First tracks on the Polar Molar

We’re currently holed up at Pond Inlet Settlement on the northwest side of Baffin waiting for the ice to clear enough so that we can squeeze by Bylot Island and into Lancaster Sound. Baffin is really just a pit stop for us as we gear up for the Northwest Passage, but thanks to Bob’s enthusiasm we were able to squeeze in a long day of climbing in a nearby fjord–actually a night given the shade orientation of our wall.

Steve dangles his legs over Baffin Island


We chose as our goal one of Bob’s secret unclimbed walls which we’ve been calling the Polar Molar for it’s tooth-like appearance and pearly-white enamel surface. We set out late in the day in our full heavy-weather kit given an icy wind and overcast conditions. Luckily, the wall was sheltered from arctic winds and the weather moderated so that we were bathed in strong sun all night, a remarkably pleasant experience. Unluckily, we were forced to carry our bulky clothing all the way. It felt like attempting Kilamanjaro, kitted out for Everest!

The Polar Molar, photo courtesy Bob Shepton


Side view of the Polar Molar


In a 14-hour boat-to-boat push we succeeded in putting up a new route on an unclimbed wall, something none of us had ever done before. Thankfully, we were able to free every pitch on-sight without resorting to pitons or bolts, the only way we could be sure Bob would allow us back onto the boat! We named the route Bonfire of the Vanities after the competition between certain team members to get pictures of themselves at the summit. Once again the route was impossible to grade, but probably in the 6b-6c range and about 280 metres in length.

Steve and Andrew fight it out for the first lead. (Steve won.)


In actual fact, we traded down from our initial objective which was the front face of the Polar Molar, 500 meters of impressively blank, glacially-smoothed enamel. This face may end up as one of the last unclimbed walls in North America; our team certainly had no idea how it would be possible without hundreds of meters of bolts–not something we’d encourage! Luckily we were able to find another more achievable line on the shorter right side of the wall following a series of cracks and flakes.

Andrew following Steve’s spicy traverse pitch


Large divets in the turf below the wall and an abundance of exfoliating flakes higher up made us more than a little nervous of rock-fall. However, after a spicy first pitch, we were relieved to find the rock quality gradually improve as we progressed higher. Despite this variable rock quality, we believe the area holds a tremendous amount of potential for smooth granite afficionados. It’s hard to imagine a more breath-taking setting. Anyone interested should contact Bob–he’ll be coming back this way next year!

Smooth as a baby’s bottom, the front face of the Polar Molar


It was strange passing over ground that had most likely never felt the weight of human feet (not to mention the force of crimping fingers!) Reaching the summit bathed in the golden rays of the midnight sun was one of the truly special moments of our trip and we all felt incredibly privileged to be on this adventure. Thank you MCSA, First Ascent, RAM, Black Diamond, Beal, Saltic, Gina-Watkins, Shipton-Tilman, Goretex, Five Ten, Cliff Bar and Vega Bar! Also thank you Bob for putting up with us!

Here are a few more pics from our outing:

Our escort heads back to the Mothership


Looking westward down the fjord at an impressive unclimbed half-dome feature


Looking eastward at the painted-face, another impressive unclimbed wall


Blocks at the base of the main wall showing the strange striations that cover the molar. We’d hoped these were crimpable ripples, but not to be!


Hiking up to the base of our route


Andrew leading up a dihedral on the second pitch


Steve giving Andrew a trusty catch


Clinton squintin’ at his next pitch


Andrew coming up to a comfy belay ledge


Cool glacial features on next to the Polar Molar



The aforementioned summit pics: Andrew and Clinton hold up the flag, Clinton does foolish leg poses and the three amigo’s huddle. This was the most impressive wall summit any of us had experienced. You could literally lean over and look at the beta for the whole wall.




Clinton scoping beta for the direct line


From the summit looking up the fjord at the painted face peninsula


Walking down a descent gully as the sun dips behind a hill



Looking back at the molar in all its glory



Here are some pics of our 4 day trip from Greenland over the Davis straight to Baffin Island


Clinton (on the guitar) and Dave (on the wheel) serenade Greenland as we bid our farewell. We will miss your beautiful cracks and their outrageous grass tufts!


An iceberg that looked just like the Nose on El Cap


Baffin and Bylot Islands come into view





Steve getting psyched by the landscape!


First approach on Baffin, heading in to Pond Inlet; even better in reality when you’ve been staring at the ocean for 4 days!




The expedition team is sponsored by Black Diamond, Beal, Saltic, First Ascent and the Mountain Club of South Africa.  Clinton is also sponsored by 5.10

Check out the South African Arctic Expedition 2012 website to follow the team on their adventure.

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3 Responses to First tracks on the Polar Molar

  1. Margherita Introna Aug 8, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Looks amazing and well done guys! Thank you for all the awesome photos :)

  2. Hector Aug 10, 2012 at 8:53 am #


  3. Jahne Aug 15, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    This is inspiring!! Enjoy the adventure guys ;D

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