Madagascar rock climbing paradise!
In October and November 2007 Albert Leichtfried traveled to Madagscar and discovered the island climbing paradise. In addition he added a further five routes in his new sector Honeymoon.
Madagascar is increasingly becoming the Indian Ocean's answer to Kalymnos in the Aegean sea. Over the last decade the ex-French colony has consistenly lured some of the best climbers in the world to its immense Tsaranoro walls, and names such as Michel Piola, Lynn Hill, Rolando Larcher, Kurt Albert and Bernd Arnold testament the importance of this area as one of the world's finest big wall venues. But the island is infact much more than "simply" the Tsaranoro massif, and numerous sports crags and bouldering spots offer just as much adventure as the granite walls that tower in the middle of the island.
Albert Leichtfried, one of Austria's top ice climbers, recently fell victim to Madagascar' exotic mix, spending his honeymoon there and discovering the island to unearth new routes. The result? A completely new sector called, unsurprisingly, Honeymoon and a feast for all senses. His report is published below.
Madagascar 2007 - by Albert Leichtfried
"Merci!" – Their shining white teeth seemed to outshine even the sun! Vroni and I were about to say goodbye to our tropical paradise, full of friendly people, nice weather and hot climate. We had brought some sweets to share them with the locals, but we had run out too quickly - there were simply so many kids on the streets of Diego!
Walking along totally relaxed and soaking in the atmosphere, our stressed European world seemed a lifetime away. After quite a busy time only a few weeks ago we had departed for the North of Madagascar – the place we had chosen to spend our honeymoon. And we discovered a totally different world. “Mora, mora!” – everything went slow and without experiencing any stress whatsoever– that’s how time goes by on this huge island.
These vibes caught us pretty soon and only a few days after our arrival we felt fully relaxed and our normal routine seemed thousands of miles away. After getting used to the heat we started exploring the climbing area around Diego, the Montagnes des Français named after the French and Malagasy who fought against the Vichy regime in Second World War. With little information to go on – we had managed to get a small topo off Michel Piola – we made our way up to the sprawled walls at the end of October. To be honest, from a distance the rock didn’t look very spectacular, but as soon as we got closer we got really excited – tufas shone in all different colours and huge stalactites hung from everywhere we looked – it felt like being in Thailand again, but with two huge differences: a lot of friction and not even a single other climber!
Climbing on these huge varied rock formation made us feel even more in paradise. We want to say a big thank you to Michel and his friends who have done a fantastic job in bolting circa 120 gorgeous routes graded from 4 to 7c, most of them between 6a and 7a. We could hardly believe being in this climbing paradise completely on our own! Only a few traces of chalk testified that someone else must have been there before. Even in our lodge at the base of the Montagnes, the King’s Lodge, we were the only guests. A climbing area and a hotel all by ourselves – what else would you expect on your honeymoon?
A week later two friends arrived at Diego. Invigorated by the unbelievably sweet mangos, pineapple and bananas we started to make our contribution to the development of this climbing area and I started bolting a pillar that had caught my eye right on the first day. Over 30 meters long, this tufa and pocket line on perfect non-slippery limestone is one of my most beautiful first ascents ever. I named the line "Honeymoon", and with this I wanted to express the uniqueness of our vacation, the line and the magic of this place. At 7c+ Honeymoon is currently the hardest route in the Montagnes des Français. Time flew and Vroni made the first ascent of a second route – "Omesberger Marillenmarmelade" (6c) – a short but interesting route up small crimps. "Michl sauf!" (7b) reminded me of how I urged our first calf, born the night before we left, to finally drink from its mother’s udder.
After climbing in the Montagnes des Français for more than a week we made our way to Nosy Andantsara, a small island to the west of the mainland. Mathieu Delacroix, a "stranded" Frenchman and his team at New Sea Roc organize unique trips to the sacred group of small islands called Nosy Hara. On board a huge Unimog four-wheel-drive the four of us, Mathieu, two local cooks and four local fishermen first drove through the jungle, then jumped on a small boat to get to the island. You feel like Robinson Crusoe when you get there – living in caves and eating the fish they catch during the day. It’s an amazing feeling. What makes it even more special is that New Sea Roc respects nature in such a way that there are almost no signs of civilisation. They have a special contract with the local government that they and their guests strictly follow: pointing out things with your finger and making noises are strictly forbidden for example, and the only place to get rid of your personal needs is the ocean. Apart from this perfect organisation, the amazing corals and gorgeous fish for snorklers you come across circa 40 bolted routes from 3 to 8b on perfect limestone with huge karst formations. Nosy Anjombavola, the closest of the other sacred islands (about 5 min boat ride), offers another 40 bolted routes between 5 and 8a which are only accessible for New Sea Roc with their special permission.
Back from this one week of adventure on the sacred islands we spent another week on the Montagnes des Français. Not just to climb but also to equip some new routes of course! Klaus didn’t only do a fantastic job in taking pictures, he also succeeded in creating "Salut vazaha" (6c+), a hard and bouldery route on small pockets, before he and Uli departed to do some diving at Nosy Be. On our own once again, Vroni and I started exploring the farthest sectors of the Montagnes. These are only accessible via an adventurous walk through the jungle and a few stalactite caves. On one of our last days I finished bolting our sector Honeymoon, and the final route turned out to be a perfect leaving present: "Reste chez moi" (7a+). In the end we both agreed: Paradise, we will return!
The most important sports climbing areas:
Montagnes des francais: 12 sectors, 130 routes from 4b to 7c+ (majority 6a-7a), up to 4 pitches
Nosy Andantsara: 4 sectors, 50 routes from 3a to 8b (majority 6a-6c)
Nosy Anjombavola: 4 sectors, 40 routes von 5c to 8a (majority 6b-7a)
www.newsearoc.com (Diego Suarez, topo, shop, climbing trips)
www.kingdelapiste.de (King’s Lodge, Place to stay close to Montagnes des Français)
www.normada.com (General info about northern Madagascar)
www.campcatta.com (Tsaranoro topo)
www.gaia-store.com (Michel Piola Madagascar Guidebook)