Baffin Island 2004
April 22 - May 13

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Pond Inlet

I’d like to think that by getting blown off course and having our gear crushed by the sea-ice, we were upholding a long standing tradition of exploration on Baffin Island . While we were able to avoid the unpleasantries of being marooned for years, death by starvation or being eaten by polar bears, it’s a dubious honor to join the ranks of Sir John Franklin and many others who had underestimated the complexity and ferocity of Baffin Island and have been forced to reevaluate their plans in mid trip.

Our plan had been to start at Pond Inlet on the northern tip of Baffin Island and then ski and kite-ski our way down to Clyde River in the middle of the island.  The trip was to cover roughly 400 miles of wild terrain that wove in and out of fjords, across open sea-ice, over glacial passes and through crevasses.  In a classic case of “Be careful of what you wish for – you just might get it,” our first day started with little to no wind for our kites and slow progress.  A few hours later in near hurricane force winds, our dreams of a big traverse were crushed by a 30 mph excursion into a jagged ice floe that left one of our sleds splintered and broken.

With one unreliable sled, it was time to reconsider our options.  Based on previous experience from a trip to Baffin in 2002, we knew that where there are big cliffs and tight contour lines on topo maps, there is bound to be good couloir skiing.  Betting a few weeks salary on a snow machine ride out to Coutts Inlet, we reassembled our gear and established ourselves in the Nova Zembla Island area roughly 30 miles southeast of Pond Inlet.

Our first quest was to work our way  up a receding glacier toward the high point of Qiajivik peak.  Climbing through a moraine filled with old animal tracks, we reached a high point just as the temperature hit a low of -10c at 10pm.  Retracing our steps back down to the sea-ice camp, we spent the night in a tent bolted to the ice with ice screws before heading off the next day in search of the elusive monster couloir.

We didn’t have to go far.  Within a few minutes of skinning, we came to the base of a 4,000’ beauty which we dubbed Nanookie in honor of the native polar bears.  We didn’t know it at the time, but this was to be one of the best lines of the trip, with soft snow, a striking fall-line and sunny weather.  For the following weeks, we fell into a pattern of climbing and skiing a couloir per day and then moving camp when an area was skied out.  This area, Coutts Inlet and the North Arm of Coutts, had some descent couloirs, but not of quite the quality and quantity of the Sam Ford Fjord area.  They also suffered from exposure to the sun, which cooked the snow into a firm, icy base.  This made for some sporty turns, especially in the “Gnarwhal” couloir which had an attention grabbing 55 degree upper section to it.

As a unique diversion from couloir skiing, we made a side trip over to Nova Zembla Island.  Suspecting ahead of time that the skiing would be terrible, we were impressed to find that it was even worse than we could have imagined.  Although Baffin Island is frozen solid for much of the year, it doesn’t actually get all that much snowfall.  One of the reasons that the couloirs are such good skiing is that they are filled in by wind transported snow, but most open slopes only have a shallow, rotten base.  Nova Zembla was not only rotten and rocky, but had absolutely zero visibility.  We felt our way upwards, checking with a GPS until the slope seemed to start going down and declared it the summit.  The descent was one of the longest, slowest 45 minutes of my life, as we set world records for number of rocks hit and damage done to skis in a short time.

Returning to the sea ice a day later, we met Matious at a prearranged pick up point for our ride back to Pond Inlet.  Near the end of the spine jarring four hour ordeal, a seal made the mistake of peeking at us from a crack in the ice and was soon loaded onto the back of the sled to become food for Matious’ dog team. 

Although nothing on this trip went according to our plans, it did follow the Baffin Island master plan, which guarantees nothing more than wild terrain, striking scenery and unexpected adventures.  One of the more telling examples of this concept was the discovery of the Northwest Passage, which is a major part of Baffin Island ’s history.  After 200 years of trying, the secret northern passage from England to Alaska was finally pieced together, only to be immediately discarded as being unrealistically difficult to navigate.  To this day, the act of discovery and exploration on Baffin Island remains perhaps more important than any end goal.

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Kite skiing
Post wreckage
Inuit kids
Dog sled...
bi06_skull dead.
Coutts Inlet
Camp #2
Twin couloirs
Brad climbing
Chute skiing
Nova Zembla Island