'Jelly Shoe Heroes'

 “What am I doing? Why did I try this line? There’s only tufts of grass linked by blank rock face, I can’t reverse that last move......b*****ks I’m committed!”

The shouts and laughter of six local shepherd boys below reminds me that there still there and still trying to work out why anyone would want to climb this rock tower. As far as the eye can see there are small homesteads and endless ploughed terrace’s of dry mud and stones interspersed by giant domed rock towers thrusting up into the cloudless sky. The 5.30am start means the sun isn’t quite unbearable yet and the caffeine from some of Ethiopia’s very good, but weapons grade, coffee is still powering me upwards.

“Come on Jake think positively, ok at least the rock is slightly more solid than the previous 30m......but the last runner is purely cosmetic and 4m below me....no think positively...the cam below that’s good ......but its 10m below the other runner”.

Everywhere we go the locals are interested in us, what we’re doing and why. On the approach and return from climbing or our rack treks in the mid day sun we are regularly followed by fascinated children. They regularly try and show us the way to the top of the towers but we always have to try and explain, using gestures, that we want to climb up and don’t want to scramble up the same way that they take in there jelly shoes with their herds of goats. Occasionally some of the elders take an interest and sit or lean on their AK47’s at the base of the crag watching us with much interest and bemusement.

“Come on just commit to the next move and then you can gain the large crack and maybe get a runner......but there’s no holds... just tufts of grass scarcely attached to the rock below......how on earth do I do it?”

It’s taken us two days of bouncing around in the back of an over laden land cruiser with our stomachs full of injera, which can only really be described as edible carpet underlay, to reach the Adwa mountains. After gaining permission from the village elders to climb and camp in the Abba Gerima valley they decide it’s best for us to set up camp in the village as it’s safer as they have a night guard. We were keen to camp away from the village and nearer the climbing but were happy with their decision especially as we remember that were not that far from the Eritrean border where there has been fighting and issues in the past.

Then it dawns on me “the rocks blank so use the grass” I can see a small tuft just up and to my right and beyond that a crack and hopefully the opportunity to get some gear in. “Maybe it’ll take my weight, maybe just maybe I can use it to rock over and gain the crack” As I tentatively place my foot on the tuft it showers the rock below in mud, I take a deep breath and weight it more.

Each day we pump water with the locals and then go through the ritual of sterilising it. We use a solar shower hung up in a small tree near to camp to wash the days dust and sweat off which usually attracts a crowd of local onlookers. Every day we walk past men ploughing terraces with cattle, young boys shepherding goats, women and young girls carrying back breaking weights of water and donkeys and camels struggling under enormous loads. It must be a hard life they lead so no wonder the locals can’t understand why we want to get to the top the hard way instead of scrambling up to it.

The grass seems to be holding. Logic tells me it shouldn’t as I currently weigh the same as a small elephant due to carrying a rack large enough to complete a full girdle traverse of Range East leaving all the gear in-situ! But desperation convinces me its bomber. I tell myself that the shouts from the shepherd boys below are shouts of encouragement but I know that what they really want to see is a big whipper………they might get one. I quickly work out how far I would go “60ft or so”. I was never any good at Maths and hope that I’ve got it wrong. “think positively..........ok 60ft......well that puts me just off the ground with rope stretch.....at least I won’t hit the deck”

In Hawzien we were invited to a local coffee ceremony, worn out from a day of attempted and quite nerve wracking climbing on the nearby sandstone towers the thought of a coffee and sit down before having to cook dinner sounds great. Especially as there won’t be any pre-dinner showers tonight as the whole town doesn’t have any water and doesn’t know when it will. An older women roasts the beans on some charcoals whilst the younger girls dance to the music being played in the room next door. The beans are passed around to be smelled by everyone and alongside the charcoals some incense is light. Amazed by the local shoulder dancing we give it a go but are inevitably completely useless much to the amusement of the girls. The roasted beans are put in a small clay pot along with some water and are put on the coals. The results are some amazing tasting coffee that we all agree could fuel a NASA spaceship to the moon. The dancing continues and the next round of coffee comes though slightly less strong this time. Were all feeling pretty wired on coffee by now and speculate as to who will get the shakes first. A third round of coffee comes, slightly weaker again, but still strong enough to fuel light aircraft. We all look at each other and wonder if even more will come. There’s more dancing but the coffee’s finished which is good as any more might have meant that we wouldn’t have slept for a week.

I weight the grass more and tentatively rock over. I catch myself holding my breath. It holds and I breathe a sigh of relief and quickly traverse to gain the crack and shove in the biggest cam I’ve got and thrutch my way up the wide crack to where the face eases. I cobble together a belay, in the loosest sense of the word, in the mud, loose rock and marmot poo that surrounds me. “SAFE”. As I look out at the view and with only one short easy pitch to the summit I catch myself using Tom’s favourite quote of the trip so far “Well you wouldn’t get that at Stanage!”

We would like to thank Coastal Adventure Training, Experiential and Paramo for sponsoring our expedition and making it possible. For more info about our expedition and climbing in Ethiopia visit- www.facebook.com/ethiopiarocks2014

Video from the trip available at- www.ukclimbing.com/videos/play.php?i=2432