By Gaz Leah, Photo Credits to Adidas Outdoor / Matthew Parent

A dark tower of volcanic rock shrouded in clouds dominates the unearthly landscape. Formed millennia ago when high pressure magma solidified inside the vent of an active volcano, it’s presence is foreboding. This is the peak of Cão Grande, a 370m volcanic plug situated deep in the jungle on the island of São Tomé in sub-saharan Africa.


Prior to the expedition, I’d spent a year planning (mainly dreaming) of the day I would be able to visit this island whose landscapes resembled a scene from a Jurassic Park movie. It was a project I knew was ambitious on so many levels. Everything had to be carefully planned and arranged as the island offers almost nothing in the way of purchasable goods or medical help. If something was to go wrong, we would be on our own.


Arriving on the island was a cultural eye opener. Stray dogs running wild through the busy streets, a seven person family riding a single 125cc motorbike, a balancing act fit for a circus performance. Navigating the narrow roads that winded south from the capital we arrived at Agripalm plantation, the furthest point we could reach before being forced to continue on foot through the jungle.


A 3km hike through thick jungle and we emerged at the base of the wall, greeted unknowingly by a 100m high roof that jutted out some 30m. There was no information on the peaks rock formation prior to arrival and standing at the base we gained a very real sense of the task at hand.

Three weeks of 14 hour days later and we were stood on top of the peak. Reaching the summit had been wrought with difficulties that threatened to end the project from the start, many of them not climbing related. Luggage problems, blown battery chargers, generator issues, snake bites, jungle logistics, currency exchange, sickness and stuck vehicles all looked that they would stop us in achieving our goal. However, with each new obstacle that stood in our path, we would find a solution, though non were what you would describe as “traditional”.


Having now completed the route and with time to reflect upon the island, the peak and the people we have encountered along the way. I am thankful in all that I have gained from the trip which amounts to a lot more than just a new route, but new friends, skills and an understanding of a life where people are masters of their environment.

About Gareth Leah:
In addition to climbing, Gaz is an author, Director of Escalando Fronteras and Founder of Adventure 4 Good.

About Matthew Parent:
Matthew Parent is a Los Angeles photographer and camera operator. Follow him on Instagram.

About the Gear:
Gaz and Matthew used the Arc 20W Kit with the V72 battery (now available as the upgraded V88 Battery Pack) encased in our solar-ready Nanuk box. The Nanuk provided a waterproof seal for the battery in an environment that was rainy and consistently wet. “The V72 and large panel were also really tough. I’ve dropped them, stood on them, rocks have landed on them and some how they still work!”

solar charge climbing wall

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