A Grand Day Out 9: Fun in the sun - winter bouldering in Eritrea

The Malteser, Dekemhare Boulders, Eritrea

One of the few benefits of the current financial turmoil is the opportunity it provides for Geologists who are also climbers to get up to mischief. I'm one of the lucky ones, because I'm still employed, but the junior exploration company I work for is strapped for cash and our evaluation programme on a promising gold deposit in the semi-desert highlands of Eritrea is at a temporary standstill.

My job takes me to odd places; unfrequented and for the most part unknown. Ordinarily I collect rocks for analysis but during downturns in the market I focus my attention on climbing them instead! Fortunately climbable, virgin rocks abound in the Horn of Africa.

An Italian climbing friend recently told me about a place just south of Asmara where there were 'many boulders'. It sounded really exciting. I consulted a map at the company's Office and discovered to my delight that they were probably granitic. Last weekend, we secured travel permits from the military authorities and drove southwards across the Hamasien Plateau, towards the nearby town of Dekemhare, to check them out.

The weather was perfect – like spring in the Mediterranean; clear, blue skies, temperatures in the low 20ºCs and dead calm. It always is. No wonder the Italians came here – and stayed.

We caught sight of the first boulders on the western horizon as we dropped off the plateau into the shallow bowl where the town of Dekemhare nestles. Pale creamy-orange, sub-rounded boulders; mouth watering and finger tingling; hundreds of them and all of them unclimbed. Driving westwards out of the town we were soon engulfed by a maze of boulders. It was difficult to choose where to begin amidst such rocky profusion! Finally, a square-faced boulder, about 4m high and set in a level grassy clearing, caught our attention a few hundred metres to the left of the gravel road.

We parked the vehicle beneath the shade of a solitary Acacia and walked to the 'discovery' boulder. Up close, the granite was coarse grained and rough to the touch. The holds were mostly sharp, painful incuts with the occasional, hollow sounding micro-flakes. The friction was positively SICK! There were so many obvious lines – a holdless slab for convenient descent, an arête with an awkward mantleshelf finish, a steep, bulging wall with a hard start leading to thin moves above.

For three hours we scraped the skin off our fingers and polished off a creditable number of first ascents - nothing hard for this first visit; just cruising. The simple pleasure of climbing virgin rock has much to recommend it, especially when you could be freezing your butt off queuing up for a polished classic at Burbage. Later we wandered amongst a maze of giant malteser-like boulders, mesmerised by the limitless possibilities, although to our mild distress we found a small area where Eritrean stonemasons were painstakingly reducing the lovely boulders into neat 25kg oblongs for building material by hand. Jeez – what a contract!

Let's hope the world's financial difficulties are sorted out soon. I need to collect more samples to justify being here, at least until the summer! In the meantime, I'd better get that permit for Dekemhare renewed for the coming weekend because those stonemasons might have been busy.

The list of entries so far is below (closing date for entries is Midnight on Monday 9th March):

Click to read individual articles in this series:


A Grand Day Out is another creative competition and a chance to express yourself and share your adventures.


A Grand Day Out, 154 kb
image © Mick Ryan

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