $2500 per person (depending on how many people are on the flight). The plane holds up to twelve people and their equipment.
At Lake Hazen be prepared to stop at the Warden Station and register with park staff. They will want to know what your time frame is, what kind of equipment and supplies you have and what your final destination is. This is standard procedure in Ellesmere.
From lake Hazen one heads northwest along the shores of the lake until you have to cut across the outwash plain of Henrieetta Smith Glacier... across gravel and scree fields, and boggy moorlands that are reminiscent of Scotland. From there one cuts across the glacier itself heading on a northweterly track until the peak comes into sight.
One must negotiate deep and long crevasses, razor thin ridges and fight the highly variable weather to achieve Barbeau's summit. Fewer people have summitted this peak than K2 and it is not simply because of its remoteness... it is a challenging climb even for experienced mountaineers.
Ellesmere Island has a population of around 600 people, four hundred of which are militray personnle situated at CFB Alert and 200 Inuit. Most of the Inuit live in Grise Fiord on the southern end of the island. The National Park sees around 100 hikers and climbers annually and as previously mentioned only seven teams have ever reached the summit.
Information on the peak is very sparse at best. I will try and add more to the 'getting there' section in the future especially with specific details on how one gest from Lake Hazen to Barbeau.
One must purchase an annual back country user pass for $100 which is good for one year from the date of issue. When you arrive at Lake Hazen it is necessary for you to stop in at the Warden's station and register. The park staff will want to know things like travel routes, your equipment and supplies, what your time frame is and southern contact information.
All campers must have a two way radio. It is TOTAL wilderness on Ellesmere and the nearest help is 100's of kilometers distant. Park staff will want you to keep in regular contact with them, keeping them abreast of how you are faring.
The park has several emergency caches of food, tents, fuel, radios etc... two of which are located at the two main entrance points at Tanquery Inlet and Lake Hazen. These caches are only to be used in the case of a true emergency.
The costs are prohibitive to put it mildly even with an oufitter be prepared to spend and $5000 and without it can easily costs between $7500-15000. Ellesmere Island is as remote as it gets without directly being in the Pole.
For more info. on the park you can contact Nunavut tourism at 1 800 491 7910. To contact park staff via email try [email protected] or you can call 1 867 975 4643 or 1 867 473 8828.
When To Climb
The best time to climb Barbeau Peak is during the brief and furious Arctic summer which is July and August. Daytime highs average between 8-15 (celsius). Teams have also been known to visit during April, though temperatures then average between -25 and -35 so it is a far different undertaking at that time of year. Storms of course are common and are notorious, residents have been bound to their home for ten days at a time duing the most severe of blizzards.
Camping is allowed in the park though it is asked that you try to avoid pockets of vegetation when selecting a site as the plants up in Ellesmere are very fragile. There are no established campgrounds in the park, so you have to simply find your own. It is imperative though that you pack out what you pack in as this is a pristine ecosysytem that is highly sensitive to any changes or disruptions in a way few people ever come to comprehend.
The best way to check for current condtions is through the weather network. Type in www.theweathernetwork.com and you can either check the parks forecast for Ellesmere ISland (or Quttinirpaq) or you can the check the forecast for Alert. The weather network will give you current conditions plus a five day extended forecast.
Park oficials can also give you an idea of what to expect when you are planning to visit and will also know what the forecats for the park is supposed to be. The numbers for this are already provided in the "Red Tape' section.
Whats in a Name?
Barbeau Peak is named after Charles Marius Barbeau, one of the founders of Canadian cultural anthropology. Barbeau made his reputation from his outstanding contributions to the understanding and preservation of both the Quebecois and First Nation's cultural heritage. Barbeau was a dominant figure for over half a century and was responsible for recording much of the early social and cultural traditions of Quebec. The peak was named for him after his death in the 1950's.
Quttinirpaq National Park
The park is Canada's second largest national Park after Wood Buffalo Park which stradddles the NWT- Alberta border. Most of the park is is a Polar desert, it receives about 5cm of precipitation per year which puts it on par with the driest sections of the Sahara. The land is dotted with mountains, steep fjords and deeply cut glacial valleys.
The most unique section of the park is located around Lake Hazen. Lake Hazen is 78km long and is the largest freshwater lake completely north of the Arctic Circle. Lake Hazen is known as a thermal oasis. Even in the dead of winter when temperatures are known to plunge down to -60, the headwaters of the lake never freeze. Lush tundra vegetation is fed by glacial and snow maeltwaters and creates something of an oasis where muskoxen, ermine, Peary Caribou, Arctic wolves and foxes and excessively large Arctic hares congregate. There are also 30 species of birds which can be found around the lake including the ptarmigan and the rare gyrfalcon.
Animals here suffer from what is known as isolation naivete... because they have had little or no contact with humans they are far more curious and far less fearful of humans than most animals traditionally are. It is because of this that visitors are asked to take extra precautionary steps to ensure that they don't disturb the animals of end up being bitten by a wolf or mauled by a bear.
In the summer, ground hugging willows and thick sage grasses carpet the ground as well as other pockets of brilliant wildflowers. The land around the lake comes alive in the summer and it is here that the true beauty of the Arctic unfurls to the lucky visitor. The plants are extremely fragile so it is asked that you try to avoid walking on them as much as possible.
People first came to Ellsemere Island about 4000 years ago from Siberia. The island has a surprisingly rich anthropological and archaeological history. The descendants of these migrants are the Innu and Inuit people who call this island home even today.