Sky Run – Peak District

With trail and ultra running ever growing in the UK it was only a question of time before the sky running series made its way to our shores. Big in the Alps the race formats are normally marathon plus distances in the mountains with the aim of taking in peaks and ridges along the way.

At one extreme you have the Salomon sky run along the Aeonach ridge, a grade 3 scramble to others which are much less technical. This weekend was much less technical in comparison but with 29 miles and 2000m of ascent it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Especially when this height gain to distance ratio puts it in a slightly more aggressive category than UTMB or the Lakeland 100. Admittedly despite that fact being floated about, those races are a much more incredible feat of human determination and endurance.

A short recce the day before took me to the top of the first climb, Solomons Temple near Buxton with great views over the course of the following day. A final bit of race preparation was enjoying an incredible meal at the Samuel Fox inn, potentially a tad much for a pre-race meal but with this being my first outing back into ultra racing for a couple of years my aim was to enjoy the day and start getting back into it.

Solomons Temple


Wondering amongst the competitors it was great to chat and hear stories of competitions completed and planned for the coming year. From quick dash fell runs to the rather more brutal races such as King Offas Dyke 185 mile race or the 268 mile Spine race in January along the pennine way.

Pre-race kit prep

The race commenced and we made our way quickly up to Solomons Temple with short pauses as we were funnelled onto single track. Despite the forecast being of overcast conditions I was glad I had packed some sunglasses for the day with the sun beaming down on us. As we rounded the temple with a bagpiper playing up top we began to spread out as we started our decent already. This was going to set the stage for the day with every ascent marked soon afterwards by a descent and slightly demoralisingly loosing all the height just gained.

The route took a course along ridges, through moorland, bogs and of course up a number of hills.


With a well marked course we could concentrate on the running and getting our feet in the right spot. With plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles amongst the rocky tracks being light on our feet and an emphasis on twinkle toes was the name of the game.

The only slight mistake came when chatting to another competitor about his up coming race in Oman. Taking the wrong turn we led out towards a farm building only to realise we had gone half a mile in the wrong direction. Slightly devastating as was the sight of maybe 20 odd runners who had followed on behind us. Quickly making up the ground we had lost we all made our way back into the course and meandered back down the hill side.

Running through one boggy area I came across a pair of Oakley sunglasses that had clearly dropped off one of the runners in front and were gently perched on some long grass. Picking them up I handed them into a later checkpoint. You never know when you might be in a similar situation. I didn’t have to wait long!


About 10 mins later the course was incredibly beautiful and one I would have certainly wanted to capture more of it wasn’t for the fact I dropped my phone. Fortunately it was picked up by one of the other competitors not far behind me. A quick snap and with it firmly packed away for the remainder of the race after learning my lesson and not fancying a repeat before heading on.

The course meandered on and my pace ebbed and flowed as the terrain and distance took its toll. The three food and drink checkpoints on the route hit the spot every time. With the opportunity to refuel on chunks of banana, succulent orange slices, flapjack, soreen and of course a wide array of other goodies. I try to make these as quick as possible and continue to eat as I walk along out of the checkpoint. Partly this is to not get too comfortable and I would much prefer to finish sooner.


Chatting with some of the fell runners it was great to see them descend in front of me. I still don’t understand how they did it so quickly other than through a bit of experience and raw tenacity to descend quickly! I envisaged face planting a rock face first if I tired the same so clearly an area I can improve on.

The route went past quiet a few climbing and bouldering spots with chalk marks on some and people clambering about in the sunshine on others. Unfortunately it would have to be  for another time.

As the day wore on I went over on my ankle. With my run going well this was pretty disappointing but deciding to walk it off for a bit I soon managed to break into a trot again. Some of the rocky ground though became much trickier to negotiate as my ankle seemed to get twisted on even the smallest of stones.

Finally the town of buxton came back into sight. I was delighted despite not being able to increase my pace a huge amount. One guy asked if we were to have a sprint finish. As much as I wanted to my legs and ankles had run out of juice. I was happy to finish the race at a plod.

Within moments of crossing the finish line I was welcome by a flat coke, my trainers coming off and my wife looking at me in a slightly sorry and apparently “grey” looking state.

So good getting the shoes off!

Despite the ankle it was awesome getting back into the running again having been out of ultra running for a couple of years. I was remembering all the elements i had learnt about through training runs, competitions and chats with numerous runners and trainers. I finished middle of the pack which may not have been my best result ever but it was one I will certainly remember. I would certainly recommend checking out the sky running series with a greta mix of terrain and distances.

A race to remember

Helvellyn Circuit

With a weekend of spectacular weather on the cards and a wide range of walks across the Yorkshire moors, Dales or the Lake District to choose from we were certainly spoilt choice. After much debating over these options and gaining some local knowledge we set our sights on Helvelyn in the Lake District.

With a choice of routes to go up Helvellyn including the famous striding edge it was set to be a fantastic outing.

Our Final Route

Waking the next morning and rushing for the curtains I was welcomed to a view of low cloud and overcast hills. Not quite what we expected. Stepping outside the cool weather was perfect for walking and so I began filling a couple of flasks with hot water in preparation for some cooler ascents.

As we headed out along the a66 with awesome views over the Pennines the cloud began to lift. As we drove down onto the western side of the pennines we were greeted to glorious sunshine. The temperature began rising and the thought of no sun cream along with the hot flasks of water all began to seem like daft ideas.

Arriving in Glenridding the car parks were jam packed with rucksack and map carrying hikers. Brilliant to see but dashing our thoughts of being in the wilderness. Gathering a few final essential supplies including the sun cream and chocolate bars we were ready to begin.  The chocolate unfortunately did not make the journey as it was eaten in advance before we started.

We headed on up the valley.

Wondering along side the stream that flowed through the village. Huge chunks of it were missing and the foundations of some houses completely exposed showed just how powerful this meandering stream had become in the floods over the winter. There was still a decent amount of work to be done before everything was back in order. Still evident from the number of trucks, diggers and reinforcements being put in place.

The route up was a path that carved its way up the hillside with only a short detour taking us away from the swathes of groups heading up the hill. In front and behind of us were a steady stream of harden walker to enthusiastic opportunist, young and old, tourist and local as well as a few dogs thrown in for good measure.


As we reached a small plateau in front of us we could see striding edge with the silhouette of walkers making their way across it. The sun was beaming down on us and it’s safe to say the sweat was beginning to stream off me at least.

Striding Edge

The edge itself was great fun, certainly in this weather. Despite being occasionally exposed it wasn’t like tryfan or crib goch in Wales and in this dry and sunny weather it made for a great outing. Despite this you there were reminders to tougher times with a memorial to Mr Dixon who fell off it in 1858 whilst running with hounds, as well as  the occasional scrape from crampons left over from a previous winters. It would certainly be a challenge in cold, wet and icy conditions. One for another day! Darting over the rocks we paused occasionally to soak up the views and let some of the blockages on route ease up. The final chimney proved to be the biggest pinch point of the ridge yet despite this we watched as one guy virtually ran along the length of the ridge swerving round people while a rather elderly looking gentleman made this chimney look a piece of cake. There were of course many others for whom this was not quite so simple but seeing the elation and satisfaction from everyone on conquering striding edge was awesome to see.

Memorial to Mr Dixon, 1858

Making the final ascent up to the summit which flattens into a great plateau we reached the top. To beautiful views over the surrounding valleys. Sitting down with our feet dangling over one of the slopes we munched on some sandwiches as we watched the start of some fell runners coming up from the other side looking remarkably fresh. We briefly joined the throng of supporters cheering on the competitors before they made their descent.

Surveying the surrounding routes we opted to not go for the well trodden path up Catstye Cam but to meander round along a flat ridge line. The sights and smells brought back memories from many a previous trip up into the hills.


On reaching what we thought would be our final summit, with us both still feeling pretty fresh and the day still young we set our sights on a further peak and ridge line. Passing school groups and walkers relaxing on the slopes whilst soaking up the afternoon rays of sunshine. It was definitely far too hot for the still steaming bottles of hot water I had packed in the cool yorkshire morning.

We made our way along a final ridge with hardly a soul about. It felt much more like the walk we had both expected being slightly more out in the wilderness. With the sun beaming down on us the occasional sip on cool stream water was incredibly satisfying.

The final descent into town was through a field packed full of blue bells lit by the soft evening sunshine. It was a pretty spectacular find for the end of the day, especially as this bit had been an unplanned extension to the day. Before the final descent into town.



Sitting down to a plate of chips and a pint of coke was a delight. We could relax enjoying the evening and the feeling you get from being outdoors all day. A mix of tiredness and satisfaction at what has been achieved. All that was left to do was get some flip flops on, essential after any walking trip and head back to yorkshire for the night.


Scottish Ski Touring

After much deliberating over the last few years I finally took the a spur of the moment to get some ski skins after chatting to one of the team at a local ski and mountaineering shop in Perth. For those who haven’t heard of these, it is a material where all the hairs lie in one direction so when stuck to the base of the ski they allow the ski to slide in one direction but hold in the other. Along with a touring binding the whole setup allows your foot to pivot up and down so you can trek up hill.

midnight prepping of the skis

The first trial trip was just at the end of a beautiful days skiing at glenshee however this coincided with the wind picking up. With the temperature plummeting and the skins flapping around I learnt a lot about the equipment and using it in poor conditions. Some of which I should have checked in the warmth of the house! The short notice of good conditions in the hills meant for a quicker trip and slightly rushed prep as I cut the skins to shape at midnight the evening before heading off.


After the initial delay I was off. Gliding along the snow, over snow drifts, heather, ice and rock. I was rewarded with views from the high point across the valley. You could see the snow line across the valleys and the winding road up to glenshee. The nearby stream gleaming in the sunlight. All topped off by a great ski down. The little bit of effort rewarded with untouched Scottish powder, not quite the depths of the alps or further afield but powder nonetheless. I passed a couple making a similar journey up the hills.


The second outing was much better with perfect weather and the snow was due to be good in bits despite the recent warmer conditions. Being in the hills covered in snow is a beautiful sight as was meeting a few like minded people up there. I stopped to discuss route options and snow conditions with a fellow ski tourer. It also gave me the chance to cool down despite the cool breeze I was vastly over dressed for the constant trekking and “warm” weather. If it had been the arctic I would have definitely been sweating far too much. As it brought back memories of the tougher days we had whilst trying to minimise any sweating to an absolute minimum in order to prevent our clothes from freezing.

Glorious views, Glas Maol, the hill with the bowl on the left was where i was heading

Some of the more exposed slopes were quite icey. I don’t mind skiing down ice but skinning up hill in a zig zag fashion makes the turns quite interesting. Still perfecting my technique I slid back occasionally on the turns as I shifted round.


overheating in the exceptionally warm weather

It was slightly gutting every time about the loss in hard won height despite it only being a tiny difference. Once at a decent height it was time to head down hill. Skins off, realising I had forgotten the gauze that makes them easier to pull apart, I packed them away eager to hit some fresh snow. Heading down into some of the bowls the skiing improved and I could carve out some turns down the hill between clumps of heather. Before slowly making my way back to the car.

It was a great experience learning a new skill but there is the greater satisfaction knowing you put in the hard graft to experience and reach the area you wanted to ski in. I learnt about how using normal ski boots although does work is not only much heavier but you don’t have nearly as much flex in the ankle which ended up giving me a couple of blisters.

End of a good day

IMG_3185 (1).jpg

Despite skiing in Scotland being a bit of an experience compared to the likes of the alps. It often involves some rock, streams and heather avoidance. Its close, you can get some incredible conditions particularly if your willing to put some effort in and I will certainly be doing it again! Skiing and ski touring in particular in Scotland is certainly on the increase with the snow lasting well past spring if your willing to go away from the ski areas. As well as allowing you to visit areas with potentially more snow and certainly a lot less skied on gives that adventure and exploration experience.

If you have some ski or other touring experiences why not share the story or the pictures here or on Instagram #Mytour

Reflections on 2015

2015 can only be summed up as a year of some serious highs and lows. It began with an incredible expedition which at points had some interesting ups and downs. Despite that Jamie and myself had learnt a great deal, saw some amazing sites and experienced the Arctic in all its harsh beauty. Although it wasn’t a trip that broke records and I’m not sure if we were or weren’t the first people to ski up the east coast of Baffin Island the experience humbled us. It showed what was important in an expedition; seeing new places, meeting new people from different cultures and pushing our comfort zones. We were helped by a huge number of people back in the UK and all across Canada and particularly on Baffin Island

Pond Inlet 2015

On getting back to the UK I felt raring to go. I had a game plan of what I wanted to do for the remainder of the year. First up and even I would admit a rather bizarre one which was a desire to make croissants from scratch. This came about part the way through the trip in a rather random train of thinking during a ski session and it had stuck.

First batch of croissants
Then followed it up with an interview on radio scotland.
A day at BBC Scotland
Not long after getting back and following what sounded like a seriously tough eight months of physical and mental preparation my brother passed out of the Royal Marines. It was a fantastic weekend watching them march out, heads held high and their pristine uniforms. Despite the torrential rain it was still an awesome sight.
Once the formalities had finished he showed us some of the areas they had been trained on to give us a snippet of an insight into their daily training regime. It was like an adults playground and looked incredible, I can only try and imagine the sight of it early on a cold wet morning is probably a lot less appetising.
A damp pass out
I got into some new sports which made for a change of thinking, one of which was trying my hand at a spot of kite surfing. Dragging face first through water was a new experience. Never the less a good one as I’m keen to do some more and hopefully some kite skiing at some stage.

There was then a huge curve ball. One that has continued to make me think deeply about family, friends and loved ones.  My dad was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. It was one of those things that you don’t see coming, there had been no signs just one day after work a call from my mum. It has changed my perspective on, well everything.
My plans, ideas and thoughts evaporated in the space of a short phone call.
Up till Christmas has been spent with regular trips back to Scotland, visiting hospitals, Macmillan centers and hospices as well as time spent researching into the diagnosis and the possible treatments available. I can’t comprehend the number of friends which have stepped up and helped everything from just being on the end of the phone to many a kind gesture, for that no words can describe how lucky and thankful we are for that.
As I said it made me stop and think. Like an expedition you begin to appreciate the simple things. Moments of happiness and laughter are held tighter than before and time together is suddenly invaluable. There has been some serious laughter and of course some tears too. I realised that something’s I planned on doing I was waiting for no reason.
Since going back to work after my expedition I have been living and working in Yorkshire. I had been thinking of it for a while but I decided that I wanted Laura to be permanently in my life. I got her up to Yorkshire and after a bit of persuading she agreed on marrying me in 2016.
Now you maybe thinking why am I telling you this? Is it some sob story, raising awareness of the work cancer charities do or the NHS. Although they all do a fantastic job. However the answer is no. As I write this I’ve had a video of my dad walking again which may sound small but it is something I am incredibly proud of and amazed at his strength to continue and aspire to better things. He has since been walking down the road, which a few months ago we were only hoping for. I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell the story other than to ask that after reading this you pause, reflect and learn from our families experience. Try and spend time with friends, family, loved ones and do stuff that is important to you. There is one thing certain in life but how we get there is what’s important.
Everyone’s life is for living and open to adventure whatever that might be.


Something that takes up a large part of our day and one which we haven’t really spoken about is what it is like on a day to day basis. Having spent over a couple of months travelling in an Arctic environment we are certainly building on our previous cold weather experience. The main priorities of the day are water, food, warmth and sleep. So pretty basic things. Our days roughly start at 5.30 am. In our bid for freedom, getting out of our sleeping bag resembles something David Attenborough would commentate on. Try and imagine the voice…


“Here in the Arctic tundra the small and now hairy faced Jamie/Benno wakes for yet another morning in this cold and wintery environment. Making an opening large enough to squeeze their arms and head….”

You get the idea.

We begin our day trying to avoid a freezing cold shower as the moisture in our breath freezes to the edge of our sleeping bag. As you open it down sprinkles tiny little ice crystals onto your sleepy face, any method of avoiding this is a bonus. Then comes the start of our daily tasks melting snow, boiling water, cooking up food (pouring hot water into our food to rehydrate it) and in typical British fashion a cup of tea to start the day. All of this is done whilst in our sleeping bags. The pans have to be constantly topped up with more snow, even a full pan of snow melts down next to nothing. Whilst this is going on we get ready as much as we can without leaving the warm cosy oasis of our beloved sleeping bag. They haven’t got names yet but they are defiantly our happiest places and out attachment to them makes a duvet morning on a Sunday look like child’s play. A morning isn’t complete without using our pee bottles; where despite lying down, it is possible to have a conversation in your sleeping bag without over filling or spilling a drop. If you are feeling clumsy the whole process is slightly easier kneeling. The important bit, particularly if it’s still quite dark, is keeping the now filled bottle away from the drinking bottle as they are exactly shape the same except in colour and in the past it has been known for people to have almost made the mistake of taking a gulp before the smell hits their nostrils and they realise their error. Best not to risk it in the first place. Then there are the socks and tent booties to get on. Trying to get the down booties on is hard enough for myself. Jamie opts to test out his sleeping bag yoga to get his socks on. It seems an impossible task but with a few groans, some weird facial expressions and some impressive moves, success! One sock done, one to go.


Wriggling down into our bags we finally make enough space to eat our muesli, or porridge if we are lucky. The short straw is something called hot cereal start. It resembles a warm brown sloppy mix with unknown ingredients bar a few raisins thrown in for good measure. It isn’t our favourite but apparently it goes down well with others.

Despite being in the Arctic and surrounded by ice and snow the area is virtually a desert with very low amounts of precipitation throughout the year. The snow tends to get blown off everything and instead collects in snow drifts generally around the rough ice and is where we tend to collect it. This is a bit of an issue as it means every time we get close to camping we have to think is there enough snow to melt and just as important; is it far enough from the sea ice to not have become salty? It is really not a great start to the evening when you have collected enough snow, started melting it only to find that your hot chocolate at the end of the day is salty and you have trundle back out for more snow. Doing this twice in a row is just gutting.

Following a hearty breakfast we pack up and hit the trail. In sunny conditions this is fine. However in windy ones we have to plan out each step to make sure nothing blows away mainly so we don’t get too cold before starting the day. This is particularly the case when going to the toilet. The hole is dug, the paper is ready and you’re thinking about how quickly you can get your trousers down, business done and them back up again before your bum feels like it’s been left in the freezer for too long. No one wants frostbite down there of all places!

Once we start skiing things settle into a natural rhythm. Ski for an hour. Have a break for a snack and a drink. This makes up part of our daily 4,500 to 5,000 calorie diet. It ranges from flapjack, cakes (our favourite being the Eccles cake), nuts, chocolate, biltong and Maximuscle protein bars. This pattern continues until about 5 to 6pm when we stop.


We spend the entire day constantly thinking how do my toes, fingers, face and general body feel. They can’t be too hot or too cold. Too hot and the sweat freezes when you stop. Too cold and you’re at risk of getting a cold injury. We have a selection of gloves we can change between which is pretty straight forward to do. Less simple is the task of removing our thermal top if we get too warm. Having to strip down to bare skin and then get your jacket back on is nippy to say the least. Despite being hot and sweaty at -30C your nipples can cut glass within seconds of taking your top off. It’s not a particularly pleasant experience although we do tend to do this only when it is sunny and little or no wind.

Finally when it comes to the end of the day the process is repeated in reverse. Tent up, snow melting, hot chocolate followed by a meal and a cake. It doesn’t get much better than having a warm drink tucked up in our sleeping bags. Lights out is normally around 9pm depending on when we finish. Although, with daylight gaining about an hour every 4 days it will be less of a lights out and more of a pulling our hats down over our eyes. With the increased daylight we are hoping the tent temperature doesn’t drop to the -40s we had at the start where we would diving into the bags with almost as many clothes on as during the day despite the huge amounts of insulation on the bags.

We have also upgraded our sleeping arrangement. Caribou hide. Jamie manage to locate one first in Clyde river. Despite looking really quite dishevelled it had made a big difference. I on the other hand manage to find a very plump and hairy one. The downside is it is malting. Everywhere. Fortunately it is now in a bag that keeps most of the hairs in but within an hour of testing it out hairs were turning up in our mugs, water bottles, clothes, food and just about everywhere else you can think of. Even after being sealed up we are still finding them several days later. Then repeat from start to finish.

Summing up the day to day Arctic life ignoring all the beautiful scenery, obvious good company and conversations musing over the meaning of life. Cold and monotonous probably cover it very well. Having the chance to visit local communities, meet hunters, look after a couple of dogs and of course each other make it a far more interesting trip.


Finally back on the sea ice, our mid-way point and resupply location lay ahead, invisible to us. However, rather than being frustrated at feeling like you aren’t getting any closer this was a welcome sight compared to the hills, rough terrain, false summits and rocks which prevent us from taking the most direct path. With the edge of an island set as our target there was a renewed vigour in our steps. We bolted out of this imaginary start gate. It felt amazing to be sliding along, not worrying about rocks, and just enjoying the tugging on the lines rather than feeling like you’re horizontal and trying to pull some monumental object like in a strong man competition. Our pace naturally slowed as the ice undulated along in its never-flat state. Despite the improvement, we still dreamed of pancake flat ice with a dusting of snow. Our search for perfect ice continued. We have been ticking off the kilometers since leaving the headland. Our initial plan had been to head overland for the final leg into Clyde. Due to our last experience this was out of the question, we thought far better to take our chances with the ice gods and their beautiful whites and blues rather than the ones controlling the barren and stark land routes. We were making fantastic progress towards our headland with a band of ice appearing on the horizon. As we came closer these towering blocks broke through the surface creating an almost impenetrable wall of ice. It was the worst ice we had seen all trip. Fortunately we spotted a way round. A glimmer of hope. Thoughts of “have we chosen the right route?” started to eek into our minds as we closed in on the second headland and the possibility of a hut for the night. As the wind picked up we arrived at this remote and desolate hut with a strange and small lookout post on roof. It was possibly a whaling station in the summer as it overlooked two bays. After clearing the snow, piled as high as the door, we staggered in. Typical for the larger huts it was colder than outside. The main benefit was we were out of the wind and a rickety bunk bed sat in the corner, which very quickly we were tucked up inside. Stoves burned gently next to us still in a bid to warm the place up. We were awoken to Tala licking my face and jumping up towards Jamie’s bunk above me. We lay in our bags drinking hot tea, cradling a hot bottle and discussing options if the ice ahead resembled what we had seen the night before. The options weren’t great; head back down the coast to another route overland or cut across from near our current position. This would slow us down considerably and possibly provide another torturous set of days. We decided to climb a nearby hill for a better view. Reaching the top having been crossing fingers, toes and anything else flexible we looked up the coast. There was a slither of “flat” ice. It was fantastic news, we could head up using our route. Pulks ready, dogs in position we headed north again in beautiful sunshine and a sharp breeze that cut through any chink in our armour of clothing. We walked past huge explosions of ice that looked like giant marshmallows that the sea had forced to the surface in a mess of blue and white. They are an incredible sight and demonstration of nature’s brutal power as we weaved between them on our way up the coast towards our next stop. With forecasts of 30mph and higher winds we dug in, digging a small hole for the tent behind a slight hill in this tundra coastline. Guy lines were all out and the sleds tied on for extra stability. We headed to bed wishing for soft winds and a good night’s sleep.


Waking the next morning to gentle flapping wasn’t what we expected but it was a bitterly cold day. When the sun finally poked its head out we could begin to see just how flat and barren the landscape was as sea and land flowed into one another under a blanket of snow and ice. It was here the troubles began. Colin, who was attached to the sled, launched a cunning ploy create chaos with his lines and Jamie’s harness. As Jamie scrambled about on the ground with the line all of a sudden he was holding both ends. His line had broken. Colin, who is usually not too switched on, spotted his chance and made a bid for freedom. He spent the rest of the afternoon sprinting about with Tala just out of our reach. You can imagine him screaming “freedom” (obviously in a Scottish accent despite his Inuit upbringing) on every pass as part of his hedonistic and wild afternoon antics continued until the end of the day where he collapsed in a ball. Trying to catch him was futile as he waited till you got close and then got up and trotted off. Maybe food will bring him closer! The morning brought strong winds; Tala was coated in a layer of snow, as was the entire tent, with one side building up quite a large drift. We thought it was too strong to ski in but it had brought Mr Colin in for food and capture. It was a stroke of fortune before turning our attention to securing the tent more and building a snow wall to sit out the weather and wait for more favourable conditions for our approach to Clyde River.



It is northwards to Clyde and so northwards we went, leaving a warm and comfortable hut for the sea ice and our trusty tent once more. In good spirits and now both showing signs of good beard growth, things were looking up.

Growing facial hair has always been an issue for Benno so he has been delighted to start to show the signs of some serious progress on his chin and chops and I have been happy to see that his barb is also decidedly gingery in colour. It’s an odd phenomenon that neither of has another ginger hair on our body, we have thoroughly checked, apart from the area between clavicle and nose. So leaving the hut, with a dash of the fox about us, we were determined to make a coastal point some 20km away but with our now reloaded sleds weighing in at around 50kgs heavier, life moved at a slower rate. We were both taken by surprise at quite how much more effort we were now putting in to move the sleds and our dream destination for the evening seemed sure to elude us. That is until we saw the bears- it’s amazing what adrenaline will do for your daily mileage!

We had seen lots of tracks at the hut and criss-crossing our path for the past 6 hours, confidently announcing to each other that this was a male or here you could see a young mother and cub and that this track is clearly weeks old when Benno stopped and squinted at the horizon. “It’s a bear” I replied as soon as I followed his finger and saw a mother and two cubs around 600m away, ambling along towards us very bear like and pausing occasionally to stand on hind legs to smell us and get a better view. Having rapidly dumped harnesses and grabbed shotguns, we secured Tala, hid the marmalade and loaded our bear bangers. As we watched the mother trundle closer who should we suddenly see bolting towards the bear at full pelt but Tala, having slipped her lead and seeing this as a wonderful opportunity to get aquatinted with her polar cousin. As the queen bee of Battersea Park and used to lording it over the Cockapoos and French Bulldogs, Tala is not lacking in self confidence and despite us shouting and swearing at her, she wasn’t coming back for anyone. Benno and I watched in horrified silence both thinking this was going to end in one of two ways, neither happy. Tala would either get mauled or killed by the bear, very bad news meaning we would be left with only Colin who was trying his hardest to look in the other direction and pretend he couldn’t see the bear, or Tala would get close enough to severely piss the bear off and when she realised this wasn’t the big husky from the park and that maybe a play fight was out of the question she would run back towards us bringing an angry and irate mother bear with her. Tala however proved us wrong, she fully charged the bear, ears up, legs galloping, taking entirely airborne strides until the bear turned and with her cubs ran as fast as they could in the opposite direction. Tala chased her for around 600/700m, barked at the bear quite a lot as if to say ” and don’t come back” then turned round and strutted back to us looking very pleased with herself. Needless to say we weren’t shouting at her anymore and she received lots of attention and praise once she had sauntered back to our position, head held high and in expectation of some flapjack for her bravery.

As the light faded and we watched the bear and Cubs saunter off into the dusk we decided to push on to put some distance between us and this large and powerful creature. It is a strange experience being separated from a large, hungry, predator by only an open stretch of flat sea ice and in some ways it felt as if we were watching the whole experience on the most vivid wide screen imaginable, which I suppose in some ways we were. Still it’s nice to have a shotgun and a dog like Tala just in case you can’t find the remote to change channel fast enough when things get a bit too real.

So we made the Point that evening and set off for our next destination, Cape Henry Kater. Having poured over maps looking at this area for many weeks it is always gratifying to arrive at a large, much anticipated check point as it helps validate the miles you have already completed and allows you to settle on your next objective. Having followed our neatly marked map exactly (EXACTLY) to the spot where the Inuit hunters had told us to cross the Cape, we were a little taken aback by the scale of the river valley running down the land. We had been told to expect a ‘steep bit’ at the beginning but the ravine slicing its way down a considerable Munro sized peak was not what we expected. Optimistic as ever we assumed the valley must level out behind and so began the bastard task of lifting the sleds over the 100ms or so of rocky beach and dragging them uphill. After one particular stint of shuttling the sleds up an increasingly steep slope we decided that a quick recce was in order to scout the terrain ahead and if this was a feasible or ludicrous undertaking. After 30 minutes it became obvious that getting a skidoo up this slope, let alone a 140kg man powered sled, would be a tough task and that turning round was the only feasible option. We walked back down to the sleds, which from our new perspective were resting on a slope resembling a challenging red run and we both marveled that we managed to get them that far uphill without realising maybe this was not the right route. We needed some help and when you are pissed off, shattered and confused on Baffin Island the only people to call are the Qik RCMP. We spoke to Chris and John first assuring them that we were fine and hadn’t injured ourselves and asked that they tracked down Jaipotte for us, whose line on the map we had been diligently following. Thirty minutes later Jai was explaining to us that there is a hut to look for right by the valleys entrance and we were about 8km to the west of the position we needed and that our map was very hard to draw accurate lines on. We headed back down the slope as the sun began to fade, frustrated to have wasted a day, a huge amount of energy and our moods only briefly brightened when Colin managed to wrap Benno’s legs up and send him down the slope head first as we were descending. Well it brightened my day although I daren’t laugh as B looked like he was about to skin Colin on the spot. That night was definitely a brownie night and we gratefully ate the last of Celine’s excellent treats and enjoyed her final quote which was, once again, oddly fitting.

The next day we found the hut and valley and with the river frozen our progress and morale increased as the day brightened up with the sleds skimming lightly over the still river despite going uphill. This was not to last. After 7k the river poured into a large frozen lake which was also easy to cross, however with the fog creeping in and an alarming uphill section in front of us we call it a day and camped in a shallow saddle. The next morning was bright and clear which revealed to us in all its glory the task that lay ahead; an undulating hillside, reminiscent of the Scottish highlands, dotted with incalculable rocks which poked menacingly through the snow. Jai’s sage advice to “just follow the land” seemed a little optimistic now and so we headed North as best we could, aiming for the lowest saddle on the horizon and hoping to find a path through. The going was harder than either of us thought possible and always tinged with the knowledge that we didn’t know if this was best course, having no map of a small enough scale to be of use for detailed navigation. The horrible small rocks sticking through the thin snow cover meant that we zigzagged constantly, often pulling for 5 or 6 metres for only 1 metre forward gained, all the while heading uphill. After 5 Hours of this we were both exhausted and beginning to feel cold despite the heavy work load, a sure sign we were running low on energy. Finally we crested the top of the saddle with the glorious sight of a flattish landscape ahead and in the distance the exit valley on the other side of the Cape clearly visible. Benno summed it up perfectly when he said “I feel a bit emotional”.

Not only could we see that the land beyond was tolerably flat we also had a direction to aim for in the form of a topographical feature large enough to be clear on our maps, which put an end to those nagging doubts we were heading into a range of mountains. We trudged off down the hill exhausted and feeling depressed by the reading on the GPS telling us that despite all of our back breaking hard work we had only covered 6km in a straight line. The next day showed no sign of a letup in work load. Pulling pulks on anything other than flat terrain is horrible, any change in gradient is instantly noticeable and made painfully obvious by the biting of the harness into your back and yet we covered some good ground so slept thinking we would be back on the sea ice tomorrow evening. Oh what fools! Those last 16km proved to be every bit as difficult as the first section, constant ups and downs, rocks everywhere and the previously very obvious valley and river system slowly becoming a large drainage area for the surrounding marshes with many false exits and non -draining lakes meaning finding the actual watercourse was sometimes impossible. Both knackered from the previous 3 days our paced slowed and despite eventually finding he main river channel we both realised that this Cape was going to be the gift that kept on giving as night and the temperature dropped. Waking the next morning to a fresh breeze and -38 on the thermometer did little to lift our spirits and we packed in silence and headed back to the river channel. The sea ice was tantalisingly close now, less than 3km away and yet we weren’t counting any chickens this time. The river had steepened into a ravine, obviously a powerful white water rapid during the spring melt, unlike the lovely little river we had pottered up on the other side this was steep, dotted with huge boulders and filled with deep snow. Despite going downhill we had to pull the sleds almost as hard as if we had been going uphill and on three occasions 20ft snow drifts filled the valley forcing us to do shuttle runs to get the sleds over the top. Finally we turned a meander in the river and there, spread before us was the ice, flat and inviting like a massive rink ready to be skated happily across.

I can now fully sympathise with a female turtle desperately hauling herself slowly and painfully up a beach to lay her eggs. Some things are meant to be on land, some things are not. Pulks, and the silly ginger bearded Brits pulling them, are definitely sea mammals and the relief and accomplishment we felt as we crossed the tide gap back onto the ice must be the same as the turtle as she slips gratefully back into the ocean. I do doubt that the turtle turns round to the land, gives it the finger and tells it to go f*$k itself, but it’s nice to think that maybe in her own way she does and after all, who could blame her.

So off we went again, ignoring the map and the drawn line that pointed us towards the next Cape and the recommended over-land crossing, instead heading belligerently for the sea ice and a coastal route beyond where we belong.

“Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, power and grace.” *Thanks Celine!!!

Baffin Island