Here it is, finally, my favourite Baffin photographs from the 30 days I spent camping and travelling on the sea ice skiing the gullies of the Gods with Michelle Blaydon, Marcus Waring and Tom Grant.
In total we skied 26 lines, 13 are first descents, kited and skinned 230 km and pitched 7 base camps. This was one of the most beautiful and remote places I have been to with the best concentration of skiing I have found on the planet. It’s also got some of the best kite skiing with flat playing field extending 10 km by 70 km which you can rip around at 40-50 kph. And did I mention the 1500 m walls soaring straight out of the sea? If only I was younger I would try wing suiting. I can’t wait to go back for another adventure and explore some more.
Flying to Clyde River We got our first glimpse of the mountains from the plane and the excitement starts to build.
Travelling with 150 kg each Sometimes just getting through doorways was a challenge. Marcus and myself travelled in advance of the others in order to sort food and logistics. We checked in at Ottawa with 7 duffle bags, a ski bag, a shotgun and a rifle. By the time we got checked in our feet were roasting in our winter boots and we cooled them on the -5C pavement outside the terminal.
Getting Acquainted with the Locals. Michelle checks out this polar bear pelt and starts worrying about the size of the paws. The local children have seen it all before and are more interested in lollipops.
Seals on Ice. Since they don’t fit in the fridge its handy having outside storage. Photo: Marcus Waring
The Komatic Sled Ride The komatics packed with our gear and loaded with gas for the 24 hr round trip. The open komatic was particularly uncomfortable with no wind break and forcing you to sit flat legged which drained the blood from your feet.
Cold On the komatic trip we wore everything we had. My feet got really cold and I was worried about managing them over the next 30 days. Once out of the exhaust fumes of the skidoo my circulation was a lot better!
When the Hunters Become the Hunted Tracks from mother bear and her cubs bring the realisation that we aren’t the top of the food chain out here and remind us to keep our vigilance.
A Seal Pup Killed by a Polar Bear The noise of the skidoo approaching must have scared the bear away from the fresh kill. Nothing goes to waste in the Arctic and Ilkoo and John took it for their dinner.
Ship’s Prow This was the first big wall we saw on our adventure. The 600 m Ship’s Prow serves as a landmark for Scott Island to the Inuit and marks the entrance of Scott Inlet where we were headed.
Brass Monkeys at Base Camp 1 After travelling all day we spotted some sensational lines on the South side of Scott Island and asked the Inuits to drop us off just before nightfall. Ilkoo had lived in a tiny settlement here for the first 26 years of his life and gave us some valuable knowledge before leaving us in the playground. Kite Skiing The first morning there was wind down fiord and I learned to kite ski pretty quickly in order to keep up with the others in search for our first ski lines.
Base Camp 1 Our first base came near Scott Island felt very exposed with nothing beyond it and Greenland over the frozen Baffin Bay.
First turns on Scott Island After weeks of preparation, admin, travelling, packing and sorting kit, it suddenly felt worth it with those first turns. The S Couloir above was one of 5 lines we skied on the Scott Island which we believe were first descents.Ancient Hallways The rock on Baffin Island is several billion years old. Overtime the granite has cracked and eroded leaving ancient hallways between the big walls that provide the best couloir skiing on the planet.
Smiles All Round Happy people after finding good snow in this Couloir on Scott Island.
Aesthetic Lines Michelle Blaydon enjoying a first known descent on Scott Island.
The Warm Glow of Evening Light The team returns to camp in gorgeous late afternoon light.
Gibbs Fiord Lined with magnificent rock features this zone is truly stunning.
Getting the Angle Sometimes the opportunity presented itself to get on a ledge for overhead shooting down couloir. A couple of cams would have been useful for added security while looking through the view finder. Marcus skiing in a first known descent in Gibbs.
Gibbs Fiord The iconic cliffs in Gibbs could be seen towering above the fiord from 35 km away beckoning us to come explore. Shame those lines opposite had breaks in them but there were plenty stella 1200 m + lines to chose from like this one abobe.
Tight and Technical One day Marcus and myself skied an 800 m line on the North side of Gibbs Fiord, which turned out to be the the most technical and steepest line we skied with off camber skiing and a couple of steep steps on wind sculpted snow. First known descent.
Seal Holes The seals depend on breathing holes and keep them open all winter long. We disturbed a seal here which had been sitting eating fish on the ice. It was the first living thing we had seen in 3 weeks. The Fortress, Gibbs Fiord We took the left hand couloir which was dubbed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as it spiralled through the rock to the summit plateau 1200 m later.
The 1200 m Stairway to Heaven This was our second route of the day and we topped out on the plateau around 11 at night excited about dropping into this line.
The Best Couloir in the World? Probably With tired legs after 1800 m of bootpacking during the day, this line required precision turns in the upper half where the walls kept it tight. The overnight snow mean we found cold, sluffy powder that was sensual to ski on. First known descent and one the best lines I have ridden anywhere.
Base Camp 2 In Gibbs Fiord we were surrounded by dream lines and incredible vistas. The morning sun was a welcome addition to the breakfast table. Goal Zero solar panels combined with a Yeti 400 and Sherpa 100 system kept our electronics powered.
Local Wildlife We were always on the lookout for polar bears but this brown bear caught us off guard. Actually, Michelle was so cold she grew a beard.
Into the Wind For 3 days we sled hauled into the wind. Sometimes it was downright cold and I wore every single item of clothing I had with me. A continual supply of High5 powered us and I kept my camera and batteries in plastic bags within my mid-layer pockets at all times to protect them from moisture and ice.
Fresh Water Ice on Lake Stewart It took a while to get used to walking across this clear fresh water ice. You had to remind yourself that it is a couple of metres thick.
Sled Hauling into Stewart Valley We gained access to the Stewart Valley from Refuge Harbour with relative ease as we followed a channel of ice through the moraines. The unravelling mountains that lined the lake kept us entertained as we progressed with the glimpse of Great Sail in the far distance.
Base Camp 4 Stewart Valley Sheltered in a snow scoop we savoured the time out the wind were able to enjoy our morning coffee from the relative comfort of seats dug into the snow drift. It was also our first boulder toilet which was a relatively civilised affair in comparison to exposing your bum to the Arctic elements.
Features in the Ice The sea fiord ice is opaque but on this freshwater lake you could see deep into the ice. It held millions of air bubbles and other features like this dove like image which kept the mind occupied while sled hauling.
Great Sail Peak We sat in a wind scoop sheltering and preparing hot soup while celebrating Marcus’s birthday and taking in the stunning view under Great Sail Peak. The guns were always ready just incase we got any uninvited gatecrashers.
Stewart Valley The absence of snow from the ice gives an idea of the strength of wind that is drawn down this valley from the Walker Arm. We donned crampons while sled hauling through the valley over 3 days.
Crosshairs Couloir The top of this classic 1000 m couloir offered a commanding position over the Walker Arm and Stewart Valley while the Couloir was a very worth ski.
The NW Face of Walker Citadel Home to classic ski lines like Debris Couloir on the left and Broken Dreams on the right
Sled Hauling in the Walker Arm We all had enough kit, food and fuel for a couple of sleds each. Here Marcus is hauling in the Walker Arm with the Ford Wall 20 km away in the background. Base Camp 6 Our First base camp that caught the evening sun that made for more pleasurable meal times.Debris Couloir Another McLean and Barlage classic which provided 900 m of powder for Marcus and myself. (above & below).Overhead Blower Don’t going to Baffin with expectations of overhead blower as it usually chalky snow and the area is effectively a desert. We got lucky on a few occasions and found some great snow.
Our Guide Ilko Ilko enjoying a meal of Arctic Char the way he likes it – frozen. Ilko and his son’s John and Michael took us into the fiords. Ilko grew up in a tiny settlement surviving by solely by hunting until he was 26 years old when he moved to the larger settlement of Clyde River (population cicra 900 now).
The Walker Citadel This enormous rock bastion is surrounded by the sea on 3 sides with a neck of land connecting it to Stump Spire on the 4th side. Home to hard core grade 7 big walls like Superunknown and Mahayana Wall. Debris Couloir is seen on the right. We skied off the summit plateau down the South side in a probably first descent.
Happy Smiley People Tom Grant, Marcus Waring and Michelle Blaydon in Broken Dreams Couloir.
Broken Dreams Michelle starting off skiing down Broken Dreams couloir just as the sun set fire to the NW wall of the Walker Citadel.
The Berghaus Team Standing in front of Walker Citadel, (L-R) Ross Hewitt, Michelle Blaydon, Tom Grant, Marcus Waring. We all felt immensely privileged to get the chance to go to Baffin which would not have been possible without the sponsorship from Berghaus, High5, Black Crows skis, Julbo, Gino Watkins Memorial Fund, The Wilderness Fund, The Alpine Ski Club, and many others.
Polar Star Couloir, Beluga Spire Possible the most hyped couloir on the planet which has become an uber classic. 1100 m to the col. First descent by Maclean and Barlage. This summer saw a Canadian team free climbing the first ascent of the North Face by the pillars bounding the left edge of the couloir.
Bootpack Torture Sessions These couloirs are long but fortunately start at sea level with firm snow so the going is fast.
Skiing Polar Star Couloir With all the hype surrounding this line it was definitely top of my adventurelist heading out to Baffin. Close to the top we found a thin veneer of snow over the glacial ice and down climbed a few metres to a point that allowed us to transition. The skiing up there is steep and with low margins for error our initial turns were cautious. but as the snow thickened we were able to ski more aggressively. Post Polar Star Celebrations Even with Tom on tip toes he still couldn’t reach our shoulders.
Arctic Fox This guy came to visit us one night and started hoovering up the scraps from Ilko’s Arctic Char. They normally scavenge from bear kill’s and we instantly increased our vigilance.
On the Sunny Side Opposite base camp 6 was a south facing line that turned out to be a 1450 m monster. We were not used to the heat and sweated buckets on the way up. Marcus caught this shot of me skiing as I hurried down to get the stove on a drink some water.
The Walker Arm View of the Walker Citadel, Walker Arm and Northwest Passage.
The Vast East Face of Walker Citadel Home to the grade 7 big wall adventure Mahayana Wall. The first ascentionist ran out of food after completing their new route and with the sea ice gone they were too weak to walk out the 160 miles to Clyde River. Without a satphone they waited over a week after their last food before some Inuits out fishing rescued them. this summer the Favresse brothers put up the 1000m E6 6b Shepton’s Shove on the SE (Drunken) Pillar. Sean Villeneuva and Ben Ditto climbed a 1000 m E3 5c on the Superunknown Pillar which is a pretty remarkable grade for the terrain. Hanging Out on the Tops. The summits tended to be a lot warmer that the fiords giving us the chance to sit and savour the views after the long bootpacks. Here Marcus and Tom check out the South Couloir on the Walker Citadel which we are about to ski.Judging Scale The 1450 m South Couloir on Walker Citadel. The small dot in the couloir left of centre is me skiing. Photo Marcus Waring. First known descent.Wet Dreams Marcus skiing the first known descent of the South Couloir on the Walker Citadel. The Stump Spire sits in the background and the obvious couloir was next on our list.North West Passage Another uber classic first skied by the Maclean-Barlage partnership. It hangs ominously over the Walker Arm. From head on it looks improbably steep. We skated 10 km there from our base camp under the Walker Citadel and another torture session landed us on the summit where we hung out on in the sun and trundled some rock in an attempt to hit the fiord below. Tom Grant skiing.
Low and Fast After 3 weeks of continuous boot packing and skiing we were joined by Tom Grant whose fresh legs still allowed him to get low.
Powder We went to Baffin with low expectations of snow quality but were pleasantly surprised to ski a large proportion of lines with great snow. Looking back up North West Passage makes it look decidedly mellow but the top was steep enough to make you think.
Scoping the Joint An Inuit hunting party stopped by our camp on the way inland to let us know they had seen a Polar Bear not far away down fiord. Marcus spent the next hour scoping the area and we double checked the ammunition and placed our weapons by our beds that night.
Frozen Nutella Sometime simply getting at your food required special tools. Here Tom scrapes slivers of frozen nutella from the jar with his ice axe.
Wet Dreams Marcus shared this couloir on the South side of Walker Citadel with us. He had a go at it on his previous trip but the top section wasn’t skiable. This time it had snow top to bottom and is the only continuous line on the 1450 m high rock bastion that is The Walker Citadel. With a line called Broken Dreams on the North side, surely this should be Wet Dreams. First known ski descent.Milky Evening Sunshine Tom Grant enjoying the descent from Stump Spire. First known descent.
Basking in the Sun Whenever we found a sheltered spot in the sun it gave us a chance to relax and soak up the little heat there was in the rays. We had a long way still to go to collect our sleds waiting at the corner of the firod where sun meets shadow and then haul another 15 km towards Ford Wall.
Polar Star Couloir, Beluga Spire After a long day which started with breaking camp under the Walker Citadel then skiing Stump Spire, we hauled through the night watching the sunset on the Beluga Spire and Polar Sun Spire until eventually arriving at Ford Wall at 3 am.
The Boys Marcus Waring, Tom Grant and myself Ross Hewitt at the top of AC Cobra on Ford Wall. By now it was warm enough for the Go-Pro to work more than 5 seconds!
Cold Sluffy Powder Throughout the trip we were blessed with both great weather and often amazing snow.
AC Cobra Marcus Waring powering a turn on the steep upper section of AC Cobra Couloir on Ford Wall. A cornering couloir named after the Ford car that cornered well. We skied the 2nd couloir from the right from an impasse at 1000 m on the towering buttress across fiord which was a first known descent.
Inuksuk A cairn at the top of Mustang Couloir on Ford Wall. Another great classic. The Corvus 184s were the perfect ski with slight tip rocker and a real tail for power and edge ability. Think Mantra but 10 mm wider and you get the idea.
Icons of Lust The eclectic collection of incredible mountains that formed the backdrop to base camp 7. The Beak, The Turret, Polar Sun Spire, Beluga Spire and the Walker Citadel some 20 km away.
Base Camp 7 Our final camp and what a relief not to have any more sled hauling to do.
Kite Skiing The wind could be infuriating, there one minute gone the next. But when it did work we travelled for free, free in the sense of calorie expenditure. Our first camp move of 35 km was kite powered. On our last day skiing Marcus and myself kited 10 km down fiord where we met Tom. He had to walk because he couldn’t fly. After skiing a 1000 m line we found the wind had changed direction and we kited back to camp. The near flat sea ice is a perfect medium for kiting around at 30 mph.
Model T Couloir Another classic. The 2nd line from the right on the opposite wall caught our attention and was another possible first descent. Photo Marcus Waring
The Base Jumper Wall This incredible wall overhung so that any rocks trundled took 8 or 9 seconds to explode on impact. The gully below formed a natural amplifier transmitting the incredible explosions up to us. In total we must have trundled a tonne of rock and laughed till we were sore.
Arms at Hand The threat of Polar Bears was ever constant. Even with a perimeter fence rigged to an air horn, we slept with loaded weapons by our sides.
Bronco Couloir Me setting off down the rough riding Bronco Couloir. Photo by Marcus Waring.
Flying in High Winds We rigged a tow line so that 3 of us could piggy back onto Marcus and provide some ballast so he didn’t land in Greenland.
Marcus Waring Skier, hunter, kite rider and 2 times veteran of Baffin ski trips.
How Far and How Long Tom ponders the boot back as we begin to get cooked by the warm mid May sun.
Skiing the Sunny Side This was a novelty for us since we spent the majority of the time skiing North Facing lines which for me held the best snow.That said, this was a lot of fun too.Photo: Marcus Waring.
Last Turns And oh so sweet. Our 1000 m East facing line down Fiord from Great Cross Peak provided and a suitable finale for our trip. Ford Wall is in the background.Break Up Ilko looking for a safe route for the skidoo and komatic through the cracks.
Ilkoo and John On the way out the guys stopped at the half way hunters hut. Photo: Michelle Blaydon.