In my former life I was a full-time climbing guide. That means, normally, I would know better than to introduce first-time climbers to vegetated granite slabs strewn with dirt and bush-choked chimneys. But the rules are different when you’re mission is a mash-up of scientific research, conservation action, and the establishment of the first technical climbing route up a mountain in Africa.
The Lost Mountain Climbing and Science teams celebrating success on the summit of Mt Namuli. Photo: James Q Martin.
This May, I lead an international team—including scientists Dr. Flavia Esteves from the California Academy of Sciences, Harith Farooq from Lúrio University in Mozambique, and Caswell Munyai from the University of Venda in South Africa—up the 2,000-foot southeast face of Mozambique’s Mt. Namuli as part of the Lost Mountain Project. Ascending the vertical granite that forms the Namuli massif, the objective was to access the never-before-sampled hanging forests and vegetation pockets in search of new species of ants, beetles, spiders, skinks, snakes, and more. I am not a scientist and our scientists were not climbers; it’s a good thing we had each other.
Kate Rutherford setting off on pitch four of Majka and Kate’s Science Project (IV 5.10-), Mt. Namuli, Mozambique. Photo: James Q Martin
To help get the scientists, our film crew, and support team up into the vertical, my climbing partner Kate Rutherford and I employed every technique and technical set-up in our arsenal. Together, we taught the scientists how to effectively climb on lower-angle terrain to increase efficiency. We fixed lines to the bottom half of our 12-pitch route and taught the scientists how to ascend and descend ropes, allowing them independent access for specimen collection.
Harith, our herpetologist, climbed with his snake hook. Flavia and Caswell, both entomologists, climbed with dozens of pre-filled vials of ethanol, blow tubes, and microscopes for the ants. In the end, we chose a line that threaded up the sedge-covered face, linking scientific points of interest with beautiful, albeit run-out slab climbing. At one point, we had 16 people dotting Mt. Namuli’s southeast face.
Members of the Science team learning the ropes with Majka (left). Entomologist Ray Murphy sorting samples by headlamp. Photos: James Q Martin.
“Light and fast” is the trend in modern climbing, but light and fast was not our objective on this trip. Instead we were focused on “scientifically relevant” and “culturally impactful.” Yes, it took more gear. It took more people. It took faith in a collective vision formed from the passions of many. But in the end, we did it. The scientists left with over 3,000 different ants and 27 diverse herpetological species. Kate and I left with a new route on Mt. Namuli under our belts. And our conservation team completed the first-ever conservation study of the Namuli region, quite literally putting this unique mountain on the map for conservation action.
Stay tuned for The Lost Mountain film, coming in 2015.
Majka Burhardt is a Petzl athlete and the founder and director of The Lost Mountain Project: an international venture combining rock climbing, cliff-side scientific research, and integrated conservation planning on Mt Namuli in Mozambique. Read about the Lost Mountain Expedition success in their recent Press Release. www.thelostmountainfilm.com