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    In Dag We Trust – A Rock Climbing Trip to Turkey's Ala Dag Mountains

    by Jonathan Thesenga


    “You’re going sport climbing at Antalya?” That was the question nearly everyone asked me when I told them that Brittany and I were headed to Turkey for a three-week climbing trip. A fair assumption – you gotta dig into a third or fourth level of research before you read about any sort of climbing in Turkey besides the bolt-clipping paradise of Antalya. A cushy sport-climbing vacation to the Mediterranean coast, however, was not in the travel plans this time around – we were headed for central Turkey’s Ala Dag Mountains, a Teton-esque range of rugged limestone peaks, walls and spires.

    [All photos by Jonathan Thesenga (@jthesenga).]

    Continue reading "In Dag We Trust – A Rock Climbing Trip to Turkey's Ala Dag Mountains" »

    Texas Tower Soul Crush

    by Jonathan Thesenga


    My college friend Chris Kalous and I had an epic weekend climbing Texas Tower, which is down between Blanding and Hanksville in southern Utah. Two-hours of aggro, axle-smashing 4x4, then two hours of heinous post-holing up to our knees through breakable-crust snow just to get to the base at 11:30am. Shoes soaked. Pants soaked. 600 feet of stout offwidths and chimneys — no time to waste. We did not free the 5.11+ crux OW — not even close. I linked the final two pitches into one and topped out just as the sun was setting. Out of food and water, knees and shoulders throbbing in pain from all the unrelenting OW action, but who cares... I was on the summit of one of the biggest, baddest and burliest towers in the desert. So psyched! Then realized I couldn't find the summit anchor, that it was buried under the 18 inches of snow blanketing the sloping north side of the summit — WTF? Desert alpine?

    [Above: Texas Tower, 600-feet of pissed-off sandstone wideness, still more than an hour's hike away through snow conditions sent straight from the devil himself. Photo: JT]

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    Operation Algeria - Part Five


    Day 14 and our last here in southern Algeria. As is our tradition on international climbing trips we got a hotel room for our last night in-country as a way to smooth the transition back to the “real world” and finally take a shower. It was Brittany’s birthday yesterday and Zaoui, Aziz and Mustapha surprised her with a birthday cake, complete with candles that spelled out her name as “Britay”. Last year we spent her birthday in Venezuela, and this year it’s Algeria. Not too bad! When we got back into Tamanrasset yesterday we got word of the chaos happening in North Africa and the Middle East. Mustapha translated as best he could what we were watching on the Arabic news channels. Crazy! Definitely a time of massive change and drama in the Arab world. The whole town—and we assume the rest of the world—is buzzing with discussion of the developing events.

    [The southeast face of Aoukenet. All photos: Jonathan Thesenga and Brittany Griffith]

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part Five" »

    Operation Algeria - Part Four


    Day Nine here in Algeria and the adventure sweetness keeps rolling along. Today is a rest day and we spent it hiking off into some distant wadis to investigate some attractive-looking summits we saw from afar (which turned out to be choss). We followed old goat trails through the unending black rock, stumbling upon a herd of wild donkeys and spinning our heads at the wild, impossibly vacant landscape upon which we were questing. This is truly a wild place. We are currently camped below Aoukenet, a 700-foot wine-bottle shaped tower we plan on climbing tomorrow. Over the past two days we have been fortunate enough to grab two fantastic first ascents.

    [Brittany questing across the wildness of the Atakor. All photos: Jonathan Thesenga and Brittany Griffith]

    Editor's note: Even hotter off the sat-modem is Part Four of Operation Algeria from Jonathan Thesenga. For those who are curious about Brittany's take on the trip, here's an excerpt from her email: "Wahoooooo! What an awesome trip we are having. Super, super psyched on the trip so far!" Nice. Enjoy Part Four.

    From our campsite below the Tizouyags we scoped out a plum line of cracks that for some odd reason had not been climbed on the 500-foot west face of Clocher des Tizouyag (Aziz told us that the Tuareg name for the tower translated to "The Wives of Crows"). Clocher de Tizouyag is a classic-looking aiguille riddled with clean cracks and a singular, tiny summit.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part Four" »

    Operation Algeria - Part Three


    It’s the end of Day Six of our trip to Algeria and we are freezing. Seriously. All of our clothes on—including long underwear and down jackets! How is that possible? Aren’t we in the Sahara? Well, delete those pictures of sand dunes and palm-tree-fringed oasis from your mind—we are bivied up in the Atakor region of the Hoggar Mountain at 2800 meters and tonight is clear and cold, and yesterday was windy as hell. This zone is so gnarly—just an endless sun-cooked sea of rock-covered plains, except for the sweet basalt towers we are camped below.

    [The Tizouyag’s of the Atakor, southern Algeria. All photos: Jonathan Thesenga]

    Editor's note: Hot off the sat-modem, direct from Algeria, part three of Operation Algeria with Patagonia ambassadors Jonathan Thesenga and Brittany Griffith.

    But let’s go back a couple days—the first ascent on Adaouda… it went south. Brittany sent the techy 12a first pitch and I scratched out the 5.11 second pitch, but then the rock got worse and worse and worse. Brittany ended up having to A0 around a giant detached flake of doom and then sketch past this guano-filled corner and massive, prehistoric-looking bird nest. The next pitch was just as bad and I battled to get gear in behind mud-stacked blocks in a chimney/slot. Once I engaged a hollow flake the size of a door that threatened to slam into Brittany at her sun-baked belay, we knew it was time to bail. Less than a rope-length from the summit of Adaouda we rapped off, leaving our first ascent incomplete and thankful to get outta there with nothing more than frazzled nerves.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part Three" »

    Operation Algeria - Part Two


    End of Day Three here in Algeria and it’s safe to say we’ve already had an amazing adventure. Brittany and I have traveled and climbed in Mali, Morroco and Oman, so we are no strangers to the desert terrain of northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, but southern Algeria is a whole other level of endless, shoe-eating Mars-'scape. We arrived in the middle of the pitch-black night and in the morning we were stunned to realize how insane the terrain was all around us—endless hard-scrabble desert interrupted only by these crazy basalt towers. It was real. We were finally here: the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria.

    [Looking out at the southern Algeria desert. All photos: Jonathan Thesenga]

    We are a team of five: Brittany, myself, Mustapha (our guide), Aziz (our driver) and Zaoui (our cook). They are awesome travel companions, always laughing and joking with each other in Arabic (a fast, clipped language that to our Western ears sounds hilariously like they are constantly pissed off at each other). They speak to us in French… well, actually mostly just to Brittany, since she’s fluent and I only know 10 words.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part Two" »

    Operation Algeria - Part One


    Last week, 14 Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorists in southern Algeria kidnapped an Italian woman. The terrorists escaped with her across the Sahara and disappeared into the no-mans land of northern Niger. 2007 was an especially bad year in Algeria with a reported 375 people kidnapped; the AQIM claiming responsibility for 115. All of this has been a tense topic of conversation in our house over the last month because on February 13 Brittany Griffith and I will arrive in that same southern Algeria region for a two-week climbing trip.

    Editor's note: Patagonia ambassador Jonathan Thesenga joins the Cleanest Line crew today with the first in a series of posts we'll be bringing you direct from Algeria.  

    In the last 10 to 15 years southern Algeria’ Sahara desert has sadly become a super-sketch zone of AQIM hideouts, training camps and smuggling routes. So why the hell are we going there? Well, it’s also home to some of the most spectacular desert climbing in Africa. Out of the hardscrabble desert, basalt spires and massifs shoot up to 400 meters in height, and in other sectors smooth granite domes rise out of the endless sea of sand. Although the French have climbed many routes in southern Algeria since the 1950s (a perk of colonialism, I guess…), we are motivated to explore and find new routes, thinking we’ll find unclimbed crack lines that the French have historically avoided. Where we can or cannot go to, however, is still undetermined due to the recent kidnapping and the military responding by closing down “unsecured” areas.

    Continue reading "Operation Algeria - Part One" »

    Stolby Style: Siberian Free Soloing

    Visit for more on Brittany Griffith and to read Jonathan Thesenga's field report about climbing in Stolby.

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