National Geographic : 1999 Jan
Gleaming in pale northern light, the mist-wreathed upper reaches of Great Sail Peak (right) offer Greg Child only the narrowest seam in which to insert pitons and hang rope lad ders. His helmet protected him from rock and ice chunks during hours of tense climbing. "You have to be real delicate up here," he says. By GREG CHILD Photographs by GORDON WILTSIE USHUA ILLAUQ slid his hunting rifle onto the sled and yanked the starter cord of his battered black snowmo bile. The aging machine sputtered in the frigid air, then roared to life. Soon all five of our snowmobiles were revving, and Jushua's sled dogs were howling from their nearby pens, pleading, it seemed to me, to join our journey across the ice toward the fjords of Baffin Island's east coast. Jushua, like other Inuit in Clyde River, a hardscrabble vil lage in Canada's far north, is a masterful hunter. He has lived for more than four decades on this rugged coastline. Yet this time he was traveling into less familiar country, hauling our team of climbers to the hidden Stewart Valley on a spur of land the maps ominously label Remote Peninsula. For the Inuit the Stewart Valley is mostly a rocky wasteland, barren of game such as seal and caribou and blocked at both ends by boulder-strewn glaciers. But for climbers, who stalk a different quarry, the hunting is excellent. On a flight to find new climbing targets a month earlier, members of our team had peered down at cliffs as sheer and tall as anything in California's Yosemite Valley. Only a handful of places have such giant walls: the Karakoram Range in Pakistan, Argentina's Patagonia, southern Greenland, Queen Maud Land in Antarctica, and Baffin Island, where ages ago glaciers gouged canyons through some of the hardest bedrock on the planet.