First ascents in a land of ancient climbing traditions
As climbers Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson explore northern Ethiopia with their son, Arthur, they uncover a confluence of climbing cultures. Where ancient traditions meet first ascents. Where curiosity leads to new experiences. The Towers of Tigray is more than just a film about climbing; it's about embracing the unknown and never losing your childlike sense of wonder.
When you’re driven by a need to explore and roam with curiosity, it comes naturally to want to nurture that in those you love.
“For us, life’s all about curiosity and not being afraid of the unknown. We’re trying our best as parents to lead by example. We want Arthur to be part of this trip not only to experience it now, but also because he’ll be able to draw strength and courage from it in the future.”
On a semi-arid plateau in Northern Ethiopia lies Tigray. It’s a region of dramatic towers, sheer cliffs and an ancient climbing tradition. People here don’t climb for sport. It’s not about first ascents or personal challenges. They climb to be closer to heaven. Without harnesses or dynamic ropes, without climbing shoes and protection, they climb to lofty monasteries and churches chiselled into the terracotta sandstone. But like climbers everywhere, they’re rewarded with a powerful sense of fulfilment and spectacular views of the humbling landscape.
“I’m not a religious person. But having stepped on top of one of these towers for the first time and felt the power that it brings, I think I can understand why they want to be up there.”
Reaching hundreds of metres into the sky, the imposing towers of the Tigray region are largely unclimbed. But with cracks begging for fingers to find purchase, as curious explorers, Caroline and James were captivated. Warming up on a route first climbed in 2005 and graduating onto an unclimbed tower of unpredictable rock, they confirmed their position as true expedition climbers.
“We took days searching for the best tower and that one…I don’t know… there was something really special about it. Maybe because it was leaning so much it looked like it was about to fall. The problem was, there was no crack whatsoever, so no easy path up. It meant we would have to climb up the face.”
Defy the elements on extreme peaks and expeditions.