São Tomé, new climb up Pico Cão Grande by Sergio Almada Berreta and Gareth Leah
In June 2016 Sergio Almada Berreta and Gareth Leah made the first ascent of Nubivagant - Wandering in the clouds (455m, 5.13d/A0 8b) up Pico Cão Grande on the island of São Tomé, Africa.
In summer 2016 big wall specialists Sergio "Tiny" Almada from Mexico and England’s Gareth Leah travelled to the remote island of São Tomé off the western coast of Central Africa, where over a four-week period they established a difficult new bolt protected climb up Pico Cão Grande. This magnificent pillar stands almost 400m tall above the equatorial rainforest and was summited via their Nubivagant (Wandering in the clouds), a 455m line protected by bolts past difficulties up to 5.13d/A0 (F8b). The duo climbed everything clean, except for pitches 2, 3 and 4 as time ran out. The first route on the tower was climberd in October 1975 by a Portugese team including Jorge Trabulo Marques, while it is believed the summit was successfully reached for the first time by a small team of young Japanese climbers that included Kenichi Moriyama. Although at present it is unclear whether the new route is the second or third ascent of the peak, what is certain is that this latest jungle adventure really left its mark.
NUBIVAGANT by Gareth Leah
A dark tower of volcanic rock shrouded in clouds dominates the unearthly landscape. Formed millennia ago when high pressure magma solidified inside the vent of an active volcano, it’s presence is foreboding. This is the peak of Cão Grande, a 370m volcanic plug situated deep in the jungle on the island of São Tomé in sub-saharan Africa.
Prior to the expedition, I'd spent a year planning (mainly dreaming) of the day I would be able to visit this island whose landscapes resembled a scene from a Jurassic Park movie. It was a project I knew was ambitious on so many levels. Everything had to be carefully planned and arranged as the island offers almost nothing in the way of purchasable goods or medical help. If something was to go wrong, we would be on our own.
Arriving on the island was a cultural eye opener. Stray dogs running wild through the busy streets, a seven person family riding a single 125cc motorbike, a balancing act fit for a circus performance. Navigating the narrow roads that winded south from the capital we arrived at Agripalm plantation, the furthest point we could reach before being forced to continue on foot through the jungle.
A 3km hike through thick jungle and we emerged at the base of the wall, greeted unknowingly by a 100m high roof that jutted out some 30m. There was no information on the peaks rock formation prior to arrival and standing at the base we gained a very real sense of the task at hand.
Three weeks of 14 hour days later and we were stood on top of the peak. Reaching the summit had been wrought with difficulties that threatened to end the project from the start, many of them not climbing related. Luggage problems, blown battery chargers, generator issues, snake bites, jungle logistics, currency exchange, sickness and stuck vehicles all looked that they would stop us in achieving our goal. However, with each new obstacle that stood in our path, we would find a solution, though non were what you would describe as “traditional".
Having now completed the route and with time to reflect upon the island, the peak and the people we have encountered along the way. I am thankful in all that I have gained from the trip which amounts to a lot more than just a new route, but new friends, skills and an understanding of a life where people are masters of their environment.
Thanks to: Nite Ize, Mad Rock, Hanchor, Maxim Ropes, Voltaic Systems, DMM, Adventure Medical Kits, adidas Outdoors, Five Ten. The project was realised thanks to the help of the adidas Outdoor #claimfreedom campaign. You can follow the story as it unfolded by viewing the hashtag #bigwallintotheclouds
Nubivagant (Wandering in the clouds)
455m, 5.13d/A0 (F8b) ***
A direct line up the steepest part of the giant roof and onto the headwall above. Though equipped as a sport line this is anything but and should be approached with the respect that big wall requires. The majority of the difficulties are located in the first 100m of the route which is a steep overhanging roof, arguably one of the largest in the world with 3 pitches of climbing at grade 5.13b (F8a) or harder. Pulling through the roof, the climbing eases considerably and you just have to hope the tropical storms stay at bay to reach to summit.
1. Jump from the block to the wall and climb the thin slab to a roof. Pumpy. 9 bolts, 20m 5.12b (F7b)
2. Steep corner with double dynos off the belay (V8) to steady 5.13b (8a) with no rests. 10 bolts, 15m 5.13d (F8b)/A0
3. Wet corner with complex beta and some committing run outs! 11 bolts, 25m 5.13c (F8a+)/A0
4. Dyno off the belay put the roof to a difficult iron cross move that gains ledge. Move across the ledge to some desperate moves that gain the dihedral were climbing eases up. 12 bolts, 30m 5.13b (F8a)/A0
5. Take the blocky face to the slab. 8 bolts, 15m 5.10b(F6a+)
6. A long scramble pitch with some vertical climbing at the midpoint. Run out. 9 bolts, 35m 5.6 (F4c)
7. Another scramble with a tricky exit onto the ledge. 10 bolts, 35m 5.9 (F5)
8. A hard start up steep rock to easy finish. 9 bolts, 25m 5.10c (F6b)
9. Traverse the foot ledge with good hands to a tricky exit. 8 bolts, 20m 5.9 (F5)
10. Hand jam the blocks to a ledge. Walk across and climb the technical face to the chains in the overhanging roof. 9 bolts, 35m 5.10c (F6b)
11. Traverse right and up the gulley to a hard finish on the ledge. 13 bolts, 35m 5.11d (F7a)
12. 11 bolts, 35m 5.12a (F7a+) Traverse right past a loose flake to a overhanging wall and fire up to the gulley.
13. Scramble the corner to a ledge (unprotected) and cross the ledge to a loose wall above. 8 bolts, 30m 5.10c (F6b)
14. Epic finish up the leaning arete with the chains being the crux. 9 bolts, 30m 5.11d (F7a)
15. Mount the rock and mantle into the jungle above. Bushwhack to the summit. 1 bolt, 70m 5.6(F4c) Class IV
Equipped/FA: Gareth “Gaz” Leah (UK) and Sergio “Tiny” Almada (Mexico) June 2016