6 South African climbers reached the top of the five “Hands of Fatima” towers in Mali this month, and even opened a new route up the rock face on their west African expedition.
The team — Peter Lazarus, 46, Gustav Janse van Rensburg, 35, Alard Hufner, 33, Shelley Plumb, 29, Ralf Miller and Kaya Kopkow, both 44 — recalled the “phenomenal” climbing when they returned to Johannesburg this week. Hufner said: “We were climbing spectacular spires and huge vultures were flying past us .”The five sandstone fingers of the “Hands of Fatima” are the tallest free-standing sandstone towers in the world. First climbed in the 1980s, the towers have rarely been ascended since.
The team left Johannesburg on December 26, travelling through four countries to reach Mali. Nearly all of the group’s climbing equipment was lost by airlines, but luckily some “very kind Americans” they met at the camp lent them ropes and climbing gear. “I had to wear the same T- shirt for seven days,” said Van Rensburg.
They settled into base camp on December 28, and the next day climbed the Debridu tower — the first finger — in pairs, descending in the dark.After the Debridu climb, the team went up the next “finger”, Kaga Pamari. To access this spire, they did a Tyrolean traverse — sliding along a cable — across a chasm. The next tower they climbed was the Kaga Tondo .“The pinnacle narrows down to about 3m across. If you stretch your hands out you can touch both sides of the face and you can look down about 600m on either side. If the clouds are moving you have a sense the tower is falling over,” Lazarus said.
Lazarus, who has been climbing for 27 years, rated it as one of the best he’d ever done.Van Rensburg said: “This trip was not just about the climbing, but what Mali has to offer. We spent five days travelling around, up to the ancient city of Timbuktu and around Dogon country.” Many traditional Dogon still live in architecturally extraordinary cliffside adobe huts and are renowned for their elaborate masks and sculpture. They are also often hailed as being astute in the science of astronomy. Plumb said: “It was fantastic to experience such a different culture. Lazarus said attending the annual Tuareg music festival in Essakane — an oasis in the desert northwest of Timbuktu— was amazing. “People sat on sand dunes around a concert stage, the sun set over the Sahara desert and it was full moon. Mali-born world famous afro-pop singer Salif Keita was playing .” He said some people watched the festival from camels. Kopkow said: “The climbing was amazing and successful — but what was so special was the mix of cultures and the Dogon country, far from where tourists usually go. It was like going back 500 years.”
Monthly Meeting including AGM
Tuesday, March 3, 2009 - 19:00
Cricket Pavilion, Johannesburg Country Club