Hotrock Global Challenge Update

“From the crest of the ridge the last half of the plateau was finallyrevealed. The vast natural forces that had thrown up these regular downs hadsuddenly run wild. In the docile plain there opened a gorge perhaps half amile wide, leading to a bowl shaped valley. It was the valley of Wehni. Fromthe centre rose the scoriated black thumb that was the mountain. It was infact twice the height that it first appeared and its sides perfectly sheerto thwe ground. Once again my stomach contracted in fear.” Thomas Peckenham, The mountains of Rasselas. We have just been back from the first successfull expedition to climb to thesummit of Mt Wehni. We are the first known people to be on the summit sinceit was the prison to 200 princes 300 years ago. Two helicopter missionsfailed to land on the summit. The british forces could not climb the peakand numerous explorers were just left at its base imagining what treasurethe summit still held. The princes were held on the peak to protect the kingfrom being over-thrown, all 200 of them were kept on a summit 120m by 80m.untill they were needed. The cut steps and wooden steaks that were used toclimb the peak had long gone and the closest you could get to the visibleruins was by looking across from the hill tops on the other side of thevalley. Where do I start, perhaps at the point when we were joined at Gondar (Townin Ethiopia) by Bill Lumly and Gar Powell-evans. The former is proposing towrite a book on our Mt Wehni Experiance, and the latter a photo journalistproposes to submit an article to the sunday times!!!! They arrived armedwith maps, two way radios and a massive amount of enthusiasm. You couldimagine their horror when we heared from a local that a climbing teamaccompanied by the BBC had left 2 weeks before us with the same objective inmind. We were all shocked and upset to think that we had missed out on thefirst ascent by only two weeks. It was not long until we discovered that thelocal was actually talking about us. We had passed through Gondar 1 weekearlier to climb some basalt towers in the north andhe had added the BBCbit to the story himself. Happy again knowing that it was still unclimbed wesat down with the maps to try and figure out the minor problem of where themountain was!!! Gar was able to get the grid reference from the forcesexpedition and had ploted it on his maps. The position it gave us was 70kmnorth of where the sketch diagram in Thomas Peckenhams book shows it to be.Who do we trust? The British army or a pencil drawn map. Of course we wentwith the sketch map. This was the first time the mountains position wouldchange for us, but not the last. I had been put in touch with a local lad that claimed to know the whereabouts of the peak from a contact in a village further south. An unused roadcould get us 5km from the peak ,but as the roads were so bad we needed toget a local bus/tank to drive us in. That night the bags along with 30kg oforanges, 150 loafs of bread, 250l of water, 10kg of the smallest onions inthe world, and all the climbing kit we could collect was packed into the”bus”. We left the next morning at 6:00. The bus stopped 5 hours latter at the town of Addis Zemman. Our guide jumpedout and spoke to a man, after a heated discusion they both came on to thebus and informed us the walk started here. The mountain had moved again!! Wewere informed that it layed 20km that way ( direction given by a throw of anarm). We had to trust this nearly blind old man, and go against the adviseof the trusty contact. This was hard to do, as to walk in 20km and find outhe had directed you to his hut for lunch would have been soul destroying.But we trusted the blind man and packed up the water and food onto the backsof 11 very small donkeys and set off. The word had gone round the villagethat white people were here to climb their hills, and a crowd of a couple ofhundred kids screaming YOU YOU YOU at us escorted us for the first hour ofthe walk. The donkeys were useless we were “walking” (pushing donkeys up hills) at anaverage speed of 1.5kmph, and with the big pass still to come getting tobase camp that night was out of the question. Infact we only managed to gethalf way. The last 100m to the top of the hill involved us carrying thewater for the donkeys. We camped on thwe out skirts of a small village. Westill did not know if the peak we were walking towards was the one wewanted. We left early the next morning, with their bellies full of straw, thedonkeys trotted on at a happy pace. The hill top opened out to a flatplateau, rather like salisbury plain but with monkeys. There at the edge ofthe plateau we received the same veiw that Thomas Peckenham had 50 yearsago. Did my stomach contract in fear? No! Did I smile like a kid atchristmas and almost cry with relief and for the joy of the others? Yes!There it wasonly a couple of Km away we could make out the ruins on thesummit and the guard house built two thirds the way up the cliff. We made abase camp under an enormous olive tree and in the shaddow of the west faceof Mt Wehni. The audience had grown and the murmer of the crowd had grown to an excitedroar. The forangis had come to climb the prison of the princes. There wassuddenly a mad cry from the hill overlooking the col on which we camped. Aman stripped down naked and started running down towards us. He reached aspot 20m away stopped and started whipping him self while dancing in a styleof a religious “stomp” after one had just licked the cane toad. Our guide,Mike, translated his cries and told us that he is upset, because we willsteal the arc of the covenant that is on top of the peak!!! The localpreists took this seriously. After an hour or two they approached us andsaid that before we climb we had to have our bags checked so when wereturned they would know what we had taken from the summit. This gave us abuzz, as they really had no idea of what was on the summit. The route I climbed was easy climbing but very unprotected (Placing only 4bits of protection in 6 pitches of climbing). Along the rouite we would comeacrosss very pollished rock. This would have been done by the thousands ofprinses passing up and down the route. About 60m from the summit we passedthrough the door way of the guard house and from there I could see the restwas just a scrammble. We haddone it we had completed the dream of so manyexplorers and were about to join the vultures in knowing what secrets layedon top. The top was covered in long grass hiding all the walls and pot holeswhat we stumbled across. Our aim was to map the summit and photographeverything. Most is just ruin but the church gave us a bit more interest.With old painting on the wall and crosses and amharic scripture carved intotablets partly hidden by the cracked plaster walls. We sadly found no goldor boobi traps, and all skeletons were deeply buried. Infact the onlyinteresting artifacts that we found were two massive clay pots containingnothing but Hiarax poo. We spent the night on the summit and then descendedthe next day. We on the on the floor 3 abseils and 2 hours later. the preists were the first to great us. They dipped their heads and kissedmy hand. An english speaking man approached us, ” We have so much respectfor you, such an incredible journey I have never seen!” The rest of the daywas spent drawing the ruins and the carvings on the back of a box of teabags, for the cheif of the village to keep and show the awaiting crowd. We celebrated that night with spit roast sheep. As it is lent they would notkill the sheep, but were happy to let us do it. This was another experianceclose in making me a vegetarian. But I soon forgot this when it was cooked,eaten and was being slowly digested as I lay back and looked at the route wehad just taken to the summit. Absolutly perfect. The next day I took thelast of the 12 members in the team to the summit along a route that wasgraded E1 5a and named “beneath the path of princes” We left the next day and walked 7 hours back to Addis Zemmen and based ourselves in a bar celebrating with ice cold beer while we waited for the Busto take us to Bahir Dar to meet the truck. The whole experiance is evrythingI could have hoped for. Rumours of being beaten to the top, Donkeys, porterdisputes, crazy locals sreaming out legends of treasure, ruins, fineclimbing and every member of the team climbing to the top and safely comingdown. As you can tell I am, still having the time of my life. I will write againin a couple of weeks when we get to Nairobi. Lots of Love Dave For more information about the Hotrock Global challenge, and how you can become a part of it, visit