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Africa, Madagascar, Andringitra National Park, Karambony, Sakay, Tsaranoro, The Zoze Wall, and Other New Routes

Karambony, Sakay, Tsaranoro, The Zoze Wall, and Other New Routes. On July 8, Jim Haden and I arrived in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Within 20 minutes we were slapped in the face with the fact that we had no agenda or local contact. I had planned to have us take on the improvised adventure to add some spice; it started the moment we stepped through the Customs doors. We thought about contacting Tana Des Lezards, a local outfitter and guide service (partly owned by climber Gilles Gautier in Madagascar) who had taken most climbers to the destined climbing areas. Instead, we thought we would find a local with a nice 4 x 4 vehicle to take us there. After several days driving south and getting a local’s point of view (amazing), we arrived in the last civilized town of Ambavalao, where we stayed for a couple days, as it happened to be Madagascar’s wine capitol.

After stocking up on wine ($1 a bottle at most), we headed toward Mt. Tsaranoro. On the way in, we stopped for a couple of weeks at some nice domes about 11 miles north of Tsaranoro. Here we completed two nice first ascents on unnamed formations: The Eyes of the Owl (5.11+, 700'), and Devil’s Dust (5.9 Al, 1,200'). The free climbing was fun, but we really we wanted to do some awesome longer routes near the amazing Tsaranoro.

About this time, Misako Koyonagi, one of Japan’s top women climbers, arrived to meet us, and we proceeded to complete some top-notch new routes. First we made the first ascent of the northeast face of Mt. Karambony, a huge tombstone-like formation to the right of Tsaranoro, with the route Sakai Wall (VI 5.10 A3+, 1,400'). (Sakai is a Madagascar special hot sauce.) This route contained one of the best pitches I never imagined, a 190-foot pitch of knifeblades, beaks, rurps, heads and spice. After the pitch was fixed, it was so steep you had to lower out 100-plus feet to jug up. The three of us also completed The Zoze Wall (VI 5.10 A3+, 1,800') on the right side of Tsaranoro (Zoze is the name of a local who became our friend, mostly because of our pancakes and coffee). This route offered a variety of beautiful climbing from vertical chimneys and hard face climbing to splitter finger cracks. Jim and I ended our climbing venture with an attempt of Norspace (5.11 c/d), which goes almost up the center of Tsaranoro. We bailed just a few pitches from the top, as my fingers were close to igniting (Jim didn’t want to hear me cry anymore) after having enjoyed its best pitches.

Our same guide who showed up to take us back to the airport several hundred miles to the north had us stop by his house. No wonder he had a brand new, totally loaded 4 x 4 safari vehicle (the nicest vehicle we saw the whole time on the island). He was Madagascar royalty with a mansion, servants, guards, 400 rose bushes, a prize-winning garden, silver and gold attire for his home, feather beds, you name it. We even drank 15-year-old bottles of French Bourdeax with our lobsters. Never did ask how he got his money.

Mike Libecki*

* Supported in part by a grant from the AAC