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fgw

[TR] Desert Towers (Of Mali) - Multiple 1/25/2016

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Trip: Desert Towers (Of Mali) - Multiple

 

Date: 1/25/2016

 

Trip Report:

A nearly two and half week road trip through central Mali in Africa – about 70% climbing and the rest sightseeing. We flew into and out of Ouagadougou in the neighboring Burkina Faso and were driven around by our enabler Salvador – the godfather of climbing in Mali. This trip has been in the making for the last 5 years with multiple delays (civil war and Islamic insurgency) and cancellations (Ebola). Mali and especially its Hand Of Fatima (Main De Fatma) region used to be a hotspot for mostly European climbers up until about 2010 when the war started. Other than a single Canadian climber – who visited a year earlier and climbed two routes before doing a bit of jail time and being ejected from the region by the Malian gendarmerie – we were the proverbial canaries in a coalmine. Zero other climbers of course and zero tourists of any kind for the entire duration in Mali. Only outsiders we saw were two UN (or some NGO) workers hiding out in the same “auberge” where we spent the night. This is the trip that had it all for us – adventure (tinge of fear), fantastic new cultures and of course world class climbing on 600 meter tall towers on the best sandstone we’ve ever tasted.

More photos (& short videos) can be seen on our website, http://chossclimbers.com/testing/mali/ , as well as some verbose ramblings. Enjoy!

 

Looks like a “go”:

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Light is right…Right….

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Burkina to Mali – about a day and change of driving…”paved” to dirt roads to no-roads at all. Border was non-existent where we entered...or exited for that matter. In fact, other than 2 or 3 military checkpoints inside Mali, we were there for 2.5 wks & don't have a stamp in our passports to show for it (a shame):

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Last beer for almost 2 wks. Djibo, Burkina Faso - now on to Mali:

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Our first night in Mali was spent camped out in the middle of a village. In fact, other than 8 days camping out in the backcountry of Main De Fatma, we always sought the safety of a village for our bivys:

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Packing up:

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First sighting of Main De Fatma emerging from the dust of the Sahel like some ghost ship:

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Minds blown – the two principle “fingers” of The Hand are 600-650 meters tall:

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Packing up for our 8 day stay in the backcountry of Main De Fatma. Salvador arranged porters for the ~1 hr hike up…apparently, neither the gendarmes nor the jihadistas like to hike that far:

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Our warm-up climb was on this stubby “little” thing (280 meters) called Wamderdou:

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For the next 7 or 8 days, Salvador ran the camp and did most of the cooking (he also came along as a second on two short climbs). He also shot some cool long range photos of us on the climbs. Backcountry camp life:

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Next day we had our climbing failure of the outing – we did the first 2 pitches of Vuelva Usted Manana (French 6b A0; but it starts with a 4 pitch “approach”) but the perpetual Harmattan wind made the spectacular bolt ladder pretty f…ing hard reach-wise for Shirley (spinning):

Leading pitch 1:

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View from pitch 2:

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And so we bailed – that’s 35 meters of twins suspended horizontally:

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Some more routes including this nice La Raison (French 5+):

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Hiking along the summit of Wamderdou with Suri Tondo visible:

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And the Normal (French 5) route on Wamgel Debridou:

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For Christmas Eve dinner, Salvador’s men brought in a goat, slaughtered it and we had some of the freshest, free-range, organic meat you can imagine:

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Evenings in our camp were low key affairs – mostly red LEDs…no need to attract attention:

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After about 4 or 5 days of hurricane force winds, thing started becoming calm and we went for our main goal of the trip, the spectacular 15 pitch 6a+ North Ridge on Kaga Tondo.

View of the upper half of North Ridge of Kaga Tondo – 600 meters of moderate climbing nirvana:

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Pitch 2:

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Pitch 8 – long range shot taken by Salvador:

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Pitch 9:

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Pitch 13:

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More pitch 13:

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This is the Second Gendarme. In the background is the other big formation of the cluster, called Suri Tondo. Shirley starting the traverse of pitch 13:

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One happy camper on the summit of Kaga Tondo:

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A somewhat stressful series of long rappels…a few stuck ropes nearby. Fortunately for us, the prevailing wind direction proved favorable. Some of the long range photos of us taken from camp by Salvador:

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Views from the descent. The fact that we got back to camp with daylight to spare is a tribute to the hyper-accurate route topo that Salvador drew us and not our “climbing prowess”:

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Shirley tearing into one of our celebratory watermelons like there’s no tomorrow…which technically there might not be.

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After a rest day, we climbed the excellent Voie Guy Abert on Suri Tondo – just right of the prow of this thing that has been dominating our world from camp for a week:

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Pitch 1 has a section of 7a or A0 – rest of the climbing does not exceed 6b. Leading pitch 1, photo by Salvador:

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Shirley on pitch 2 – only wideness on the route. Rest of it was exquisite hand and finger cracks:

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Shirley climbing pitch 3 – photo by Salvador:

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Hand crack fun on pitch 6 (?):

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Topping out on Suri Tondo:

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After that we left the area on the day of the 2nd weekly market in the village below…before word of our presence spread through the region. One last looksee:

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Quick fill up of water jugs at the village well and we’re out:

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The next few days were spent driving out to a few different formations to climb, spending nights in the safety of villages, and taking in the sights:

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We climbed this guy at center of photo called Aiguille Panoramix:

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Chimneys and more chimneys – Salvador joined us as a second:

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Cool summit though:

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Explored some old villages. Here a local kid is about to dispatch a bat…it’s what happens when kids grow up without television:

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Same cliff-side village (abandoned) with the Youna-Inde Massif in the background:

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We slept in villages – this meant freshly killed chickens for dinner and a big audience of mostly kids at all times. Here’s the morning show called “breakfast”:

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Women in a mountain-top village of Boni-Koyo:

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Pounding millet:

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In some places, the people would offer us the use of an unoccupied house. I could care less about mice running over me at night but then I kept thinking of all the possible snakes that might follow them in (no doors):

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We climbed an 8-pitch line called La Fiesta De Los Fetiches – mostly crack climbing:

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Very aesthetic if tinged by a touch of nervousness as it overlooks the main road (we avoided main roads for the most part):

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After that we hit the road and went for some sightseeing in the Dogon Country a couple hundred kilometers away. Roadside sights:

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We spent a night in the town of Douentza which apparently saw heavy fighting & aerial bombardment campaign during the French effort to drive out the Islamists (circa 2013):

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On the drive to the Dogon Lands:

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Next 5 days were spent hiking tens of kilometers through Dogon villages. Here’s the first one and its mosque:

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Village of Dyongono with its Medieval-castle-like architecture:

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And the beautiful mosque in the village of Nando:

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Flowing lines:

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Dogon Country is perfectly safe – we slept on the plateau next to the car:

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We checked out a dozen Malian village markets. Shirley and Salvador shopping for some dried onions – a specialty of the Dogon lands – that somehow ended up in our checked bags:

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The Dogon place their dead in Cliffside caves like this one (this one is old but the tradition is ongoing):

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Embarking on a 25km hike through villages with our local Dogon guide Emmanuelle:

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Villages of the Dogon Escarpment:

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Arts and crafts…did I mention zero tourists?

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Hiking along the Dogon Escarpment:

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Women carrying 25kg bundles of firewood up a trail that borders 3rd class in sections:

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Millet storage units:

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Delicious! I especially like the bbqed heart and liver:

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More Dogon villages:

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More Malian markets:

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An impressive mosque in the border town of Koro some 40km away from the Burkina border…we stopped for all of 5 seconds to snap this photo and did not linger:

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Back in Ouagadougou for our flights home…just a typical scene: mother, child, and a mid-sized tank of propane:

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That’s it folks – time to go back home. Packing up in front of our hotel (not Splendid but pretty excellent) in Ouaga. Thank you Salvador!

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The most nerve-wracking part of the trip – flying over the third world…I mean is elder Hyrum at the Salt Lake center high or drunk?

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Approach Notes:

Salvador.

Edited by fgw

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Wow! Your trips and photos are always inspiring! Thanks for testing the waters out there, and for providing fodder for my climbing daydreams.

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So awesome. I was in Morocco earlier this month and I was lamenting how Mali had become so inaccessible to westerners... Apparently not to everyone! Incredible photos, thanks for sharing.

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like vegas, just w/ a slightly higher chance of running into some sorta love child of isis n' boko haram :)

 

shine on you crazy diamond!

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Thanks for the positive feedback guys. Really an amazing place and we're hoping it'll continue to stabilize and improve over the next couple years (the local culture seems incompatible with fundamentalist religiosity). New route potential is quite literally endless - tens of kilometers of 2000' walls and countless towers. Rock type lends itself to moderate free climbing from what little we've seen.

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I'll add to the heaps of praise. This is one of the best TRs I've seen (well, since your last one), otherworldly and aesthetic. I can't believe you crammed that all into 2.5 weeks.

 

That takes guts as well. My hat's off to you both.

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Trip of a lifetime. Just stunning. Two questions..

 

Is it true that they found ancient relics on the summits when modern climbers first climbed these things? I thought I once read that somewhere.

 

How did you rationalize the reasonable chance of getting your head lopped off?

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Thanks D. Yes, I think they found pottery on Kaga Tondo (others?). Which blows my mind considering some of those towers are 5.8-5.10- by easiest of lines (the phallic one on the far left is 7a min…don’t think they found pottery on that one).

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WOW! Great writing and photography Radek!! You and Shirley look like you had a world class amazing time both climbing and seeing the fantastic local sights. WOW!

 

Thanks so much for sharing that. WOW! That's excellent in so many ways.

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Just when I start to think I have learned about all of the world's greatest climbing destinations....

Stunning, truly stunning.

Many thanks for sharing

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Yep, that makes me wanna travel, although sounds a bit nerve wracking through there. Kind of like when we were the first Americans in the Kara Su in Kyrgyzstan after Tommy and Beth were kidnapped. At least I knew some of the language and stuff there.

 

Did you know to move on before the word spread at the village market, or was it just a prudent hunch?

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Yep, that makes me wanna travel, although sounds a bit nerve wracking through there. Kind of like when we were the first Americans in the Kara Su in Kyrgyzstan after Tommy and Beth were kidnapped. At least I knew some of the language and stuff there.

 

Did you know to move on before the word spread at the village market, or was it just a prudent hunch?

 

Nothing specific - just a prudent hunch (we did plan on moving around before the trip & actually stayed at Main de Fatma longer than initially planned).

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PORTLAND! Tonight, Wednesday, at 7 pm at Arcteryx on NW 23rd Radek will share photos from this trip and others. FREE BEER, Arcteryx prizes and international climbing radness. Hope to see you there!

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