Climbing in the warm heart of Africa

Never heard of climbing in Malawi? Well me neither but what a great couple of weeks we had there. Our first venue as we drove in from Tanzania was Chitimba beach on the side of lake Malawi. New routing on 40m Cliffs at the top of a 160m waterfall 4-hour walk from the beach. This you had to access by walking behind the falls through a cave system. “The mist hung 50m of from the wall throwing rainbows about the walls, shrouded only occasionally by lush vegetation.”


Never heard of climbing in Malawi? Well me neither but what a great couple of weeks we had there. Our first venue as we drove in from Tanzania was Chitimba beach on the side of lake Malawi. New routing on 40m Cliffs at the top of a 160m waterfall 4-hour walk from the beach. This you had to access by walking behind the falls through a cave system. “The mist hung 50m of from the wall throwing rainbows about the walls, shrouded only occasionally by lush vegetation.”

We drove south past numerous granite outcrops to Cape Maclear at the southern tip of lake Malawi: The beach and coast line was perfect and it was hard to rip yourself away from it to climb on the unclimbed crags a few kilometers back down the road. Mumbo Island is an hour boat ride from the mainland. We explored its cliffs and inlets by sea kayaks and discovered perfect highball deep-water bouldering.

“I made it to the top of the route and looked back into the water to find the best spot to jump into. The water although 6m deep only looked a couple of feet as the water was so clear. I was just about to launch when I caught sight of a large animal swimming past my landing area. It was about three feet long lizard-like animal. First making sure that it wasn’t a croc I jumped in mask in hand to chase after it. SPLOOSH, the lizard took off obviously greatly alarmed and I tried to keep up. Lost it. I dipped my head under the water to look around. There I found that the boulder I had just climbed and jumped from had a 5m cave running underneath it, and there, its body outlined in clear contrast to the sunlight filtering down from the surface behind it, was the lizard! I dived under and into the cave. It took a few swishes of its tail towards me to get a better a look at the aquatic baboon chasing it. Not liking what it saw it darted off between rocks.”

We developed a total of two crags at the Mumbo Island. Also many completed their Padi Diving courses before venturing south towards the Mt Mulanji Massive.

At Mt Mulanji I tried the 1700m West Face of Chambe which turned out to be quite an epic. The following is how I remember it: “Steve was ahead of me and we were about 200m from the foot of the head wall. The guidebook told us that it was 1100m high but realising the guide books error of calling it meters and not feet was annoying, as we had dragged up with us a stupid amount of kit so as to put a new big route up. The approach slabs we were walking up had great friction and the tussocks stuck onto the surface were as hard as the rock its self. The rock started to steepen and climbing with the sacks was getting hard. It happened in slow motion but the tussock I was holding hinged out away from the rock. My feet slipped and I started to slip down the face. I couldn’t believe what was happening. As the adrenaline began to flow I was completely unaware of the holes being grated into my hands. My feet punched through the first tussock, then hitting a solid one below my heavy pack pulled me off and launched me into space. Looking back I think I fell 6m until I made contact with the rock again. Landing pack first on my back all air was forced from my lungs.

I then started to bounce/roll; going by the number of cuts on my elbow I bounced three times, each time landing on my back. I suddenly came to a stop, not really having a clue what had happened I tried to get some air into my lungs. I tried to shout “Ste, Stev”; still with not enough air in my lungs to shout I waited. I took a deep breath, “STEVE! I have taken a bit of a tumble”.

He replied that he was on his way down. My hands were frantically tracing the lines of my limbs trying to find the inevitable broken bone, but I found nothing. I felt for cuts, and with only finding a few I wondered where all the blood was coming from. My face was numb but I could feel no cuts. Then my fingers found the culprit; a big flap under my chin. Feeling exceptionally lucky I straitened my limbs into some sort of familiar pattern and walked to the edge of the slab slumped to the floor and looked back at my 20m tumble, and wandered why I had stopped where I did. The result of all this was a few cuts and grazes and what felt like but wasn’t a few bashed ribs. We slept out under the stars at the foot of the main wall and walked back down the next day. While this was happening the others had been busy on the East face putting up a new 550m E2. Steve now without a climbing partner packed again and put up a new 600m E3, done solo taking two days with a night on the portaledge.

All feeling very happy we decided to have a bit of a party at Blantyre before heading across Mozambique into Zimbabwe. After we left a week later a friend of ours over heard a conversation while drinking at the same bar…. “Had this group of climbers in the other week, what a great bunch best lot we have had in here since I can remember.” Makes me feel very proud when you here feed back like this.