|Activities:||Hiking, Trad Climbing|
It is early in the morning and already the persecutory eye of the African sun has pushed us into the shadow of a "Dogon" granary, sitting in an endless motionlessness. Other eyes slowly widen above us, the eyes of women and children who are observing us with curiosity. Men's expressions are indefinable, a combination of disregard and restraint, which leads them to meet our eyes only for brief moments.
The arrival of the village-chief breaks the wait: here in Mali it is customary for the Toubakous (1) to obtain his consent - albeit completely formal - before starting to climb the rocks overlooking the village. It is known in fact that the "Dogons" keep "leur choses" - their fetishes - inside natural niches of the rock, which since ancient times they had learned to reach with daring climbs to the limit of the impossible, using them from time to time as granaries for the mile, as burial places or to hide important objects. Looking at these cavities on the walls, today it seems incredible that they could have climbed there, obviously without bolts, chalk and ultra-grippy shoes. With the result of mentally formulating some doubts about the skills of the climbers of the twenty-first century, doubts that seem to us not without foundation after having personally witnessed the innate agility of the little "Dogons".
Also known as "the people of the stars", due to their mysterious and inexplicable astronomical knowledge, the Dogons settled permanently in Mali around 1200, after defeating the original groups of "tellem" pygmies and occupying the villages, mainly built close to and on the top of the cliffs. The harshness of these places preserved them first from the Islamic influence, then from the French one, allowing them to keep intact the ancient and enigmatic culture.
Undoubtedly, the interest that Mali can arouse in travelers is largely linked to its extraordinary ethnographic richness; the only contact with the "Dogon" area and the visit to the Falaise of Bandiagara and its villages - often connected to each other through aerial routes - with the typical buildings of the "touguna" (2) and the granaries, may be more that's enough for a trip. Not to mention the countless other ethnic groups that populate the country: there are about twenty ethnic groups, each with its own language. Among these, in addition to the "Touareg" minorities, concentrated above all around Timbouctou, the "Bambara", the largest stock, the "Peul", the "Songhai", the "Bozo" fishermen, the "Tamasheck".
Equally particular is the geographical position of Mali, which at the same time makes it a land deeply linked to the desert and its lifestyle, and an anticipation of the Black Africa. The Southernmost portion of the territory, crossed by the Tropic of Cancer and therefore made fertile by the presence of rains, is far exceeded in extension by the Northern regions, entirely occupied by the Sahara: still today, along these boundless sands, along the caravan routes crossing those, small groups of Touareg pass through the desert, transporting the salt from North to South and the mile in the opposite direction.
A third area, intermediate between the two, is instead identified by the course of the Niger which, having arrived in the middle of the desert at Timbouctou, dramatically reverses its direction, drawing a large natural loop: it is the Sahel, a fascinating semi-desert region, where acacia and bao-bab reign and where, in addition to the Dogons, most of the ethnic groups of Mali live.
The Sahel is innervated by a singular mountain range, the Homborì Mountains, made up of original and sometimes gigantic rock formations, which appear under the guise of towers, minarets, spiers and acrocores, and sometimes disappear wrapped inside the fog banks created by the "harmattans ”, the Sahara winds carrying sand. This is also why we are here ... no, not for the fog banks ... but to climb these towers, a great excuse to get to know Mali a little better.
1) That's as the Whites are called in the local language
2) Literally “The House of the Word”; in the Dogon village it is a meeting place exclusively for men. The building, without walls, is built in wood, often admirably inlaid; the ceiling is very low, so that the participants can stay inside sitting on the benches, but do not stand up. The purpose is to avoid the occurrence of violent quarrels within the "tougunà".
It is near a large boulder in the middle of the desert that we find the right place for our bivouac. We are in sight of numerous towers, now illuminated by the grazing light of the sunset. We plant the camp and immediately afterwards we begin to light the fire to cook the now customary "cous-cous".
The nearest village is several kilometers away but, shortly thereafter, the it begins the visit of the older children begin who, after leaning on the large boulder with an indifferent air, actually look at us with curiosity and interest... Suddenly we hear Salvador, who is a profound connoisseur of Mali, order a roast chicken to the more enterprising boy, after calling the boy close to him. We are surprised, but a little skeptical about the result, so we invite our Catalan friend to eat with us, to avoid the risk of running out of dinner. It has been dark for some time when, after other strange events, such as the passage of a fantastic cyclist in a long dress, and even a funeral, the boy unexpectedly arrives, delivering a now unlikely as well as amazing "chiken-express" in the desert!
Unstable blocks under the beating sun and annoying bushes of "cram-cram", a pungent grass that makes the use of shorts completely inappropriate, are the price to pay to reach this unexpected "jardin Sospendu", an always shaded terrace, on which several surprising evergreen trees managed to survive, located right at the base of our route, fortunately also sheltered from the sun. Here in Mali, in fact, the number one enemy of the climber is dehydration and the best way to avoid this risk is, in addition to carrying large quantities of liquids, to climb in the shade.
We climb along a tiring sequence of unprotected chimneys, with the exception of a piece of stuck rope, a gift from an expedition from Trentino region, that preceded us by a few days on this route, dedicated to the great Samivel. A slightly difficult passage to interpret gives access to the upper part of the wall and finally to the summit cusp, which closely resembles the head of a vulture. At our feet large ocher-colored flat expanses appear, while in the distance the singular and unmistakable profile of the Main de Fatma (Hand of Fatima, formed by five fingers) appears in the clear morning light. The first known climbers of the Suri Tondo, one of the fingers of the hand, whose Normal route presents difficulties of 4th degree, found some remains of pottery on the summit, an irrefutable sign that this summit had already been reached from time immemorial, probably to hunt marabou or vulture. An impressive crack leads us to the first of the series of anchors for abseiling, the last of which punctually deposits us on our small garden.
Salvador's expert hand leads the "amarillo" colored Land Rover along the sinuous ribbon that winds through the desert for a few tens of kilometers, before entering the small town of Homborì, where it is necessary to supply water to the fountain. A woman, wrapped like all Malian women in a colorful cotton dress, agrees to supply us with the precious liquid upon payment of some "CFA" (3). We return to our camp near the house of Salvador Campillo, located right at the base of the Main de Fatma.
A short time has passed, and we are already consulting maps and sketches to find our route to climb the next day.
But after all, at this moment, there is nothing more beautiful than closing the guide-book and standing here contemplating the Main de Fatma which, with its five fingers, Kaga Pamarì, Kaga Tondo, Wangel Debridou, Wanderdu and Suri Tondo, always bright in their orange, ocher or pink colors, depending on the eternal alternation of sunrises and sunsets, it will accompany our returns for many days.
3) The CFA franc is the currency circulating in various states of Central-Western Africa, such as Mali and Burkina Fasu
The mountains are towers of sunburnt red stoneware, called pser their verticality has been called the Dolomites of Mali, due to their verticality, even if the rock is decidedly different, a red stoneware set on fire by the sun. The area is located southeast of Toumbouctou, in the Mopti region. The area that appears most attractive for climbing is between Douentza and Hombori and is presented in the form of two distinct sub-sectors:
- the Hombori massif. The Hombori Tondo 1155 meters is the highest mountain in Mali a mountain in Mali, located in the Region of Mopti, near the city of Hombori, with several walls of 300 m high, the massif of Barkoussou and Walam, which offer spiers from 300 to 400m and the Aiguilles di Garmi (Main de Fatma), the best known, with walls over 500 meters high
- The Dyoudé massif and the Boni massif: the Dyoudé plateau has a difference in height of the walls from 200 to 400m.
Currently the Aiguilles de Garmi region is the busiest and offers the most routes due to its proximity and ease of access, but the region is immense and there is still a lot to do and explore.
Climbing the vertical towers of the Homborì range is truly an experience not to be missed; the rock, a reddish-colored stoneware almost always of excellent quality, summarizes the characteristics of granite and together with those one of limestone, being like the first very hard and like the second not very adherent. The climb is adventurous, in fact, in general, the routes are poorly or not at all equipped.
The heat, on the sun-oriented itineraries, is extreme even during the winter months. Ttherefore, large quantities of liquids are required during the ascents. It is advisable to choose itineraries exposed to the North, or to the East for the afternoon and to the West for the morning.
During our stay in the Homborì Mountains our group completed the following climbs:
- MAIN DE FATMA Wangel Debridou Normal Route West Face D inf. 120 m - First ascent is unknown
- MASSIF DE GRIMARI Aiguille Panoramix Via Samivel TD 180 m - First ascent: S. Campillo - B. Marnette 1995
- MASSIF DE MATA Diuru-Na II Eastern Tower Via Quedalle D sup. 200 m First ascent: S. Campillo - B. Marnette
- HOMBORI’ Homborì Tondo West Ridge (Normal Route) AD with pass. of IV UIAA 200 m - First ascent is unknown
Absolutely not to be missed, the Bandiagara Falaise is located about 250 km. South-West of Homborì and extends for 135 km., from Douentza to Bankass. Climbing is not allowed in Bandiagara, as the walls are a burial place. On the other hand, several treks of one or more days are possible, which represent the best way to get to know the places. Itineraries of several days can also be carried out by staying overnight in the "Dogon" houses of the villages touched by the trek.
Bandiagara Grand Tour
More simply, based in Sangha, a splendid village on the top of the cliff, it is possible to carry out in a single day one of the most interesting trekking among the Dogon villages built close to the walls, returning in the evening to Sangha. This is the Grand Tour, a circular itinerary lasting about 7 hours, which starts from the great summit plateau where it stands Sangha, descending to the base of the cliff and climbing up to the top twice, along different itineraries. After passing through narrow canyons and following the characteristic "Dogon" wooden stairs, you enter some of the most beautiful villages of Bandiagara, such as Amani, Ireli and Yaye, finally returning to Sangha.
Mali, a former French colony, a key country in the Sahelian area, in Africa, has been gripped by internal conflicts and coups for over ten years and, in these hours, is upset by the worsening of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis that sees a unstoppable increase in the number of displaced persons. It is currently not recommended to go to Mali or stay in the country. The security risks are high and the risk of seizures is very high.
In August 2020, army units ousted the government and dissolved parliament. At the end of May 2021, another coup took place and a new transitional government was formed. There are significant security risks across the country. The political situation is unstable and protests follow one another during which violent clashes are also recorded.
The most favorable period to visit Mali is between October and March, the dry and least hot season. It should be noted that in October the temperatures are still very high, while in January and February the climbing can sometimes be disturbed by the presence of the "harmattans", violent winds of the Sahara carrying sand.
Our group, made up of Cinzia Arduzzoni, Silvia Mazzani, Fabio Papotti and Alberto Rampini, operated in Mali between the end of November and mid-December 1996, finding stable weather and no wind. The entry into Mali took place from the adjacent state of Burkina Fasu, after having reached the capital Ouagadogou by plane, then following the desert tracks with off-road vehicles that directly reach the Sahel, where the Homborì mountain range is located. A visa is required for both Mali and Burkina Fasu.
Various types of food are available in the larger cities, but it is certainly advisable to stock up in Italy with a suitable quantity of acceptable foods. It should be remembered that Mali is one of the five lowest-income countries in the world, with significant health problems: vaccinations are never enough! In addition to the mandatory yellow fever, the following are highly recommended: chloroquin-resistant antimalarial prophylaxis, antitification, tetanus and hepatitis A prophylaxis.
The Michelin Map No. 953 "North and West Africa" 1/4,000,000 scale and the Lonely Planet guide "Niger and Mali" are very useful.
As regards the climbing itineraries, a copy of the small guide "76 topos de voies d'escalade", published in Mali on the initiative of the Association Malienne des Sportifs de Montagne (A.M.S.M. TONDI), is available.
“A different holiday” by Tullio Vidoni - Annuario CAAI 1983
“Invito al Mali” by Alberto Paleari - Rivista del C.A.I. September-October 1983
"Nuovi orizzonti: le Dolomiti del Mali" by Giuliano Bressan and Flavio Busato - Annuario CAAI 1996
"Mali nuova frontiera dell'arrampicata" by Giuliano Bressan - Rivista della Montagna n. 206, November 1997
“Inshallah - Tre Altoatesini sul Kaga Tondo” by Pauli Trenkwalder - Pareti n. 14, May 2000