American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, Greenland, East Coast, Milne Land, Ski Descents

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 2009

Milne Land, ski descents. In April Yannick Ardouin, Patrick Huber, Ilario Prévitali, and Jean-François Richer from France were transported by snowmobile from IIttoqqortoormiut across the frozen ice of Scorsbysund to the Ofjord, which separates the northern shores of Milne Land from Ren Land. It took two days to reach the bay immediately southwest of Grundtvigskirken (1,882m) on the south coast of Ren Land, where they established their first camp and explored the valley to the north, leading into the interior of Ren Land. They climbed to a small col between granite towers reminiscent of the Mont Blanc Massif, and offering a spectacular panorama of northern Milne Land. They named the pass Col Caloris (N 71°58.04', W 26°12.23) and skied back to camp determined to inspect a wonderful-looking couloir visible at the entrance to the Korridoren, the long glacier system that cuts through the northern part of Milne Land from east to west.

They moved camp to the mouth of the Korridoren and climbed and skied two huge snow couloirs on the west side of the glacier. The first, Scarabée Couloir (N 70°53.64', W 26°29.55') was deeply inset between two, huge rock pillars on a 1,700m mountain and gave 1,400m of descent (300m at 50°, 500m at 45° and the bottom 5-600m at 40°). The second was much narrower and situated farther north. This couloir was sandwiched between enormous granite walls and topped by a large cornice, which they turned on the left. It gave 1,300m of descent and was named Excalibur (N 70°53.95', W 26°30.63'). The first 100m was 50–55°, the next 200m 50°, then 600m of 45°, which gave out onto easier slopes. Having previously skied on Baffin Island, they felt these couloirs to be in the same league as (or even better than) the now famous Polar Star on Mt. Beluga in Sam Ford Fjord, discovered and skied in 2002 by Brad Barlage and Andrew McClean.

The team then moved up the Korridoren (passing below Orca, climbed by Japanese in 2007; see AAJ 2008, p. 203), hoping to climb to the top of the ice cap. They met a three-man British team training for the 2008-9 Shackleton Centenary Expedition in Antarctica. This team was making a return trip along the Korridoren Glacier, starting on the east coast. (The only other expedition to Milne Land in 2008 was a Tangent-organized group that made the first east-to-west crossing of the central ice cap region from Port Charcot, in the Charcot Bugt, to Rodefjord).

When 15km from the sea, the French were frightened by a gigantic avalanche, set off by the collapse of a serac on the edge of the ice cap. The aerosol, moving at an estimated 200km/hour, went right across the glacier, narrowly missing the French, though they were battered by the blast. They gave up attempting to reach the icecap and retreated to the coast, where farther east, and almost opposite the site of their original base camp, they climbed and skied north-facing Little Big Man Couloir (N 70° 58.04', W26°08.11'; 1,100m; the first 150m at 50°, the next 500m at 45°, and the rest easier). Moving east along the north coast, they climbed and skied Couloir de la Vierge Noire, the right-hand of two parallel gullies 1,200m high (N 71°01.24', W 25°57.37'; 300m of 45°, 600m of 40°, and the rest easier). After they rounded the northeastern tip of Milne Land, their final achievement was the Tête de l’Enclume (N 70°57.25' W 25°38.18') above the east coast, which gave a pleasant 700m descent.

This two-week exploration of the ski potential of Milne Land was most likely the first. The French then spent 10 days pulling their pulks across frozen ice back to Ittoqqortoormiut. The area has huge skiing potential; they spotted chutes they believe are more than 1,600m high and found the huge granite walls reminiscent of Sam Ford Fjord. The temperature was -20°C at night in April, rising to a maximum of -5°C during the day; by May it was 5–10°C warmer. The skiing was fantastic, but the pleasure of exploring even greater. They had no idea what they would find, and the first sighting of those beauties remains the best memory of the trip.

Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO, from information provided by Patrick Huber, France.

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