Witness Massive First Female Ascent in Madagascar
Pro climber Sasha DiGiulian and Spaniard Edu Marin claim second-ever free ascent of Mora Mora — a 2,300-foot multi-pitch route in Madagascar.
On the hardest “crux” pitch of the 2,300-foot route Mora Mora — a monster multi-pitch route deep in Madagascar which, up until this point, had only seen a single free ascent — Sasha DiGiulian stared down the next sequence of handholds, gunning for the coveted second ascent.
Given the nature of the dense, yet abrasive granite rock, the amount of handholds to choose from was already sparse. The ones she did have to select from were made up of small crystalize granite edges the size of "shelled peanuts."
“It’s like a dance,” DiGiulian said. “Every foot placement needs to be laser-precise. Light breaths and slow movements, body positioning and trusting negligible little crystals.”
Despite this, on July 20, 2017, after three days and nights on the massive wall, DiGiulian, along with Spanish climber Edu Marin, free climbed Mora Mora. Completing this demanding feat is an achievement based on the sheer difficulty of the route. But the ascent was made even more proud by the fact that in the route’s nearly 20-year history since initial development, DiGiulian and Marin were only the second to claim a free ascent (after Czech climber Adam Ondra made the first ascent a decade after the route was established).
They confirmed the route as a formidable and fierce contender among the hardest multi-pitch free climbs in the world. In addition to the second ascent, DiGiulian became the first female to free climb the route.
A mega mission
Mora Mora, which translates to “slowly, slowly”, is a 2,300-foot, 12-pitch 5.14b (8c) that blasts up the left side of the Tsaranoro massif domes in the East African island of Madagascar. The area is picturesque: black- and orange-streaked domes, punctuated with splashes of yellow, spring up in outcroppings in a mountainous landscape. The nearby village of Andonaka thrives on locally grown produce and livestock, and the community welcomes climbers.
“The lifestyle is simple yet the people are tremendously friendly,” DiGiulian said. While Tsaranoro has been a climbing destination since the late '90s, because of the remoteness of the area — unlike the highly trafficked cliffs of similar height, like Half Dome in Yosemite — it is not highly frequented.
Visualize roughly six-and-a-half football fields stacked end to end vertically, and you have Mora Mora. Big routes like this require big commitment: more climbing, more gear, more time, more energy. The hard-to-access nature of the area, the size of the route — all these things compound to intensify the endeavor.
“It took us a few days to unlock all the sequences [of the crux pitch] and our port-a-ledge had been lost by the airline, so each day we were hiking about 90 minutes up the mountain, jumaring 1,400 feet of static line, to then try the 8c, rappel down to the ground and hike out,” said DiGiulian, of their labor-intensive practice runs of the route.
It wasn’t until they unlocked the way to do the crux pitch that they attempted to climb the entire 2,300-foot route in one push.
For DiGiulian, the grueling and demanding nature of hard, multi-pitch climbing brings on a mix of emotions.
“When I first arrive to a new big wall project, the first week is typically difficult for me mentally,” DiGiulian said. “I feel afraid to fall and the exposure, even though I am not afraid of heights typically, creeps its way into my psyche and creates this heavy feeling of hesitancy.”
Sometimes it takes DiGiulian hours on the wall, even days to push herself by getting used to falling and facing the exposure in order to start to feel comfortable.
“By the end, the difference between my first few days on the climb was staggering — from feeling like even the easiest pitches were death-defying and over gripping while on top rope, to barely hanging on by the tips of my finger and skipping bolts.”
Testing your physical limit thousands of feet above the ground, and being able to harness those emotions — let them happen, but not consume you — can be a climber’s hardest challenge.
Strength in numbers
DiGiulian and partner Marin added Mora Mora to the ever-growing list of multi-pitch routes they have climbed together, like Bellavista (5.14b) in the Italian Dolomites in 2013 and Viaje de los Locos (5.14a) in Sardinia in 2014. Their keen, insightful partnership is what a route of this degree demands.
Nearly a month spent with no cell service and no electricity, the duo found a simple routine. Day after day, they spent long days working the route often settling into the night in their hanging tent — the port-a-ledge — hundreds of feet above the ground.
As DiGiulian said, “If there’s one way to get to know someone, it’s full immersion like this.”