A chilling climb

Juris Graney
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‘What we are doing could kill you,' Americans acknowledge after scaling iceberg off Northern Peninsula

One of the many dangers of the mission was getting onto the iceberg without damaging the boat or climbers. Case in point was this moment, when Don Warqowsky came within inches of having his leg crushed. Pictured are boat driver Godfrey Parsons, Tom Prigg and Aaron Stout. — Photo by Juris Graney/The Northern Pen

Hay Cove — They knew the risks but they did it anyway.

Seven years of planning and research culminated in a spectacle of epic proportions May 11 when four men ascended a 50-foot pinnacle of an iceberg off the Northern Peninsula coast.

In doing so, the experienced rock climbers — who hail from Pittsburgh, Pa. — joined an elite club of adventure seekers who have conquered a floating monolith.

Several members of the group climbed the frozen giants during a visit to the area last year, but this time they returned to document the event in its entirety.

“That’s it,” climber Don Warqowsky said as he toweled off inside a Hay Cove fishing store.

“I never have to climb another iceberg again.”

His vow of future abstinence was shared by climbers Tom Prigg, Eliot George and Aaron Stout, who all said they have nothing left to prove.

“One’s enough,” George said.

The relief was visible in their eyes and, more importantly, in their grins, which were noticeably absent in the lead-up to the climb. That’s because not long after the sun rose, the wind did too, which threatened to spoil their quest.

The slowly twisting iceberg had been off Hay Cove since May 10 and even though it was only a two-mile journey out into the Atlantic, the light nor’easter tickling the whitecaps was turning blustery.

A 10 a.m. reconnaissance mission with fisherman Godfrey Parsons from St. Lunaire-Griquet yielded video footage and a mixed weather report.

The lee side of the berg was protected from the wind but the swell was starting to grow, making disembarking from the fishing punt risky for the climbers and the vessel itself.

Reports of another iceberg around Cape Onion tempted them, but the deteriorating weather was predicted for the whole week.

A quick check of the midday forecast propelled everyone into action.

“It’s do or die,” Parsons said. “If you want to go, we go now.”

The group of seven seized their window of opportunity.

“Let’s go and do something dumb,” joked Prigg as he bound down the wharf towards his fellow climbers and Parsons’ readied boat.

They headed out, followed by documentary filmmaker Kelleigh Miller, and Sarah George and Erin Cassese who were in a boat captained by Shane Hedderson.

See LOOKING, page A2

For more than an hour, the climbers scaled the unscalable.

Crampons sent flakes of ice flying and $300-ice axes sent large slabs plummeting into the freezing, black Atlantic.

The adrenalin-laced journey had a sombre undertone, though; the group scattered the cremated ashes of a fellow rock climber who died recently before Warqowsky signalled the end of the adventure by leaping from an outcrop into the water and swimming for the boat — and warmth.

For Stout, the adventure wasn’t about being reckless or dangerous.

“I’ve thought about why (iceberg climbing) a lot and I don’t have a complete answer yet,” he said.

“But I think what climbers tend to look for isn’t something necessarily bigger and better, but instead, something unique.

“The thing about icebergs is that they are thousands of years old but they are moving. They won’t be here tomorrow or next week. They won’t ever be here again. We are going to be the only people to touch this climb and for me, that’s what it’s all about.  

“Climbing helps remind me that I’m alive.”

They were well aware of the perils.

“We made it perfectly clear to everyone who came on this trip that what we are doing could kill you,” Prigg said.

“We know the dangers, and as much as we work towards harm and risk minimization, you are still at the mercy of nature, the elements and the iceberg.”


The Northern Pen


Geographic location: Northern Peninsula, Pittsburgh, Pa., Cape Onion

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Recent comments

  • Kevin Chartier
    May 17, 2011 - 16:41

    Thanks for inspiring the rest of the real men in the world - the ones who aren't too scared to follow their hearts and their adventurous spirits! The ones who complain about their tax dollars and safety should think about the things in life they really want(ed) to do and stop being too scared to go out and do them instead of attempting to deflate the adventures of others that they secretly wish were their own!

  • Juris
    May 17, 2011 - 11:02

    @BelindaW -- You'll be glad to know that I have put up a slideshow of images on the Northern Pen's website. You can find them at http://www.northernpen.ca/Slideshow/4360/Iceberg-climbers-ascend-Northern-Peninsula-giant/1

  • Tom Prigg
    May 16, 2011 - 21:29

    I thought I would add a comment to give you a point of view of one of the climbers. None of us expected to be rescued or would have been rescued by any agency that used tax dollars. There isn't a coast guard in the harbor waiting for us to meet our demise. My family, especially my 17 year old daughter, understands that this is me and something I need to do. If I don't, I am depressed and miserable. It is just my personality type. Of course we care about our families and take them into consideration. This is why we all have spoken with our families about these trips in the past. They understand, more than the average person, that this is something that we have to do to enjoy life. Yes, we could go into the biology of why people are like us, but why bother, why not accept that without people who are willing to take chances that we as a whole do not advance. There are no business ventures, exploration through the alps, or daredevils to go to outer space. I hope that you don't take my post wrong and see a somewhat different angle. -Tom

  • Shane
    May 16, 2011 - 21:23

    Glad to see people out there who still try to follow their dreams, who do something unique with their lives. Climb on!

  • BelindaW
    May 16, 2011 - 20:58

    You should have posted the pictures online that accompanied this story in the print edition of today's paper. They would have had a chance to go viral. Super cool content. I never really see anyone "share" links to The Telegram on Facebook or Twitter. You should totally rethink your web strategy.

  • speedy
    May 16, 2011 - 18:55

    Congratulations guys, glad you all made it and managed to stay safe.

  • Blackened
    May 16, 2011 - 18:12

    This is extremely dangerous. Any fisherman will tell you that you never get too close to icebergs as they can can roll.

  • anonymous
    May 16, 2011 - 10:56

    I have no problem with these fools risking their lives, but when people like this, especially foreigners who don't pay Canadian taxes, end up having to be rescued they should be billed every single red penny for the rescue operation.

    • David
      May 16, 2011 - 14:00

      I would only add that they should have to also pay an "Idiot Security Deposit" in advance...it's far more likely to get paid, plus it would likely weed out the real "jewels" before they ever set foot here.

    • Sherrie
      May 16, 2011 - 14:50

      Totally agree..

  • metrolady
    May 16, 2011 - 09:57

    bound down the wharf? Would that not be 'bounded'? Crazy bunch on a pointless escapade. Poor role models as well to do such a thing. What is worth the risk of life? Its like suicide - familes are the ones left to suffer. Thankfulyy this was a failed suicide attempt.

  • BR
    May 16, 2011 - 08:34

    Climbers are like hockey goalies, a different breed. Congratulations boys. You did what a lot of us probably thought about but don't have the nerve. You're right, one is enough. Where's the video ??????