Baffin Island

Baffin is really a place that defies all the normal conventions of where alpine skiing should take place. It’s essentially an arctic desert with quite meager precipitation. The world’s 5th largest island. The world’s biggest sea cliffs. Some say the world’s best couloir skiing. Certainly a place of superlatives. Baffin is 2.5 times the size of the UK with a population of 15,000. It has remarkably stable weather and stable snow. The snow is an intriguing combination of super stable and deep snow in the couloirs and a horrible shallow and faceted snowpack on the open slopes. In the 16 days I was out on the ice I skied 14 days and had one day of bad weather. We averaged 1000m vertical skied per day and I skied 14 different lines. We carried guns for safety, not avy gear. The quality of the skiing is very high, very consistent and far safer than in the Alps.

When my ski partner and good friend Ross Hewitt invited me on the trip and confirmed that Berghaus were going to be paying for it I couldn’t believe the good fortune. I will forever be grateful to him. Ross and Michelle Blaydon are Berghaus athletes and extremely fit and experienced ski mountaineers. Marcus Waring had been to Baffin previously, owns lots of guns and is an under the radar ski mountaineering beast. Baffin will never become a popular destination due to the enormous expense and logistical difficulty of getting there. With the arctic warming more rapidly than temperate latitudes, who knows how much longer it will be possible to ski there.

My three team mates went out ahead of me. First Ross and Marcus who worked round the clock to organize our supplies and food. Michelle then followed them shortly afterwards and the three of them traveled out onto the frozen fiordlands, an 8 hour skidoo ride from the nearest town of 500 Inuits, which was a 4 hour flight from Baffin’s capital in the south. I had a guide training course to attend which I could not miss. The plan was for me to travel out independently and meet them on the ice. My trip did not start according to plan. After a sleepless night packing I took a nap in a nice quiet corner of Philadelphia airport, alarm set for 45 minutes before my flight was due to depart. Only I was in the wrong terminal and the airport was far bigger than I had realized. I made it to the gate just as they were sealing the door and even though passengers were still taking their seats they would not let me on. My flight from Ottawa to Baffin was non-refundable and would have cost 1,800 Canadian to buy another ticket. I had to travel the 500 miles from Philly to Ottawa in 6 hours, so the only solution was to caffeinate myself to the max, rent a car and drive through the night.

Once I arrived in Baffin we did not have a predetermined location to rendezvous and suddenly I wished we had made a clearer plan. I knew Ross, Michelle and Marcus had traveled a very considerable distance from where they were dropped off, but I did not know where they were going to be the day I was going to meet them. I did not know how quickly I’d be able to find a ride out and how I was going to meet my Inuit driver. My team was somewhere out there in the wild and I had to get to them. Good practice at becoming more comfortable with uncertainty. The evening before I was due to depart by skidoo with an Inuit hunter I received a text update from the team giving me their location.

Anyway, here are the lines we skied.

My first line, and the only one I skied with Michelle before she left. The three of them had had a brutal 2 weeks of travel and skiing in -30 degree and Michelle had lost half her body weight skiing like a demon and hauling a heavy pulk miles across moraines.

Only 500m vert; Baffin mini golf.

P1020112A 1500m south facing line! Nothing previously known about it. A French team snaked us. Would be the crown jewel classic line of most mountain ranges! 45-30 degrees of corn. Think 8 ENSAs stacked ontop of each other. So fast and rippable.

DSC01210Beluga Spire and the uber classic Polar Star couloir. Baffin’s most celebrated line. Probably 5.2 on the toponeige scale, comparable to the NNE of Les Courtes. The only line where we encountered exposed glacial ice near the top. Marcus has now skied this line more than anyone else, 4 times I think. 40-50 degrees, 1,300m vert.

P1010825Nonstop glory lines, another 5 star classic, NE Passage. 1,200m, 45 degrees

P1020526What you wanna ski you gotta boot up.

P1020694In the guts of a 1500m, probably unskied line. Marcus scouted this gem on his last trip. It leads to the summit of Walker Citadel, the only amenable way to the top of the world’s largest sea cliff. 30-45 degrees.

DSC01409The same line can be seen in the background as we climb a beautiful 1000m line on the opposite Stump Spire.

P1020852The one close encounter we had with the local wildlife. I practically fed this arctic fox out of my hand, it seemed to have no fear of humans whatsoever.

P1020096Moving camp through the night, we hauled our pulks 20km and sipped whiskey to keep our moral up. No darkness, only twilight.

P1020977The prize line on Ford Wall. Model T or Bronco. Andrew Mclean skied all the classics on this wall before anyone else. 900m of cold boot deep pow and chalk.

P1030470It’s gonna be freeride. Generally, consistent and safe snow meant we skied fast making biog turns more often than not.

P1030099Towering big walls and pleasing aesthetics for the seasoned couloir connoisseur.

P1030227Looking down into the above line several hundred metres below. The most exposed place I have ever sat on.



Ross in another classic on the Ford Wall.

P1020054The culinary highlight of the trip, Marcus’s cheesecake.

P1030375Camp defense was not taken lightly. A bear perimeter fence with an airhorn was rigged up (Marcus’s ingenious design). I love polar bears as much as the next Greenpeace activist, but if they got too close, well we were ready with a .308 and pump action shotgun loaded with slugs.

P1020818One of Baffin’s prize lines, the 1500m Inquisition, another Andrew Mclean line. Damn him coming here a decade before us.

P1030473Marcus near the top of the same line.

P1030270During the one and only storm day we fortified our camp with snow blocks.

P1030373Like the East Face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. Splitter couloirs among towering granite. No info on these lines, possible first descent of a steep 1000m southish facing line, the obvious one right of center.

P1030621Skinning back to camp one night. Easy to lose track of time in the perpetual light, at times we got into a routine of sleeping in, skiing a north facing line, getting back to camp late at night, then repeating the next day. At times we traveled up to 10km on the flat to reach objectives. It was faster to skate than skin, but expended far more energy.

P1020067Getting picked up and traveling  back in the luxury custom made boxes.

P1030602Late May and substantial leads were developing in the sea ice. We had to move floating section of ice to get the sled across.

P1030675A long and uncomfortable journey back to Clyde River where we spent a couple days mingling with the locals, eating and sunbathing.


Dru Couloir

Back in Last November in 2012, Ben Briggs and I went up to climb the Dru Couloir. Conditions were excellent, but we made a couple route finding errors in the dark  and the rock pitches were quite time consuming.

This October I randomly bumped into Tasmanian beast Kim Ladiges in Macdonalds. The first and only other time we had climbed together was on the Peuterey Integrale back in 2010.  Ben Tibbets joined us at the last minute to complete our trio.

Magnificent photos courtesy of Ben Tibbetts.


A light dusting of snow, thin mixed and black ice were the order of the day.


A BD Firstlight tent made the bivi more comfortable. The bivi at the bottom of the Dru is very well situated and seems to be a prime spot for epic sunsets.

P1060164drus sunset bivi-3

The glacier was easy enough to negotiate, save for a ball tingling three foot gap jump over a monstrous crevasse. After the schrund there is 50m of 70 degree brittle ice, then a long stretch of 50-60 degree neve.P1060324tom-first-ice-runnel-2Before the rock wall and nominee crack, there are 3 rope lengths of slightly steeper neve covering rotten rock. In 2012 conditions were much fatter and we easily ran up this section, confused by the mention of chossy grade 3 rock in the guide book. This time there was thin snow and neve on the slabs making it insecure and tedious with very spaced gear.


There are in situ anchors at all of the belays for the rock section, which is a useful reference point for the Nominee. It follows a very steep finger width pegged up crack. It can be climbed in one pitch with 60s. Last year Ben and I struggled up it using a combo of free and aid. It goes free at M7+ sport grade. I’m not a regular dry tooler so hard to say how this would compare to a M7+ at a dry tooling crag. IMO, unless you are a uber wad on your tools, there is no point trying to free it. It’s simply not a good pitch of free climbing. The placements are tenuous and there are pegs everywhere. Once you admit this to yourself, it makes sense to attack it with full aid tactics. Kim, fresh off his last Yosemite trip, pissed up it in minutes with etriers. We ascended the rope which was far quicker and easier than our approach last year. Alpine aiding on second sucks.

P1060399kim-tom-base-nomineP1060461kim-nomine-2 Kim on the overhanging start of the Nominee

P1060572tom-jumar-nomineDespite my smile, jumaring on half ropes is not super fun.

After the aiding, there is a long tricky M6 pitch. First a short steep step, then veer right to a pegged corner. After 20m of sustained climbing, keep heading right over slabs. It is easy to make the mistake of continuing straight up. I led this section in a full 60m pitch to the start of the crux offwidth.

drus-rock-detaildrus-rock-topoLast year I climbed half of the pitch before bailing and protected the start with a stubby screw. This year there was a little ice in the back of the wide crack, but not enough to be much use. The crux is a full 60m of sustained hard mixed. Starts off M6/M6+, with the crux wide flake M7. Scottish 8 free. I’d recommend taking camlots 3 and 4. Great effort by Kim. Easier with lots of ice or no ice (in winter 2011 it was dry, and talked to one French guide who took his crampons off for it and jammed it with thin gloves).


Above; Kim getting stuck into the first section, me halfway up.
P1060808tom-offwidth-2After the crux wide flake (very awkward climbing) keep veering right and into the ice couloir.


We were hoping to move together up it but it was mostly heinous black ice, so we pitched it. Usually the S bend (crux of the upper couloir) is pretty mellow mixed or just ice. We find a tricky overhanging snow plugged that was quick time consuming. Good lead by Ben, then onto the last 4 pitches of black ice.

P1060911topFrom the Breche, its 800m of rapping back down. Best to head straight down the overhanging chimneys of the direct. All anchors are in place but on the lower neve they may be hard to find and of questionable integrity. We arrived back late at our bivi and crashed there for the remainder of the night. Great to finally complete this mega classic on a truly iconic mountain.

Mont Blanc du Tacul South Face

My season in Cham finished earlier than usual this year. Towards the end of April I went up to the Lake District to attend a BMG training course there. We worked on guiding multipitch rock climbing and short roping with Adrian Nelhams and Stu McAleese. The course was superbly run and I learned a lot in a condensed four days. Write up from Paul Swail.

I’m now back from a ski expedition to Baffin Island, and reports from that will be coming soon. I had really productive March and April in Cham skiing some great lines with new and old friends. More will come, but here is the highlight of my shortened Cham spring, featuring Ben Briggs and Brendon O’Sullivan.

Mont Blanc du Tacul is one of the Alp’s most popular and accessible 4000ers. Which is one of the reasons dropping into the south face is so cool. Going in an instant from the familiar and pedestrian normal route, to the wild savagery of Mont Blanc’s steep south side. Just like the Sentinel Rouge and the Col de la Brenva, the ambiance is electrifying. All senses are instantly engaged. The sunny aspect belies the very serious and committing nature of these descents. Skiing it onsight is simpler and reduces the exposure on the south slopes, but it adds to the adventure and commitment.

This was without doubt one of the most technical and sustained descents I’ve ever done, and a fantastic adventure. It has been skied just a handful of times and I very much doubt it will ever become a classic. However, a French crew skied it more recently and made a nice edit for Epic TV. It looks like they benefited from much more snow build up on the line and managed ok with one rap. We skied it during a very dry and warm spell.

At the top.

credit Ben Briggs

Chillin. I managed to almost doze off here. We waited for it to soften. Sorry for the blatant way Ben is advertising White Dot here.


credit Ben Briggs

‘What’s down there?’


Nice top slope. Steep but clean and open.


Brendon shredding

P1090441P109046055 degree mini crux. It’s not often you see the fearless Briggs plunge his shaft in. Yes, it’s steep.

P1090478Ah, now a turn. Stunningly exposed and delicate.

P1090493Cruxing. This step was rather hideous, Ben is engaged here in a dry manoeuvre over a 5 ft rock step.  Ben and Brendan are a rare breed of dry skiing ninjas. Knowing this, I opted for a 2m rap.

credit Ben

Techy slopes keeps the concentration up.

credit Ben

Good turns on good snow

credit Ben

Damn my shit looks good, thanks sponsors for giving me the best gear.

credit Ben


Sloppy palming of the slope. Steep all the way.


Questing to get to the anchor for the mandatory 40m rap. Ben’s mixed skiing is often an asset to the team.


After the rap, we ended up in the skiing some 50-55 degree refrozen crust. Perfectly edgeable though. Then came what looked like steps of water ice. Ben skied first and edged through and jumped the last step. Damn. Well, I didn’t like the look of it. Brendan wasn’t sure either. We transitioned to crampons and got both tools out. However, instead of water ice it was grey mush. As I kicked in, running water welled up around my boots. My frontpoints had no purchase on the rock slab underneath. We made a 5m rap.


Back in the sun and some good turns here.



The line weaves intricately through the rocks.





An Italian February

Throughout late January and early February, southerly storm cycles continued to pummel the Italian side of the massif with copius amounts of snow. While a strong foehn wind wrecked havoc on the Chmonix snowpack, the lure of good coffee and endless deep untouched terrain had us going through the tunnel on an almost daily basis.

Photos courtesy of Jason Thompson Photography

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Cable Face. My favourite go to line.

Tom Grant, Hellbronner  Italy

Italy delivers.

Couloir Cache

Last week, Luca, Minna, Kirsti and I went over to explore one of the beautiful freeride descents emptying into the Brenva Basin. One of the charming features of the ‘Couloir Cache’ is that it is a half hour skin from the lift. Cache of course means hidden, and it is indeed well hidden. To access the entrance, 2 diagonal raps are needed to get over 2 other couloir systems. No doubt this line was spotted by an alpinist on the Brenva Glacier, or perhaps somewhere high on the Peuterey Arete.

Once in the couloir we were pleased to find 30cm of cold, stable powder snow. Although the couloir is only 400m long, it’s a really pleasing consistent pitch. We were the first team in there this season.

Out onto the Brenva glacier the snow was perfect and rippable. With how much the glacier has receded, more of the skiing is on rocks to the skiers left side which provides a perfect playground of small natural booters. At the moment, there is no ideal way off the Brenva, and we had to contend with a hideous gully exposed to the crumbling mass of the disintegrating glacier above.


Minna at the first anchor.

Kirsty-2-1024x768Kirsti side slipping to the entrance. Optional 2nd bolted anchor.



lucacache (1 of 1) Open for the season.


Boys at work.


Minna-Kirsty-1024x768Finnish chicks rip.

img_1887Photo taken by Dave Searle from Brenva Glacier.

Tom-3 Tom 1 Tom 2Kirsty-3-767x1024


La Grave, Avalanche course

As part of the British Mountain Guide Scheme, this January I have spent a couple weeks doing a ski technique training course, a week long avalanche course and a one day assessment of our personal ski level. The BMG seem quite keen to raise the standard of skiing for British guides, and it seems the level has improved in recent years.

The ski technique course was run in Leysin, Switzerland and our tranier was Alex Languetin, a Swiss instructor of the very highest calibre. Leysin is a tiny resort with a limited area, but it was fun blasting around the pistes. The one thing I struggled with was imitating Alex’s ‘flying stem turn’. Anselme Baud was one of the opriginal advocates of this technique whereby the skier initiates his turn on steep slopes by first pushing off the downhill ski. I have long since drilled it into my brain to initiate off the uphill ski on steeps (Vallencant technique), which is favoured my most steep skiers these days.

The avalanche course in La Grave was an interesting opportunity to examine this year’s unusually unstable snowpack. The early snowfall in November followed by a month of cold and dry weather led to faceting, which formed a persistent weak layer in the snow pack, especially on north facing slopes.

Here is a facet. They are identified by how angular they are, which means they don’t bond. Each sqaure is 2mm.

Credit Miles Perkins

Digging and analysing a snowpit.

Credit Miles Perkins

Touring up on the south side. The snow pack was quite different, and there were far less facets due to less of a temperature gradient.

Credit Miles Perkins
Credit Miles Perkins

For the assessment we skied the classic Trifide and Bannane couloirs and found good powder in the trees.

credit Bruce Goodland
credit Paul Swail

The mighty Meije. Dreaming of the mythical steep lines high on its imposing north face. I’ll be back.

P1000560Over the last week I have been in Italy skiing epic snow and hanging out drinking coffee.

Credit Cedric Bernardini

The Cafe in La Pauld. For me and many other local riders, this is a really special place to ski (and socialise), something we all hope won’t be irrevocably altered by the development of the new monstrous lift. The current lift is a relic from a bygone era, where the arcane infrastructure and epic untouched terrain gives an instant feel of adventure.

The skiing has been pretty ok.

credit Davide de Masi
credit Davide de Masi


Dômes de Miage – Arête Mettrier


The autumn can be a good time to get into the high mountains, not just for mixed and ice climbing, but also for skiing. With the right weather systems and conditions, steep faces can get plastered in sticky snow. However, the lifts close and the long approaches often deter speculative excursions. Getting a big line in good conditions is possible, but usually a long shot, and a willingness to suffer a little is often a pre-requisite. After some decent snowfalls at the beginning of Nov, Ben Briggs, Brendon O’Sullivan and I were keen to hike for some turns. The north face of the Domes de Miage looked white from afar, so that’s where we went. The north face is one of the most aesthetic and cleanly skiable 1000m north faces in the Alps.

Photos from Ben Briggs

p10806711Me on the approach by the Chalets du Truc. Its a little over an hours hike from the lower car park. With a burly 4×4 you can drive up to here.


The trippiest sunset I have ever seen. This isn’t photoshopped, the sunset lit up the clouds in the valley turning them into flames.

p10807191The Plan Glacier hut has a genuinely remote feel in autumn/winter, set at the back of a glacial cirque in a quiet part of the range. From the chalets it took us another 4-5 hours of trail breaking.

p1080738Approaching the face. It soon became apparent that the north face was not going to be skiable. We instead decided to boot up the Mettrier. After 600m, the wind had stripped too much snow off the ridge and we turned around with another 400m to go to the summit. However, we were treated to some great exposed skiing on variable but generally pretty good snow.

p1080748On the  way up.


Skiing high on the arete.

p1080784Ben approaching one of the lower chokes.




Tacul Triangle

In the autumn when the Midi opens late and closes early, the options for day routes are quite limited. The Tacul Triangle offers some of the most reliable mixed climbing in the Massif and provides a perfect training ground for bigger objectives. Besides the overcrowded and easy Chere gully, there are several very good quality 2-4 pitch mixed routes. It is easy to seek out some spicy climbing, and it is equally easy to avoid it or bail from almost anywhere. The quick approach means that you can get stuck into the climbing without stressing about missing the last bin down.

2nd pitch of the Perroux gully after a Sept storm

Credit Davide de Masi
Credit Davide de Masi

Dave and Liz seconding the 2nd pitch.

1240267_10100864799798068_1002534479_nIn mid October I headed over with Carsten for some more mixed cragging. We climbed a superb 2 pitch route to the left of Temp est la Assassin. 1st pitch was Scottish IV/V 2nd pitch takes a steep direct line up the mini headwall and was quite meaty, Scottish VI/VII.

P1050585Carsten crushing.


Me climbing the excellent corner pitch of Temps est la Assassin. We rapped into this after climbing the above pitch. It is pitch 2 of Temps. Similar difficulty to the above pitch, Scottish VI/VII. 2 bolts ease the mind and if the crack is not too iced, a no. 3 protects the crux at the top (bold if iced).P1050601 P1050599