Swords, Baboons and Vultures
The dawn was breaking and the strong Sudanese sun would soon be heating up the rock around us. The streets were starting to wake up. Small coffee stalls were lighting their fires and donkey carts were heading off to start their day of work. We picked our way through the vast fields of granite boulders. The occasional grunts of alarm from sleepy baboons that later in the day patrol the granite domes of Jebel Taka would sound from in amongst the boulders. Vultures could be seen soaring on thermals high above as the sun’s rays began to warm the reaching cliffs. So much unclimbed rock, so little time.
The Expedition Consultancy is pleased to announce that it is organising a new climbing expedition to the granite domes of Jebel Taka in search of unclimbed boulders and faces. We are now looking for climbers to join this exploratory expedition.
Dates: January 31st – February 14th 2015
The domes of Jebel Taka rise above the Sudanese town of Kassala and the surrounding flat plains. These granite domes reach up for hundreds of meters above the slopes and ridges littered with seemingly countless boulders.
The first recorded climbs in the area were in 1941 by R. A. Hodgkin and friends during their time stationed in Kassala. Later on in 1983 Tony Howard and Di Taylor recorded some further ascents. Since then a small French team ventured there. Hot Rock made three visits to the area; once in 2002 led by Dave Lucas and then again in 2008 and 2010.
The main granite walls are exfoliating granite with some impressive looking lines. The main hurdle to overcome is the waiting vultures, which have been described as huge and as vicious as Tolkien’s Orcs, that lay in wait on most of the flat ledges. In 2002 Dave Lucas wrote the following account of a battle between him and one such Orc.
“At the end of the third pitch, I was about to pull myself onto the ledge my hands had a hold of when two very shocked vultures with fluffy chicks made me think otherwise. As they leaped towards me I saw it not a problem to slide very rapidly down the chimney that I had been previously struggling to climb up. Having only just escaped their beaks and talons I sat down panting, trying to calm down. I shouted down to the guy following me, Manne, that the climb had finished and we needed to get down, and explained why. At that point the vultures made their second attack. One flew off the higher ledge, circled around and faced his enemy.
I sat there between a rock and a hard place; it gave me no choice but to reach for my ‘sword’. The stick was rotten and it broke when I picked it up so I was forced to go for my second weapon of choice. The forked twig looked feeble but gave me confidence enough to face the bird. I don’t know if it was the twig or the vulture’s inability to stay in one spot for long periods of time that made it fly off, but I was under no illusions that it had gone for good. Manne had now joined me on the ledge and we began to drill in the two bolts needed to abseil off. While one hammered and twisted, the other sat with the twig in hand, ready to fend off any unwanted guest. The vultures did not return but they had made their point and I consider it a 1:0 win to the vultures.”
Even though there will be many routes to find on the flanks of the granite domes in general the draw for climbers to the area will be for the vast number of granite boulders, which are without vultures but with curious baboons and local children.
During our 2013 trip we were descending from an afternoon of climbing these boulders and were greeted by a guy in the grounds of the beautiful Khatmiyah mosque. After a brief chat about the area he told us that he was keen to learn how to climb. When we asked why he said that on the highest of the peaks there is a tree that turns into solid gold when burned. Tony Howard in 1983 was told that if you eat a leaf from the tree you would live forever. So we think the best plan is probably to eat a leaf first then burn the tree so that you are able to afford to live forever. Either way we think that to climb this peak and set the rumors straight would be a day well spent regardless of gold or possible infinite longevity.
Who is this expedition for
This expedition is for those who want to climb in a very different part of the world. We always say that the main fruit and nut mix to the proverbial expedition cake is the culture you travel to, the people you meet, the food you eat the animals you encounter.
The climbing, although important, we treat as the icing on the top of the cake. Without the fruit and nut mix the icing would be pointless. Here in Kassala this fruit and nut mix would be rich enough to fill the Queen’s Christmas cake. It is a pristinely beautiful culture. You will obviously be coming to climb but the reward of climbing in such a fascinating and nearly completely undiscovered place should be the main draw for you to join this expedition. A drive for adventure and a good common sense about you is far more important then being able to crank out the hard moves. You will not be disheartened by having to clean away loose rock or belay while sitting in old vulture nests. This will only remind you of how few people, if any, have climbed the route or problem before you.
This trip is 2 weeks long, but it is most definitely an expedition and it should be treated as such. It is on such expeditions that unexpected events can change the course of the trip but in general this has the effect of only enriching the experience. It is these unexpected events that can create the strongest memories, giving you incredible tales of adventure that will stay with you for years to come.
The aim of this expedition is primarily to have adventures and to establish new routes, but we always want to contribute the information we uncover to the local climbing community so that others may follow in our steps. Presently there is no local climbing community in Kassala so The Expedition Consultancy will collect this information until someone else decides to compile a guidebook.
If what you have just read sounds like your kind of an adventure then we hope you will want to become part of our 2015 expedition team. You can contact us here to find out more.
Expedition Update 29/12/13: Recently South Sudan has been in the news, sadly for the wrong reasons. We would like to highlight that South Sudan is a different country to Sudan. For the FCO’s current travel advice for Sudan please click here. During a recent visit to Sudan we were pleasantly surprised how safe and secure we felt whilst traveling around the country.