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

 

 

 

 

New Zealand – a film about skiing on Aoraki

In the words of Sam Smoothy ‘sometimes New Zealand can be a cold hearted mistress.’ She was certainly giving us the ultimate in cold shoulder treatment as day after day the South Island got battered by storm force winds as much as 75 mm of precip. The Wyn Irwin hut near Mount Cook village provided us with friendly and cosy refuge. Amongst the temporary residents were the guardian Cam Mulvey, Laura from the DOC Kia Preservation Project, Aussie Tim who was on the Plateau hut build team, Eifel from Singapore and Beau Fredlund from Yellowstone and endless banter passed the time and kept spirits high. It was a chance to adjust to the 12 hour time change, clear the mind and focus on what lay ahead, and do some trail running surrounded by the lakes and glaciers of the rugged Hooker valley.
Back in June Smoothy and myself had started talking about collaborating on some ski projects in the Southern Alps but a dry August had me holding back from buying a airline ticket. Finally in September the snow came and when I saw some activity in the mountains I pressed the button on a ticket. After beating around the bush for a while swapping messages we got to the point and started discussing a new line on the 1400 m Caroline Face. This had seen its first descent in 2017 by Grant, Mosetti and Briggs, a trip I had to pull out of at the last moment due to herniating the lowest disc in my spine onto the sciatic nerve root. A big glaciated face like this changes from season to season and when the door on one line closes others may open. To put it in context the West Face of Mont Blanc is similar in size and holds 4 independent ski routes which are rarely all in condition simultaneously. Since skiing 1000 m + faces is in powder is my thing, I still had an interest in the Caroline Face and the opportunities it holds for skiers. That said it pays to be careful who you speak to outside of the steep skiing fraternity as it makes the uninitiated uncomfortable as their pulse quickens, the blood drains from their face and they stare at your through glazed over eyes as if you are crazy. Its just a question of what you are used to and my last runs in my backyard where Couturier, Mallory and the ultra tech steep and exposed Aiguille du Plan North Face. In Chamonix anything is possible but in NZ you need one day when you won’t be ripped off the mountain by then wind catching the skis on your pack. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask right?
I was all set to fly solo, relishing the chance to do my own thing after a busy guiding summer. So it was a surprise bonus when Dave Searle asked what I was up to and bought a ticket too.
The breaks in the weather were small this spring, mainly too short to make a valley approach and ski the next day and It seemed unlikely there would be sufficiently weather window to make it worthwhile for local Smoothy to hook up. So when we saw a tiny couple hour window we jumped at the opportunity to fly into Plateau hut joined by Yellowstone resident and ski guide Beau Fredlund to get amongst the skiing. We landed there in -20C and bottomless powder that was going to make getting up anything a challenge. Here’s what we got up to.

Film – Skiing lines on Aoraki, Mt Cook, NZ

A short film of Ross Hewitt and Dave Searle skiing lines on Aoraki Mount Cook 2019 including a new line on the Caroline Face, a descent of the East Face in deep powder and the second descent of the Bowie Couloir after Andreas Fransson and Magnus Kastengren’s descent in 2012.

In the words of Sam Smoothy ‘sometimes New Zealand can be a cold hearted mistress.’ She was certainly giving us the ultimate in cold shoulder treatment as day after day the South Island got battered by storm force winds as much as 75 mm of precip. The Wyn Irwin hut near Mount Cook village provided us with friendly and cosy refuge. Amongst the temporary residents were the guardian Cam Mulvey, Laura from the DOC Kia Preservation Project, Aussie Tim who was on the Plateau hut build team, Eifel from Singapore and Beau Fredlund from Yellowstone and endless banter passed the time and kept spirits high. It was a chance to adjust to the 12 hour time change, clear the mind and focus on what lay ahead, and do some trail running surrounded by the lakes and glaciers of the rugged Hooker valley.

Back in June Smoothy and myself had started talking about collaborating on some ski projects in the Southern Alps but a dry August had me holding back from buying a airline ticket. Finally in September the snow came and when I saw some activity in the mountains I pressed the button on a ticket. After beating around the bush for a while swapping messages we got to the point and started discussing a new line on the 1400 m Caroline Face. This had seen its first descent in 2017 by Grant, Mosetti and Briggs, a trip I had to pull out of at the last moment due to herniating the lowest disc in my spine onto the sciatic nerve root. A big glaciated face like this changes from season to season and when the door on one line closes others may open. To put it in context the West Face of Mont Blanc is similar in size and holds 4 independent ski routes which are rarely all in condition simultaneously. Since skiing 1000 m + faces is in powder is my thing, I still had an interest in the Caroline Face and the opportunities it holds for skiers. That said it pays to be careful who you speak to outside of the steep skiing fraternity as it makes the uninitiated uncomfortable as their pulse quickens, the blood drains from their face and they stare at your through glazed over eyes as if you are crazy. Its just a question of what you are used to and my last runs in my backyard where Couturier, Mallory and the ultra tech steep and exposed Aiguille du Plan North Face. In Chamonix anything is possible but in NZ you need one day when you won’t be ripped off the mountain by then wind catching the skis on your pack. Doesn’t sound like too much to ask right?

I was all set to fly solo, relishing the chance to do my own thing after a busy guiding summer. So it was a surprise bonus when Dave Searle asked what I was up to and bought a ticket too.

The breaks in the weather were small this spring, mainly too short to make a valley approach and ski the next day and It seemed unlikely there would be sufficiently weather window to make it worthwhile for local Smoothy to hook up. So when we saw a tiny couple hour window we jumped at the opportunity to fly into Plateau hut and get amongst the skiing. We landed there in -20C and bottomless powder that was going to make getting up anything a challenge. Here’s what we got up to.

Ski Bums – The Photo Album

For me the last few years have been completely dedicated to skiing, following the snow around the globe in the eternal hunt for powder as the seasons change and clocking up close to 200 days a year. This search has taken me to Patagonia, Chile, Japan, Norway, New Zealand and included 2 major exploratory expeditions to Baffin Island. This has been a phenomenal experience, meeting and making many close friends who share the same obsession and also clocking up 36 first descents in the process. Glen Plake said ‘skiings a life sentence’ and those smooth weightless turns as you float down a mountain amongst a sea of slough is something most of us can’t get enough of. Its always been interesting to see how the rest of the World rank the Brits pretty far down the skiing ratings and since we aren’t an alpine nation its not surprising. Without a heritage of producing big mountain skiers it means that opportunities for funding ski trips are few and far between in comparison say with alpine climbing. Hopefully that will change with time and I live to see some Brits skiing AK in TGR or MSP films. To emphasise that point, I write as I find myself without a clothing sponsor for the first time in five years!

A big thanks goes to my current sponsors for helping me realise many of my dreams and going out their way to help and support me; Black Crows Skis, Scarpa, PLUM fixation, Julbo Eyewear, Birdwhere, Lyon Equipment, Petzl, Lenz Products, Exped, Hydrapak and Davide at Concept Pro Shop Chamonix. Another big thanks goes to Berghaus, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, Arctic Club and Craig Stenhouse who helped fund the trips.

After so much time feeding the rat its now time for a change in emphasis as I continue with the guides training with a view to being able to share some of these fantastic experiences in the future with clients.

So here is a collection of photographs which reflect the incredible days shared with friends that have a particularly special place in my heart.

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Jim Lee slaying Grand Envers in a metre of fresh. Aiguille du Midi

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Adam Fabrikant a few turns in to the sunny east face of Mt Darwin, New Zealand. Tom Grant and myself hooked up the amiable Americans Noah Howell, Beau Fredlund Adam Fabrikant and Billy Whass to share a few turns and a lot of laughs while down under.

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Michelle Blaydon under biblical skies in Lofoten

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Polar Star Couloir looking majestic on the Beluga Spire, right after we skied it. Dubbed ‘The Best Couloir in the World’ by McLean and Barlage, its certainly and icon of lust

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Don’t be fooled by the warm evening light, brass monkeys at camped on the sea ice under Beluga Spire. With Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring

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Morgan Salen skiing to Minna Rihiimaki on the shoulder of Aiguille du Tacul. The snow was so good we skinned up the 45 degree approach couloir.

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Bird speed flying over the Frendo serac the same day we skied it

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The incredible 1500 m high north facing wall of the 70 km long Gibbs Fiord in Baffin

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Marcus Waring with a 1000 m to go, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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Oli Willet, Tournier Spur entry to Col du Plan

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Mika Merikanto, Ross Hewitt and Stephane Dan, Mallory, North Face Aiguille du Midi

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Michelle Blaydon in a very deep Bonatti Couloir

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Powder Panda getting over caffeinated for Palud lowers

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Roger Knox, Arete Plate, Aiguille Rouge

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Minna Rihiimaki, in the starting gate, Aiguille du Midi. It has been know for her to pose naked here!

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All time conditions on the Para Face. I miss those days.

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A first descent on the complex South Face of Mt Darwin, NZ. We took the steep headwall to the spur with a jump through the rocks near the bottom. As usual Tom got over excited and nearly skied off the bottom cliff. Photo credit: Ryan Taylor

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Just landed at Tasman hut and we sneaked a quick afternoon shot down the diagonal in the background. A nice wee leg loosener.

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Oo-La-La, Bird out of his cage and mind. Frendo Spur, Chamonix.

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Tom and myself started the day at Tasman hut about 20 km up glacier beyond the white ice in the background. This gruelling 9 hour torture session is not recommended except for the masochists out there. We didnt have a satphone to call a chopper to the hut and ended up doing this walk twice, being pretty dumb and not learning the mistake first time round.

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Argh. Hours in the pain locker. Tasman morraines

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Beau Fredlund harvesting perfect corn on Mt Hamilton, New Zealand

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After skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont, we got stranded in the fog trying to get from a glacier bench to the Tasman. Finally a window appeared and we took this ‘Brenva’ Spur type feature home

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Skiing a first descent on Elie de Beaumont’s West Face as cloud threatens from the West. We kept getting bumped off choppers so it was after noon when we got to Tasman hut forcing us to haul ass up Elie for 3 pm corn time. Tom Grant skiing on 45 degree slopes

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Mount Cook’s stunning east face illuminated under full moon. This will be one of the modern ski classics of New Zealand

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Dawn hits as we start the climb up the east face of Mt Cook

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On the East Face of Cook with uniform compact powder. A modern classic in the making

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Vivid, rugged and very beautiful – myself taking in the landscape above Mueller and Pukaki

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For once the wind wasn’t howling and we were able to enjoy a morning coffee without everything blowing away. Tom and myself at Wyn Irwin Hut

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Michelle Blaydon and Marcus Waring at base camp in Gibbs Fiord. This first trip to Baffin was rock n roll style as we travelled fast over hundreds on kilometers using kites, armed with rifles and pump action shot guns for bear protection,  and skiing every line that took our fancy

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Sheltering from a biting wind a cooking up some hot soup under the magical Great Sail Peak in Stewart Valley of Baffin Island. L-R Michelle Blaydon, Ross Hewitt and Marcus Waring

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The hard part of Arctic travel – sled hauling. Luckily good tunes and magnificent scenery provide suitable mind distractions to the 120 kg load

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North West Passage, a 1200 m. McLean – Barlage classic. Had to be done

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After a massive 10 hour walk out down the Tasman moraines we woke up feeling it and went for extra everything on our cooked breakfasts, washed down by a litre of cappuccino

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Michelle Blaydon smiling at the relative warm evening light on the plateau of Scott Island, Baffin. Descending into the fiords is like going into a chest freezer as the temp drops about 30 degrees

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We were skiing some sketchy icy section on Tournier Spur when a wooshing noise spooked us. A moment later that speed flyer went through the middle of our group. Scary

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Return to base camp after a day new routing on Scott Island. It always amazed me that the tent disappeared from view on flat sea ice once you were over a kilometer away

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Exit couloir on the Mallory, Aiguille du Midi. All the stress has gone by this point and all that remains is an easy 50 degree shot to the bar

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Marcus Waring in the 1100 m Polar Star Couloir, Baffin Island

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The late, great Liz Daley on one of those relaxed Palud days where we gourged on coffee and powder in equal amounts. Always missed, never forgotten

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Andy Houseman and Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet Glacier

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Myself on another massive Baffin line. This one came in at a hefty 1450 m vertical, 5000 ft

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May and a predawn start for the Diable Couloir with Tom Grant. We climbed the icefall, bailed due to the heat and then put plan B into action – skin to the top of Tacul and drop into the Grand Gerva – that saved the day

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Tom and Marcus with the 1500 m East Face of Walker Citadel where Superunknown is situated. We were on our way back from Mugs Stump Spire and just chilling in the sun before hauling through the night to Ford Wall

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Sunshine and shade as Minna makes those special turns on the North Face of Aiguille di Midi

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A first descent on Mugs Stump Spire. We also skied the background left hand line which was 1500 m to the top of Walker Citadel

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Cedric Bernardini, Bird, Brett Lotz and myself as the Foehn threatens on Eugster. Cedric’s eyes give away the seriousness of the situation while the visiting Brett is oblivious to the shit storm thats about to happen

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Caught in a Foehn storm on Eugster, Aiguilled du Midi. Bernardini and Lotz on the wrong side of the slough trains. One of those days you hopefully regroup at the bar

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Polar travelling for free (low calorie expenditure) using kites in Baffin

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After a 2 am start from a low camp, Im getting ready for my first turn down the East Face of the Matterhorn at 7 am

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Fresh water ice on the isolated Stewart Lake, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Me on good corn on the East Face of the Matterhorn and carrying my SLR camera

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Me traversing the Aiguille Verte. We climbed Couturier and descended Whymper. What you cant see is the strong gusty wind that was trying to pluck us off the ridge. At the col we met Nate Wallace and Seth Morrison who had come up Whymper in downhill kit. With the snow staying frozen all they had to say was ‘you are going to struggle in touring kit’

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After a month on the ice we arrive cold and damp at Ellington Fiord hut after 10 hours on a komatik sled with 3 hours to go to get back to Clyde River. 2 of our friends are stuck in the fiords after 1 skidoo broke down and the responsibility for their safety as expedition leader weighs heavily on my mind. I’m completed beat after pushing my physical limits beyond the max trying to ski everything and mentally wanting to unwind. Deep in the Arctic rescue options are limited to skidoos

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Skiing in grand locations

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Ski kiting to the lines was run and saved loads of precious calories. The ramp next to the wing was my favourite line we skied. Big wide open exposed slopes led into a twisting couloir exit

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Showing Chipie how to load our 1942 303 enfield in case we get attacked by a bear. A nice light reliable weapon, perfect for skiing

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Enrico Mossetti with the slabs of the Droites in the background

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After a couple days waiting on weather we get dropped at the Tasman hut for our final hit of the trip, aiming to ski a first descent on the South Face of Mount Darwin. Tom trying to pull me down to his level!

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Another monster line in Gibbs Fiord on Baffin. in 2016 we were blessed with regular snow falls providing primo ski conditions. Wading up the lines was hard work!

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Playing mini golf above Plateau hut in NZ

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Approach to the East Ridge of Cook with her East Face and Tasman’s Syme Ridge behind

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Gazing up the Hooker Valley with my ‘rig’. Adventure skiing in NZ is not a light affair once bivi kit and stoves are added to the pack

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Late afternoon golden rays on the Mothership in my backyard

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The beautiful fan at the start of the Gervasutti. Tom Grant negotiating the cornice

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October, preparing for NZ

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A late night session to savour the evening light in Crosshairs Couloir in Steward Valley. We had spent the day triple carrying across faceted moraine and finally decided it was time to go skiing to boost moral

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The East Face of the Matterhorn after we skied it

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Stormy weather in Couloir de la Dent Jaune, Dents du Midi, Switzerland

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Michelle Blaydon at the cute Dents du Midi refuge

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Nate Wallace in the steep entry to the Grand Gervasutti

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Tof Henry in the Col du Plan exit couloir, North Face of Aiguille du Midi

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Enrico Mosetti making steep turns on Col de la Verte with the North Face of Les Droites behind

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Extreme coffee drinking while sheltering out the wind at the extrance to the 1200 m Mel Gibbs couloir, Gibbs Fiord, Baffin Island

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Steep and techy as Enrico Mossetti negotiates the lower ramp off Col de la Verte

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Michelle in the approach couloir to Aiguille du Tacul

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1100 m of May spring snow in Gibbs Fiord, Baffin. Another first descent.

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Summit of Mont Blanc on a frigid day late May as we head off down the Bosses Ridge and prepare to make the big turn left down the 2000 m West Face. Exciting times.

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The West Face of Mont Blanc

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Tom Grant dropping into the Mont Mallet Diagonal

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Happy days. This was my final day in Cham in 2016 before I headed to Baffin Island and I wanted a big day on the Midi but things hung in the balance as the opening time continually got pushed back as they dealt with the overnight snow. When it finally opened mid morning we managed to ski Col du Plan, West Couloir and Salopar.

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My team mate and good buddy Enrico Mosetti on the lower ramp of Col de la Verte

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Me skiing into the top of Breche Tacul with the North Face of Grandes Jorasses providing the backdrop

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Col du Plan in all time conditions

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Enrico Mosetti in the Brenva cirque with Col Moore behind while Italy sleeps under a blanket on cloud

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The Plan de l’Aiguille at its best. Michelle Blaydon in perfect pow

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Skiing on the Saudan route on the West Face of Mont Blanc. The seracs threaten the routes to the right and also the exit of our route focusing the mind on putting some distance between you and the face.

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Good snow on the Mallory as Tom drops into the steep couloir off the tower

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Stunning days on Lofoten as I get a look down into the line we want to ski

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I did a traverse of Les Courtes solo on day from the NE into the South Face. The ridge along the top of the North Face was slabby on one side and corniced on the other so slow going. Plus it was -30C but the skiing was good!

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Minna and Bird in the wee Gerva of Tour Ronde on the way to ski the North Face top down

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My turns on the Cordier Gabarrou of Les Courtes

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Playtime off Plan de l’Aiguille back in the days when it snowed

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Johnny Collinson spine riding in Gressoney

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Happy days. Mikko Heimonen on the walk out from Mont Blanc’s west face late May

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De Masi spine riding Palud lowers

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Oli Willet exiting Col du Plan. The shrund was like a catchers mitt

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Palud. Deep. Jeremy Bogen

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Bird. Midi North Face

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Me contemplating the steep rocky, icy section from Tournier Spur into Col du Plan and working out the acceleration on 50 plus degrees before committing to straighlining through the gap

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Flat light storm days in Lofoten confined us to couloirs  but I wasn’t complaining

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On the Mallory with Tom below

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Tom Grant on the Mont Mallet glacier

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Maybe a thing of the past. Deep days on the Plan with no one

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Late at night. Michelle Blaydon in Crosshairs Couloir, Stewart Valley, Baffin

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Michelle taking it all in, Lofoten

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Minna Riihimaki checking out conditions before we commit to skiing the North Face

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Michelle on the volcano  Llaima

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Dave Searle learning the steep game and making tentative turns on Col des Courtes in his first skimo season back in 2011

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Bird slaying it on the North Face of the Midi

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Me high on the West Face of Mont Blanc

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The Frey Hut and its superb backyard, Bariloche, Argentina

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Sunset from the Cosmiques hut as we prepare to go to the Brenva Spur

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Minna, Michelle and Cedric in Lofoten

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The road to Lanin, Argentina

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More than a lifetime of exploration back there in New Zealand

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Me amongst the granite spires of the Frey area, Bariloche

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Final rays at sundown on the Midi

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Searching out the entrance of Couloir de la Perche with the Griaz Glacier behind

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Tomasso Cardelli in the Vallencent

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Si Christy chest deep in what was dubbed Clit Route due to the topography. Photo Chipie Windross. Probably the shot of the trip for me

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On the easy ground of the Miage after crossing the chaotic glacier behind on our way down from skiing Mont Blanc’s West Face

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On stove duty at 5 am in Gibbs Fiord. I needed an early start to catch the sun on the 1300 m Canton Couloir before it refroze.

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The perfect backdrop as Searle drops in off Tour Ronde

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On the Brenva Spur with a snow lynx track on the crest. I hope it enjoyed it as much as us

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Perfect snow in this Baffin masterpiece allowing me to ski in front of the slough

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Bouldering at Castle Hill after 3 weeks in the Cook Range skiing

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Griffin Post riding pillows in Gressoney

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Going for a flyby of the Caroline Face to check conditions

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Gotta have a Midi North Face bin shot somewhere in your collection. Bird waiting for his hangover to clear.

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Summit of Lanin with Michelle in volcano country of South America

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Seth Morrison opening Col d’Entreves

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Tom Grant in the Fransson line, Footstool. We used this to stretch our legs after several days travelling and get a feel for the snowpack. What you cant see is the severe gale force winds that are a big feature of NZ skiing.

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Michelle Blaydon lining up to pass through the choke on this first descent in Lofoten

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Dawn on the Midi

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On a fly past the South Face of Darwin. This was the closest look we got of it before deciding it was a goer.

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A cheaky ice bulge guarded the entrance to this 500 m virgin couloir in Lofoten. Well worth taking a second tool for making it all to easy.

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Aperol spritzers at one of my favourite bars in the world, Riva del Garda, Lake Garda Italy.

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Sylvain Renaud in Couloir Cache leading into the Brenva Cirque

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Luca Pandolfi, Col d’Entreves

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Me on the aesthetic Tacul shoulder

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Si Christy heading off on a 1200m shot to the fiord in Baffin

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Michelle Blaydon en route to Marbree one blustery day

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De Masi looking for something to make the Toula more interesting

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A psyched team of Evan Cameron, Chipie Windross and Si Christy doing a final repack of food into week bags before heading into the Baffin Fiords. Somehow Evan persuaded Chipie to swap out the normal sausage for ‘damn hot’ sausages which our guts weren’t that enamoured with and often had us sprinting across the fiord to drop our trousers

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Me enjoying perfect conditions on the Tacul shoulder

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Sunshine powder days on the Toula with Davide de Masi

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My best buddy from school days, Paul van Lamsveerde, on a late afternoon down Cosmiques and spooky avi conditions on the Para face.  Paul passed away in a crevasse fall on Grands Montets in 2013

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Geitgalien, Lofoten

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Full moon silhouette of the Chamonix Aiguilles

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The Merlet trail with its stunning backdrop

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The Brits getting stuck into Digital Crack

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When Brevent is good, its simply the best. Michelle Blaydon about to drop

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Camp 2 in Gibbs Fiord. The couloir centre picture ran 1000 m to a col behind the tower

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The rock spires and couloirs of Gibbs Fiord, Baffin

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The Frendo Spur right after we skied it by the Hausseman Boulevard variation

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A very happy team of Pandolfi, Briggs, Rihiimaki, Bird, Hewitt after skiing the Frendo in AK snow conditions

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Skiing miles of white ice on the Tasman to avoid carrying any more weight on my back

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Sundown behind the prelimary points on the Dent de Requin after a dawn to dusk day

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Jim Lee, Roger Knox and Yann Rousset wading to Grands Envers on a rare day the Kuros found deep

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Jackpot. 1200 m of boot deep powder on day 1 in Baffin. Si Christy skiing with Chipie above

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Emerald waters in the Arctic waters of Lofoten

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Deep. Jim Lee with overhead blower skiing towards Roger Knox on Grands Envers.

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We got lucky with clear skies on several nights to watch the Lofoten light show

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Another one from Mont Mallet

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Norway and the beautiful bay that surrounds the Lofoten Ski Lodge

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A tired and happy crew after a 15 hour day skiing the West Face of Mont Blanc. L-R Ross Hewitt, Mikko Heimonen and Jesper Petersson

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A rare opportunity to sit outside Wyn Irwin hut on windless morning. Sefton and Footstool behind.

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Big Country under the Dent de Geant seracs after skiing Mallet diagonal

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Sunrise hits Aiguille du Midi while we climb Mont Blanc for the West Face

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Tom Grant harvesting corn on the Brenva Spur lowers with Col Moore behind.

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5 am start in Gibbs Fiord to go corn skiing in a sunny line

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Our camper van in NZ packed to the brim with those amazing green Navis skis under the bed. Luckily Tom is pocket sized which left plenty of space for me to stretch out.

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Enrico Mosetti above the arete on the Brenva Spur

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Dolomite days with Minna Riihimaki and Christian Dallapozza  on the Cristallo as we decided to head to the Vallencent Couloir

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Dawn catches us on Col de la Fourche en route to ski the Brenva Spur

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Quite possibly my all time favourite run as a ski mountaineer on the West Face of Mont Blanc

A Photo Essay- 1st Descents Down Under

With it starting to feel autumnal here in North Wales and seeing all the ski porn flooding in from the southern hemisphere, I’ve started to dream about skiing again and am looking forward to some sensual turns in the powder. Here is a short photo essay about trip Tom Grant and myself did last October to New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  We skied 18 days out of a 25 day trip, losing 2 days to lost bags and 1 to a blown camper van engine. The highlights were skiing on the east face of Mt Cook and first descents on Elie de Beaumont’s west face and Darwin’s south face.

A big thanks to Evan and Mandy Cameron, Mel Cash & Stefan Austin, Shane Orchard, Cam Mulvey and Beau Fredlund for your hospitality, beta and good times.

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