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Tsaranoro Be

Florian Scheimpflug on the new route, Short Cut (5.13a, 800m and 16 pitches, Benes-Berger-Scheimpflug-Sobotka, 2006), east face, Tsaranoro Be, Andringitra National Park, Madagascar. The team equipped the sixteen pitches of their route ground up over five days. On September 30 Ondra Benes and Tomas Sobotka made a one-day redpoint in ten hours; shortly after, Hari Berger and Scheimpflug also completed a redpoint ascent. Benes and Berger went on to climb Bravo les Filles (5.13d, ca. 500m) on Tsaranoro Kely free in a day with no falls for the second and third free ascents. Berger died fewer than three months later near his home in Salzburg, Austria. [Photo] Hermann Erber

I shared two passions with my friend Hari Berger: drinking coffee and climbing. Perhaps, as the late Wolfgang Gullich said, these two are so closely linked they form a symbiosis. Each time the coffee rises up inside the metal cone and its dulcet bubbling announces a filled-up mug, the world seems to achieve a rare balance. For that instant, phantasms and dreams can flourish without the threat of some upcoming credit-card bill or still-unfinished university studies.

Climbing is another personal quest for paradise, and a cut-out picture of the Tsaranoro Massif, pinned up next to my stove, had been a great guidance to my daydreams. Many contemplative moments and liters of coffee later, Hari and I, with our friends Tomas Sobotka and Ondra Benes, at last saw the orange and green hues of the real wall. Although famous climbers such as Lynn Hill had put up many routes here, we’d been surprised to learn that the central part of the main cliff remained untouched.

But our euphoria over a gigantic, pitch-black water streak lessened when we noticed that a featureless passage blocked access to the headwall. As I gazed at the immaculate rock, a cup of coffee in my hand, I suddenly realized that the real enemy of logic is not so much irrationality as beauty. My friends must have felt the same, because there was no doubt we would start our route here immediately.

A few days later, flakes were sailing left and right of me and Ondra was shouting the same, continual mantra: “Oh no–shit rock, shit rock. Watch me. This crazy skyhook.” I didn’t dare think about how bad the following pitch would be, if an experienced climber like Ondra was having so much trouble. And indeed I was soon leading up a legion of hollow flakes, accompanied by a vivid image of myself launching for the belay, a broken-off flake in one hand and the running drill in the other.

“Rock, rock,” Ondra shouted. I would have raised my head to look if I hadn’t been holding the sling with the drill in my mouth. Then a whirring, followed by the dull sound of stone on stone. Normally this would be the moment to pray, but when I realized I’d survive, all I could think was that I’d have to drag around the damn drill some more.

Abseiling, I glanced at a pitch Hari had bolted the day before and wondered whether he’d been secretly training; the climbing looked sustained and loose, with double-digit runouts. Back at camp I asked him whether his intuition was better than mine, but Hari just explained he’d had to keep going to reach safer ground. Tomas said simply, “Good style, good style.”

The following days were the same: wake before dawn, jumar in the boiling heat, place bolt after bolt, curse, get frightened, work our way upward. At the end of the day, we always stopped at a small grassy ledge to share a smoke and watch the valley sink into a deep red. It was all good–the weather, the food, and most of all, the spirit between us four.

While the granite was so featureless the only natural placement I got was a number one nut behind a flake on Pitch 7, we placed each bolt, ground up, without hanging on the one below. Not the ideal style, but as Tomas would say, “good.”

On September 30 Ondra and Tomas completed their ten-hour redpoint ascent, and the next day Hari and I started ours by headlamp. The first slabby 5.10d pitch, with ground-fall potential, woke us up. By 8 a.m. the wall flickered with heat, and my toes were on fire. The quartzite intrusions tore the skin from our fingertips and yet gave us just about as much friction as wet chalk on a blackboard. We started cursing the damn idiots who equipped the route so sparsely (I shouted my own name quite often). Of course we ran out of water; one liter could not be enough for two people climbing a full day in the African sun.

The shade fell at last. We climbed the crux pitches as though we were dancing on raw eggs. Near the top, thorns replaced holds, but after twelve hours, Hari and I stood on the summit, shaking hands. We stared at the vast landscape, squinting into the sunset, until the feeling of bliss set in.

Before we left the massif, Hari and Ondra made the second and third free ascents of Bravo les Filles (5.13 A0, ca. 500m, Feagin-Hill-Pyke-Rodden, 1999; FFA: Pou, 5.13d, 2004); and Tomas and I onsighted Always the Sun (5.13a, 5.12c oblg, ca. 450m, Farquar-Mayers-Turner-Thomas, 1999) on the nearby Karambony wall.

After that we felt we’d done all we could do and all we wanted to do, and we returned to the misty November of our homes. There by my beloved stove, bemused by the scent of fresh coffee beans, I waited for the next inspiration. A month later, Hari died, and now the sound of coffee rising will always remind me of our Tsaranoro route, Short Cut (VI 5.13a, 800m), and of all our shared dreams.

–Florian Scheimpflug, Vienna, Austria