Skiing Lines on Aoraki Mt Cook, NZ

As I peered over the ridge onto the massive Caroline Face of Aoraki / Mt Cook a barrage of snow and ice particles blasted into my face instantly freezing my nose. I ducked back into the shelter of the ridge and retraced my steps to Dave and Beau. It was obvious that today wasn’t the day for skiing a new line on the Caroline Face. We were stood at the top of a feature we dubbed Kingspine that butted onto the East Ridge. Cold bottomless powder awaited us below on the spine, hardly a consolation prize.

A few days before we had flown into the Plateau hut that is situated under the massive faces of Aoraki and Tasman. We stepped out the heli straight into -20C and a deep winter wonderland of bottomless powder. The hut offered shelter from the ferocious wind but not from the cold. Inside it was just above freezing which slowly crept into your bones during a sedentary storm bound day. As we readied to leave the next morning, I had delayed the inevitable final task of squeezing my feet into cold precision fit ski boots. It’s like plunging your feet into iced water and soon they were complaining about their new uncomfortable situation. Fortunately I had Lenz heat socks and after turning up the heat the pain subsided and I stopped worrying about my toes.

That first turn down the Kingspine was almost indescribable, slathering down its side, ultra cold over head blower drawing me into the white room. Cerebral circuits were going haywire with overload of sensory pleasure input. A series of turns followed flipping the spine from one side to the other as sluff poured down each side before going airborne. Midway I paused to let the sluff clear from my exit on the right face while I watched Dave rip the left face skiing gorgeous big turns.. Now it was my time to committ and run in front of the sluff, racing down the right, accelerating towards a choke, glancing over the shoulder to check the white dragon wasn’t catching up, and soaring out into the open slopes below. What an incredible first run in the zone, we were stoked and psyched for more.

A few days rolled by and the wind continued to blow hard but really it was the bottomless unconsolidated powder was the real issue, unclimbable and denying us the pleasure of getting on the big faces. Even on a 108 mm waist touring skis it was boot deep and you could push your pole in up to your shoulder. Dixon was the smallest, easiest and closest mountain to the hut and we made multiple unsuccessful attempts in the short weather windows that came about. One time I skinned over the bergshrund and levitated across the massive accumulation above only for Beau to fall in. On another day I fell in the bergshrund, climbed out and watched Dave fall in before we called it quits. Frustration mounted as a precious weather window was wasted. On my previous trip to NZ I’d made several attempts on Dixon and our high point remained the col before the wind buffeting made the decision to ski down easy. Sometimes its seems like its not your time to do certain routes.

Now it was time for Beau to leave on one of his soul ski missions and we wished him safe travels as he skied the 1000 m Freshfield Glacier en route to the head of the Tasman Glacier. This left us with less manpower for the bootpacks so we chose to use our previous track up Kingspine and ski off the opposite side into the Caroline Face. They say second time’s a charm and although breezy, it was possible to look down and study the face without the barrage of snow and ice stripping any exposed skin off your face. I cautiously sidestepped in over some neve using my ice axe and despite being on the windward side there was good compact powder on the face, perfect for steep skiing. A gorgeous curtain of snow several hundred metres wide hung below leading to the Caroline Glacier far below. In the background lay Lake Pukaki with its inviting the turquoise waters. I couldn’t imagine anywhere better to be right now.

There is always an element of tension, nerves and anxiety that comes with skiing big faces, especially when using a top down onsight style that yields no knowledge of the snow conditions below. None of these human emotions are conducive to an athlete performing at their best, but after we had skied a few turns and confirmed snow consistency, the tension dissipated, the mind and body centred and pure flow followed. One effortless turn followed another and all too soon were straight-ining out onto the Caroline Glacier. The skiing had gone by so quickly and we savoured the feeling from Anzac Peak’s South Col which offered a grandstand view of our line. As we sat out the wind in the warm sun eating a snack, a glorious wave of relaxation and satisfaction swept over me. A moment that will never be forgotten.

Back at the hut there had been some new arrivals, hovever the forecast was severals day of storm and our moral ebbed away with the thought of more long, cold, hut bound days, eating into our rationed provisions simply to alleviate boredom. Suddenly a girl popped her head round the door and said hi before disappearing off to unpack. A few minutes later she returned, but I was mistaken, this was a second girl. Suddenly there were 3 pretty girls there, things were looking up! Joking aside, we just needed people to speak to after a few intense days on our own. Claire, Erica, Suzie and Nick were part of a NZAC skills meet under the tutelage of the amiable and talented Kiwi guide Nick Craddock. In the evenings we played endless cardgames, swapped tall tales and laughed as noise of the wind forcing air through the window seals resembled the hoohoohooooo of an owl. They even shared their beer and wine with us for which we are eternally grateful. When we did our shopping I mentioned getting some Whiskey but Dave said he could manage without and I went along with it. I guess we had been hitting the beers hard in the village before we flew in and at the time taking a break seemed like a good idea!

We sat in the hut discussing what we could creatively conjure up backcountry cuisine wise from our dwindling supplies for dinner. It had become a pastime of mine and something to look forward as consecutive storms smashed into the Aoraki and Tasman. It sounds stupid now but it was a minor victory when I made a cheese toasting in a drying pan by capturing superheated steam under lid to melt the cheese before the bottom of the toast brunt. Sometimes it’s the little things you have to focus on.

The pitch of the wind outside would alternate as the wind increased from the haunting owl hoot to a roaring jet engine as the whole hut began to vibrate. A poster on the wall detailed all the huts in the region and one story in particular played on our minds. During a storm the Three Johns hut had broken free from its tie downs and carried over a kilometre down the mountain, tragically killing all within. That day we hadn’t even opened the door for fear of not being able to shut it against the wind. For a second I thought I heard something outside but put it down to my ears playing tricks and got on with cooking. But there it was again. That wasn’t ice falling off the roof. Something was outside.

Both of us rushed to open the hallway door and stood there in shock and disbelief. Two mountaineers covered in ice and looking exhausted sat next to the outside door. As we ate our dinner, they sat in their sleeping bags gorging on hot tea and told us their story. They had left the Ball shelter some 16 hours before and made the 1000 m ascent onto the Grand Plateau before taking some time to find the hut in the blizzard. Slowly colour returned to their faces and we went to bed happy they were ok.

At 4 am I woke up, opened my eyes and gazed up out the window to see the east face of Aoraki reaching up to stars. My senses took a second to register the change, silence, the jet engine was off. Quickly I put on all my clothes and packed my rucksac, lit the stove and went to wake Dave. Only in NZ can you have the all time conditions right after the worst storm imaginable and I wondered how Dave was going to get his head around that.

hey Buddy, its time to go for the East Face’

eh? what time is it”

430, let go dude’

We slipped out into the night moving silently and efficiently under our own torchlight attempting to make up some lost time of our late start due to the unexpected window. I was glad to be outside after days of storm, heading on an adventure. The 1200 m 45 to 50 degree East Face of Aoraki towered above us with a thick coating of powder. Ideally we would be starting skiing as the first rays of sun hit the face at dawn, before the sun started to heat the face. But NZ’s weather is fickle and opportunities scare. We’d just have to see how it went and ski down if it started to get warm.

In less than an hour we were swapping skis and skins for crampons and axes and crossing the bergshrund. As the sun rose above the mountains to our east, the face turned to gold. I pulled out my camera to capture such an incredible moment but the battery instantly failed. It was really cold and I was not relishing submerging my feet in the snow which would be some ten degrees colder than the air. Breaking trail up bottomless snow was going to be the physical crux of the day with only two if us to share the work. I turned my axes to create as big a footprint as possible then pushing down hard with my arms took maybe 30 kilos off my feet meaning they only went in knee deep. We swapped leads every 1/2 hour while the other would eat, drink and draft in the slip-steam.

While we climbed, thin cloud had veiled the sun and keeping the temperature low, but now as we approached the junction of top of the face and the summit light started to go flat due to thicker cloud. Not a problem for climbing but you need to see the surface of the snow to be able to ski fast. We debated whether to tag the summit or ski. I’d climbed Aoraki before and both of us were psyched for a good ski after 5 hours climbing so we cut out a ledge and swapped crampons for skis. Strangely as we climbed higher the snow had become deeper with no wind effect, there was going to be a lot of stuff that would build and build until a full born avalanche tore down the face and we certainly needed to avoid getting caught up in that at all cost. Ideally there would have been less new snow for steep skiing but we were there now.

Dave set off getting that all important first turn out of the way as muscles and coordination adapted from hours of climbing to skiing. Its like a triathlon transition except here high on the mountain a mistake won’t go unpunished. As I waited to ski I couldn’t help but take in the scale and beauty of my surroundings with the Plateau hut 1500 m below, and another 1000 m below that, the gigantic Tasman Glacier stretched for 15 km to the main divide of Elie de Beaumont and Hochstetter Dome. To the east lay the Murcheston and Godley valleys with several lifetime’s worth of ski adventures.

Now it was my turn and I was acutely aware of the stuff tugging my skis which in turn increased the nerves. After a couple of pitches our minds started to relax and in turn our energy levels soared. The light also improved and now we were able to ski luscious big flow turns in a near effortless manner. We dropped hundreds of metres in seconds and soon we were at the bottom, pumping fists, gasping for air, laughing and admiring the face.

That night at the hut we eagerly listened to weather bulletin over the radio. The high pressure was holding but severe gale on the tops. I really wanted to ski another line on the Caroline Face but it needed calm conditions. The obvious choice was to try and make the second descent of the Bowie Couloir which had first been skied in 2012 by Andreas Fransson and Magnus Kastengren. The alarm tore us from deep sleep and at 430 am we stole away into the dark. It’s easy to think about all the bad things about getting up early and going out into the cold dark, but I like to focus on the coming dawn and the sun returning bringing back warmth, light and energy to the world. This would be a dawn that was impossible to forget as the sky turned gold, pink, orange and blue. We watched it unfold in awe unwilling to miss a moment as the colours changed, but we knew time was pressing us to get on with the task at hand. Reluctantly we put our cameras away and continued up the glacier roped together only to find a huge crevasse barring our way. We donned crampons and with Dave belaying me I managed to climb down and span to the other side where I sunk my tools into neve. With my heart in my mouth I shouted ‘watch me’ as I committed to pulling on my axes and climbing up the far wall. I quickly constructed a buried ice anchor and belayed Dave safely across. Only the bergshrund lay between us and the Bowie Couloir and we could see a good snowbridge. It seemed the difficulties were behind us.

The sun was much stronger today and suddenly a large stuff released from high on the mountain and channeled down the choke between the ice and the rock where we needed to go. Dave’s psyche to continue was dwindling unless we found a safe way to proceed and it was difficult to see if there was anything else high on the mountain that could come down. Finally I suggested climbing up on the left using the serac as a shield. At least we could make some turns from there and if nothing else came down we could sprint up the choke to the next safe zone. We made quick progress to the serac and since the mountain had continued to be quiet I kept going through the choke with my heart rate nearly at max. As I caught my breath Dave joined me and we made swift progress to the junction with Zurbriggens Ridge and gazed out across the East Face.

It was such a cool spot to hang out, enjoy some food and savour the surroundings, knowing a gorgeous descent on perfect powder awaited below. This would be the last skiing on our trip and I knew it would be great. This time the honours were mine and I set of skiing fast open turns on sensational snow down to the spur on top of the serac. Dave’s sluff would be channeled away from me down the choke so I was safe to film him skiing. A few controlled turns took me through the choke and out onto the lower apron which was a dream to ski, heading down diagonally left to right away from the stuff and not a care in the World. All too soon we were back on the glacier, stoked to have pulled off the best skiing of the trip despite all the obstacles in our path on the way up. Sam Smoothy said to me ’New Zealand can be a cold mistress sometimes,’ but boy you are in for some ride when she does eventually warm to you.

Ross Hewitt at Hooker lake Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Waiting it out in the valley spending amongst the stunning scenery time walking and trail running while the wind and storms raged in the mountains. 📸Dave Searle
Beau Fredlund Sealy Tarns in November 2019 NZ by Ross Hewitt
It’s the equivalent of  May in the Northern Hemisphere and for only the 3rd in the season it snows to the valley floor. Beau Fredlund at dawn on way to ski near Mueller Hut 📸Ross Hewitt
Sefton after November snowfall Aoraki Mount Cook range NZ by Ross Hewitt
Mt Sefton 📸Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle Aoraki Mount Cook and Mueller lake NZ by Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle skiing with Aoraki and Mueller Lake in background 📸Ross Hewitt
avalanche on Silberhorn, Aoraki Mt Cook range
After a week of storm and heavy precip the faces were loaded up with snow. A small piece of ice triggered a slab that went airborne and just fell short of our skin track. Certainly D4 📸R Hewitt
Ross Hewitt with East Face Aoraki Mount Cook and Silberhorn Lendenfield in NZ
Me with Aoraki, Silberhorn, Tasman, Lendenfield, Haast, Dixon 📸Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle on the Kingspine, Silberhorn in back ground, Aoraki / Mt Cook
Dave Searle in bottomless snow on the Kingspine 📸Ross Hewitt
Ross HeDave Searle POV of Ross Hewitt skiing kingspine of Aoraki Mount Cook NZ
Ross Hewitt at the top of Kingspine ready to ski 📸Dave Searle
ski tracks by Ross Hewitt with East Face of Aoraki Mount Cook NZ behind
Ephemeral signatures, a brief moment in time and history, erased as quickly as they were made but never forgotten 📸Ross Hewitt
Silberhorn Tasman Lendenfield Malte Brun Aiguille Rouge by Ross Hewitt
Panorama of Grand Plateau and Tasman Valley 📸Ross Hewitt
Ross HeDave Searle POV of Ross Hewitt skiing First Descent on Caroline Face of Aoraki Mount Cook NZ
Myself and Dave about to drop into the Caroline Face from the East Ridge 📸Dave Searle
Ross Hewitt a POV and Dave Searle skiing First Descent on Caroline Face of Aoraki Mount Cook NZ
Established on Caroline Face & great snow for steep skiing with not too much sluff 📸R Hewitt
Ross Hewitt a POV and Dave Searle skiing First Descent on Caroline Face of Aoraki Mount Cook NZ
Great skiing on the skier’s left side of Caroline Face 📸Ross Hewitt
Ross Hewitt after skiing a new line on the Caroline Face of Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Our line on the Caroline Face skied top down accessed from the East Ridge 📸Dave Searle
Dave Searle on the East Face of Aoraki / Mt Cook photo Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle on trail breaking duty on Aoraki / Cook’s East Face. The day after it would be skied by 14 people who got the benefit of our track, surely a pivotal moment in the history of NZ big mountain skiing? 📸Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle skiing on the East Face of Aoraki / Mt Cook by Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle on the East Face 📸R Hewitt
Dave Searle skiing East Face of Aoraki / Mount Cook by Ross Hewitt
Dave Searle on the East Face with the Tasman Glacier and Elie de Beaumont beyond 📸R Hewitt
Ross Hewitt skiing East Face of Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Better light now and a chance to ride fast. 📸 Dave Searle
Malte Brun at dawn by Ross Hewitt
Sunset over Malte Brun
Ross Hewitt approaching the Bowie Couloir Aoraki / Mount Cook at night by Dave Searle
Heading out into the cold dark night is often rewarded with incredible sunrises. 📸 Dave Searle

 

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Me watching the sunrise in awe. 📸 Dave Searle
First Rays of sun from Aoraki Mount Cook NZ by Ross Hewitt
First warming rays warming us to the task ahead 📸 Ross Hewitt
Ross Hewitt approaching the Bowie Couloir of Aoraki / Mount Cook in NZ by Dave Searle
Me weighing up options as a huge crevasse bars access to the couloir 📸 Dave Searle
Ross Hewitt in Bowie Couloir Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Using the serac to shield us from sluffs coming through the choke on the right 📸 Dave Searle
Dave Searle in Bowie Couloir of Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Ross Hewitt
Searle in the choke sprinting to me to get out the sluff firing line 📸 Ross Hewitt
Ross Hewitt in Bowie Couloir Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Happy days above the serac and out of the sluff line with easy ground to the col with Zurbriggen Ridge 📸 Dave Searle
Ross Hewitt after skiing Bowie Couloir Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Dave Searle
Stoked to have finally skied the Bowie Couloir in sensational conditions 📸 Dave Searle
Sunrise on Aoraki / Mount Cook and Tasman by Ross Hewitt
Panorama of Aoraki / Mt Cook and Tasman at dawn 📸 Ross Hewitt
Tasman NZ at dawn by Ross Hewitt
Tasman at dawn. Climbing this beast and skiing the Syme Ridge on the right is high on my to do list but extremely difficult to get safe climbing conditions and snow to ski 📸 Ross Hewitt
Aoraki / Mount Cook NZ by Ross Hewitt
Aoraki and its mighty east face at dawn. The crevasse that caused us some problems going to Bowie is visible just above the shade line.  📸 Ross Hewitt
sunrise over Aiguille Rouge Chudleigh Nathan by Ross Hewitt
Worth getting out of bed at 0330 hrs to see this? Every god damned time! And no this isn’t photoshopped 📸 R Hewitt
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Time for a swim at Sumner beach
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Surfers enjoying the swell
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Malakai watching

 

 

 

 

2016 Baffin Island Ski Trip

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In 2014 I gazed up Gibbs Fiord into the milky afternoon sun. After 5 days exploring this zone with Marcus Waring and Michelle Blaydon we had an inkling of its potential but hadn’t even scraped the surface. In this moment I knew I would have to come back. Finding and convincing a team to spend all their hard earned cash and a lot of time to travel to go ski lines on one of the harshest environments on planet wouldn’t be easy. Fellow Scots Si Christy and Chipie Windross (Chipie has a Scottish granny hidden away somewhere) were first to be recruited. My final victim, although he didn’t yet know it, was one of my university wingmen, Dr Evan Cameron. Originally from the Kingdom of Fife, Evan emigrated to New Zealand where he works as a consultant A&E doctor. As luck had it, I would see him during a ski trip to NZ in 2015. Over beers in the warm Christchurch sun I told him how Baffin was just like the Cairngorms except way bigger. He signed up for the trip and I never told him how his piss would freeze before it hit the ground. And so it was, a team of Scottish skiers were bound for a Baffin Island ski trip in 2016.

These photographs tell the tale of an epic trip that I wanted show which no magazine article with its  restrictions on column inches could ever do justice. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined finding so much powder in the Arctic desert. In the end the team skied 19 lines, all believed to be first descents except for my repeat of the 1300 m Cantal.

A big thanks goes to the support and sponsorship from the following without which it wouldn’t have been possible:

Arctic Club

Black Crows Skis

Berghaus

PLUM

Scarpa

Julbo Eyewear

Mountain Boot Company

Lyon Equipment

Exped

Petzl

Hydrapak

James Clapham

Marcus Waring

Dr Phil Barron

Our friends in Clyde River, Nunavut Territory, Baffin Island

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Our last minute food shopping was done in Ottawa. Our 2 hotel rooms looked like they had been ransacked by a Rock band by the time we got done repacking.

Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition Ross Hewitt

Our first glimpse of Nunataks (isolated peaks projecting from the ice/snow) on the flight

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Ice runways in the Arctic

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Thats what we are here to do!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Home sweet home. Moving into the shack in Clyde where my Baffin love affair started in 2014. This time it temperatures were a lot more civilized

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Packing and repacking. Chipie finds the highest calorie freeze dried meal.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Evan, Myself, Joamie and Ilkoo discussing thin ice and safe routes through the fiords and showing the Inuit just how deep we wanted to go. I reckoned 15 hours of torture on a komatic (sled) pulled by a snowmachine to the drop off all things going well.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Getting the knowledge from Master Jedi Ilkoo.

 

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Si is about 6′ 4″. This guy had repeatedly tried to come into town.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

After seeing the bear pelt the next stop was to get some weapons. We had a short session on gun safety and how to load, fire, reload and deal with jams. Our 1942 Enfield 303 rifle was light and robust. Perfect for the harsh environment.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Come on John, I know you have some whiskey for us!!;) Showing Evan how to load, shoot and reload the shotgun with magnum slugs in the event of a bear attack. We were a team of 4 and needed a minimum of 2 weapons

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

The now infamous komatic box. I spent about half an our getting thrown around inside this box before nearly barfing up and making an excuse that I needed to sit on a skidoo and help navigate. Si and Chipie seemed quite happy lying down inside for 15 hours and even managed some sleep!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Unfortunately Chipie let Evan choose these ‘damn hot’ salamis for the trip that caused mass evacuation every morning

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Trevor Qillaq and Chipie in Sam Ford Fiord

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Si, Evan, Iikoo and Chipie shooting the shit near the Sam Ford Fiord hut

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Running repairs as the snow machines run hot pulling through deep snow. Jean-Marc, Trevor and Joamie testing their resourcefulness. The Arctic was suffering badly from climate change warming in 2016 and despite the Canadian Arctic being significantly less effected than the Norwegian and Russian Arctic, temperatures were hovering near 0C instead of being in the -30C range. Around lunchtime I was stripping off layers and Joamie quipped ‘its like being in a sauna’. At this point its seemed our trip might be really short if the mild weather caused an early ice break up.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Crossing the mouth of Sam Ford Fiord the weather clears and we get first glimpse of the eye candy

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

The overhanging 600 m Ship’s Prow has served as a landmark for the Inuit for generations and marks the entrance to Scott Inlet which leads to Gibbs Fiord. This is John Barry Angutijuak back in 2014 which was significantly colder.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Joamie Qillaq and Evan Cameron and the Western tip of Scott Island

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Evan, Chipie and Si excited at the prospect of finding deep powder in the Arctic

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Not so excited or not excited in the same way upon finding the prints of this bear family

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

‘How big is that, 4000 ft? 5000 ft? 6000 ft?’

“Dunno but its fuckin huge”

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

More enough for us, twin sisters, left and right. After 2 years in the planning with nothing to go on but an inkling of gullies from Google Earth, we arrive deep in Gibbs Fiord around 1 am after a hellish 15 hour snow machine ride to find pure gold. That night we had a dram to celebrate the start of what we hoped would be a successful exploratory expedition.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Heading out of camp on day 1 with no idea of what we will find armed with kite & rifle

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Si heading up fiord to our objectives which lie under the sun

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

No wind and mild temps made things feel very pleasant allowing us to slowly adjust to life on the ice

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Let the torture session commence.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Si and the guys about 600 m up. Evan and Chipie have yet to accept that towing skis here is way more efficient that carrying them.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Up, up and ever onwards. Approaching the 1000 m mark

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Deep powder in 2016 meant bootpacking took an inordinate amount of energy and time unlike 2014 where encountered chalky snow.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Nearly there, Si still smiling at the rude 1200 m warm up line

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

At 1200 m we encounter mixed ground and its finally time to ski the first line of our trip

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

And its skiing great

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Si Christy skiing as Chipie makes final preps

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Chipie making his first turns of the trip

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1200 m of boot deep powder to the fiord

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Chipie getting into the flow zone

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Ancient hallways, the faults in the rock provide perfect skiing. The granite on Baffin is some of the oldest on our planet at 3.5 billion years and volcanic rock there has been dated to 4.5 billion years old when the Earth’s crust was still being created.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

This photo still induces a lot of emotion: that moment when you realise the snow is so good the next stop will be on the fiord 1000 m below.

 

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

The stoked team regroup and savour a moment on Baffin without a biting wind. We have all made a massive commitment in time and money to come here. Without the backing and support of various grants and organisations it would never have been possible. Fortunately that leap into the unknown has paid off.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Late afternoon sun on the chalkier apron

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

The last carefree turns to the fiord

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Expedition

Camp may as well have been on the dark side of the moon as the hard frost bears down in the shade.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Day 2 and the weather was far from civilized. We quest off down fiord to see what we can find, armed as usual.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

An hour from camp. That’ll do nicely.

 

 

 

 

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie slotting it through the narrows

Evan about to get a facefull

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

To give a sense of scale check out the skier on the boulder

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Back on the fiord there is enough wind to fly. I wave goodbye and set sail to solo another line I spotted on the way out. Si has his first kite experience and flies back to camp in a few minutes and is instantly sold on the energy savings from kiting. The others have the drudgery of and hour or so skinning back.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

I top out on my second line of the day to find this haunting view down Gibbs Fiord

 

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Sheltering out the wind in the mouth of the 1200 m Mel Gibb’s Couloir which was first skied by Francois Kern’s team in 2014. Extreme coffee drinking was the order of the day before a massive drop in temperature as the sun disappeared. This was a long way from out from base camp 1 and after skiing straight for a couple of years I’d not really made allowances for the lower fitness of the team who had full time jobs doing other things. Any ways things werent to be as the warm sun of pervious days had brought down the winter cornices on the south facing slopes leaving ice glazed snow. Drinking coffee was the best thing I ever did in this couloir!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Turn around deep in Mel Gibb’s. 3 attempts all ended in failure due to bad snow or high wind.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Couloirs on a grand scale filled with cold sloughy powder

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The team strung out deep in their own battle against the pain

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Nearly there

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Near the top we hit wind loadings that created enough doubt to wait for a group decision – it was an easy one to make!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me leading off on the steep initial turns

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Si following while Evan and Chipie transition.

 

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me trying to ski fast and not run out of leg power

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Yes – Chipie thrilled about another sunning ski line. An early finish meant we arrived back at camp to enjoy an afternoon coffee drinking session in the sunshine.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Enjoying the sunshine at camp

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Looking up fiord. Our camp was situated west beyond Sillem Island

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The sabre tooth makes the start of 30 km of the grandest rock architecture on the planet

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The following day brought poor visibility and high wind so Evan and myself went to the hanging glacier line that was opposite camp. We had all spent many days conjecturing about the angle of the hanging glacier that looked like a Rond from straight on. In the end it turned out to be about 40 degree max and very ameniable. It cleared for a moment on the plateau and we started out for the summit several kms away. Unlike 2014, the regular snowfall had meant a good snowpack even on the plateau. However its soon closed in again and armed with only a rudimentary GPS we were not equipped to navigate to the summit and turned back. (compass performs poorly here due to the massive magnetic deviation).

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After skiing the hanging glacier we dropped out the cloud and enjoyed perfect fresh powder to the fiord.

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What took hours to climb was despatched in seconds on the descent

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

After skiing the hanging glacier line it was time to eat and in the sanctuary at the start of the line we got the stove going and had our long overdue lunch. I wasn’t finished skiing and said goodbye to Evan and went for a quick sprint up the booter left by Si and Chipie before kiting back. At camp the wind was hellish and it was a grim vigil minding the stove out in the open knowing the others were tucked up in warm sleeping bags.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Thanks to Si and Chipie for this boot pack which allowed me a quick bonus lap

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The next day the wind blew hard down fiord dampening spirits to ski but by late afternoon it had abated slightly and I wasn’t keen to lose a day. Si was up for some sport so we headed up fiord to try another line. In theory the couloir should have been sheltered but updraught turned to downdraft and around 900 m up we bailed due to new accumulations. Skiing in the evening is my favourite time of day and the mellow light was well worth going out for.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

After nearly a week at camp 1 it was time to move.  Having seen the enticing view down Gibbs Fiord past the hidden entrances to Mel Gibbs and Cantal to our own Stairway to Heaven some 15 km down fiord we knew  our 2nd base camp would be located under the square cut tower. We had gone into the fiords loaded with real food to supplement the lighter freeze dried food and help maintain a healthy digestive tract but after only a week behind us we were still heavily laden. With sleds piled high it was time to beak camp. I pulled as hard as I could against tow rope but couldn’t move the sled. I put up the heal raisers on my bindings to mimic starting blocks on the athletics track. The sled pulled forward and i was underway. The next six hours were brutal as we all pulled at our limit down fiord into a biting wind. At one point my 5 mm cordalette tow line broke, the breaking load on that is around 500 kgs!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

First night in Camp 2 with our bear perimeter fence and cooking area already set up

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The next day all of us were feeling it in the hamstrings after such a hard hauling session moving camps.  With cold powder still available on the North facing side we decided to go check out the hidden gems awaiting on this face. One reoccurring feature of Baffin is the most unlikely looking lines often twist and turn beyond sight and actually go to the summit. The only way to find out is to give them a go.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Line of the day was a straight 700 m of relatively easy angle to a small col. Perfect rest

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

After several days of strong winds which had us building walls to protect the tents, it finally dawned clear and still. The days objective was the couloir in the background.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Cold snow in the upper couloir took us to a col behind the square tower

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Steep, deep and narrow in the upper section

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Si getting to grips with the S bend

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me skiing. Still techy here with some ice under the new snow

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The final steep section before the couloir opened out in its lower 3rd

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Si enjoying some of the final powder turns of the trip

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Milky afternoon sunlight on route back to camp

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

I wasn’t done for the day and the big ramp line (next to the kite above) on the north facing side was calling to me. After a big lunch at camp I swapped out Si for Chipie and we launched our kites and sailed the 4 km across fiord to the ramp entrance.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie enjoying the late afternoon light as he secures his kite to an ice screw

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

This elegant couloir led up to the ramp

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Now late in the season even the North facing slopes were catching a lot of evening sun

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

We found sweet cold powder on the ramp which was about 100 m wide. A nice feature after all the couloirs!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me in the exit couloir. It was getting late and with the temperature dropping fast we had a push on to get back to camp and have a hearty meal to sustain us through the polar night. After 1800 m of bootpacking that day I was starving!

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie in the exit

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

This Dru like spire rose like a clit out of a crucible and so the name Clit Route was born

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

After a foul weather day I left camp at 5 pm and skinned over to the Clit Route. Although it had barely snowed on the fiord, the soaring spires around the couloir were creatng their own weather and it was snowing massive flakes leaving a continuous accumulation of chest deep powder in the couloir. It was an eerie and spooky solo mission; every so often spin drift avalanches would come out of the mist down the vertical walls and there would be a few seconds delay before it engulfed me where I would keep doubt at bay and remind myself it was just spindrift.  I arrived at the col soaked to the skin, physically completely spent from wallowing up the powder and mentally stimulated. I’d pushed myself beyond my normal comfort zone into that area ‘where the magic happens’. After 2 years of planning the expedition with many the ups and downs along the way, this was the moment I had been hoping and looking for, 10 pm and about to drop into a deep powder filled 900 m line sandwiched between walls that soared overhead to 1800 m. Excited to say the least.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

One stop on the way down just to snap a photo for nostalgia

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

I arrived back at camp in the small hours buzzing from my nocturnal excursion. The next day Si and Chipie couldn’t hold back and went off to repeat the line. In my mind Chipie captured the shot of the trip as Si blasted down deep slough spines in the sun.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me looking beat the next day

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

One stormy day I flew my kite about 20 km upwind down fiord to check out lines. Reaching the far point of our 2014 expedition brought back good memories of a nightshift spent climbing and skiing the 1250 m Stairway to Heaven.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

More fresh snow overnight meant it was time to ski pow

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Deep

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Oh so good

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Faceshots in the Canadian Arctic – would you believe it?

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Overhead blower, that’ll do nicely

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie on another wallow fest

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The twist and turns in the couloir architecture are typical of Baffin and mean its an adventure to climb up and see if they go anywhere

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Heading pack to camp

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Last rays before the thermal crash

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The north wall of Gibbs Fiord looking east

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Mel Gibbs and Cantal Couloirs. As the weeks went by the sun was getting stronger and bringing the south facing lines into play. As you can see these lines are rarely straight up and the sun might hit one part of the line first thing before moving round onto the rest of the line. Or it may just not work well as a spring line with the trajectory of the sun. My next mission was to repeat the 1300 m Cantal on the right, first skied by Francois Kern’s team in 2014.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

5 am on the fiord. Only Chipie and myself are up and getting ready but with different objectives. Chipie had his eye on the 500 m line to the right of the camp tower while I was headed for the 1300 m Cantal.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

At the top of Cantal after a long solo bootpack. No wind but in a hurry to ski before the upper couloir dropped back into the shade.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Ready to ski. 1300 m of corn harvest to the fiord

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

For a few minutes out of a month long stay we enjoyed a brief windless moment – the shear luxury of no frigid breeze and no worrying about stuff getting blown to Greenland or destroyed by the wind. And then the sun set behind the mountain and tit dropped to -30C again.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Si, Chipie and Evan just enjoying the moment

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The corn cycle continued and with Evan and Si we hit an 1100 m line just down fiord from the camp.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Me skiing

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

A moments rest under Scott island on the way out. I reflect on our awesome adventure that started here in 2014 with Marcus Waring and Michelle Blaydon.

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Kevin Qillaq at the Ellington Fiord hut 30 hours into a driving mission to get us out

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Sitting relecting on what had been an awesome trip. Dreading getting back on the komatik but also wanting to get it over with. 3 hours should see us in town. All that remained to do was get Chipie and Evan out of the fiords.

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Si in the Ellington Fiord hut. We had been on Baffin for a month and awake for nearly 24 hours. A shower and a pint were long overdue.

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Simon Christy

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Evan Cameron

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Stephen Chipie Windross

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Ross Hewitt

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Gibbs Fiord

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Base Camp 1

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Rifle practice

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The North wall of Gibbs

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The Clit Route left of centre

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The south facing side of Gibbs

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View from

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Dawn starts

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Free climbing?

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Base camp 2 couloir tops out on a col behind the square tower

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Arctic tanning