American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Africa, Madagascar, Andringitra National Park, Tsaranoro Atsimo, Southeast Spur, Life in a Fairy Tale

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

Tsaranoro Atsimo, Southeast Spur, Life in a Fairy Tale. In September, Mark Wilford, Silvia and Craig Luebben and non-climbers Lane Ahem and Dhasa Bishop traveled to the Tsaranoro Massif in southern Madagascar. The climbers ascended three classic Tsaranoro routes, including the fabulous 1,800-foot Out of Africa (6c+). Unfortunately, Mark had to leave after only two weeks, but the Luebbens stayed and began equipping a new 1,600-foot route up the Massif’s southeast skyline, drilling bolts on lead. Though they carried a large rack, they found placements for only three stoppers on the entire route. Most of the pitches were long, often requiring the full length of their 200-foot lead rope.

Using a Bosch drill with a solar panel to recharge their batteries, the two drilled more than 140 bolts in seven days, using fixed ropes to regain their high point each day. Though some claim there can be no adventure with so many bolts on a route, putting up the route turned out to be quite an adventure. Each placement was drilled from sketchy stances or hook placements, which is extremely strenuous work, and 30-foot falls were often possible with the drill in hand. Plus, there was constant doubt that the pitches above would go. The lack of crack systems in the Tsaranoro has forced almost all the free routes to require many bolts.

While camped at the base of the wall, the group was serenaded by drums and chants from the tribes in the valley below and lemurs in the surrounding forests. After the route was drilled, they took a reprieve, visiting nearby rain forests and the powerful Indian Ocean. Then they returned, hoping to free climb the route, with only one day remaining before their departure. The climb, which they named Life in a Fairy Tale for their surreal experience in the beautiful valley, turned out to be very continuous, with seven pitches out of ten being 5.11+ in difficulty (later verified by a British team that made the second ascent). The route was mostly fun and thoughtful slab climbing, with a few bulges to keep the climbers honest. The Luebbens freeclimbed their route to the top, then cleared their fixed ropes and headed home. In a touching moment, as they left the Massif, the villagers they had camped beside early in the trip came out to say goodbye.

Craig Luebben

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