Our First Look Around
Saturday, August 7
Early to bed, and early to rise... We are in bed by dusk (9:30pm), and up at 3:30 am. While the North team still had another day before they got to their base camp, we are ready to tackle the mountain.
The weather is clear and still. Good conditions. We split into three teams, one each to climb each of the three south approaches. It is myself, Roland, and Francois on team; we'll climb the eastern-most of the southern ridges. This route eventually leads up to where Sue's harness was found, a very important clue. Jack, Greg and Billie are going to climb the central of the southern ridges, and Mitch, Sue, and John will climb the western-most of the southern ridges, which is the Koroc ridge. The Koroc ridge is of great interest because that is what Dan and Sue had planned to climb, and it is vitally important to examine the Koroc Step and see if there is any climbing gear or other clues of their passing there.
Tom was pretty tired when he got to camp the day before, and Roland had talked to him the night before and suggested that he stay down low for the day and search below the cliffs, to which he agreed.
Ascending main southern valley
At 5am, myself, Roland, and Francois head out. We soon entire a very deep dark glacial valley with a very nice walkable meadow on its right-hand side. We are inspired by the scenery as the sun rises. We hope that we'll get a chance to examine some of the points of interest on our side - namely the location where Susan's harness was found.
First view of Caubvick/D'Iberville
Angling up and to the right, we gain the steep lower part of the ridge we want to climb. The going is slow... large, angular boulders become the order of the day, and hiking over such terrain is slow and tiring, and you must always be careful of dislodging rocks and/or twisting something.
Francois scampers on ahead to film us climbing, soon exiting the shade of the cliffs and heating up in the early morning sun. To our right is a high pass separating us from the next basin. The high pass marks the border between Labrador and Quebec, and, on the Labrador side, the terrain is much more rugged, with bigger walls and with actual glaciers (although not very big). The Quebec side, much as the Quebec Parks commission would prefer not to accept, is gentler and has no active glaciers - just snowfields.
Roland ascending steep boulders
Annotated Mount Caubvick/D'Iberville
At about 4000 foot elevation mark, I hear Parks Canada crackle to life on the radio. We have been expecting them at some point, and so I'd switched the radio to channel 2 (our pre-arranged comms channel with them). They are arriving in the area and commencing their search of the important areas. It is too bad we haven't made it a little higher at this point, because we have come so far to get to this point, and we of course would like to look for ourselves.
Mount Caubvick / Mount D'Iberville
So far, we've located nothing of interest on our ridge. Unfortunately, our radio is fine at receiving but is faulty in transmitting (battery problems - test before you use!!!), so we can hear all of the communications with the other teams and the chopper but they can't hear us. Anyhow, I am determined to try and get up there to where things are happening so I pick up the pace a bit, but Roland, having spent all of his energies in the last 3 months organizing this expedition rather than going on hikes, is running out of steam.
We can see over to the central and Koroc ridges, and see that our other climbing teams are doing well. Mitch and Sue and John are nearing the Koroc step, and will soon be able to tell us if there is any climbing gear still left at the top of the rappel, and anything else that is there. As I am hiking, I watch as the helicopter flits to and fro, first hanging over the summit, then slowly hovering near the Koroc step, looking below the notch. They seem to hang there for an extra long time. I could also see other Parks Canada crew along the upper Minaret ridge, which was the ridge we (Mitch/Sue/John) were climbing.
Investigating at the Koroc Step
Over the radio, Roland gets the news that the chopper has spotted Dan on the ridge near the Koroc step. It is with a mixture of feelings that I receive this news. I'm glad Dan is found, but I'm also a little bit sorry that Mitch, Sue and John, didn't get to there first. On one hand, no one wants to come across someone's remains if they don't have to, but on the other hand, I get the impression that the RCMP didn't want us up here in the first place, and was rushing like mad to get the search team to these spots before we did. And, after nearly one whole year, it had come down to a mere 50 minutes of time difference!?! Strange, indeed.. I suppose, after the whole fiasco of their off-again on-again search plans, that it would probably look bad if a private semi-trained search team found Dan. Which we most certainly would have if they'd arrived just a little later.
A view of the lower Koroc Ridge
Gord Irwin and Parks Canada helicopter
Gord explains situation to Roland
We make it to the lower football field, where Gord Irwin lands in the Chopper, gets out, and introduces himself to us. He is a very genial fellow, and is the leader of the Parks Canada team. He goes over in detail what he knows about things so far regarding Dan's discovery. Apparently he was found right on the crest of the ridge, partially in Labrador and partially in Quebec. He was not right at the base of the Koroc step, but was about 30 feet or so away from the base, between two outcrops of rock, on his stomach, with his legs crossed over. More strangely was the discovery of the climbing rope - not anywhere on the Koroc step, but instead tied around a pillar of rock near Dan and dangling down the cliff on the Quebec side - with their daypack attached at the end. Puzzling. One could not have rapelled with such a setup and still have retrieved the rope - so what was the purpose of that? Had someone fallen and Dan was trying to throw the rope down to help them back up? Or was someone trying to partially downclimb?
Francois collects Roland's thoughts
Roland communicates with team
Gord feels that, despite the discovery of the harness over on the upper football field, which was a kilometer away from the Koroc step, that the most likely spot to search for Susan is below where dan is located. To that end, they plan to search the snowfield at the base of the cliff below dan (on the Quebec side) using the search dog. Gord wants us all to halt at a safe distance from the top of that cirque, so as to minimize the possibility of rockfall onto the searchers, which is a reasonable request (he made this request over the radio before landing).
Attila the Nun
There is an undercurrent of discontent among some in our groups, however. Call it a skepticism about the motives and intent behind the requests in such a situation. If you looked at it one way, it kind of looked like Parks Canada and the RCMP would just have preferred us not to be there at all, like we were just another liability that they had to deal with. The thing is, we'd put a lot of time, effort, and yes, even training, into coming up here and being meaningful contributors. Roland offered our services and they told us to simply stand by and they'd call on us if needed. I remembered back to our Search-and-Rescue training. The instructor was telling us about a situation he was in when bystanders wanted to help out... he said the thing to say was to reassure them, tell them to "stand by, don't interfere, and we'll call on you if needed". Which, of course, really translated to "I'm going to say something to calm you and keep you out of our way". Was Gord and Parks Canada doing the same thing? Hard to say.
The north side is spectacular
Gord does allow us to move to the upper football field, which was where Susan's harness had been found. We have nothing better to do at this point, so we make our way along the rocky ground to that point, collecting Greg and Billy and Jack, who had been told to stop at the top of their ridge earlier. Along the way, I meet the Parks Canada dog handler and search dog, Mike and "Attila the Nun", respectively. What a nice doggie!
I am struck by the grandeur of the scene to the north. Where the south side of the mountain is relatively gentle, to the north it falls away in steep headwalls to glaciers; striking gorges and chasms, and turquoise-colored tarns far below. Away to the north and east hundreds of jagged mountains marched into the distance, with the blue of the Atlantic surprisingly close by. There is even an iceberg off in the distance. Although the glaciers are small by western standards, I am glad to see them. To me, an easterner who longs for mountains and glaciers, they represent the last little toehold of active alpine glaciation on my side of the continent!
Greg and Jack wait under the summit
Another view of the summit
Eventually our team and Jacks' team all make it to the upper football field. We see the spot / cairn where Susan's harness was found, and muse about what could have happened here. From here, we have a good view of the proceedings on the Koroc step. Gord and another Parks Canada guy have been climbing over to the summit and then down the Koroc ridge to the step; They are preparing Dan for extraction. Next, we watch as the helicopter uses its long-line with a basket on the end to take Dan out of the notch and over to the lower football field. It must have been a mix of feelings for Roland to watch his best friend be taken away from the mountain.
Looking down towards Basecamp
Francois films our possible clue
Airlifting Dan out of the notch.
Searching the cirque for Sue
Next, we watch as the helicopter brings the search dog far down to the snows below the Koroc step. The dog is pretty good at scampering up snow slopes! They spend a lot of time at the Rock/Snow interface below where Dan was found, but in the end, they leave without finding anything. Gord lands again near us and tells us that they'll be back to search again in that bowl later, and would like all of our teams to not continue on to the summit.
Again we are a little suspicious, since it is not even clear that they are coming back today, but ultimately we abide by their wishes. They offer us helicopter rides back down to our camp, which all of us except Billy, Gred and Jack accept. They choose instead to hike back down the central ridge, continuing to look for clues of Susan; Our team now feels that it is quite plausible that Sue and Dan may have tried to come up or return down that central ridge. Parks Canada also offers to give us a full debriefing back at the camp.
Searching the L1 Glacier.
Mount Erhart's ridge and Northern Torngats
Looking down to Ice-Blue tarn
It is the first time in a helicopter for me, and I'm looking forward to the ride. Roland asks if we can fly through the Koroc step, which the pilot agrees to, and then we are off. It is a strange sensation to just glide out over the edge of a cliff. Takes a moment where you trust that you aren't about to plunge to your doom, and then its ok. We fly through the Koroc step, and I note how jagged, steep and narrow the thing is. Yikes. Not a fun place to get stuck. In no time, (about 6 minutes, to be precise) we are back at our campsite. What useful things these helicopters are!
Francois captures the helicopter ride
Wayne flies through the notch
An aerial annotated view of Step
Flying to base camp
Back at our camp, after everyone has been ferried back down to camp (except for Billy, Greg and Jack, who are hiking down), Gord and the rest of the Parks team sit down and give us a full debriefing. Gord is very nice, very genial, and describes in great detail what he's found, including a detailed diagram of how the rope was found. I recall feeling better about how everything went. Still, I want someone, anyone to say.... "if we hadn't been here today, you guys would have found Dan for sure". Also, they assure us that we are still allowed to climb and search on the mountain, which some of us had felt they might not allow. The only time they request us not to climb on the upper mountain is when their search dog team is in the cirque below the summit. (which was a reasonable request)
Parks Canada at our base camp
Gord explains rope configuration
Taking Dan and Sue's gear out
Parks Canada chopper leaves for the day
Gord and the Parks Canada team still think Susan is likely somewhere near Dan down the cliff. We postulate about the possibility of Susan being somewhere else, pointing to the location of the harness as a pretty major clue. Gord generally disagrees, and thinks that the harness could have been simply forgotten on the way up, something that she just left behind by accident. I didn't think this very likely myself. We think the north cliffs were a prime search target - in fact, we had supplied Luc with static rope and a rock drill and ascenders for precisely this purpose and for precisely these cliffs.
All in all, quite an eventful day. Gord and the Parks Canada folks nicely agree to ferry most of Dan and Sue's heavy stuff back to the landing strip in the chopper. We made some dinner, relaxed in the late day sun, and enjoyed the breeze that occasionally blew the mosquitoes away.
One-half of the search is over, and now we would turn our attention more fully to locating Sue. Roland is worried about the impact of only having Dan found, and how that might be very difficult for the Barnes family. It is very important to redouble our efforts and continue the search. The plan is to reclimb the peak and examine the spots we weren't allowed to get to yesterday - the step, the summit register, and perhaps to start examining some of the other areas we consider of major interest, like the cliffs in the vicinity of where the harness was found. Parks Canada only had another half-day before other commitments would force them to leave the area. So, they are going to come in early, search in the bowl and perhaps fly around and search the cliffs some more. And then they will be gone, and we will be on our own again.
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Day 2 - Eastern / Lower Minaret Ascent - click map to view
Day 2 - Search up South-east ridge - Climb Data
(Track color: )
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet
Helicopter back to camp - Flight Data
(Track color: )
* : +/- 75 feet
Total Elevation Gain:
Total Elevation Loss:
* : +/- 75 feet