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The great Tsaranaro
Hiking all the gear to the base of Tsaranoro Be. Mike, Alard, Matt and Hunt
The joys of living on a big wall: Hauling up the HAUL BAG!!
A superb crack climb on Vazimba.
Our bivi spot 400 meter up. We spent 3 nights here as we would climb higher and then return here for food and sleep.
A beautiful morning on top of the Phallic Boulder.
On the summit of Tsaranro Be
A "welcome down" drink at the base of the climb to celebrate our success.
A second new route on Lemur wall, Gypsy Crack 24. Mike is abseiling down to take some pictures. Pic by Hunt Cheney
"I am not visible" the thoughts of a Chameleon.
Expedition Madagascar April 2001
So we land in Antananarivo, the capital after 3
hours. No bumpy ride, not bad food and a really smooth landing. Not too shabby
but... too good to be true. Why is it that whenever one plans a trip it always
seems to want to go on it's own mission and usually ends up happening in a
totally different way. When this happens to you don't fear because these epics
turn out to be some of the better ones and you' remember them for the rest of
The plan for this particular trip, which we
had been contemplating for quite some time now, was to open a new line on the
800 m peak of the Tsaranoro massif in the Andrighitra mountain range of southern
Madagascar. The face itself is part of a huge Granite batholith divided into a
few crags namely: Lemur wall 200m, Alien wall 300-400m,Karambony 400m, Tsaranoro
Kelly 700m, Tsaranoro Be 800m, Tsaranoro Astimo. The area we had been eyeing was
Tsaranoro Be and at that time had only one route on the main East facing wall.
Gondwanaland was its name and came in at a stiff climbing grade of 28.
So far, for all I knew, this mysterious internet
mountain could have been some sick joke a cyber freak had concocted. I had only
seen the photo's which give very little perspective on the actual size, type of
climbing, what the "walk in" would hold for us and how much water we
would have to carry on this "walk in".
Hunt (my cousin and good friend) had a piece of
granite in his back garden which we bouldered on a bit. That boulder really
intimidated me because it was comprised of many large sharp crystals that would
just grate you from your knees down to your teeth should you take a fairly
average fall on a slab. "Slab" is the term given to a cliff that is
not 100% vertical and requires much balance, usually on small, fine holds.
Granite is well known for having few holds as it is and requires smearing on
nothing but the rough surface of the featureless rock. The only grips on this
boulder were a few heavily chalked up crystals that were ever so slightly larger
than the other millions.. I struggled to climb this 4 meter boulder and was
seriously wondering what 800 meters of the stuff would be like. "I'll deal
with the climbing part when I'm there. For now “I'll focus the mind" I
Cobus, now known as Jacob among the Malagasy
nation, had been a good friend of mine and had been around Madagascar for the
past three years. It was an amazing surprise to smell him first thing in the
airport. Big hugs and smiles that tell a thousand tales were exchanged as we
greeted each other. Little did we know Jacoba would become an extremely
memorable and important part of this expedition. He would introduce us to local
bargaining tactics, all the strange nightclub hangouts e.g. the
"Kaleidoscope", where we danced our melons off and some of the
brilliant Rasta’s ("Pops").
Patiently waiting at the empty conveyor belt
after two boring bags had creped past us about thirty times we came to the
realization that our Scavenger bag was not going to show its ugly face. With
things being as they always are on these trips it happened to be Hunts bag that
had very important medication and would mean flying back if it didn't arrive
soon. It contained a lot of gear too and the time ticked away for five days.
Alard and Mike had decided to leave and we
arranged to meet them at Camp Catta (the base camp) if the bag arrived before
Hunt had to fly back.
During this time we stayed at an old French style
house with Gilles, old time climber and organizer of Les Lezard de Tana. He
takes enthusiasts climbing, caving, kayaking, biking and much more in
Madagascar. Passing the time at Ambaktuwak (one hour drive with local taxi and
.5 hour walk in) we climbed a route on one of the fifty meter boulders. There
are about twenty routes in total here ranging from easy to tendon snapping
Eventually the bag arrived after touring Reunion
and JHB Int. conveyor belts. We then headed off with a minibus taxi to
Fianarantsoa about 400 km south on very windy but good roads. This trip takes 12
hours and there are 4 smelly people squashed into 3 seats of the minibus and
tired chickens and turkeys on the roof . From Fianarantsoa we took another 2
taxis to Ambalavo where we spent 7 hours at the taxi rank finding a ride to
Voitshuka. After many terrible French word and hand signs we managed to organize
a whole Peugeot bakkie reduced from 15 times the normal rate to ten times the
normal rate. Voitshuka is about 45 minutes in a rattling Lada 4X4 on bad roads
from Camp Catta. As it bounced around the last corner the great Tsaranoro slowly
revealed itself and you see Hunt and myself going all pear shaped. We were
transfixed by a visual emotion and couldn't stop starring. "Man! That's
BIG!"..."Hoola!!"...""All right!!!"..." Hey
there's Alard and Mike. We stopped and there they were testing the granite on a
route called "Pectorine" (200m 6b+, 23) Liquid exhilaration filled
every part of my body.
After spending a day on "Pectorine" it
was time to prepare for that 800 m piece of granite. For a whole day the kitchen
was exploited for more important matters and was totally cluttered with 280 kg
of bits of aluminum, nylon and stainless steel, until eventually we had what we
needed for 5 days climbing.
The route we decided on previously had 3 failed
attempts by descent climbers from France and Italy. We were told we would face
some serious exposed climbing. The next two days were spent fixing ropes on the
already established anonymous route. The first 150m were slab climbing with
slopers of note. On day 3 we packed those pigs (climbers term for a haulbag, a
huge bag that keeps all your junk you take up the wall with you) and headed for
the 5 day spiritual experience where you become the lizard and one with the
For some stupid reason Hunt and I volunteered to
haul the 60 kg bags while Mike and Alard ventured on, fixing more lines as they
went. Using both our body weight to counter balance one haulbag over a pulley,
we ran down the face as the bag flew up grinding itself to shreds. Once the pig
arrived at the stance we would climb up the ropes again. By the time we had one
bag at the bivy ledge (more like a cave) 300m up everyone was totally gatvol and
swearing at everything so we decided to bivy. The other bag slept 100 m below so
Hunt and myself crunched up into the back corner without sleeping bags on a far
from horizontal surface. This was the cause of little sleep and wedgies the
whole night. Alard and Mike were styling in their down bags and portaledge.
The following day was spent hanging off tufts of
grass climbing huge chimneys with lots of loose rock that came rickashawing from
wall to wall straight at us. "BELOW!" Alard and I quickly wedge
ourselves into a narrow crack and hope for the best as a huge rock comes
screaming past and shatters below us. Without delay the conversation swings to
helmets and how cool they actually are. The sun finally leaves us and we're at
"phallic boulder" the main feature of the face. This massive round
boulder is about 4 stories high and parks precariously at 400m. This was the
highest point any of the previous parties had climbed to and the crux of the
route lay ahead - A large crack too big to fist jam and too small to stem
continuing for about 150m.
The boulder became our main camp and we slept here for 3 nights. " Morning Matt!" was the first thing I heard as I was handed a cup of espresso and French chock chip cookie. Cigarettes were worth gold at this stage. The sky was a crisp light blue as some clouds hung below in the valley and a sweet smelling breeze stroked my dirty face. Above me was a huge blank face glowing like a coal in a furnace.
Alard and I started climbing, the first pitch was
an awesome clean crack starting at a double fist thickness and ending with the
tips of your fingers 50m up.. This pitch was graded at 24. From here we
traversed a bit and moved into the dreaded chimney, which went at grade 26.
Squashing himself into the crack with his feet at his but on the back wall and
his thighs flat against the front wall Alard wriggled his way up placing bolts
every 4 to 10 meters. This would result in a 20 m fall in a confined space. I
gained much respect for the man right there and then. After another 2 pitches we
abseiled back down the fixed ropes to the boulder where Mike cheerfully welcomed
us. He had found many very time consuming things to do on a space 10m x 10m of
which half is flat and the other half covered in cacti. Alard’s bed was
meticulously custom-built using a neatly laid out rope to compensate for the
sloping edge of the boulder. Coffee was ready and so was supper. There was a
specially built cooking area, all food was sorted into categories and
calculations made on what to eat and when. Theories and contemplations were
pouring out of Mike and, we had a fun evening sending messages to 3 different
villages down in the distant valley, using our headlamps.
The rest of the climb to the summit required many
"grass tuft tactics", sort of like “grabbing onto everything and
spreading the load". Finally on the 9th May Alard Hüfner, Mike Mason and I
summited Tsaranoro Be, the second complete route up the east face. Running
around like mad kangaroos, whistling and laughing and congratulating each other,
we thanked God and everything that made life so great. The birds, the bees, the
trees, mountains, grass, chameleons, my brother at home and everything all at
once. What more could one ask for?
"Vazimba" grade 26. Madagascar.
The following is very important!!
Thanks to all that contributed to making this
Mountain Club of South Africa
Rock on Climbing
Les lezard De Tana (Gilles/Fabrice)
Camp Catta (Christian)
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