Big Ski Lines on Baffin Island
Big Walls, Big Lines: Skiing Couloirs on Baffin Island
On Saturday, April 18, after a series of flights from Calgary to the tiny town of Clyde River, Nunavut, Dan Evans, Patrick Bruce, and I departed for Sam Ford Fjord, Baffin Island. We travelled by snowmobiles and qamutik (Inuit hauling sled), stopping at a hunter’s shack for lunch before arriving at our first camp location at the base of Belvedere Ridge and Polar Sun Spire. We had come to Baffin Island for 17 days to ski some of the world’s most impressive couloirs and to kite on the sea ice.
The mountains and landscapes we found were like something out of a Jules Verne novel. We got our first real sense for how massive and otherworldly the area is during an exploratory mission where we traversed from Polar Sun Spire to the Polar Star couloir on Mt Beluga.
Spring Skiing in the Arctic
It didn’t take long to settle into a routine of setting up camp, traversing, boot-packing, skiing, cooking, drying gear, and trying to stay warm during the early spring in the Arctic.
The move to our second camp was the most challenging of the trip with heavy pulks, high winds, and frigid temperatures as we passed through an expansive intersection of the fjord. From our second camp we had easy access to the Ford Wall for Escort and Model T couloirs, among others, and it felt good to ski.
Frozen Toes and Skiing a Classic
We had only been “on the land” for three or four days when Dan realized he had developed frostbite on his toes. Worried that we might have to pull the pin on the trip early, we set out to tag Polar Star couloir, our primary objective and one of the most coveted lines in Chris Davenport’s 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. After topping out from an 1,100 metre boot-pack, we were greeted by a warm sun and breathtaking views at the col. It was couloir powder skiing at its best!
Moving on and setting up our fourth camp at the base of Stump Spire and the Walker Citadel, William Hyndman – friend and experienced northerner – joined us to make our team a foursome. From camp, we set out to explore the Walker Arm zone of Sam Ford Fjord and I skied Broken Dreams couloir solo while the boys continued to explore down the fjord.
Exploring the Fjord
The next day, having found a way to manage his toes, Dan and I skied Debris couloir while Pat and Willie kited around the fjord. The winds were unpredictable and sometimes unfavourable for kiting. Looking for good conditions, moving camp and building windbreaks became part of our regimen, which often took a full day.
Our fifth camp was at the base of Great Cross Pillar where we had dramatic views of the entire Ford Wall and the lines we had skied earlier in the trip. We were 150 metres up in Iron Cross when a small boulder descended on us, so we decided to bail out of that objective and move to our final camp at the east end of the Ford Wall.
By the final stretch of the trip, the sun stopped setting altogether and the temperatures had increased drastically. For our last turns of the trip, we boot-packed up Ford Focus Couloir and toured up to a nublet of Kiguti Peak.
Successful First Expedition
Pat called our outfitter, Levi, on the sat phone to arrange our pick up and the next day we departed Sam Ford Fjord at 4:00 pm on Sunday, May 3, returning to Clyde River just as a three-day blizzard descended on the hamlet. We had nailed the weather window and achieved more than we had hoped for in terms of ski objectives and living on sea ice – not bad for my first expedition.
In addition to the Jen Higgins Grant of The Alpine Club of Canada, the entire team would like to thank Helly Hansen, MEC, and Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s Backcountry Kitchen for their support.
Summary: In April of 2015 Michelle Brazier together with her team Dan Evans, Patrick Bruce and William Hyndman spent 17 days skiing couloirs and kite skiing in the Sam Ford Fjord area on Nunavut's Baffin Island. The trips was sponsored in part by the ACC's Jen Higgins Grant for Young Women.