By Pat Goodman
The de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane slowly spiraled downward, aiming for the tiny, emerald-green lake. The changeover from spruce trees to glacial ice formed a contrasting line between a harsh forested wilderness and the large, rugged mountain-scape the Territories are known for. On touchdown a small but unmistakable message, assembled from duct-tape and sleeping bag insulation, became visible on the shoreline, reading “HELP.”
Brad Jackson, Nan Darkis and I had traveled from Colorado to visit the remote Vampire Peaks in Canada’s North West Territories. We were inspired by a 1998 Climbing Magazine article which presented amazing images and promised loads of new free route potential on 1,000’ – 2,500’ granite walls. It was early-August, 1999. Our pilot, Warren LaFave, owner of Kluane Airways, had assured us our team was only the fourth he had brought here, but the third, he had dropped off just two and a half weeks prior – they were still in the Vamps and he had not heard a peep from them.
[Pat Goodman on the approach to the Vampire Spires, Northwest Territories, Canada. PHOTO: James Q Martin]
[You can only go up from here. PHOTO: James Q Martin]
Debris was strewn along for a hundred feet in either direction from our tie up on shore; bits and pieces of camping supplies littered the otherwise serene assembly of dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses and lichens of the alpine tundra. The group before us had foolishly left their gear cache unattended and unprotected. We spent an hour visiting with the two distraught climbers before Warren rescued them from their misfortune. We listened as they told us about spending the last eight days scavenging the remnants for sustenance and looking for the radio that went missing after the incursion: This grizzly attack set the tone for my first few moments in the Vampire Peaks.
I’m obsessed with the Vampires. Even after more than a decade of trips into this wild land, I’m still planning out potential adventure and first ascents there.
I’m obsessed with the Vampires. Even after more than a decade of trips into this wild land, I’m still planning out potential adventures and first ascents there. For me this collection of boulders, walls and jagged peaks has become my sanctuary, my own secret alpine climbing haven accessible without the hassle of international flights. It’s remote and free from the carnival of hype and crowding.
[Jeff Achey takes the lead high up on the wall. PHOTO: James Q Martin]
[Jeff Achey, Jeremy Collins and Pat Goodman look on from a comfortable little ledge. PHOTO: James Q Martin]
[Pat Goodman places bomber nuts in bomber granite. PHOTO: James Q Martin]
I do not know the origination of the name Vampire Peaks, but to me, that name alone sparks an enigmatic mythos when I think of it. During the second ascent of Vampire Spire, I had a very distinct ensemble of voices in my head resounding like that of ballroom-chatter for well over fifteen hours. At first I attributed the hallucination to dehydration but became skeptical when both of my companions later spoke of experiencing the same phenomenon during our climb. Nearby features such as Deadmen Valley, Headless Creek, Headless Range and the Funeral Range, also bear testimony to a well noted mysterious characteristic.