South African Arctic Expedition Team

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.

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All photos courtesy of Sean Villaneuva


Captain Bob

Captain Bob. Photo 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.

SA Arctic Expedition route

SA Arctic Expedition route - Click to Enlarge

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.

Devils Brew on the Impossible Wall.  Upernavik region

Devils Brew on the Impossible Wall. Photo courtesy of Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

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.

West Side Story on the Arctic First Born wall

West Side Story (possible route on the right) on the Arctic First Born wall. Photo courtesy of Bob Shepton

Then there’s Pond Inlet and the Arctic Bay with plenty more virgin rock (below).

Pond Inlet rock walls

The Pond Inlet and the Arctic Bay and lots of Virgin rock. Photo courtesy of Bob Shepton

And the bouldering along Greenland’s west coast is meant to be incredible (I’m sure a welcome change from big wall horrors!)

Bouldering along Greenlands coast

Bouldering along Greenlands coast. Photo courtesy of Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

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!

South African Arctic Expedition

Our transport and home to be for 4 months! Photo courtesy of Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll

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:

See also:

Below are the four lucky guys who will be getting close whilst on Captain Bob’s 10m mono-hulled plastic sailboat !

Steve Bradshaw and Dave Glass SA Arctic Expedition

Steve Bradshaw (left) in Yosemite and Dave Glass (right) getting serious with a tomato in Groot Kloof


Clinton Martinengo and Andrew Porter profile, SA Arctic Expedition

Clinton Martinengo (left) in Yosemite and Andrew Porter (right) high up in the SA mountains

More pics of the team in action:

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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.

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23 Responses to South African Arctic Expedition Team

  1. shorti Mar 28, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Damn! That sounds like a proper adventure. Good luck boys!

  2. Dark Horse Mar 28, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    Sounds like a fantastic adventure… Damn I’m jealous. Living life to the full!

  3. Margherita Introna Mar 28, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Climb strong. Climb safe.
    Enjoy every moment!

  4. kyle Mar 28, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    So awesome to see a real expedition profiled where there is no support of a cause or arbitrary firsts being claimed. Just raw adventure with friends. Super inspiring.

  5. Hilton Davies Mar 28, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Fantastic stuff Steve, Clinton, Andrew and Dave! Ningo was telling me about this. If you want some tips from a non-sailing type I’ve got a few collected from our 4 month trip to Antarctica. Our boat (‘Diel’) was small at 65 ft. Yours at less than half that is tiny! – a caravan with a keel and mast!
    The climbing could be great but to sail the Northwest Passage would be very special. If you haven’t already read it, you must read 1421 by Gavin Menzies.
    Good luck okes – Iooking forward to the incredible stories

  6. Henkg Mar 28, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    Super psyched for you. Really everything an adventurer can aspire to.

  7. Hector Mar 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Good luck dudes! Its gonna rival Deneys Reitz, Lord of the Rings and Flashman for adventure and uncertainty. And Papillon for being in a really small place for a really long time! Sure-fire experience of a lifetime.

  8. Phlip Mar 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm #

    Liewe OS!! Not have time to read full article yet, but the pics (those walls) look amazing.
    Good luck dudes. Looks like some hard core adventure.

  9. Hendrik Mar 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Thats going to be one helluva ride! Good luck!!

  10. BigSis Mar 28, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    Ah, little boet, this looks completely awesome! Pay us a visit en route to Scotland and we can fatten you up for the adventure ahead! x

  11. Richard Mar 29, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    What an awesome sounding adventure. I am green with envy.

  12. Hilton Davies Mar 29, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Some examples –

    1. don’t take any cotton clothing like T-shirts – it’ll be wet for the whole trip
    2. take sailing boots – like Wellington boots but with white soles – for dry feet
    3. have full saloped/jacket sailing combo or be very wet
    4. anything iron or steel rusts like shite. Coat the stuff in vaseline or grease
    5. if you’re unsure about seasickness, take medication. One of our guys was sick for 4 months
    6. of all the fresh foods cabbage lasted the best
    7. make sure you’re gonna have sailing harnesses for when you get washed overboard
    8. learn to clove-hitch with one hand
    9. take line and spinners to catch fresh tuna
    10. take a piss bottle with big enough neck and a lid for use in your sleeping bag at 3am
    etc, etc

  13. Henkg Mar 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Hilton wrote “10. take a piss bottle with big enough neck and a lid for use in your sleeping bag at 3am
    etc, etc”

    Dis nou “fyn spog” (bragging)!

  14. Nicholas Dekker Mar 30, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Well Clinton, this looks like a proper adventure. Good for you! Watch the lassies in Greenland, they can be very…enthousiast, adventurous. Nick Dekker.

  15. Andrew Mar 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    Hey Steve, sounds absolutely awesome! Have a fantastic time! Loom forward to seeing the pics and hearing the amazing stories!

  16. Hilton Davies Apr 1, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    (Andrew, Clinton and Dave – Steve and I have been corresponding)

    Sorry Steve – forgot to answer. Our story was written up in two articles in the MCSA Journal of 1991. Stories by Doug Jamieson and Paul Fatti.

    Steve a thought: a pal of mine is one of the top sailors in the world and probably the most experienced expeditioner – both climbing and sailing – of the arctic and antarctic. He played a big role in our trip. His name is Skip Novak and he has a home in Camps Bay. Perhaps you and your guys want a lunch date with Skip? If Skip’s available I can arrange. You can do a bit of background reading on Skip is a guy you want to know. And a guy you want to get ideas from.

  17. Jan Viljoen Apr 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    Awesome! We haven’t had a proper adventure in some time. Very inspiring – enjoy!

  18. Steve b Apr 3, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    Thanks for all the encouragement! It promises to be a great adventure indeed!

    Thanks hilton, I’ll try get hold of that journal. Yes, Skip’s name keeps popping up. Do you mind sending him an introductory email ccing me – I’m in Spain until we set sail so no chance of meeting up but would be great to be in email correspondence. Thanks!

  19. Justin Apr 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Wickedly jealous (except for the month long ride over maybe 🙂
    Have a blast !!

  20. Hilton Davies Apr 4, 2012 at 11:44 pm #

    Steve, I’ll forward email received from Skip.

  21. Jan 7, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people about this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re
    talking about! Thanks


  1. A sailing and climbing adventure in the Arctic | FEAT | The Planet Rock Climibing - May 4, 2012

    […] an interview on ClimbZA Steve Bradshaw describes their expedition. We’ll leave from Bob’s cottage in Scotland early […]

  2. Steve and Angie update « Climb ZA :: Rock Climbing South Africa | The Rock Climibing Site - Jun 7, 2012

    […] Steve has teamed up with three friends South Africa (Dave, Andrew, and Ningo) and Scottish sea captain Bob Shepton (aka Captain Bob). They’re taking a 7000km journey through the Arctic’s Northwest passages to do some big wall climbing on remote wall…. […]

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