Tag Archives: Challenge

Windiest Place on Earth


Mount Washington

The chance to ski on the windiest place on earth. Why wouldn’t I turn that option down.

Not long after moving to the North east I found out about an organisation called the Appalachian mountain club who were organising a ski tour up the Cog railway on mount Washington. Situated in an incredible area known as the white mountains in New Hampshire. Mount Washington I quickly discovered once had (only relatively recently beaten into second place) the highest recorded surface wind speed outside of a tropical storm coming in at 231mph.

It isn’t the closest ski area but with the warmer than usual temperatures in the north east it was always going to be about travelling further north to get the best snow possible. Unlike the previous weekend, the temperatures had certainly begun to cool down. As I started to make the drive north the weather began to change and by the end of the night it was snowing. I was seriously looking forward to getting out the car after a fairly brutal 7 hour drive after a full days work. As much as I wanted the snow I didn’t really fancy the slowing down of the journey.
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High winds near the summit – captured by Tyson who lead the group
Arriving at the lodge I crashed out as soon as I hit the mattress, it didn’t feel like many hours later than the first people began to stir, all trying to get the best conditions for the day. Munching a quick breakfast all washed down with large mugs of coffee, I made my way to the meeting point. Now despite it once having the highest recorded wind speed on earth there is still a railway to the summit along with an access road. Our plan was to follow the train tracks up the mountain and once out of the tree line see what the conditions were like. Summiting was highly unlikely with forecasts of high winds and a thick layer of cloud covering it.
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I had enjoyed the ski mountaineering racing but this was a completely different experience again. The pace obviously much more sedate with the emphasis being on efficiency and trying not to sweat. Compared to my race strategy of trying to go as fast and efficiently as possible. Which was more of a brute strength and endurance exercise. And certainly less care for the amount of sweating going on. It was however a lot colder, hovering around the -5 to -15F , a balmy -20 to -26C and the  wind chill on top. Despite this it still felt quite warm as we meandered up hill surrounded by trees which looked incredible. Like frozen statues dotted all the way up the mountain side. Pausing occasionally to have a drink and admire the views behind and in front of us, despite the large bank of clouds hiding the summit. It wasn’t the blue bird day we had all hoped for but still fantastic being out on the mountain.
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Arriving at the first split point and we soon bundled up as the temperature plummeted. We had come out of the trees and the wind now had us in its sights. The rail line had clearly taken the full force of this onslaught for quite a while as its frozen structure looked like something from another planet. Not even in the arctic had I seen buildings covered in ice to this extent.
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A few of us opted to continue slightly further up the mountainside. It is safe to say we needn’t have bothered. All that proceed was some skating around on an icy surface of wind stripped mountainside. We tried to get purchase on what little friction we could get but despite this effort we hardly made it any further up for a lot more huffing and puffing. With the wind battering our faces and bodies it was only sensible to head back down. There was no chance of a summit today and the possibility of some better powder round the corner was never going to happen without some more hardware of ice axes and crampons. Even then we were not convinced there would be any great powder.
It was a quick turn around to get out the wind. I say quick but the ice and strong winds made it tough work wrapping up our ski skins to get them put away. Its like trying to roll loose duck tape up in a strong gale into a neat organised bundle.
And then the bit we had built up for, the ski down. Despite the odd patch of ice there were some great stretches of powder. The three of us who had tried to go a bit higher made the most of the descent getting in as many tight wee turns to float on the powder. In the hunt for some I managed to find a fairly lightly covered rock. Skiing over it I stopped almost instantly, trying to recover my balance from the forward momentum only to finally pop out of my bindings. Unfortunately one of the guys saw the whole thing unfold in a particularly slow and  inelegant fashion.
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We made it down to the bottom and back to the lodge for a well deserved hot shower and drink.
The next day I headed up to the in famous tuckermanns ravine. You can check out a couple of pro skiers hitting this on the link below:
It isn’t recommended generally to ski it until later in the season but whilst in the area I at least wanted to have a peek at what it was all about. I followed the trail up which is incredibly well marked. Past people snow shoeing up and a number of groups up for the weekend as part of a nearby ice festival learning about avalanche rescue techniques. The wind certainly felt less strong and it was definitely a warmer day than the previous one. Snow occasionally fell from the trees. It was a pretty magical sight.
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Slowly but surely the ravine revealed itself. Each glimpse between the trees showing a bit more until I came round the corner and caught sight of the whole area. With clear views of the summit of mount washington in the background. There in front the huge tuckermanns ravine and the steepest ski descents in the north east, or at least one of the better known ones.
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Arriving at a small cabin and there were groups continuing up as part of their avalanche course as well as some skiers who despite the now windy conditions had opted to try a few routes. It looked pretty incredible and in places pretty intimidating even from a distance. I headed on up the mountain as I wanted to see the full face of it. Some of the slopes are up at 40 – 50 degree range. The wind had certainly picked up though and I was now taking a bit of a beating even if it was warmer than the previous day. Arriving at the bottom of tuckermanns and I could finally take it it. I definitely want to return to the slopes here and take on some of these descents.
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Heading back down the mountain and my legs could finally enjoy a bit of a down hill ski. After trekking up it made for a nice change. Despite this I still had to walk a few bits at the top due to not being able to find a decent route to ski down as well as the path I walked up being really quite tight between rocks, trees and a small stream that with the warmer conditions wasn’t completely covered in snow.
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I soon found myself down the bottom  of the mountain just in time to munch a load of food in the car and before the return journey back down south to new jersey.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A race to remember

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

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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.

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First batch of croissants
Then followed it up with an interview on radio scotland.
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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.
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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.

The Final Push


It almost felt surreal waking in the tent that morning. It was our last night on the ice in our tent or at least we hoped so as we were only 10km from Pond Inlet. Going about our morning activities as we had for the previous 70 days in a now almost ritualistic and exacting manner. The only difference was there was no hurry. We lay in our sleeping bags drinking tea, despite the fact we had run out of earl grey and were now onto chai. Putting off the inevitable for once not because it was cold but more the fact that by the end of the day that would be it. This was quite a weird and in many ways a scary though as we had been consumed by this adventure from the early stages of congregating round maps in pubs and kitchen tables to where we were on the ice.

Finally escaping from the warm cosy environment of our down sleeping bags we began packing up. We had hoped to wake to blue skies to take us in the final few km’s but as we exited from our tent we were greeted to a grey dull sky. This was not going to help capture those last few photos and footage that we had planned. The tent went away for the last time it had kept us sheltered for the duration of the trip. Despite the fact that each night was only temporary it had become our home, everything had its place and even with the freezing temperatures it had a safe and almost homely feel about it once inside.  There was even enough for a final snow angel before setting off for the day!

snow angel - forgot the head
snow angel – forgot the head

Trudging our way back onto the ice we could already make out the buildings of Pond Inlet with the low cloud behind them. We stopped occasionally to get a few photos yet as the hours ticked by and our supplies of flapjack and chocolate eaten, the community never seemed to get that much closer. There was a thick covering of snow on the ice which had been dumped by the numerous weather systems that had come over the surrounding mountains releasing their soft fluffy load over the area.

The final push
The final push

It still amazed us in this environment how the size and scale of everything around us twisted our perspective making covering ground always seem to be a slow process until you were almost on top of what you were aiming for. It was almost a surprise when we finally could make out cars, lorries and a few dogs on the outskirts of Pond. The buildings were perched on the shore line looking out over to Bylot Island. It must be beautiful in the summer without all the ice as a whole variety of wildlife come through the area including whales and narwhals.

the sight that didn't get closer
the sight that didn’t get closer

We were making our way towards the RCMP building who had kindly been holding some of our gear for the return journey to the UK when we were met by a couple of skidoos. It was the same guys who had met us at our last supply depot on our way from Clyde River to Pond Inlet almost 3 weeks previously. To our delight we had arrived just before the dog sled race, which was due to start that evening. Out on the ice we could already make out a crowd gathering of dogs, people, cars and skidoos all congregating for the start of it. This included our friends Jake and Shari who we soon found out had been drawn to start last out of the 12 or so competitors.

Team Jake
Team Jake

The entries had come from far and wide across the territory ranging from Clyde River to Arctic Bay for this annual event. For some of the teams this year just getting to the start line had been a challenge with rough ice and poor weather coinciding together. You wouldn’t have guessed it as the sun was coming out and the temperature felt positively warm. The dogs would be struggling in the heat as they pulled some heavy loads despite it still being -20C. Most importantly it’s a time when family members can reunite, keep the old methods of travel alive and also the chance to win a cash prize.

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The excitement building

We helped out for a bit, including when a dog managed to escape from its owner only to cause havoc with the other teams about it as each pack in turn tried to chase after it. Feeling the pull of the 10 dogs as we stood on their lines holding them back from joining in the chaos was seriously impressive. I thought at one stage it might take me off my feet. Fortunately the dog decided to hide under a sled before, with a bit of team work, one local inuit moved the sled whilst the other pounced on the husky as soon as it was out in the open. The atmosphere was incredible with hundreds of dogs barking with growing excitement for the race to start. It felt like the whole town was out in force with massive 4×4’s lining up on the ice as well as all the spectators young and old.

Everyone Preparing
Everyone Preparing

First to take off on the skidoo’s was an army of support team members carrying extra supplies, food and gear. Although each rider is self-sufficient in case of emergency or for some of the more secluded parts of the race, the skidoo teams set up camp for the dog sled teams each night. As the skidoos headed off into the distance the dogs pulled harder on the lines thinking that they were off next. One team managed to pull so hard it took their driver along the ground with them until others managed to help stop them all.

A family affair
A family affair
Old and new mixed together
Old and new mixed together
The Crowds are building
The crowds are building

We weren’t able to see the start of the race as it was getting late and we needed to head back to our sleds and on towards the RCMP station. It was perched on the coast line with the Canadian flag flying high and proud in this glorious weather that had come out for the start of the race.

We had come to the end of our ski expedition and it was bizarre thinking that tomorrow there would be no skiing, although its not quite so strange as reaching the summit of a mountain where you still have to climb back down, you have in your head a big crescendo the reality is its just like any other day.

There is no big finish line, crowds of people to great us or anything like that. Just an imaginary point on the land. Standing outside the RCMP station we gave each other a hug and a congratulations before wondering up the steps.

We were greeted by the RCMP officers Paul, Jason and Andrew who were incredibly kind and looked after us throughout our stay in Pond Inlet.

Pond Inlet
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 2015
Pond Inlet 1938, how things have changed!
Pond Inlet 1938, how things have changed!

Our next challenge…. returning to civilisation, starting with a warm shower and a comfy bed!

GINGERLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS


(Jamie)

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!!!

HOME BAY & BEYOND


About 12 days ago we reached our first depot.

It has been a bit of a shock to the system being back on the trail after everything that has happened, however Jamie and I have been trudging away the miles. We have constantly been looking for that flat and smooth ice where we just effortlessly and gracefully fly over the surface. Sadly we haven’t found it, by any stretch of the imagination, and we now have first hand knowledge of what rough ice looks like. Our standards of what we can expect have almost certainly adjusted.
We had been advised the area we were heading through had very rough ice, the locals keep saying its the worst it has been in years and they have been skirting around it. This process is much quicker on a skidoo and for us the maths made the tougher route the unfortunate winner.
We made it to a large bay that we needed to cross but it was difficult to envisage the vastness of it due to the thick fog that hugged the surface of the ice and the setting sun. Waking the next morning we were met by beautiful blue skies, vast inlets, glorious mountains and ahead of us a rolling sea of broken ice. It was disheartening as our pace slowed to a crawl. It was like being in a constant scrummage with an opponent that lasted for the entire day plus part of the next. For every step won forward you could feel the energy being sapped out of you. Even at -30C we could feel ourselves breaking a sweat, something which we try our hardest to avoid as it clogs our clothes with ice. Being the slightly hotter team member, this comes from bitter experience as I squeezed myself into a ice crunching jacket the following morning.

IF

Despite the tough ice we have been touched by glorious weather. Excluding one day where ourselves and our tent were rattled by the 30mph+ winds. We awoke far earlier in the morning than the usual 5 am. Although we stayed wrapped in our sleeping bags for as long as possible we soon had to depart this safety blanket and meet the day head on. The snow swirled round our feet all day. It was impossible to spot a reasonable path through it all. Despite the balmy temperatures in the mid -20’s the wind made the temperature plummet and every millimetre of skin needed to be covered. Despite our best efforts we would walk along constantly adjusting as the wind managed to squeeze its icy fingers into any gap. It also made the experience of going to the bathroom regardless of what it was, a very chilling and quick but necessary experience. There is only so long you can wait and unfortunately the weather doesn’t seem to correlate with toilet stops.

After all of that we finally made our way to our next stash of food and fuel! We are now sitting here appreciating some warmth from some left over fuel in a good friend Jaipotties hut. We are enjoying munching through some planned treats plus some of the surplus goodies that we have.

The next part of our journey sees us heading over the final stretch of Home Bay and then towards Clyde River. It’s still a fairly good chunk at around 200 km. Possibly more importantly it marks, to Qikiqtarjuaqs relief, the transition from being closer from one to the other. Chris and Halie can finally relax knowing that we aren’t going to spring up and crash in the police station. Thanks again for the awesome hospitality. We are forever grateful.

So now just to push further north.

IF

In doggy news Colin and Tala are getting on incredibly well. Colin whines and pines after Tala when she goes about her wanderings each day. It does give us a slight headache but provides bears with a disincentive to approach. A win overall we have concluded. It might also explain why Talas trundling goes off into the distance until she appears to be a little speck before bounding back…particularly when she senses we are stopping for food. Her nuzzling Colin though suggests she does quite like him after all though.

Return of Our Team Mate – Colin


It had been a bit of a rough few days for the team and both our dogs, Colin and Tala. Colin had made up for all his high pitched and constant whining by making us aware of Alex being down. I will cover this more in the next blog. Since then we had called the RCMP for some assistance and bundled both dogs into the back of a komatik, which is a big sled dragged behind a skidoo, before driving them back at high speed to our starting point in Qik.

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Colin and Destruction of a Spare Bin Bag

It was that night that Colin managed to escape! We woke in the morning to no Colin. All that was left was his tracks wondering about the entire area. We could tell it was him by the weird dragging trail in the snow as a result of the cord that was still attached to his collar. Following this trail led us all round Qik from the surroundings of his sleeping area, to the dog sled area on the edge of town before heading to the dumb. It had clearly been quite an active night of adventure for him. Maybe the bug for adventure had bitten him a long the trail. We did however find Jemima, who had evidently run all night to get back. We hadn’t been able to get her before leaving (although she was following us, she is pretty wild and feral) so we knew he must be around. She looked a bit stiff and was clearly very hungry. In a bid to get colin to come to us we tried to lure her in with food. We tried a pile of food close to us. She clearly decided this was too close, a second was placed with a trail of Inukshuk dog food leading to it. Myself and Jamie stood between the two piles. Despite our best efforts, she managed to eat all the food we put out without coming close enough for us to take her back home. She even wandered round and ate the initial pile we put out.

A new plan was needed.

48 hours later and still no sign. We jumped onto the skidoos and headed towards his old haunt. Fortunately and slightly unexpectedly I spotted him lying in the ground with his fluorescent cord on the snow. Jumping onto the cord, in case there was a risk of him getting away, I reeled him in. It was clearly a bit of a shock, unsurprisingly as he had been relaxing, curled up in the low lying winter sun. It didn’t take long till between us we had him on the back of the skidoo. As he was sitting on my lap I was hoping the warm feeling was due to his furry coat and general body warmth rather than him peeing on me. I was fortunate in this respect, however he drooled (which froze instantly) all over my arm as he gazed at the surroundings we were zooming past.

Back in Safe Hands
Back in Safe Hands

Back at the RMCP base camp he was safely and much more securely tied up.