I have to admit I got the shock of my life when I arrived in Clyde River on the North East coast of Baffin island. Situated within the arctic circle, a cold wind greeted me on the frozen tarmac and I immediately started to feel a tight knot in my stomach as I thought about the challenge I had signed up too. The cold immediately made my fingers and toes numb and feel weirdly frozen hard before I had even got into the small shack that acted as the terminal building. The thought hit me quickly, how was I going to survive camping on the ice for a few weeks?
Clyde River is an Inuit hamlet located on the shore of Baffin Island’s Patricia Bay, of Nunavut Canada. It lies in the Baffin Mountains which in turn form part of the Arctic Cordillera mountain range.
Getting into the Fjords was on the back of a skidoo. This sounds like fun but the ice was not flat and with no suspension the bone shaking ride took its toll after the 10 hour ride. It took two days to recover from this trip
The first few days of the expedition were not only physically hard, as we adjusted to life in a tent in what felt like a frozen desert, but I also found my emotions pretty fragile as I tried to manage the -20/-30 degree temperatures. Camp life was a constant routine of collecting snow, boiling water and trying to dry kit so that we kept as warm as possible to prevent the threat of frost bite. This was made even more difficult as we struggled with Stoves that didn’t want to work in such cold conditions.
As we carried everything with us we had minimal camp equipment. This meant all cooking the living was outside – which wasn’t always comfortable in the -20 temperatures.
Apart from the cold, the other element to manage was the very menacing risk of Polar Bear attack. Our first camp was pretty close to the ocean interface and Polar bear footprints were everywhere. It didn’t help that our Innuit hunters, who dropped us onto the Fjords, gave us quite a frightening pet talk if we were to encounter a bear attack. Our chances of survival didn’t sound very promising if this happened. In spite of our flimsy warning system rigged around camp, sleep was difficult the first few nights.
The bear warning system consisted of rope attached to a pin and rope. If tripped by a bear the pin would hopefully pull out of the air-horn and sound the alarm. Luckily we didn’t see any bears but one night a storm wind tripped the alarm – there was a little bit of a panic in the tent and a few shocked faces.
What was most striking to me those first few days on the ice was just how quiet, barren and remote the area appeared. Apart from animal footprints the evidence of life seemed non-existent. At first this was eerie and disconcerting and only added to the reminder that we were a long way from home. However, in spite of the dangers we soon got into a good routine and learned how to manage the cold. Even the worry of Polar bears became manageable rather than a crippling fear.
The main objective of the expedition was to ski the steep aesthetic lines that exist between the big walls that tower above the ice. The scale of Baffin can never be understood from photos. Weirdly even there in person, perspective of scale is disoriented. But standing at the bottom of the couloirs ready to climb, the rock walls tower overhead 1000m giving the impression of a huge amphitheatre that never failed to impress me every time I skied.
View from Scott Island over the Fjords and the ice below that was our home. I enjoyed being up here as it was much warmer off the ice
My goal was to ski at least 10 lines within the 4 week expedition period. We had planned to ski an area that we thought might have been unexplored on skis and then travel 100km to ski the classic lines of the Sam Ford Fjord area. With a solid high pressure from the time we arrived the team got busy skiing relentlessly. Being so far North it never really got dark so we took advantage often climbing and skiing up to 2 lines and 2000m a day and way passed midnight. Within 2 weeks I had already achieved my goal. The expedition had already surpassed all expectations, we were on a roll.
The expedition was a little complicated in that we didn’t have any support once we were on the ice. This meant that we had to carry all equipment and supplies as we wanted to explore and have the freedom to get to different areas of the Fjords. This equipment amounted to over 100kg in weight each that we hauled on two plastic sledges tied together. Luckily we were able to use kites to help us travel across the ice where we could. Kiting opened up a huge opportunity for us to travel huge distances in really short time which meant we could effortlessly explore potentially new lines and rarely visited areas of the Fjords as well as easily transport camp in no time. It was also an exhilarating experience which I loved most of the time. But the kite transport didn’t always go to plan which was frustrating at times and left us hauling the heavy load for miles which was slow and exhausting.
After three weeks on the ice, and 120km of travel we reached Sam Ford Fjord area. I spent a few days here before it was my time to leave the boys who had decided to stay on longer to keep on skiing. The last few days I skied some classic lines in beautiful clear weather under the midnight sun. This was the hardest expedition I have ever done but also the most successful and memorable. After talking to the local Innuit hunters about how things have changed I can’t be more appreciative that I have experienced such a unique and inspiring adventure.
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