‘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.
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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