Provocatively named Tough Enough?, the two year old aid route slicing up the blank face of Karambony saw a free attempt by a team of international all-stars last year. The French magazine Grimper ran a huge 8 page spread about the efforts of ex-world champion François Legrand and his team. They managed all the moves on the route and redpointed two F8a+ pitches and several easier pitches, but couldn't link the main difficulties. They did an amazing job of cleaning and preparing the route, truly hard work in difficult conditions.
Their failure was like a red rag to a bull and just a few days after his arrival in Madagascar, the Cumbrian crimp-master got stuck in. James McHaffie spent a total of nine days on the 1500ft route, climbing with Dave Pickford - who himself linked two hard F7 pitches on spaced bolts and natural gear whilst McHaffie got stuck in to the meatier sections. Added to the severity of the climbing were other difficulties; the epic jungle-bash approach and the sandpaper effect of the rock on fingertips in hot weather.
McHaffie redpointed the hardest pitch on the route; a 40 metre stamina-slab-nightmare with no holds and long run outs:
"It's way, way harder than The Very Big and The Very Small" he said.
In total McHaffie and Pickford freed 6 of the 11 pitches, with McHaffie climbing multiple F8c pitches. In his characteristic understated fashion he has down-graded some of them to F8b/+. The challenge to free the entire route remains. Arnaud Petit and a strong French team are currently in transit to the green jungle-lined valley of Tsaranoro and are hoping to bag the full free ascent of this amazing route, which will be one of the finest and hardest big wall routes in the world.
Posing Productions captured all this Madagascan madness on film and will be releasing more details when they have them.
[Editors Note] After initial confusion it seems that the pitches are complex and have been split by a belay. François Legrand climbed the two higher pitches that McHaffie climbed (8b+ 8c approx) - but didn't report them as the true challenge is to link the two in to a 60m monster pitch. McHaffie did climb a lower pitch (8b+/8c) that had lost holds and was unclimbed since the initial free/aid ascent at 8b.