It came to our attention that a group of well known South African climbers have some bold plans for this winter—plans that involve 7,000km of sailing and a healthy dose of big wall route development deep within the Arctic circle.
We caught up with one of the conspirators, Steve Bradshaw (jr!) to get an idea of what they have lined up…
Climb ZA: Who is on this team and how did it come together?
There are four of us plus Captain Bob (the maximum we can fit on his tiny boat). The team is Andrew Porter, Clinton Martinengo, Dave Glass and I.
The plan started germinating after I met Sean Villaneuva in Patagonia last year and heard about his 2010 expedition with Captain Bob and the Favresse brothers. Dave Glass and I have been talking about doing a big sailing adventure for a long time and the idea of combining sailing, climbing and Arctic exploration into one trip really caught my attention. Sean put me in touch with Bob and the rest is history.
It’s exciting to be able to go to a remote corner of the globe as the first South African team—especially with a strong group of climbers that have a real shot at putting up some meaningful routes.
If you haven’t seen the Vertical Sailing episodes that Sean made of their trip you really should (see episode 2 below). You can also buy the full DVD of their expedition here. It’s one of the most inspiring films I’ve watched.
Below are pics from the 2010 Belgian Expedition.
All photos courtesy of Sean Villaneuva
Climb ZA: Who is Captain Bob?
Well actually it’s Captain Reverend Bob Shepton! He’s a retired school chaplain and ex-Royal Marines Officer who, at 77 years of age, spends his time exploring the Arctic. He’s completed 125,000 miles of sailing including a circumnavigation via Antarctica, 13 Atlantic crossings and nine Arctic expeditions. As you might guess, we’re pretty psyched to have him at the helm.
The Belgian team had a great time with Bob two years ago where he managed a 700m wall with them (click here to see the video). He’s clearly not your average septuagenarian!
Climb ZA: What is the plan?
We’ll leave from Bob’s cottage in Scotland early June, sail for a month across the Atlantic and up to Upernavik, Greenland. We’ll spend a few weeks on the west coast of Greenland hopefully opening a big wall or two before heading to Baffin Island. On the northern side of Baffin, where we’ll set up, the walls are slightly smaller but the rock quality looks exceptional so hopefully we can put up a few more exciting lines.
After a week in Baffin we head up to the Arctic Bay and start the North West Passage. This is the most uncertain part of the trip as ice conditions vary from year to year and can easily block passage. We’ll spend two months winding our way through icebergs and flows until we round the Bering Straight to reach our endpoint, Anchorage Alaska. Hopefully we’ll find the odd wall to climb during this last stretch, but the focus will be on avoiding bergs, spotting wildlife and meeting the odd local.
Climb ZA: How will your trip be different to the Belgian expedition?
Well those guys are incredibly talented so they’ll be a hard act to follow. We plan to climb one or two of the same walls in Upernavik (on new lines though) but the real difference is that they went specifically to the Upernavik area to climb whereas we’ll be traversing a much larger area, including Baffin Island, Northern Canada and Alaska.
Climb ZA: Any chance you’ll see polar bears?
There is actually a pretty good chance. The Canadians make you carry a rifle, just in case one attacks. Hopefully, we won’t have to use it!
Climb ZA: What are some of the climbing goals?
Bob has eyed out two routes in the Upernavik region. The first is Heavenly Hangover on Impossible Wall, an 850m monolith fronting the water that the Belgians freed in 2010. They felt that their route, Devils Brew, was comparable in length and difficulty to Freerider on El Capitan but with more “adventure factor” (meaning grass, moss, waterfalls and birdshit!) Heavenly Hangover (named but not yet tried) climbs the steep left side of the wall up a series of offwidths. From the sea it looks comparable in difficulty to Devil’s Brew, but who knows.
The other major line Bob has his eye on is on the right side of the Arctic First Born wall, another 800m waterfront property with plenty of space for new routes. The climbing on this wall would be more slabby as the wall leans back at about 70 to 80 degrees but the rock quality looks great.
Then there’s Pond Inlet and the Arctic Bay with plenty more virgin rock (below).
And the bouldering along Greenland’s west coast is meant to be incredible (I’m sure a welcome change from big wall horrors!)
We’re hoping to find a few walls that no one has even thought of climbing yet. We’ll just have to see what comes along.
Climb ZA: How do you plan to cope with living together in such a small space for four months?
We’ll have a conch with us, and whoever holds it can speak. I’m hoping that resolves most of our issues! Seriously, I think we’re all relatively easy going types. Personally, I’m planning on doing a lot of reading.
Climb ZA: How is it that you guys can take four months off from the real world?
Well Angie and I are on a multi-year trip off savings. As for the others, Dave is taking time off, Clinton and Andrew do work where they can take blocks of time off (with some persuading.) It’s all a matter of priorities really!
Climb ZA: How have you been preparing for the trip?
I think we’ll all be drawing on our time in Yosemite. In my mind Yosemite is the best big-wall training ground in the world, although obviously the adventure and bad weather factors will be much greater. The team also has experience on other walls in SA, Madagascar, USA, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria and India.
We’re all fairly fit right now, though Ningo (Clinton) has a shoulder injury—but he’s Ningo so we’re not too worried about him.
The main preparation is logistical: getting all our gear together, sponsors, visas, food, etc.
Climb ZA: Who are your sponsors?
We’ve applied for several exploration grants and are reaching out to various companies. If you’d like to become involved, or send us some gear to try out, send me an email.
Personally, I’m sponsored by Vertigo Industries the South African distributor of Edelrid.
Climb ZA: Tell us about the boat?
Dodo’s Delight is a 10m mono-hulled plastic sailboat—Bob doesn’t like me calling it plastic since it’s really GRP (glass-reinforced plastic), a type of fiberglass, but the important point is it’s not steel!
As you might expect, it’ll be rather tight fitting all five of us and our gear and food for four months!
Climb ZA: Can that type of boat actually make it through the Northwest Passage?
Well, we won’t be the first GRP boat through, but there can’t have been more than a handful of similar sized GRP boats that have made the journey. It’ll be an adventure, all right!
Climb ZA: What are you most looking forward to on the trip?
Getting to the top of a proud wall, especially if we can do it free and even better with no bolts placed. I’m also really excited about the bouldering potential.
If we can make it all the way through to the Bering Straight I think we’ll all feel a tremendous amount of accomplishment. This isn’t a trip where success is guaranteed.
I’m also really psyched for the wildlife: whales, penguins, polar bears, and the like. I’d do this trip even if there were no climbing at all.
Climb ZA: Tell us a little about your other travels?
Well that’s a long story, Angie (my wife) and I have been travelling around the world for some time now, some of the places we’ve visited are: Patagonia, Mexico and China, Rocklands (naturally), Bishop, Yosemite, Spitzkoppe, Ha Long Bay, Fiordlands (New Zealand) and Fontainebleau! Taking the Trans-Siberian through Russia for a week was fun.
Climb ZA: Where are you now and what’s next up?
We just spent a few weeks in Fontainebleau with Arjan and got our asses kicked by boulders! (It’s been a while since we’ve been bouldering!) We’re in Spain now where we’ll be until I head to Scotland to begin the Arctic adventure.
Climb ZA: Sounds like it will be an amazing trip! Thanks and good luck with the trip!
More information can be found on the expedition website: arcticproject.wordpress.com
- Steve’s and Angie’s travel blog
- Interviews with Clinton Martinengo and Andrew Porter
- Captain Bob’s website
Below are the four lucky guys who will be getting close whilst on Captain Bob’s 10m mono-hulled plastic sailboat !
More pics of the team in action:
The team are still looking for more sponsors, so if you’d like to become involved, or have the team try out some of your gear then please send Steve an email.