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The Great Shark Hunt: Free Climbing Greenland’s Scoresby Sund

Shark’s Tooth, Scoresby Sund fjord, Greenland, showing the new route The Great Shark Hunt (5.12c, 900m). The team also climbed 1800m up “the most beautiful mountain in the area,” which they called Daderbrum, Della Bordella writes on [Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection

Swiss climbers Silvan Schupbach and Christian “Laddy” Ledergerber with Italian Matteo Della Bordella have summited a 900m granite spire on the remote Renland peninsula of the eastern coast of Greenland called the Shark’s Tooth. The peak was first ascended in 2011 by Mikhail Mikhaylov of Kyrgyzstan and Alexander Ruchkin of Russia, who climbed for 1200m in alpine style up the northwest ridge to establish Dance on Tiptoes (5.11 A2). From the outset of the Europeans’ 32-day trip this year, the goal was to climb the first route up the northeast face in the best possible style, clean and climbing free, says Della Bordella. “We were all in for a committing, testing and very exposed adventure.” In all, they traveled 420 km by kayak and 50 km by foot; they free climbed some 3000 meters of new terrain on various peaks.

Our adventure started by kayak August 5 in Ittoqqortoormiit, one of the most northerly villages in Greenland. None of us had a great previous kayak experience. Already on the very first day it became evident that paddling in Scoresby Sund has little in common with training on a lake. Overloaded kayaks, big ocean swell and choppy waves tested our abilities to stay upright. Luckily, the conditions improved. We spotted many muskox, seals, sea birds and a polar bear and passed close to cracking icebergs. Kayaking was proving to be an intimate and profoundly touching way to experience such a remote, untouched place. After six more days of paddling in excellent conditions and two days of hiking we established base camp below Shark’s Tooth. Kayaking, the big unknown for us, was over for the moment. We went back to the usual business of climbing.

[Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection

When we first saw the northeast face from a close distance, we couldn’t believe our eyes. We absolutely wanted to free climb this wall, opening an aid climbing line would have been for us almost a failure.

We managed to climb it in three days. After the initial easy and mossy slabs we got quickly into the real deal. Unfortunately the rock turned out to be not of the best quality, nevertheless the climbing was extremely demanding; the cold, north-facing nature of the wall gave it a severe atmosphere. We gave our best, we gave everything we had, we touched our limits. Many times we were about to give up and say, “take.” Many times we had no clue on how to link the different crack systems while free climbing. But nobody ever fell, and in the evening of the second day we enjoyed a spectacular bivy on our portaledge set up in the middle of the wall.

[Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection

Eventually, on the third day, the rock quality improved and after another nine excellent pitches we completed our onsight new route. As a team we slept on the summit of our dreams and then rappelled the ridge climbed by the Russians. This completed The Great Shark Hunt (25 pitches.) The grading shall be left to repeaters, who will only find two bolts on the route. One was used for seconding a 30m traverse, the other for hanging the portaledge.

[Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection

Although we had already reached our dream, and we were totally fulfilled with this climb, with much time left at the base camp we completed two more climbs. Oasis (7a [5.11d]), 600m) and a classic ice and mixed line up a prominent peak, possibly marking its first ascent.

Then we started our long way home. For three days we were unable to move due to storm. On most other days it was either rainy or foggy. Gritting our teeth we nevertheless made good progress and reached an abandoned hut 25 kilometers before Ittoqqortoormiit. There we could enjoy the final surprise of the trip, the icing on the top of our cake. At six in the morning, Laddy heard the sniffing sounds of a big animal outside. It took him only seconds to realize that this could only have been a polar bear. Trapped in the sleeping bag he started yelling to scare it away.

[Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection

Nevertheless, the polar bear pushed open two doors. Matteo and Silvan were making as much noise as possible while the bear stood in the middle of the room. It turned around and walked out the door. Poor animal, she was so hungry and curious of the strange smell of our feet! She didn’t deserve such a bad welcome!

The very same day, September 6, we reached Ittoqqortoormiit and eventually put the word “end” to our trip.

[Photo] Della Bordella/Schupbach/Ledergerber collection