Another Strong Effort on Madagascar's Tsaranoro Massif

Posted on: May 22, 2008

The west face of Karimbony, Tsaranoro Massif, Andringitra National Park, Madagascar. The route line depicts Tough Enough? (8c+, 12 pitches), recently established by David Pickford and James McHaffie. The crux pitch was redpointed by McHaffie after two days of effort. The route is a free variant of an unnamed aid line (8a A3, 400m, Gebel-Steiner, 2005). [Photo] David Pickford

Editor's Note: The Tsaranoro Massif in southern Madagascar's Andringitra National Park has seen much activity over the past decade, the majority of it—while bolted—very traditional in nature, as the reported ascents have predominately been made ground up and sparingly bolted—usually from stances or hooks. The fine, dense granite in the area offers few, if any, opportunities for natural protection. The line detailed in the report below, once freed, will certainly be one of the world's most sustained in difficulty. Read about other climbs in this region in the following Newswires: November 28, 2006 ,November 28, 2006, June 1, 2007 and November 19, 2007.

In April, James McHaffie redpointed the first free ascent of the 8c+ [5.14c/d] crux pitch of a big-wall project in Madagascar’s Tsaranoro Massif. When every pitch of this route is climbed free, it will be one of the most challenging rock climbs on earth. McHaffie and David Pickford spent a week working on the 12-pitch project line on the 450 meter monolith of Karimbony known as Tough Enough?, which is based on the 2005 aid line (established by Germans A. Steinel and D. Gebel) up the center of the West Face.


The pair eventually climbed 6 pitches free, with McHaffie redpointing the crux 10th pitch after just two days of effort. This pitch is one of the world’s hardest slab routes in its own right, involving 40 meters of sustained technical climbing on an epic scale. McHaffie commented afterwards that it was “a whole grade harder” than Johnny Dawes’s Welsh masterpiece The Very Big And The Very Small (8b+/c) on Dinorwig slate, of which he made the 3rd ascent. McHaffie also redpointed the 9th pitch (8b) and the 3rd (8c), as well as onsighting pitch 4 (7c). Pickford redpointed the second pitch (8a) and onsighted the first pitch (7b+). Both these pitches had previously been climbed free by Francois Legrand of France, and Tony Arbonez of Spain in 2007 during their attempts on the line, when they also free climbed pitch 4 (7c), pitch 5 (known as the ‘Enduro Corner’, 8a+), and pitch 6 (dubbed the ‘Aloe Vera’ pitch, also 8a+).

The only pitches on the line that now remain to be free climbed are pitch 7 (a roof traverse thought to be 8c), pitch 8 (thought to be 8b+), and pitch 11 (also thought to be 8c). The complete list of pitch grades on Tough Enough? is likely to make even the most accomplished big-wall climber’s fingers sweat: 7b+, 8a, 8c, 7c, 8a+, 8a+, 8c, 8b+, 8b, 8c+, 8c, 6c!

France’s Arnaud Petit is currently in Madagascar to try the line. It is hardly necessary to point out that when free climbed in its entirety, Tough Enough? will be unquestionably the hardest big-wall free climb in the world.

The British team of Jack Geldard, David Pickford, James McHaffie and Stephen Horne also climbed an excellent new 4-pitch line on the right hand section of Lemur Wall, the long black cliff to the right of Karimbony. Yellow Fever (160 metres, 7a+ obl. / 7c max) climbs the striking yellow-gold streak on the steep wall to the right of Ebola. The first ‘Tarzan’ pitch climbs a chimney with a remarkable hanging vine to gain a belay, from where the second pitch (7b, redpointed by Pickford) makes a wild body-bridge out to gain a leftwards traverse across the wall. The crux pitch (7c) is a 50-metre, super-sustained and run-out monster, redpointed by Geldard and named the ‘Thunder Bird II’ pitch. The final pitch is a 6a+ and features some interesting run-outs. The team also bolted a direct start to the route up a rightward-trending line towards the second belay. Dubbed ‘The Sand Paper Simulator’, the finger-shredding pitch (roughly 8b+/c) was not redpointed by the Brits and remains an exacting challenge for aspirant Tsaranoro experts, preferably with a large supply of Aloe Vera!

McHaffie redpointing the crux 10th pitch (8c+) on his second day of effort. McHaffie commented afterwards that it was “a whole grade harder” than Johnny Dawes’s Welsh masterpiece The Very Big And The Very Small (8b+/c) on Dinorwig slate, of which he made the 3rd ascent. [Photo] David Pickford

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2008-06-02 13:02:59

Hey all,

As the organizer, photographer and filmmaker of the first free climbing attempt on "Tough Enough" on the Karambony wall last September 2007 together with François Legrand, Greg Sobczak, Giovanni Quirici, Toni Arbones and Leire Agirre, i just wanted to make some adjustments to David Pickford's post.

First of all, i want to congratulate the British team who probably worked hard to complete their redpoints. It confirms that this route is for now the hardest big wall challenge on earth.

In order to help you understand all my following comments, please have a look at the topo of the route i updated after our expedition :

If you wish to have a better view of the route, please have also a look at the small web gallery i just edited:

Now here are my comments.

Pitch 1 (Touffe, 7a+): The original pitch named "Fleuriste" used a dirty crack on the left and had been graded by Daniel Gebel in 2005, 6a & A3. In 2007, we thought it would be interesting to make another and better start. I personally bolted this new right-to-left traverse pitch and climbed it toprope. I'm not an expert climber but i guess it is more likely 7a+ than 7b+. Pickford's onsight redpoint is the true first ascent.

Pitch 2 (Lemurenklo, 7c): Daniel Gebel redpointed it in 2005. In 2007, Giovanni Quirici redpointed it at second try after an epic first try. Actually, during his first try, he was easy but had to stop because suddenly one of his finger tips got skinned. He had to wait a whole week to be able to climb again. Easy while not in good shape, he finally graded it 7c. Pickford's redpoint is then the third one.

Pitch 3 (Philishave, 8c): Daniel Gebel eventually redpointed it during his first ascent of the route and graded it 8b. Since then, it has become much harder because of several hold breaking at each Greg Sobczak's attempt in 2007. He estimated it 8c, a grade confirmed here by James McHaffie. If we consider the pitch drastic morphological changes and his new grade, McHaffie's redpoint is the first ascent of this pitch. Congratulation!

Pitch 4 (Miss Klumpfuss, 7b+): Daniel Gebel redpointed the shorter original pitch in 2005. François Legrand and Greg Sobczak also redpointed it but after that moved the final anchors upward in order to make a longer and more logical pitch. Giovanni Quirici onsighted the new pitch and graded it 7b+. McHaffie's onsight ascent is then the second one.

Pitch 5 (Endurance Corner, 8a+): This pitch had previously been redpointed by Daniel Gebel in its original version, a shorter one graded 7c. We have moved the anchor and it is now a 55 meters long pitch. This superb climb is one of the most beautiful of the wall. François Legrand made the first redpoint at first try in 2007 and graded it 8a+.

Pitch 6 (Aloe Vera, 8a+): Same as pitch 5, Daniel Gebel redpointed an original pitch (7c) but our 2007 expedition changed it and this one is now at lot longer : Almost 40 meters adding a crux section at the end. François Legrand redpointed it at first try in 2007 and graded it 8a+.

Pitch 7 (Frigo, 8c?): This pitch is the shortest of the route but not the easiest. It's also one of the most spectacular. Daniel did it aid climbing, grading it 7a & A3. We tried to freeclimb it. François solved and climbed all the sections. Unfortunaltely, at the end of our trip, he could only make two or three tries and was very close to redpoint it. Too bad. With a little more time, he would have definitely done it. This one (estimated 8c) remains unclimbed.

Pitch 8 (Cameleon, 8c+?): The original and direct pitch had been originally estimated by Daniel Gebel as 8b. François climbed it quickly but got stucked 8-10 meters under the anchor by an impossible section. A steep wall, slightly overhanging with no holds. Wishing to freeclimb the entire route, we tried to find a variation and finally found it in a very technical left-to-right traverse to reach a crack. We bolted it and only had the time to try the sections. But we think it could be the crux pitch of the route, probably around 8c+. This one remains unclimbed.

Pitch 9 (=Pitch 9 and 10 of the Brits) (Gecko, 8c+): This pitch is wonderful. It is a 60 meter long slab. The pitch had been previously named TE6A in 2005 because Daniel Gebel drilled and used removal bolts to climb every meter. He only aid climbed it and estimated the freeclimb as 8b+. Actually, it's a lot harder! 60 meters is very long, so we eventually thought we could divide it in two shorter pitches just like McHaffie did (estimating 8b and 8c+). François first redpointed these two sections estimating them as 8b+ and 8c. So McHaffie's redpoints are only repeats. But François didn't want to tell about these two redpoints because he didn't consider it as true redpoints for the entire slab is just too beautiful to be cut like this. It's true that this feature is unique. We all agreed with him that it has to be climbed in only one pitch and without stop, thinking it would be a fabulous accomplishment. Imagine a pitch requiring 160 hand moves and around 150 foot moves to remember! Amazing! François made some tries and at his last attempt, he fell exhausted just 5 meters before the final anchor while clipping the last quickdraw. He took a huge flight, screaming loudly enough to be heard in Camp Catta. He said it was probably his biggest battle ever, a 55 meters one! He estimates the whole pitch a big 8c+. So this one remains unclimbed too.

Pitch 10 (=Pitch 11 of the Brits) (Hercule, 8c): Originally, Daniel Gebel opened the route and estimated it 8a+. In 2007, François Legrand and Greg Sobczak attempted several times but have never been able to redpoint it, estimating it more likely 8c (including two crux moves probably 8a boulder). François could do separately these two moves but failed in connecting them from the bottom. As usual, with a little more time, i'm sure he would have been able to redpoint it too. After this last hard section, Daniel escaped on a ledge going to the right for an ultimate easy pitch. We changed it to finish directly the 10th pitch with a 6c run out, going till the top. This entire 10th pith remains unclimbed and is estimated by both Greg and François, 8c.

So to conclude, it remains the four top pitches to be climbed free: L7 Frigo (8c?), L8 Cameleon (8c+?), L9 Gecko (8c+?), L10 Hercule (8c?).

I hope all these comments help.

I wish Arnaud Petit and his teammates (Sylvain Millet, Stéphanie Bodet and Laurent Triay) a good trip there and successful attempts.

Evrard Wendenbaum

2008-05-25 13:16:55
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