Video TR of Climbing the East Face of Chombe In the Mulanje Masiff Range
This is the video I took while climbing in Africa. It shows moments from Edwin and I's unintended First Assent of the "KIDS Around the World" route 600m (2000') Grade 6
Well, on August 15th I began packing up and getting ready to start my new job. For those of you don't know I'm now working for a NGO "Kids Around the World". We build playgrounds, Schools, and Create safe zones for at risk children in third World countries all over the globe. This trip the first of many would be taking me to the town of Zomba in Malawi, Africa.
Where for 2 weeks Some volunteers, my boss, and I took the 40' shipping container we sent over earlier and on the outside of town turned it into a community center/Schoolroom along with a playground that was shipped inside the container that we installed along side the classroom.
The SAFE Haven Playground and Classroom in Zomba, Malawi.
The container was also stuffed full of all kinds of supplies, wheelchairs, bikes, clothing, blankets, etc. Some days where set aside for the Volunteers to take these things into surrounding villages along with water filters. The Villages we wanted to get to are Gogo Villages. (Gogo means Grandparent) These places are where Gogos care for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. (1 in 10 adults in Malawi are HIV+ and the Average life expectancy is around 48 years) These are some of the friendliest/ Saddest places you can imagine.
This is a note I wrote during my trip
“The other day Mary and I took a trip to bring supplies and clothing out to a village of Gogos (Grandparents) who take care of orphaned kids from the AIDS epidemic here. This turned out to be a special trip as the need was great and the gratitude was as well. We brought new dresses for the girls and I brought a new ball for the kids and spent the afternoon playing ball games and climbing Mango trees with the Orphaned boys and girls. The elders wanted to show me the school room (grass hut) and the bricks they had been making to help build a new school. They asked me if this was why I came and could I help them get this done. (Tears) This village was a sad and yet magical place. It was hard to leave without doing more for them.”
Orphan children with hand made bricks in the background. Gogos have been making bricks in hope that someone will come and use them to build a schoolroom for the kids.
This is the existing school in this village.
It's amazing to look back and see how seemingly unrelated events can culminate to bring you to a new place in life.
“The other day I saw a boy (Weise) with a bad cut on his foot that had become infected. I took him over to my first aid kit and cleaned and dressed it but he had no shoes to keep it clean. I was able to return to his village yesterday with new shoes for him. I put them on his little feet and laced them up. he didn't know what to think. I doubt he had ever received anything ever. As I left I saw him running to show off his new shoes. We were both very happy.”
After doing some research online I learned that This trip could also offer me the opportunity to satisfy my adventure and climbing addiction by taking three weeks after finishing in Zomba to travel solo around Malawi and finally into the Mulanje Mastiff range where Black Mombas, Cedar Forests, Roving Bands of Baboons and, the seldom climbed 600 m walls of the Chombe peak promised high adventure.
“Backpacking around Lake Malawi for the past 3 days. Camping on the beaches, DWS climbing, and kayaking to some islands. This place is amazing. It’s late here now and I can see the lights from fishermen in dugout canoes out in the lake from the beach I'm sleeping on. A warm rain just started coming down so I've taken shelter under a nice conde out here on the beach. That I just now noticed is covered with ants that bite! Just great.”
Monkey Bay, Mufasa Backpackers lodge $4 a day to camp. Nice place to be.
Lake Malawi nite Fishing, Dugout Canoe W/5 Colman lantern rack.
“I made contact with a German climber here in Malawi by the name of Thomas. He doesn't climb much anymore but he stopped by the other day and handed me this climbing guide. It's a 1982 supplement to the only other known guide by Frank Eastwood, written in 1979. The cover and route descriptions are pretty wild with the pulling on and slinging of Grass Tufts for pro and progress a somewhat common theme. Along with long (400m) multi pitch chimneys with large chock stone stances.”
1982 supplement to the only other known guide by Frank Eastwood, written in 1979.
“Traveling by minibus in Malawi tonight. 19 people, 3 chickens, 1 goat crammed into a minivan that's driving way to fast with only one headlight and horn a blazing down a dark road to Mulanje makes rock climbing seem very safe. ; ). Good times.”
"On top of Chombe in the Mulanje Masiff range. Will be losing cell service from here and can't send a picture but it is a beautiful place in this world with more untouched rock climbing than you can imagine. I'll post pics when I can. The hike up was not too bad as I hired two porters for me and my guide Edwin. The best K2000 (kwacha) or $8 I've spent in a long time."
Google Earth view of the Chombe area in the Mulanje Masiff Range.
600m East Face of Chombe Peak. View from the Chombe Hut on the Plateau.
//Hi everyone, I've hiked to the top of a mountain to get a signal this morning. I climbed yesterday and had a good yet disappointing time. I fell 20feet twice at the crux before pulling through. The climbing is really crazy. There are grass tufts attached to the wall everywhere and you must use them at times to pull on and even tie them off for protection. I was stopped at about 600 feet yesterday
by a wide chimney that I could not find any way of protecting as I climbed. The rock was covered with moss and I was not willing to continue because if I fell out of it I would have hit a ledge from over 35' up. So I was forced to retreat this was not easy from where I was and the down climbing was very dangerous. The rock has not seen freeze cycles so is not fractured very much this makes it very hard to find places to put protection. I fear that I don't have large enough cams with me as the cracks that are here seem to be very wide. I will try a new line tomorrow and hope all goes well. The approach to the base of the wall is through very thick jungle and this is scarey and hard. I love you all and am having lots of type B fun. Jon//
This is the video I took while climbing in Africa. It shows moments from Edwin and I's unintended First Assent of the "KIDS Around the World" route 600m (2000') Grade 6 (Pitch 9 or 10 I'm calling 5.10a R/X as it goes 80'-90'+ feet unprotected up a committing, steep dead vertical, unvegetated rock face on small crimps and dime edges. ) I prayed a few times, almost cried once, and my knee nearly started to shake just before one of the crux moves on this Pitch. I don't think I would do it again or the first time with hindsight. The route was free climbed with no bolts. One fixed head was placed to back up the hip belay I used bringing up the second (Edwin) to a shallow cave at the top of p-9. I think Frank Eastwood used alpine grades on the first climbs done here in the late 70s to reflect the changing nature of the vegetation found on the walls. The vegetation is often pulled on for holds and slung for protection. On the K.A.W. FA fire had burned up the route a year or two earlier so I found much of the grass (tufts) and many of the trees along the line where of no use and sometimes dangerous. One should understand that rain fall, The time of year, fire, and the size of a plant at the time of a climb will affect if or how it might be used by climbers.
I'm glad you had a great time and got back safe. It must be hard to leave fellow humans when you know they still need so much help. Thanks for all the help you did provide. I'm sure they appreciate it more than many of us will or can ever know.
Stoked you got that FA. It looks like quite the adventure. You talked about it a lot and I knew you would charge that wall.
We'll have to hit up Tahquitz for some routes before winter sets in.
Thanks Dirt, It was a great trip and a solid adventure. I broke my camera before the climbing started so all I had was the video cam. Hence the video TR. I haven't figured out how to edit it very well so I have to apologize to everyone for the quality and length of the video. Sorry. I also need to pull a good still shot out of the video to draw up a Topo of the line we took. Anyway, Yeah lets go climbing ASAP.
Biotch, Your rite. Monkey Bay is a Dirt Bags dream. I didn't post any pics of it but the whole surrounding area is littered with Boulders and the hills behind the bay where I took the pic you see has many high quality sport walls(no grass tuffs on the rock here) all around them from 60' to 80' high just waiting to be developed. Anyone who goes there with $500 and a drill could live large staying there and climbing for 4 or 5 months maybe longer if they laid off the Greens. (Beer). I spoke to the owner and he was really into the idea of bringing climbers in to develop the area and promoting it as a climber / Backpacker lodge. You could probably stay and eat free if you where there to put up the climbing for him.
That video could be condensed alot, but there are lots of classic golden moments captured in there! I was more entertained by many scenes more than a typical climbing movie with famous dudes philosophizing. This was like the Blair Witch Project of climbing movies.
That whole trip seems like an amazing life experience. 'Amazing' seems like a trite and over-used word, but this is a situation where it really applies.
a) Reminds me of the movie grizzly man after Timothy Treadwell starts to go crazy
b) I think Edwin might have been a little afraid of you
c) Slinging those grass tufts is absolutely nuts!
d) Amazing experience and an epic adventure! You sure won't forget about that one. I Love obscure crazy stories like this.
Wow Jonny what an adventure! Though the climbing doesn’t appear to be a destination specific location, sure looks like you found your own adventure there. So what was the deal with Edwin? Were you required to take a local guide to climb this cliff or is that how you were able to hustle up a partner? What kind of technical abilities did he have? Did hw have is own gear or did you hook him up? You mention hip belaying with a fixed head did you place the head and leave it fixed or was it fixed?
Glad to see you got something cool going on for yourself.
Hey T2, Its really nice to hear from you. Your rite about Mulanje not being a Destination for proper rock climbing in Africa but if you happen to be in Malawi its worth taking a look for sure. The west face of Chombe is 400m taller than the East but it all takes dirty jungle tactics to climb. You must register with the forestry to hike in the Masiff range and they request that you hire a guide. I was prepared to climb solo but when I emailed them I asked about a guide with climbing experience they told me about Edwin and made it seem like he had lots of experience climbing and showing other party's the way out to the base of climbs. Before I left the states I asked the forestry if Edwin needed me to bring any gear over for him as there are no Mountain shops. They replied that Edwin would need all his personal gear IE, shoes, harness, ATC, Chalk bag, etc. It was then that I began to realized and then confirm that Edwin had never been more than 1 pitch off the ground and only when climbers he guided to the base offered to let him try the first pitch. I told the Forestry that I would bring Edwin the gear he needed but he and I would do some easier climbing together when I got there so I could make a decision about him joining me for a longer route.
I found that Edwin loves to climb and has done his best to learn all he can from others over the years but Guiding Mulanje is not booked full time and only pays $12 a day when there is a job. This makes any idea of owning any proper climbing gear just a dream. So this was his chance and he was excited to go with me. I don't think I could have left him behind at the base if I had wanted to.
Edwin Petani was born in a small Tea Plantation village near the base of the Mulanje Masiff Range not far from where he lives now. Starting as a boy he worked as a porter for hikers, researchers,or anyone who would hire him to carry loads into the range. He has a deep love for his mountain Mulanje "the island in the sky" even naming his son Frank after his hero the Adventurer and climber Frank Eastwood who did the first proper rock climbing there in the mid to late 70s and wrote the most definitive guide book to date about the Mulanje area.
Edwin has been a registered Mtn Guide for the Forestry and Mulanje Mountain club for I believe over 12 years now and its all he has ever wanted to do. His small mud brick home is just down the road from the Main Forestry lodge in Lambuka. He has a pretty wife Elsa, and two Kids a boy Frank, who I met and must be around 12 years old, and a Girl, Rose ? (I think)she must be 8 or 9.
Edwin was a great partner to me on our climbs. He never complained, carried his share or more, always tried to make sure I had what I needed and that I was happy with him. Most of all he is a good man and good company. In the short time we spent together we became good friends and at the end of my stay when we parted ways he told me we where brothers now. As far as the climbing goes. I showed him how to attach and remove a GriGri and we worked out some basic climbing and rope communication. On the first day I put him to the test. Twice I fell 15 then 20 feet onto the rope trying to pull around and over a crux overhanging bulge at the top of layback flake in a left facing corner. Edwin could not see me from the belay and having to catch my fall didn't seem to phase him. After I pulled through that spot and up to a ledge I brought him up. I kept the Rope very tight on him whenever he was climbing and he was able to pull past all the wall terrain with very little hangdog time. So he could belay and fallow and that's all I needed him to handle. I took care of everything else, gear racking, rope stacking,and anchors. As well as Edwin's personal safety IE, rope tie in knot and fixing him in at the anchors. Edwin was like a sponge and just absorbed everything I did and showed him and by the end of our time together he could have taken good care of his own personal safety, helped with the rope management and I'm sure many other things as well. After finishing our FA on K.A.W. we returned to the Chombe Hut where the hut watchman told us that the night before at the hut he and another two forestry guides with there two groups of backpackers had seen Edwin and I's head lamps high on the wall. When we returned to the main lodge in Lambuka the word that Edwin had climbed the East Face to the top had spread everywhere and He was now on a whole nether level among the Forestry Porters, Guides and other Forestry workers. Even some people from the village where coming up to shake his hand and congratulate him. He was very Humble and very proud of what he had done and it was fun to see how proud the village was of him. People kept coming up to him and asking him to tell about the climb and he would happily do so with his son Frank sitting by his side listening. It really was a great moment for him.
Sadly Edwin has a real serious medical problem. Last year he started to develop some kind of growth on his rite calf mussel. It's getting bigger and has started to cause swelling in his whole right lower leg. He is able to use it pretty normally still but it is getting stiffer by the week and he has started to have to take pain meds at nite if he can afford them. 7 months ago he went to the free clinic near his home and a volunteer doctor told him it was cancer but when I asked him he said no biopsy or blood was taken to make that diagnosis. The growth looks really serious now. I gave him money when I left to get to Blantyre (a bigger city a few hour away)where there is a hospital that will do a proper diagnosis of what is going on. He should be going there tomorrow with Mary a friend of mine from the NGO I built the classroom for. She will send me the results from the test they do and get me an idea of the cost to heal his leg. I will be setting up a fund for him through GoGo Grandmothers a nonprofit group that handles funds like this and can give anyone who donates to Edwin the proper receipt and paper work for the tax write off. I'll post the details on Edwin's leg as soon as I know them. Please anyone that can help PM me and I'll have GoGo Grandmothers send you the paper work you need to send a donation. A $ goes a very long way in Malawi so even $15-$20 bucks will add up fast over there. Anyway I'll keep you all posted on what we find out about his leg and the costs evolved.
T2, I used a hip belay for speed as it was getting dark. I had run the pitch to near the end of my rope without finding a solid place to set up an anchor. I called down to Edwin and he told me I had 3m of rope left. "F-ck!" I could see a good Vesala Tree about 20m+ above me (This would turn out to be the Birds Nest) but I would need to move Edwin up to a ledge with a tree I had slung about 30m above where he was now to get there. With another climber I would have probably had them start simo climbing with me but that was not going to happen here. So I started looking around for options. 12' left and 10'up from me was a shallow cave that I was able traverse over to and sit back into far enough to get the heals of my feet inside a low lip at the bottom edge and then kinda brace myself with my back on the back wall of the cave / hole. This would have been enough to hold Edwin if he needed to hang for a short time but I suddenly had a thought of me as Simon Yates and Edwin as Joe Simpson minus the snow. What if something happened to Edwin (I don't know what) while he was coming up and he could not get his weight off the rope. So I quickly looked around and found a shallow pocket behind a solid horizontal edge just above the cave / hole I was in. I broke out the D5 and smashed a head into it. clipped a sling to it and hung a locker off that. The idea being if Edwin for some unknown reason couldn't get his weight off the rope I would at least have that locker hanging in front of me to clove hitch the rope to before I was slowly pulled out of the hole I was sitting in and forced to cut the rope. lol Once Edwin had moved up to the tree and putt me back on the GriGri I clipped the head as I started up past it. When Edwin came to it later he had no idea what it was nor did he have a hammer or funkness to deal with it so I yelled down to him to just keep moving its almost dark. That's the story behind the one fixed head on Kids Around the World
There is another side of Mount Mulanje. I was there in 2009. I did not dare to rock climb it. You are courageous. I took the trail on the other side and took pictures. One of them is the cover book of the BRADT travel guide for Malawi. How did you decide
As was suggested to me I did a little video editing to cut down the length and just focus on the climbing we did. Its still a little long but oh well.
I spoke with Edwin by email the other day but I'm still waiting to get more info on his leg. I should have that soon as he was going to a new doctor this week.
Did you like this Trip Report? Got something to say? Don't hold back...