Rock climbing in Malawi starts on the beach! but this is not the ocean; the beach bouldering of lake Malawi awaits. Arriving there after a long day trip we will spend a few days at the campsite. From here we can head out on boats to explore heaps of deep-water bouldering, or head out on foot to find a plethora of land-bound boulders and inland crags. There are amazing scuba-diving and snorkeling sites, and with a Carlsberg costing just 30p (50c) life doesn't get much better.
Tearing ourselves away from the beaches for a little while, we will continue to head south to the biggest wall of them all – Mt. Mulanje. The sheer rock walls of Mt. Mulanje rise to over 3000m. Boasting Africa's longest route (Chambe West face, E1/5.10, 1,700m) it has adventure climbing and stunning trekking throughout the rarely visited massif. Rock climbing developed here in the 70's and has sporadically continued until the production of the guidebook to the mountain. The highest peak, Sapitwa means 'do not go there' in local language and the mountains certainly have a serious and challenging feel to them, no matter what grade climb or trek you take on high above the Rift Valley floor.
We'll spend some time on Mulanje chatting to the cedar plantation workers who each carry 50+kg planks on their heads, barefoot from the plantation at 2000m down to sea level. In colonial days there was an electric cableway to take these down; when this broke the local council made the decision not to repair it as manual transportation provided employment opportunities for the whole area. I guess only the machine operator would have been cheesed off. Not a western mindset but certainly a civilised one. After the rigours of Mulanji we head back to Blantyre to relax at Dougal's campsite pool for a day or so before heading along the 'Tete corridor' through Mozambique and into Zimbabwe.
Entering Zimbabwe we are immediately confronted by the amount of rock. From the truck we will see huge granite domes, low crags and boulders stretching into the distance for as far as the eye can see. We will spend a week or more on the 100km section of road that takes us from the Mozambican border to Zimbabwe's capital Harare and in due course to one of the natural wonders of the world, the magnificent Victoria Falls.
Mount Dema, our first destination, is one of many 120m-high domes in the area with immaculate granite walls and cracks. Previous trips have established more than 15 routes from VS to E4. These include a spectacular 115m bolted line that takes a featured wall and goes at f7a, and 4-pitch "Flash" HVS 5a which takes a Yosemite-style crack line from bottom to top, finishing through a cave! Repeating these routes and adding many more will keep us entertained for a good few days. We will camp just outside a village, and experience the overwhelming hospitality of the Zimbabwean people, as they bring us their locally brewed beer, and sit with us to watch the setting sun.
The next destination along the road is Sharmu, which has been fairly well developed by the rock climbers in Zimbabwe (all 30 of them), and has also received a few visitors from overseas, including Chris Sharma. With about 70 routes from VDiff-E4 on the slabs and steep crack systems, and the potential for many more new sport and trad routes, we won't get bored. Pick of the bunch in the lower grades is probably Moonwalk at HVS 5a. Climbing above the grass huts next to which we'll camp - it's a truly memorable African bush experience.
From Sharmu, we will make our way to Harare, the very pleasant capital city, and stay in a campsite that is aptly named 'The Rocks'. Sivvy and Elise’s campsite is covered with 2-10m boulders, which makes it perhaps the ultimate campsite for lazy climbers. The bouldering is outstanding, and we have previously put up over 30 quality boulder problems, which once formed the basis for a bouldering competition in the friendly campsite for a day. We will also arrange a day at an excellent climbing area to the north of the city called Ngoma-Kurira. In an area decorated with ancient cave-paintings, you’ll find perhaps 90 bolted routes, both single and multi pitch, on lovely solid granite that is punctuated by the odd pocket of some conglomerate-type rock.
The views are lovely, the climbing excellent, and it is definitely worth a visit for a very relaxing day of bolt clipping. There is other climbing near the city, and we will try to meet up with some Zimbabwean climbers at their local crag – a small quarry just outside the city limits – for some climbing and a BBQ. When not climbing we can enjoy Harare, which has cinemas and some great nightlife, real African drum clubs and good restaurants. Once again we will have a last night meal and party for the people that are leaving and others that are joining.
Also see tour packages in:
Africa Malawi Zimbabwe Outdoor: Mountain Ranger Mountain/Rock Climbing Hiking & Trekking
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