It has been a while ago (June 2014), but nevertheless quite a milestone in my personal climbing "career" as well as a milestone in the development of climbing in the limestone crags of Zaghouan. The opening of a new alpine route called "The Green Mile". Together with Michael Pfau it needed several sessions of exploring, putting in bolts at crux positions and some clearing. We have had help with developing the route from Mourad Attia, the head of the local climbing club Escalade Attitude. 5 pitches takes you from the bottom of the massif (503m) to the top (680m) of the plateau on the northwest side of the massif. The route name The Green Mile has been chosen for it's many trees and shrub along the route, the length and keeping in line with naming all the big new routes after movie titles.
Despite the green character of the route, we have managed to find a pretty clean line on solid limestone, with an occasional fight with some shrub (especially at the start of the second pitch). While developing the route (first from bottom up and the last two pitches from top down), we mistook a connection with between the third and fourth pitch. Two ledges, some 80 metres from one another looked so alike that we accidentally bolted a line that did not connect. That's why a via ferrata between the two fourth pitches is planned.
Minna Dederer topping out the 4th pitch on the inauguration of the route
Although crux sections (usually F5B and harder) and sections with no possibilities for trad placements are bolted it's vital that anyone trying this routes should have own a full rack of traditional climbing equipment and the experience to use it. For more information about the route you can drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael preparing the abseil down from the top of The Green Mile
A week ago I was hiking in the western part of the Zaghouan Mountains, around Sidi Medien (see Sidi Medien Loop). One object made my heart beat a little faster; a spiky limestone rock with the shape of a shark tooth (so we baptised the rock itself "Shark Tooth"). I got home and send my climbing buddies the pictures of this gem, urging them to climb it the week after. Sven, just back from Germany with a bag full of new trad kit, was eager to try his stuff out. Despite of rain forecast we went out early, to get up the crooked chunk of rock.
The Shark Tooth
After a 20-minute hiking in we reached the base. It looks daunting and Sven, eager to test his new gear, starts climbing the first pitch. Slightly nervous, as this is his very first trad climb, he shoves in some cams and nuts and gets up the first relais without any trouble. The line was not the most difficult one, but important to get to know the state of the rock (which luckily is solid).
Sven finding his way up, Michael belaying
The second pitch had a bit more vertical start (my guess is that the crux is a severe). I had to solo the first 4 metres before finding a good crack to shove in a nut. However, the hand holds were good and there's some good small ledges for the feet. Again, solid rock, beautiful little cracks for gear placements and ledges for hand and feet. What a joy to climb this!
Myself taking on the 2nd pitch
The first 25 metres are proper vertical rock climbing, after that the route to the summit is nothing more that a grade 3 scramble. The big block on the summit is too sharp for the rope to abseil from. The best place to abseil is about 15 metres below the top. On the edge of the drop is a big boulder which allows us to wrap the rope around, without having trouble pulling it out again. The 50m double rope is just enough to get down the way we climbed (with the stretch of the rope you actually still have to clip out a metre above the bottom). We're back at the little plateau between the first and second pitch. Getting the rope back proved harder than we though. Only when we both pull with our full weight we manage to pull the rope down (it had started raining already). From here we scrambled down unroped. What a magic climb!
12 January 2014 - Working on new multi-pitch alpine route
In October Michael and I have been trying a new multi-pitch route in the northwestern crags of Zaghouan. After having done 4 pitches in traditional style we got stuck and had to retreat. After a hike up around the wall we found the top and the rest of the route. We had to come back to finish the job.
We returned in the new year, now with bolting equipment. After a pretty rough hike up the mountain we found the top of the route. The last pitch to the top is a beautiful chimney style climb which is now bolted by Michael. Mourad (chief of the climbing section of the Speleo Club in Zaghouan) and I explored the wall that proofed to challenging in October. After abseiling down to the ledge, I climbed a very nice line. Good holds, nice little roof. It just needs a clean (some rocks are not too stable…). We'll be back soon to complete the route that has the working title The Green Mile.
28 December 2013 - Exploring the virgin South Face
I had seen the entire south side of the Zaghouan Mountains from the hill at Zriba, 10km south of Zaghouan. I was mesmerised. Stunned. Instantly obsessed. Tons of new (multi-pitch) routes were up for grabs. Maybe take a closer look first…
Part of the virgin south facing walls of the Zaghouan Mountain, pretty impressive!
Just before the new year we did a recce hike to take a closer look at the rock. The base is pretty accessible by foot, by car we still have to find the best way in. In most places the limestone is solid, lot's of features and cracks. It seems that we can access the top as well, which makes route cleaning and bolting easier. Where to start?…
Panorama from the Berber village
14 December 2013 - Biting off more than we can chew
I had my eye on this beautiful, jagged ridge for a while. Apart from the obvious crux, a vertical/overhang where a solution wasn't yet visible, it all looked very climbable. My limited trad experience was just a minor issue to overcome. You have to get experience somehow right?
The unnamed ridge, seen from the Zaghouan Pass
The hike in was easy, a 20 minute walk from the farm. A short scramble led us to the base of the ridge, now looking more daunting and intimidating then from a safe distance. Micha volunteered to climb the first pitch. Except for a section with limited gear placing possibilities, the climb started quite smooth. Thinking we were doing a first ascent, we came across a piton, jammed in about 30 years earlier (according to the local farmer). It made me smile. I was up for the second pitch. The start was hard, with again no good cracks and holes to place equipment. With a bit of boldness I went for it and managed to get to the piton, still fit for use. The rest of the pitch was not as hard, apart from finding a good anchor to belay Micha up. From here the ridge erects at an almost vertical angle, and narrows to the proportions of a true knife-edge. Are we brave, experienced, good enough? We both hadn't climbed for a while and this looked pretty damn hard. We bailed on this part of the route and went to the side to check out another line connecting with the main ridge again.
Bypassing a very hard section of the route
Here I encountered similar problems and even worse, very brittle rock. After a little ledge broke off I decided to down climb and find another entry to the ridge. Eventually we found something that looked doable. Again I headed up, leaving big gaps between the placements. Only to discover at the crux we had seen from the distance before this was not going to be done by us. Pushed out of my comfort zone I decided to leave two slings and karabiners and come down safely… Here I went a bit beyond my (mental) ability. Good to know!
16 October 2013 - New route: Gone with the wind
It is just incredible how a small mountain area harbours so much rock climbing potential. The area is roughly 10 by 5 kilometres, but has many, many yet unclimbed walls and buttresses. Only one canyon in this limestone range has been developed with sports routes. And even here it's only a fraction of the possibilities.
We baptised the buttress on the right Gone with the wind (it was a very windy day!)
While looking for routes on the wall Kaf al Blida (western part), me and my climbing mate Michael Pfau recognised a great line on a yet unclimbed buttress that leads to the top of the wall we were initially after. As this was my very first time climbing and leading a trad route and this was a virgin route I skipped the initial 4 metres (the first possible placement was a bit too high for comfort...). After that Micha and I zipped up a lot faster with no major difficulties. Stoked to have opened my first route! See below for the photo of the route in detail plus gradings and guide for placements.