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North America, Canada, Baffin Island, Polar Bear Spire, First Ascent

Polar Bear Spire, First Ascent. Gerhard Heidorn, Stefan Glowacz, Holger Heuber, and I arrived in Clyde River, Baffin Island, on August 7. In the months of August and September, the sea is normally free of ice and can be traversed by boat. We wanted to use our own power in historical Eskimo style, that is, by kayak, to reach the fjords lying 200 kilometers away. Moreover, we wanted to freeclimb a first ascent.

We had to distribute about 500 kilos of necessary material among four boats. Although we’d already sent most of our baggage (about 140 kilos of dried food for 30 days, the climbing equipment, and the kayaks) two months earlier, it still had not arrived. Only three days later, after countless telephone calls with the airline company, were we finally able to begin our odyssey. On August 10, we put to sea at Cape Christian, an abandoned former U.S. airbase about 12 kilometers away from Clyde River. An Inuit gave us his Winchester pump-action shotgun and ammunition so we could defend ourselves against polar bears. During the next 25 days, until our return to Clyde River, we had contact with polar bears more than 20 times.

It was supposed to take a good week to cover the ca. 200 kilometers to the end of Eglinton Fjord. Heavy seas, unfavorable currents, and winds thwarted our plans to press on farther north to Sam Ford Fjord or even Gibbs Fjord. Confronting a 20-kilometer- long passage over open, rough seas and paddling into the wind, it wasn’t difficult to decide to turn west into Eglinton Fjord, especially since the thickly nestled contour lines on the map promised huge cliffs here, too.

Our dream mountain rose up before us in a 20-kilometer side valley connecting Eglinton Fjord and Sam Ford Fjord. The steep granite tooth towers over a glacial basin, about 1000 meters above sea-level and ten kilometers from our boats.

August 19 was our third day on the mountain, and Stefan, Holger and Gerd started climbing the wall for the first time. On August 23, we all reached the summit via a wonderful free-climbing route. The route, Odyssey 2000 (5.12b, 12 pitches), goes up the 500- meter-high east face of “Polar Bear Spire” and was climbed in redpoint style. Those wishing to repeat the route will need around 15 quickdraws, two sets of Friends up to size number 3, and a double set of stoppers. The beautiful shape of the tower, the excellent quality of the rock, the technically challenging and complex climbing—and all in a wild, isolated environment—fascinated Holger and moved him to shout spontaneously, “My most beautiful route!”

Although we didn’t think our route would enjoy much tourism, we made it “repeater- friendly.” All belay anchors and climbing cruxes have solid Petzl Long-Life bolts, and even normal pounded-in pitons and dubious protection were replaced by “unnecessary” drilled pitons—so that the eternal complainers will have something to talk about! That is just our climbing style, and it’s incomprehensible to me that again and again one meets people who get excited about these drilled pitons, usually either without ever having climbed the route or having technically “muddled their way up.”

The trip back to Clyde River too was an odyssey in the truest sense of the word. We hauled the boats and our gear for four days along a ca. ten-kilometer-long stretch over a pass to reach Ayr Lake. The Kogalu River begins at the lake’s eastern end, then flows 40 kilometers into the sea. During our 40 kilometers, we shot several sets of rapids up to grade 3 before reaching the mouth of the Kogalu and two Inuit wilderness shelters. Around the last bend in the river there lay before us the infinite expanse of the ocean: more than 70 kilometers of shoreline completely exposed to breakers all the way to Clyde River! After Stefan capsized some 300 meters from the shore in 3°C water, he and Gerd opted for the rocky and painful overland march. They packed their backpacks for lightweight “survival” travel, set the GPS for “Go to Clyde—30 kilometers,” cinched their straps and dragged the empty kayaks behind them. Holger and I once again packed our two-man kayaks full of all the remaining gear and put out to heavy seas. Two days later, our odyssey came to a happy end in Clyde River.

Kurt Albert, Germany