Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tafraoute's dirty little secret...


At first you feel like you have died and gone to heaven, a bouldering heaven decorated with palm trees and coloured carpets; but fairly quickly Tafraoute reveals its dirty little secret.

Very rough, very sandy, and very frustrating is how I would describe the rock in Tafroute in polite terms. My mum told me saying bad words makes baby Jesus cry so I wont stoop to those despicable levels, instead I will use SCIENCE to demonstrate my point.


Utilising some of the most modern and accurate methods of visual guestimation, I was able to conclude that 89.74% of the rock is bad, and of the 10.26% that is good, 2.37% is inaccessible due to its location, and 6.44% is just featureless. This leaves a disappointing 1.19% of good quality climbing which may not sound much, but thankfully Tafraoute is all rock; as far as you can see in every direction, mountains covered in giant orange eggs entice you to explore.

Cleaning the holds on one of many new trad routes...

I know that the perfect line is out there, hiding somewhere in the shade is a line of perfect edges and huecos through a big roof, but this on this trip I didn’t find it. However... we did manage to climb every day, for 8 days straight on good quality problems. Sport, bouldering, and trad – we even found time for a mini desert rave. That’s not too bad going when you think about it.

Caroline chilling before the onslaught...

I'm planning on writing something a little more in depth about our adventure in Tafraoute, to be published in one of the climbing rags at some point down the line along with a host of pretty pictures. There is also 60gb of raw HD footage sat on my hard disk waiting for someone with the time and skill to turn it into something cool – if any of you budding film makers fancy taking a look, drop me a message and we can talk some more.

Just another beautiful sunset, just another beautiful day...

For now, I want to say a quick thank you to Ivan and the rest of the smiley Spanish for the helpful information they gave us – without it we would certainly have climbed a lot less. You can find Ivan’s website here. There is also a lot of useful information about climbing in Tafraoute here.

I just wanted to add, as somepeople seemed to have taken my post the wrong way (probably my fault in the way I write) - I liked Tafraoute a lot, in fact it was one of my best recent adventures and would certainly go back without too much persuasion.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Expedition Reports - 5 - The Arch of Ba-Chikele

Here it is folks, the final instalment of our Chad Expedition Reports. This time Renan Ozturk takes us on a journey up the Arch of Ba-Chikele - the most impressive and delicate rock formation any of us had ever seen!

I'm a little sad the reports have come to an end; it has been fun to share it with you all, and in a small way it was like being back there again, staring out into the unknown, wondering what magnificent route lay just around the corner. But fear not, as the Camp4 team are working day and night on the video edits so you should get to see something shortly. As for the pictures, I have seen the final edit and they are something special. Check out the April edition of Outside magazine if you are State-side, or the August issue of Climber Magazine for those in the UK.

“Expedition Time Distortion”: I think this could describe what the whole crew is experiencing at this point out here in the remote Chadian desert. Although we have only been gone for a matter of weeks, and it probably seems like a blink of an eye to all those back home, to us it truly feels an eternity lost in the endless sea of unclimbed sandstone, micro barbed picker grass and roaming camels.

Despite the looming homesickness, today the moral is high. We convinced Piero, our tireless guide, to go for a final hail mary quest to the most remote part of the region to check out what seems like the most inspiring formation from our research: a tower/arch that we have deemed “the delicate arch” of the Ennedi. Piero is skeptical of the whole journey after the incident with the knife bandits (see dispatch 4) and tried to ward us off from the idea: “You know there are vipers and cobras in camp-- definitely maybe!!” Even though we will only have an afternoon and morning worth of water to explore the location before have to turn back we all agree it’s worth it.

More 4x4ing through the heat and we arrive at the objective. It is even more inspiring than we could have possibly imagined: a helix of two spindly towers ~160 ft tall connected by a tiny arch that truly resembles Canyonland’s famous Delicate Arch!

With our limited time the team quickly sprung into action and headed up the talus cone in the brutal midday heat to scope the line. Each side had distinct cruxes of chossy unprotected slabs or decomposing cracks. Eventually Mark and James decided on the slab. The rest of the day was spent battling for protection in the decomposing sandstone. At one point Mark tried to place a bolt and it was so loose in the hole he had a double stack pitons around to make it even remotely passable as protection. Jimmy, Kempy and I scrambled around trying to document the madness we could here James cursing after Mark relinquished the lead: “Its like bloody Caster sugar up here, after you break the outer surface the rest just explodes, #(*)&#@#&!!!”.

Feeling a bit antsy at the base Alex took matters into his own hands and went for the kamikaze onsight free-solo first ascent of the crack up the other side. At this point it was a free for all with time running out to find a way to the summit. “Here you go dude, take this wireless mic,” I suggested and he clipped it on. After sending half the formation I could hear his breathing elevate with is knee stuck in a wide crack unable to commit to a loose flake transfer. Displaying good judgment and some extreme skill he carefully retreated down the lower tech face as we all watched clenching our teeth. Darkness set in James and Mark also decided to play it safe and descend, hoping to get it done with an alpine start the next morning.

During the night as the climbing teams rested for the morning we stayed up most of the night documenting a moon-rise we will never forgot: The nearly full moon rose directly behind the arch and tracked a perfect path slitting the formation. For the Camp4 Crew this was a mind-blowing coincidence for us to be able to share the beauty of this place. We ran 3 timelapses through the night, one on a motorized Kessler dolly tracks to add another layer of movement to the tracking stars and moon. I have to say it was kinda gripping scrambing around wondering if the aforementioned snakes might be lurking under any rock.

Before sunrise the games began again. James took the final leap of faith. I’m sure the details of his moment with God will come out in his and Mark’s own detailed descriptions but all I have to mention is that Mark could barely force himself to belay the pitch. If he fell he would have ripped the entire pitch including the anchor...

After some victory screams he brought up the rest of the crew for some truly feel good moments. Its so rare that in this day and age that such iconic first ascents are still a possibly. Looking out over the expanse of rocks and village life below it was an unsaid realization how special this experience has been. . (The Arch of Ba-Chikele)

Our time here is coming to a close. By Marks’s vision of putting this adventure together, Piero’s 20 year knowledge of the landscape/people, Alex and James’ bold summit leads and the Camp4 Collective crew photo/video efforts we all hope to bring back a greater understanding of the Ennedi to share with those back home. However haggard, diarrhea ridden, sand caked, starved and exhausted we all may be there is no doubt we are vastly grateful for the experience and the opportunity to be the first to climb in this remote region. Stay tuned for not only a feature in Outside Magazine and Video Dispatches but a more polished film festival piece highlighting the start to finish epic!

Thanks for following and cheers from the whole team out here in middle of nowhere! ~reo

For more inspiring pictures, check out "the Word" at

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Expedition Reports - 4 - Shiny Pointy Things

Expedition report 4 comes from team photographer and fairly handy climber, Tim Kemple...

There are two types of thugs in this world. Those that will knife you and those that threaten to knife you. Fortunately these were the later.

Its been one of those days for me really. The harshness of the desert has begun to set in --every step calculated, as snakes, spiders, insects, and flesh eating grass seem to be lurking everywhere. Making things more stressful, we’ve broken enough camera gear to keep B&H in business for another year… its almost like our video equipment can feel the stress of the Ennedi as well. Yesterday James and Mark bagged another tower first ascent (The Wine Bottle) so we packed up the 4x4’s and headed deeper into the sand in search of more desert gold.

We have no real system for finding new routes. Just drive for hours across the desert to the next well known landmark and see if the rock is climbable. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so much stone in my life, so at times it can be overwhelming. Its mostly loose sandstone, but there is enough good rock to be found that every turn finds everyone’s eyeballs glued to the windows wanting to be the first to spy the next gem.

That’s how we were yesterday when we ran underneath Aloba Arch, reportedly the biggest land arch in the world at close to 100m. The solid ‘Red Rock’ black faces to either side of the arch were going to be the perfect passport to the summit. We were stoked! Problem is we were also so busy looking up that we hardly noticed the 4 knife wielding teenagers approach from the bushes. At first we thought they just wanted us off their land, but soon it became clear that they wanted to mug us.

Normally I would have been fine leaving my gear for the bandititos, but I forget North Face athletes don’t like being told what to do; so we picked up sticks and got ready to do battle… Fortunately their knives were just threats and they ran into the dusty desert afternoon.

We took off as well, the Delicate Arch of Chad awaits.


Yes, It was pretty scary!