www.adventurepictures.eu
author: Marcin Jamkowski

Mali 

 





OPERATION DESERT TOWER

There are still in Mali people who thinks all the white men
are climbers. Because all the white men they saw
came to their villages only for climbing

 By Marcin Jamkowski

The airport in Gao was made just on the sand. No electricity, no x-ray nor tax-free zone. Instead some candles lighting up the landing stripe. Hot, dry air with dust entered my lungs during walk from boeing to something that was called terminal. When I saw the half naked personnel of the airport I had no doubt – I’m in the one of the poorest countries in the world. Then fortunately my I set my eyes to the mountains and desert beyond the building. And had no doubt again – I’ve just landed in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And wild.

No rope - no climb

The beginning in Gao (East Mali) was not successful. Our climbing gear packed in brand new cosmic looking barrels attracted custom officers at the airport. Eight tall very well armed men quickly decided to confiscate all our cargo with food and climbing equipment. Ropes, tents, harnesses even climbing shoes – everything was taken to the custom deposit. Without it our plan – which was to climb Kaga Tondo – would be more than unrealistic.

The man who expected us could do nothing. Salvador Campillo has been living in Mali for 10 years. That mountain guide went to Mali for the first time 20 years ago. Wanted to spend just a week, stayed for 3 months. Gradually entered the life of local people and finally found a wife and were given a piece of land under the most impressive sandstone tower in the world - Hand of the Fatima. Now half a year he stays in Africa, and summer he spends in Cataluna - Easternmost part of Spain.

Money makes that world go to climb

The next day after arrival to Mali, his connections took us to the office of the Very Big Boss of the Custom Officers in Gao. After one day of bargaining we bought our equipment back. It cost us 100 US dollars paid in French francs. Its the quantity of money, that one Malian earns in 4 months... We were ready to enter Salvadors Land Rover and drive to the wall of the Hand of the Fatima.

Higher than Manhattan

We arrived to the village Daari late at night. Only blurred contours of the mountains were seen on the dark sky background. Strange feeling that the towers rising over our heads are gigantic were present in the air. We heard the special vibrations of the wind, that told us, that we were not just at the rocks - we were at the base of really big mountains.

But when I saw the massif in the morning, I though I was still dreaming. All the area around us was completely flat. Flat to the horizon like a surface of the ocean in the quite day. And in one place an island rose from that ocean - it was the desert Manhattan. But the five (like five fingers of the hand) yellow-orange rocky towers with the completely vertical walls were 1800 feet high! It’s two-three times higher than the New York skyscrapers!

We turned our sight to the highest of the towers named Kaga Tondo (which in local language means "the Tower of the Grandfather").

Eggs collectors

There is a legend that two local boys - Ousmane and Maliki Zindo climbed the top of the mountain in early years of the 20th century. They had no any climbing equipment and probably choose the route that is now mostly used for descent, but still graded 5. They wanted to collect eggs of the vulture that nest close to the top of Kaga Tondo. As I was told by the boss of the nearby village Garmi one of the climbers disappeared, the other had been found dead at the base of the tower. He had leather bag with broken vulture eggs hanging on his neck. Everybody treated this story only as the legend, not as true until first climbers from France stood at the top of the mountain in 1978. Thinking that they did first ascent surprisingly for themselves found… some pottery left by two brothers years ago.

 

The last climbing problem

So we wanted to climb this tower, but decided not to repeat any old route, rather to solve the part of the East wall that was called by Salvador Campillo: "The Last Logic Problem of Kaga Tondo".

- There is the 150 meters high dihedral, still not climbed. Try your luck - told us Salvador.

The core of our group: Tomek Samitowski (called "The Smile"), Bogdan Fic and Krzysiek Zielinski climbed it in just a few days. But they told that the off-wide in the dihedral is awful - full of birds shit. So the decision was to move to the vertical walls some 30 meters right from the dihedral. For two more guys from our expedition: Michal Zielinski and Waldek Niemiec it took two days to fully bolt them. There were no any other possibility to protect on the face. For drilling the holes for bolts they used the very good petrol drilling machine made by Ryobi. When we read about the Todd Skinner expedition (they did a very hard route on the lower peak of the massif - Kaga Pamari) - we learnt, that they used one drill only for four holes. Our drilling machine were more powerful so we could use one drill for 10-15 holes.

Natural medicine methods

After two weeks of climbing, sleeping on portaledges, fighting with heat (over 40 Centigrade - 105 Fahrenheit), fast and very dusty desert wind called Harmattan (blowing 150 km/h - 100 miles/h) and lack of water (the closest well was 12 km from the camp), belay at the lower half of the wall has been prepared. Because most of us were sick (typical African stomach problems) we left fixed ropes and took two days off. And then discovered that the best African cure for the most of the African diseases was... beer! Produced 1000 km from The Hand of the Fatima - in Bamako (the capital of Mali) Castel Beer was served cold in Hombori - the bigger village some 12 km from the camp. We quickly drunk all the Castel that were available at this Muslim town...

 

The last beer

Curation was very powerful. Four climbers including me with the cameras hanging all around me, went for climbing next day. Lower half of the wall, where belay had been already installed we climbed in one day. The highest grade was (French) 6c+. But several pitches were also graded close to this number. Half of the next day we were not climbing at all. The Harmattan blew so strong, that it was impossible to stand at the shelf which gave us place for sleeping. Late in the afternoon weather went better and some more pitches had been climbed. Sometimes, where there were no chance to put protection from friends or nuts, bolts holes were drilled by the climbing leader. At five pm. on the third day of the final attack, after climbing 19 pitches (some of them even 7a+) Kaga Tondo had been conquered! Later (at the Hombori bar) we decided to give to the route Spanish name: "La ultima birra de Hombori" which in English means "The last beer in Hombori".

Two of us (Mike and I) also climbed other peak of The Hand of the Fatima: Suri Tondo, and the legendary route on Kaga Tondo: "Vuelva Usted Mañana" (6a+ A2). Bogdan and "Usmiech" climbed another well known route - starting from tyrolean traverse "Macumba Circus" (7b+) on Kaga Pamari. Also four of The Team were on the lowest of Fatima peaks: Wamderdou and all we climbed on the blocks (up to 15 meters high) that lie around massif.

After climbing we went to the Dogon Country - to the mysterious people that live just on and below the cliff of Bandiagara and to the towns of Mopti and Jenne. But this is completely different story...


 


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