Rock climbing in Africa: exploring Senegal
Posted on Mon 29 Nov 2021 · Climbing destinations
April 5, 2021
Senegal is one of the most forward-thinking and stable countries in West Africa. The capital, Dakar, is a bustling city where locals, immigrants, and expats exercise on the cliffs right over the ocean during the day and dance the blend of African beats, reggae, jazz, blues in clubs and on rooftops at night.
A city where the soul of Mama Africa comes alive: music, arts, surf, markets, deep colonial history, and, well, of course, rock-climbing. Between November and June, you can climb in the unique crag Les Mamelles, right on the beach in the heart of the city of Dakar, where you find 50+ sport-routes recently rebolted. You can also adventure deep into the African countryside and enjoy a dozen of sport-routes on the cliff overlooking the village of Bandassi: a unique place where time stops and you can experience the quiet, authentic life of the local communities and the famous Senegalese ‘teranga’, aka hospitality.
Rémi Fortané climbing in Les Mamelles © Les Lézards de Dakar
Climbing in Senegal started in 1998, when Christophe Cambier, a pioneer trained in Fontainebleau, bolted the breathtaking walls near the beach of Mamelles in Dakar. He passed the baton to two other expats, Greg and a second Cristophe, who set-up the association ‘Lézards de Dakar’. Around 2017 the young climbers Rémi Fortané, Théo Martin, and Thibaut Crepon moved to Dakar, and climbing in Senegal saw a re-birth.
They built an artificial climbing wall in the sports center Olympique Club: a huge step that allowed locals to learn the sport and made the climbing community deeply integrated within the city. Now this ‘Mur des Lézards’ prides a full-time employee, Diarra.
Théo, Greg, and Rémi also discovered and set-up routes on a cool cliff in the remote village of Bandafassi. Last but not least, the group of climbers fully re-bolted the Mamelles walls and opened and freed the first 8a, turning the place into a unique climbing destination within a more-then-unique city.
One of the best routes in Bandafassi is “Theo si jetais un marteau” © Les Lézards de Dakar
Yes, because where else can you find yourself in the city center of a vibrant, young city with music playing from every car, bus and rooftop, and WALK down to a beach, keep walking on the sand and find more than 50 routes on incredible rock, right on the ocean? Welcome to the crag of Les Mamelles, in Dakar. The walls are made of a mix of volcanic rock: you go from basalt to slags and tuffaceous sandstone.
Another line from one of the collest crags we've ever seen, Les Mamelles, in Dakar © Les Lézards de Dakar
This creates a unique, and sometimes fragile, rock, with grey, orange, and brown stripes and impressive cracks and formations. And the waves of the ocean right under your feet makes the climb even more impressive!
There are 8 bolted sectors and many more to be developed, with roughly 50 routes from French grade 4 to 8a. The routes are well distributed across grades with a prevalence for the 6th range, with 10+ routes below 5C, 8 5Cs, 7 6As, 5 6Bs, 5 6Cs, 3 7As, a couple of 7Bs, one 7C, one beautiful 8A “Cariboubou” and a project in the 8th range.
Les Mamelles, Dakar © Les Lézards de Dakar
After a day of climbing, enjoy the sunset from the hammocks of the reggae bar Chez Max. This is the beach bar from heaven, Dakar-style, cleverly made of recovered objects. Car seats stuck into the sand, shell sculptures, and masks made from recycled plastic.
One of the best approaches ever? © Les Lézards de Dakar
Reggae beats mellow out the speakers to add to the laid-back vibe. This is one of the best spots to take in the infamous West African sunset. You may also bump into Christophe Cambier, the visionary that started climbing in Dakar and who recently moved back here. Contact him for any info on Les Mamelles, he knows the area like his backyard.
You can also visit the climbing wall in the Olympique Club or check the website escalade-au-senegal.wixsite.com/accueil where there are topos. Only one ugly note: a new project for a desalination plant on the beach may be realized, with a devastating impact in the coming years on the beauty of the place and the access to most sectors.
If you want to escape the bustling activity of Dakar, Senegal offers plenty of choices. From the beautiful colonial architecture in Saint-Louis to the secluded beaches in Cap Skirring, to the surf breaks of the Ngor fishing village, and riverine deltas teeming with wildlife.
Dakar is not all about climbing! © Les Lézards de Dakar
And if you feel like more climbing, then the village of Bandafassi, close to the border with Guinea, is for you. After a tiring 12-hours drive, you will find yourself in a place incredibly calm where you can truly relax.
A 100m-cliff over the village prides 20 beautiful sport routes and two multi-pitch routes (6a / 6b / 6b / 5a and 6a / 6c / 7a / 7b). You can sleep right under the routes in small traditional houses, hosted by the exquisite Léontine.
The local Marcel knows very well the climbs and can show you around
Accompanied by Marcel, explore the surrounding areas, hikes, waterfalls, and enjoy the authentic Senegalese countryside life.
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Many thanks to Rémi Fortané and Théo Martin for all the precious informations and to Les Lézards de Dakar for the beautiful photos!
This article was originally printed in the Climbing Travel Guide, available from the Mapo Tapo shop. 50 off-the-beaten-track destinations, 1000+ crags, and beautiful photos from outdoor photographers all around the world.