Chloé, Fanny, Marion and Mélanie dreamed of discovering new ski/board wildernesses in total self-sufficiency. These four mountain-loving buddies were eager to hurtle down mythical couloirs. Their location of choice: the sheer slopes of icy, unspoilt Baffin Island in faraway northeast Canada.
Twenty-one days, 120 km, five couloirs and a touch of frostbite later, these four panik – Inuit for "girls" – had undoubtedly proved they’re made of the right stuff!
18 april 2011
7 mai 2011
CALL OF THE WILD
“Panik on Baffin” began with a phone call between two girlfriends... One day, Chloé Laget called her best mate Mélanie Martinot to tell her about her project. She dreamed of heading off to test her spatulas a long way from the classic Alpine routes, in an utterly wild world. Very tempting... The two girls mentioned it to Fanny Gras, a snowboarder from the Chablais region of Haute-Savoie whom she’d met in Chamonix; and to Marion Poitevin, an outstanding climber and skier, and aspirant guide.
The idea snowballed, and the project took shape at a first meeting in March 2010. The four young women, aged 25 to 31, discussed technical details and funding, and drew up plans… Little by little, distant Baffin Island and ultra-freezing solitude moved closer!
READY FOR THE â€śTRACELESS SPACEâ€ť
Remaining self-sufficient for three weeks in such an inhospitable setting demands serious preparation! In January 2011, the girls went for a taster in the Queyras region of Hautes-Alpes, France. The weather delivered: fog and wind at minus 25°C! Ideal for a tiny glimpse of what lay in store; and to test pulka, sat-nav and kite in near-real conditions!
Three months later, they were jetting off into total self-sufficiency, far from human dwelling-places and the possibility of rescue… They were on their own.
The starting-point of their raid was Gibbs Fjord. For 21 days, they ski-toured across the ice floe, hauling 60kg of kit in their pulka. They covered 120km, moving their base camp nearer to the famous sheer couloirs (gradient: 40-50°) that had kindled their dream.
The land they were travelling across is called tunitaittuk in the Inuit tradition: “the traceless space”.
“We needed to adapt to this land, which is uninhabited and sublimely unspoilt but hostile too. Here, our relationship with nature became primitive again,” say the girls.
“Here, our relationship with nature became primitive again”
CHILLING ADVENTURE: ACROSS THE ICE FLOE AND GREAT WALLS OF STONE
Over the days, they opened up five couloirs on skis – or snowboard, in Fanny’s case. They knew they could afford no mistakes. The snow was cold, compact, abrasive… The slope, carved between the walls, was abrupt. Temperatures varied between -25°C and -38°C.
“Using the map, we located the couloirs round our camp, then we tried to find them on the ground. After climbing 1,200 or 1,500 metres of elevation, we skied between walls of stone, so we were always in the shade and cold,” says Fanny. “In fact, we should have planned to heat our tents, because our bodies were cold all the time.” Indeed, the relentless cold left traces of frostbite... But the expedition had a warm heart, with mutual support and good humour. “Between us there was no competition or power struggle,” says Mélanie.
Once back in France, Chloé, Mélanie, Marion, and especially Fanny (a keen illustrator) got down to preparing and editing a film about their expedition: Panik à Baffin, 23 minutes of icy adventures told in stunning pictures. The film won an award at the International Free Ride Festival in Saint-Lary.
“There was no competition or power struggle between us”
PERFORMANCE = COMMITMENT
In this expedition, performance flowed from commitment. Far from any infrastructure, the four expeditioners had to plan accordingly and adapt daily to the environment and their equipment: no rescue options, and no prior knowledge of the technical demands of the couloirs – a hell of a challenge!
PANIK IN CHINA, PANIK IN THE HIMALAYAS, PANIK INâ€¦
Since the Far North, the quartet have continued along their solo paths, but also together. They reunited in the Chinese province of Sichuan in autumn 2012: they attempted to scale Mount Siguniang (6420m) as part of an expedition run by France’s High Mountain Military Unit (GMHM). The idea? Take part in a Franco-Chinese mountaineering exchange. Their next target: the Himalayas. They haven’t finished writing their story!