Orb Freebird Review

The Orb Freebird has been in the line up at Black Crows since the conception of the Freebird touring range and is instantly recognisable by its iconic fluro yellow topsheet and matching sidewalls.

My initial ski test of the Orb Freebird back in spring 2014 was on a loaned pair. Back then the ski was traditional camber construction which provided plenty of pop and power but wasn’t the easiest thing to pilot on soft snow. I used them to ski Whymper Couloir during a traverse of La Verte from Couturier Couloir.  That day a cruel southerly wind stopped things softening but the Orb’s edge grip did the necessary.

This year the ski has undergone some changes and it’s designer Julien Regnier added a front rocker to the ski to bring it in line with the now well established Navis and Corvus Freebird skis. The Orb FB 178 has put 1 mm on its waist line bringing it to 91 mm and the pair weigh in at 2.99kg. I mounted mine with the 2017 PLUM race 170 bindings with the additional bolt on ski crampon mounts to give me a light but very strong ski for steep skiing above 4000 m, long days and expedition skiing.  The addition of the rocker has been a necessary revolutionary work over for the Orb and made it easy to ski while maintaining its founding characteristics.

Orb freebird evaluation

 

 

 

The British Mountain Guides Scottish Winter Test

This year I spent January, February and March this winter in Scotland preparing for the British Mountain Guides (BMG) winter test that is based in the Cairngorm mountains there. I learnt to climb and ski there so I was no stranger to the place and love it to bits, but Scottish winter climbing is so unique that climbing in other ranges around the world does little to prepare you for the onslought of the sub-Arctic weather, or provide you with the cunning skills required to climb, and more importantly, protect  heavily rimed and snowed up mixed climbs. Its fair to say that some of the climbing I have done there have involved the most technical trad protected leads that fully engage the mind.

The first week there was spent in the Cairngorms getting my eye back into climbing snowed up rock before relocating to Ben Nevis for a week’s winter training with the BMG. It had been mild and dry winter in the lead up but the trainers did a brilliant job making the most of the conditions to show us the guiding techniques for short roping, approaching climbs, guiding mixed and ice routes, descending, navigating and general client care.

Since I’d already spent years climbing in the Cairngorms, I decided to use some of my trip to explore some of the remoter areas of Scotland that were still 4-5 hours drive from where I used to live in Aberdeen. The beautiful region of the far North West known as Torridon was on my to do list and as it happens Martin Moran and his wife Joy have been running a guiding agency there for 32 years. When they offered me a job guiding in February I jumped at the chance and fellow trainee guide Guy Steven and myself were allocated to deliver the technical mountaineer course.

On week 1 I had the pleasure of Singaporeans Jie Ling and Arnette Wong. We visited Beinn Eighe, Ben Nevis, Skye and the Kintail, all being strong contenders for Scotland’s best scenery and climbing. On Week 2 I met Peter and Chris who were two strapping strong lads and we ticked off Beinn Eighe’s East and West Buttress, Cobalt Butress and Seamstress in the Cairngorms. On my final week I had the company of Californian Linda Sun and Londoner Guy Arnold and did Fruar Tholl;s Right End Buttress, Beinn Eighe’s West Buttress integral, Cobalt Buttress, Pot of Gold in the Cairngorms and finished with a big dry tooling session. Linda had come to Scotland lured by the promise of climbing icefall routes such as Poacher’s or Salmon Leap but with Scotland experiencing a dry winter there was no ice to be had and having never done any mixed climbing she took a little persuasion to swing her brand new picks into the frozen turf. However by the end of the week she was fully sold on subtleties of mixed climbing and was seconding grade Vs with ease.Brilliant. Despite Scotland experiencing a dry and mild winter it was still producing fantastic adventures with great company.

After 6 weeks in Scotland it was time for a quick trip home for the weekend to see Michelle and get a quick fix skiing.  It was still low tide in the Alps with little change from when I left after Christmas but with spring like conditions we enjoyed a nice run down from the Aiguille du Tacul and another in Y couloir.

Then it was back to it and the final few weeks leading up to the test were spent in the Cairngorms practising guiding skills. The whole winter so far had been plagued by persistent southerly gales with temperatures bouncing up and down. Finally as the first group started their test it looked like winter had returned and should be set for us. Cruelly the temperature bounced once again and most of our test week was spent in positive temperatures.  With atypical conditions that few had seen in 20 years, the test itself became more mental than physical making conservative safe decisions on where to go and what to do.

The 6 day test kicks off with an overnight expedition where the candidate gets to demonstrate their knowledge of climbing history, geology, snow and ice craft, snow science, night navigation, client care, bivi skills, and of course rope skills for protecting clients while moving through the mountains.  Our journey started out from the Cairngorm ski centre and passed through Coire an t-Sneachda where some of our rope skills were assessed. After we travelled on to Coire Domhain where we had a brew in the snow holing zone.  We set off on night navigation as the sun started to set and made our way around the Cairngorm Plateau navigating to the various locations requested. Once the assessor was happy with the navigation we dropped down to the Hutchinson Memorial Hut situated on the Braemar watershed side of the Cairngorms in Coire Etchachan. It had been twenty years since I had visited this mountain hut, or bothy as they are known, and it was good to see it newly renovated.  After cooking some dinner for the team we settled down to a few hours sleep and got away early in the morning.

Day 2 dawned clear and mild as we made our way back onto the Cairngorm Plateau towards Carn Etchachan in glorious warm sunshine. There we were assessed on snow science and ability to manage a team descent down the steep terrain of Pinnacle Gully. We then held an ice skills class before returning over the plateau and making the short rope descent down the goat track and heading back to Glenmore Lodge for the debrief.

The mild weather was due to continue over the next 2 days which meant we needed to get the personal ice climbing day done as quickly as possible. That meant getting up at 3 am, driving an hour and a half followed by a 2 hour yomp up Ben Nevis to seek out any remaining ice before a warm band of rain past over at noon. With a few pitches of ice despatched we topped out on the Ben just as the monsoon started which ensured we were all wet to the pants by the time we got back to the cars.

Back at Glenmore lodge we all had our personal debriefs before demolishing dinner and getting an early night to catch up on lost sleep.  The personal mixed climbing day was scheduled next but the forecast wasn’t looking good and sure enough the next morning brought storm force winds and positive temperatures. After some discussions the assessment team called the day off and left us to prepare for the 2 final client days.  This meant that we would each have to come back the following week to sit the personal mixed climbing day.

Meanwhile we needed to plan and prepare what to do on the first client day and the weather was not cooperating. Summit temperatures had been above freezing for the previous 24 hours which would mean soggy turf, loose rock and out of condition climbs. My mind wondered through all the possible ridges available in the area to do as a mountaineering objective and I spent a lot of time asking all the instructors and guides at Glenmore Lodge about what had been done recently. Conditions on the nearby Moray coast at the sandstone crags of Cummingston would have been perfect for rock climbing. Ally and myself had already enjoyed 2 lush days sports climbing at Brin Rock in the middle of January but going rock climbing wasn’t going to pass us a mountain guide’s winter test.

I went to bed with some good ideas of what to do and decided to wait to the morning , meet my client and ascertain their fitness and ability and make a plan A, B, D and D to cover all eventualities. I really wanted to avoid focusing on an instructional day as it isn’t my background and delivering in a structured manor off the cuff doesn’t come naturally to me. After all it was a guiding exam and if at all possible I wanted to cover lots of ground while throwing in some teaching and coaching along the way where appropriate.

Next morning I met Paul Jackson who would be my client for the next 2 days. Paul is an ex-marine / Falklands war vet who now works in the Oil and Gas Industry as an asset manager. He falls into the category of an alpha male high achiever where time is a major commodity. The Fiacall ribs would provide safe climbing sheltered from the worst of the westerly gales and by the end of the day we climbed 3 mini routes covering a fair bit of ground and throwing in some snow science instruction along the way. This was by far the worst day of the exam for the candidates as it was difficult to pin down an inspiring option and doubt played heavily on the mind. Having seen my client move well on rock, I went to bed a lot happier knowing he was up for smashing a couple of grade IV/Vs the following day with the return of winter conditions.

Thankfully the final day of our week dawned clear and cold with light winds and it was back to normal winter conditions. All the doubts we had experienced about what to do on the previous day were gone and it was time to go mixed climbing. An early start from the Lodge allowed us to make the most of the day and comply with the non-negotiable return time of 4 pm. We headed for Mess of Potage to maximise the climbing to walking ratio and started up initial pitches of the Message before taking on the burly top pitch of the Melting Pot V,6. Having smashed this Paul just wanted more and we did the brilliant direct start to Hidden Chimney to finish the day.

Once we got back to the lodge there was time for a quick shower before our individual debriefs for the day. We all had to come back the following week to take the personal mixed climbing day and that loomed like a shadow over us. Despite this we all wanted to get debriefed on how the week had gone so far and adjourned to the bar for the long wait knowing the first results were unlikely to be given before 11 pm.  By 9 pm we’d already had half a dozen pints and were all feeling somewhat jaded after a busy week with less than optimal amount of sleep. As we started to relax from the busy week, falling asleep at the bar was a real possibility and I went to get some coffee for the lads. By 11 pm its fair to say we were all wasted in every sense of the word and desperate for some sleep. Finally the examiners were ready and called the first candidate. We were all on tenterhooks and hoped we hadn’t made any major errors during the week and embarrassed ourselves. I continued to wait n tenterhooks as the second, third and fourth candidates were called and passed provided they passed the mixed day the following week. The pressure was mounting and with the initial candidates getting provisional passes it felt inevitable that someone would be deferred. My mind wondered if the mistakes I had made during the week would be viewed as minor or result in a deferral. During a week long assessment its unlikely that your performance will free from errors and the effect of exam stress comes into play an impacts negatively on performance.

At last I was called and prepared for the worst just kept  quiet and listened to my feedback. As expected its started off with the things I had done well and I was braced for the shit sandwich only to hear, come back next week, do the mixed climbing day and you will pass! Relief and happiness washed over me with a new wave of fatigue. I was over the biggest hurdle on the way to becoming a British Mountain Guide and the mental burden of the Scottish winter test was being me. Afterwards I stayed up into the wee small hours chatting about the week and our experiences with my friends Jack Geldard and Ally Swinton before crashing out for a few hours well earned sleep.

I now had a few days off before the mixed climbing exam and went to see my Mother in Aberdeen. It was great to relax a little and eat well after a busy week and I needed a couple days to rest a pulled hamstring but all the time there was the final day in the back of my mind.  4 of the guys elected to do their final day on the Monday while Swinton an myself chose the following Wednesday. I drove back to Aviemore on Tuesday and met up with David Thexton to climb the good Burning and Looting mixed route on the Fiacall. On the Wednesday Ally and myself went into our final day knowing the other 4 had passed so the pressure was on not to fluff it at the final hurdle. The weather was kind and conditions good so we headed back to the Mess of Potage for a couple more laps. I kicked off climbing a big pitch combining Pot of Gold and the Message. All I had to do was climb steadily and not mess up the ropes and I would pass – I’ve probably never climbed so slowly, but steady and sure was the theme of the day. With my part done it was over to Ally who despatched the Melting Pot. As we walked out of the Northern Corries for the final time that winter we got given the news that we had both passed.

Ally and myself said our fair wells in Aviemore before hitting the road south. I ‘d hoped to get to Michelle’s work flat in middle England but the adrenaline of the day soon faded and was replaced by deep fatigue from the stress of the test and a long winter on the hill. Luckily for me my sister lives in the Scottish borders and I stopped off at theirs to celebrate passing with bubbles, beers and a dram or 2!

 

Arctic Tanning

Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition-1-25

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 hadnt 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 didnt 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 Baffin bound.

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

Evan putting the booter in while I slipstream

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Time for me to break trail. Evan feeling happy about our find

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Nearly there

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

The team having a spot of lunch on the plateau – could be cairngorm apart from the plethora of 1000-1500 m lines to ski and the presence of man eating bears.

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

Chipie slotting it through the narrows

Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

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

Line 2 of the day

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

With the return of settled weather we returned to the twin sister of line 1.

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

As the angles eased the snow just got better and better

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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Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

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.

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Ross Hewitt Baffin Island Ski Mountaineering Expedition

500 m up the line and things were heating up fast. The rest of the couloir was in the shade and the sun moving off. I was keen to up the pace into the sanctuary of the cooler air with Si while Chipie and Evan bailed.

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

Si Christy

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