Climbing and climbing culture is in its infancy in West Africa and we want to change that. Thanks to in-country contacts and a healthy dose of research, we set off this winter to explore Man, in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), which we felt confident has potential for both bouldering and traditional climbing on granite. What’s more, we hoped to climb La Dent de Man, the prominent peak in the area and the symbol of the Man district.
Not only was our hunch correct, but we found in fact that there was far more rock in the region, and indeed in the whole country, than we expected. The patches of rock we had spotted on Google satellite turned out to be whole crags of exceptional coarse-grained granite sprawling across the hilly landscape, baked dark by the blistering sun. The Dent de Man, just visible from the city through the sandy winter haze, was an easy hike that soon confirmed our impression that it should be possible to climb.
Over the course of our three-week stay in Man, we made the first ascent of Insomnie, the first and only line on the the Dent de Man, a four pitch line tentatively graded E4. Once we had achieved this major objective, we returned to the city to develop the crags around Man, which presented countless boulders of varying sizes and difficulty. Several bouldering problems and a few trad lines went up, but due to the sheer volume and concentration of rock, it became our goal to record as much of it as possible through photography, in order to build a database of the topography, climbed or unclimbed, for future use. Our contact in Man, Yacinthe, gave us the names and locations of several other peaks, rock faces and boulders that he thought had potential for climbing, but time fled as we scrambled to see as much as we could before leaving.
The last days in Man were spent speaking to the students of the Lycée Professionel de Man, a vocational school, in order to introduce them to the concept and basics of climbing. Sceptical at first, the 17- to 20-year olds became enthused by the idea, and we took three groups out to boulder on their hometown rock, each batch consisting of 10-15 people. As part of this outreach project, we wanted to prove that bouldering was possible for locals without needing to import expensive equipment, namely crash pads. As a result, we spent a day purchasing foam, kitchen lino and high-impact foam surfacing (a substitute for high-density foam), which was sewn together by a friend of Yacinthe, thus proving that anyone can travel to Man, build a pad locally and climb. It also shows that an independent climbing culture can easily spring up in Man, and that locals can cater to a climbing industry, should one come to be.
Looking back at our trip, we view it not as a one-time shot at climbing in Western Africa, but as a chance to start building a long term project: by developing climbing in Côte d’Ivoire, we hope to stoke the fire with Ivoirians, so that they may create their own climbing culture. With outdoor climbing, this has to start with finding and cleaning the areas with potential, mapping them out and logging them. It also has to be nurtured by knowledgeable and enthusiastic people who can teach newcomers to climb and to be safe. Both in Côte d’Ivoire and on the home front, we hope that by opening new routes and creating topos, we will inspire people to continue what we have started, and it is our greatest wish to return again to continue developing Man, and possibly other regions that we have identified as having potential. If you’re interested, please get in touch!
We plan to make and produce a film about our project. It will aim to showcase the adventure that is this process, from finding the location to making the topo and reaching out to the community. This will be done with the help of our team member Matt Greenwell, who is a professional photographer and videographer, as well as a keen climber. We want to make a positive impact abroad and at home, and hope this will inspire others to do the same.