Establishing a multi-pitch route in the heart of Madagascar
March 2 2017
In August 2015, Siebe Vanhee and Sean Villanueva took off on an adventure to the Tsaranoro Massif on the island-country of Madagascar, located off the southeast coast of Africa. Once there, they spotted a major unclimbed line on Tsaranoro Atsimo. Armed with a drill, skyhooks, and thirst for exploration they tackled the face ground up.
Sean's story: "Fire in the Belly" way
"This was very different from other first ascents we have done, since we usually never bring a power drill and very rarely place a bolt. But these walls are so blank and deprived of cracks and other features to be able place any natural protection. Going ground up into this unknown vertical ocean of granite was very exciting and proved quite the challenge.
What had we done? What were we thinking? Was it arrogant of us to go straight up this blank-looking headwall? The chances that this line would go free were pretty slim. Was it the aesthetics of such blank and steep rock that had pulled us in? Why didn’t we choose to follow more obvious features that were more likely to go?
We took turns fighting our way upwards, putting the puzzle together of micro-crimpers and sharp crystals. We fought hard, taking fall after fall and returning into the unknown like obsessed and enraged maniacs. We were constantly searching for an edge good enough to place a sketchy skyhook, and we would pray for it to hold as we pulled up the drill to place a bolt.
We were forced to run it out because the edges were so bad and the climbing too difficult to place a hook. Each meter we managed to decipher was an enormous victory, but it seemed to me that we were just forcing ourselves deeper into a dead end.
After six days on the wall, lots of aches, hesitation, and doubts we somehow groveled our way to the summit of Tsaranoro Atsimo. We stood on top in a euphoric state, satisfied and with smiles that were impossible to wipe off of our faces. We had just established a major king line! But it had taken so much effort, and the climbing had been so difficult, it seemed there was little hope of us ever linking it together into a free climb…
Even so, we decided to make a proper hard free-climbing push anyway, just for the battle. We returned, and to our surprise managed to free climb the line after a three-day effort on the wall. Rated 8a+, we named the route, "Fire in the Belly" (5c, 6c, 7b+,6b+,6c, 7c, 8a+, 6b, 7a, 8a++, 7b). It’s a great line and even the easier pitches are demanding." Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll