(Belated) Hotrock Updates

We received these two emails yesterday from the Hotrock expedition. Unfortunately they didn´t reach us when the were originally sent, but we thought you might be belatedly interested to know what they got up to. 01 March 2002 At 3am I was woken by a few good kicks in the ribs!! Expecting to see an angry Egyptian I was surprised to see my friend pointing out to the coast mumbling “a boat simple”. I was about to tell him to stop sleepwalking when I realised what he was saying. “Abou Simbel”, he repeated. I sat up and strained my eyes to the coast. There were the incredible carvings of Abou Simbel lit up by floodlights with the still water of lake Nassa reflecting back a perfect image. I dosed back to sleep only again to be woken again by the horn of the ferry sending off a couple of blasts to let people know we had crossed the border into Sudan. Dear All Yes, at last we are in Sudan and have just made the journey down to Khartoum (the capital). As always this journey was packed with stories….. We left the scattered port of Wadi Halfa struggling to find the correct road south. This took some time, as there is no road within the town, there is just a maze of tracks over dust and sand. We new when we had found the road as we instantly hit corrugations. These are 20cm high bumps across the road regularly spaced by a gap of 50cm. The result is that everything is shaken very rapidly and every weld, nut and bolt is tested to a point very close to their limit. The MAIN road to Khartoum can be described as pure class a shit. Imagine a road to the local quarry, add corrugations and large amounts of soft sand. Now take away any other sign of human existence, including other traffic. We were travelling at an average speed of 30kmph (slow considering Khartoum is still 1000km further south). It was 80km down this road when the truck began to make new sounds. We stopped and I got out to hunt the source of the new rhythm. You can only laugh when you see that the rear main spring hanger has decided to get off the truck (This means that the truck suspension is F**ked and driving any further is not a good idea. We look around, hmmmm, things start to sink in, hmmmm, “bollocks”. We set the sat phone up and wait for passing traffic. Incredibly 30mins later a jeep comes shooting towards us. I wave it down and ask for assistance. From what Arabic we could understand and what English the driver could catch we discover there could be someone who could help us either 8km, 40km, or 80km (I?m not that good at my Arabic numbers) down the road. Two set off with him and we prepare ourselves for a wait. Wait is perhaps too weak a word to use, as a spare part may have to be flown in from England and then driven up from Khartoum. The sound of an engine and a cloud of dust coming our way again is unexpected, even more so when it is the same car that has just left us. We >hear that there is a gold prospecting camp 4km down the road that would make a good place to base the truck as we search for a repair. It takes us 2 hours to drive the 4km to the small camp. A red faced portly white man greets us. Pol turns out to be French and is accompanied by 35 Sudanese, a Belgium bloke, and a generator. Pol tells us he is not French but a Britton and he desires nothing but whiskey. Raphielle tells us he is a mechanic and is also craving whiskey. All we can do is introduce ourselves and sadly inform them we have no Whiskey. Still to our joy they are still happy to help us. We get a lift and back track down the road and find the broken hanger. Raphielle looks at it, says no problem and cranks up the generator. The next two days we spend decorating the truck, Raphielle was busy welding and Pol asked to take photos of our girls. On the second day Pol asks if we would like to see some of the old Gold Mines that the British used before they left in 1956. They turn out to be incredible, almost untouched from the day they left. String used in a Hansle and Gretal style to find their way out and gold pans still littered the floor, the Ceilings were alive with an enormous number of bats. We returned none the richer but did find that the broken hanger had been fixed and we were up and ready to leave the next day. Over the following two days we drove 320km in two blocks of 12 hour driving to the town of Dongola. We spent a day there to scrape the dust from our bodies, extract the sand from every orifice, and give a bit of TLC to the truck. The next two days we longed for the corrugations, at least then we would know that the sand was hard. Instead we drove on soft sand. Every now and then the truck would dig itself in. Using hands, shovels and sand ladders we would crawl forward 5m before sinking again and having to spend another 10 minutes digging. This could be repeated as much as 5 times before we would reach harder sand. The last 320km to Khartoum we were overjoyed to meet asphalt with the assurance it would not stop. Driving the last few days sat in the cab just waiting for the repair job on the hanger to fail was horrible. You were completely at its mercy and could do nothing but carry on and just hope. The last feeling I felt similar to that was probably on my 7th birthday during a game of musical chairs. You would pass a free chair and you could only hope that you could get back to another before the music stopped, all you could do was carry on dancing round. Khartoum is described in only a few guide books one describes it as “A big bad ugly place with a belligerent, extreme Islamic government hell-bent on choking the entire country under Islam´s shroud. Khartoum is terrorist central. The country is one massive training camp for suicide bombers, hijackers, assassins, car bombers, grenade chuckers and synagogue Saboteurs.” I have seen none of the above bar the big bit and see it as a bit of an exaggeration. Saying that though Mr Bin Laden is probably having his nails done and his beard trimmed only a stone throw from where I write this e-mail. Dave 09 Mar 2002 Dear AllWe are still in Sudan. We have been delayed as we are waiting for a part for the truck to arrive via DHL from the UK. While a couple of folk wait for this in Khartoum I have taken the rest down to Kassala (a ten-hour bus ride east of Khartoum). This place is incredible; it is a lot more tribal and rough than Khartoum and the cliffs are fantastic (photo can be seen in the dossier). Locals carry great swords and clubs, with scars depicting what tribe they come from. The most dominant tribe not only have three big cuts on each cheek but also have some of the biggest and best affros I have ever seen. Over the last week I have put up a few new routes (E3 4c, 5b-, 5a, 5a, 4c), (E2 5b, 5b, 5b). The last one was a true adventure; it is essential to wake up at 4am so as to get up the slopes of scree, past the screaming kids and bypass the troops of enormous baboons before the heat of the day makes the climbing that much harder. The climb involved three pitches of fantastic (although scary and exposed) climbing. To get the second crack after the first pitch it was essential to abseil down and left and lunge for its edges. To ensure the anchor was strong enough it was essential to hand drill and place bolt. Each bolt takes 15mins of hammering and twisting to complete. At the end of the third pitch I was about to pull myself onto the ledge my hands had a hold of when two very shocked vultures with fluffy chicks made me think otherwise. As they leaped towards me I saw it no problem to slide very rapidly down the chimney that I had been previously struggling with. Having only just escaped their beaks and talons I sat down panting trying to calm down. I shouted down to the lad following me, Manne, that the climb had finished and we needed to get down, and explained why. At that point the vultures made their second attack. One flew off the higher ledge circled around and faced his enemy. I sat there between a rock and a hard place, it gave me no choice but to reach for my sword. The stick was rotten and broke when I picked it up,I was forced to go for my second weapon of choice. The forked twig looked feeble but gave me confidence enough to face the bird. I don?t know if it was the twig or the vulture?s inability to stay in one spot for long periods of time that made it fly off, but I was under no illusions that it had gone for good. Manne had now joined me on the ledge and we began to drill in the two bolts needed to abseil off. While one hammered and twisted the other sat ready with the twig ready to fend off any unwanted guest. It did not return but it had made its point and I consider it a 1:0 win to the vultures. Kassala has been incredible. The whole area has seen only a few climbers and nearly all is unclimbed. The climbing alone is incredible, but having other objective dangers such as the Baboons, and huge vultures on ledges really add a certain something to yet another mind blowing corner of the world. Time is ticking away, we have already been away for 119 days. The countdown function on my watch tells me with have another 978 days of adventure to go! Take Care Dave