Ethiopia Rocks

Sun, dust, rock, wildlife and cries of Farenji!

Ethiopia is in the Horn of Africa, it is the oldest African independent country and it is 4.6 times larger than the UK. It covers 1.13 million km², and has the second largest population of any African country. It’s a country of extremes, with the fertile Omo Valley in the South, with an average annual rainfall of 1134mm, (in 2013 the UK’s average annual rainfall was 1091mm). The Danakil Depression in the North is –125m below sea level and one of the hottest places on earth, while Ras Dashen (the highest mountain in Ethiopia), is 4550m above sea level (just 260m below Mont Blanc). These differing weather conditions mean that it’s a great place for our Ethiopia Rocks 2014 team to test out the new Páramo Enduro and Ventura fleeces and windproofs, as although we saw some very hot weather, we also came across cool evenings, shady crags and rain showers. Ethiopia has endless adventurous rock climbing, in the sun, with new routes at a large variety of grades, in a country full of culture. To encourage more long term sustainable rock climbing tourism in Ethiopia I have put together a free basic rock climbing guidebook, links can be found here: EthiopiaRocks_03 We shoehorned 7 people, 400 kilos of luggage, 2 boulder mats and 3 weeks supplies into the beaten up Landcruiser, and set off on a bumpy 2 day journey to Northern Ethiopia, where our new routing adventures began. The views out of the truck morphed from a bustling city full of people shopping for Easter Sunday feasts, to rolling hills, valleys, jagged mountains and escarpments. The shops turned to green pastures and forests, which in turn changed to dustier, dry and rocky ploughed fields. For as far as the eye can see there are tukels (round mud huts), children herding flocks of sheep and goats, (impeccably aiming rocks at the ground around them to adjust their course with one hand, and waving enthusiastically at cars with the other). We spent our first week in Girima, where we were soon surrounded by local children intrigued what the farenji (foreigners) were doing. We wanted the locals to see the potential benefits of tourism to their small community, so while there we tried to buy basic supplies, and tipped/left donations for the community where appropriate. The rock is pretty solid, with spaced gear and some vegetation. The rock climbing comes in all grades, from trekking, peak bagging, scrambling, and ridge traverses (alpine-style), to a few hard sports routes, trad routes, new routing and bouldering. We sent our fell runners off for recces of the rock faces on the horizon, meaning we were able to climb everyday, and lost only one day to exploration, (where undergrowth on the approach to the crag got the better of us). The midday sun in Adwa was often too hot to climb in, unless you found a shady crag, but a thin fleece or windproof were necessary most early mornings and evenings, and on the shady crags, and the Enduro & Ventura layers were perfect for ensuring we didn’t get chilly, but didn’t overheat either. EthiopiaRocks_04 We spent our second week in friendly Yeha, which is full of solid rock, and lots of wildlife. Including: geckos, snakes, monkeys and lizards, but fewer scorpions than Adwa! The snake skin trailed along the pockets of the roof belay on ‘touching the snake’ definitely made me climb quicker, and the rain shower on the way home made me glad for my windproof! Particularly memorable, was a kind local gentleman, we had no common word between us, just gestures, like a cross-cultural game of charades! We understood his emotion-filled gestures as a warning about falling rocks. We assumed these were dropped by the larger than life vultures, (wondering why he didn’t nod when I did bird impressions), but half way up ‘through the eye of a needle,’ Tom looked down from the belay to see monkeys running across the lower ledges, so somewhat belated and already committed, it suddenly became clear! As one of the few expedition to have climbed in the area, the locals were so intrigued with our bouldering escapades, that the local boys joined in wearing their jelly shoes. We spent our final week in the sandstone tower filled Hawzien, in the Gheralta region. It’s a crack, off width, chimney and esoterica-lovers paradise. Every route that looked viable from the road with binoculars, proved to be much wider than imaginable when stood below it. The rock quality varied, the gear was an endless supply of massive cams, and the scenery was amazing. Abune Yemata Guh is nearby and is one of Tigray’s many rock hewn churches, one man spent his entire life carving it out halfway up one of these towers, accessed daily for worship by an easy rock climb by barefoot locals. The Gheralta region involved the highest number of unsuccessful bush-caving-rack-treks (where we walked most of the day in the midday sun with a full trad rack in our rucksack, through lots of goat shaped passageways in the bushes, in an unsuccessful search for plausible climbs!) Luckily, late afternoons and evenings were a great time to visit the amazing train of granite boulders running down the valley, and a great time to test out the comfort and warmth of the Enduro fleeces. Before departing for Addis Ababa we were treated to a coffee ceremony to celebrate the success of our expedition, during which we climbed lots of new routes, had a great time and put together a guidebook to help future climbers. Mandy Tee Team Ethiopia Rocks: Tom Bide, Rachel Bell, Martin Lane, Jake Phillips, Carl Reilly & Mandy Tee

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