Burdiehouse climber recalls cliff fall horror in Madagascar

A team of three intrepid rock climbers intent on ascending one of the sheerest cliff faces in Africa will feature in a film charting the ambitious expedition.

Wednesday, 19th September 2018, 6:00 am
Robbie Phillips from Burdiehouse was part of a team of climbers who participated in the expeditiion.
Robbie Phillips from Burdiehouse was part of a team of climbers who participated in the expeditiion.

Lead climber Robbie Phillips from Burdiehouse was inspired to tackle the treacherous goal of opening a new climb on Madagascar’s Tsaranoro Atsimo after “reading” a book by his hero and legend of climbing, Arnaud Petit.

Robbie explained: “The book is in French which I don’t speak, but I liked the pictures and that was enough for me.

“It has been on the list for a decade and the time just felt right.”

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Joined by experienced fellow climbers, and friends, Calum Cunningham and Alan Carne, the group put in meticulous groundwork and training ahead of the expedition but Robbie admitted no amount of planning can mitigate all risks and during the climb disaster struck.

“Alan fell when we were about 100m up on the climb – the fall was bad and he broke his leg in three places.

“You experience a sudden rush of shock and adrenaline. It’s kind of a strange feeling, like being caught in the headlights but nothing actually hits you.

“Then you realise you have to do something. Your friend is in a potentially life threatening situation and you’re in the worst place in the world for it to happen.”

Robbie said nothing so severe had ever happened while he had been climbing before and it was a long and difficult process to get Alan down off the wall.

“In 50 years of climbing Alan had never had an accident as bad as this – but I think the type of climbing we were doing has more risks than what 99 per cent of the climbing population do.”

Hooked by the rock climbing bug after sessions at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena up at Ratho when he was 15, Robbie has already completed some mammoth climbs including two of the Alpine Trilogy faces in the Alps.

He has been slowly ticking them off and aims to tackle the third, “Das Kaiser Neue Kleider” in the Austrian Alps next summer.

“No British climber has ever climbed all three so that would be a big achievement for me,” Robbie added. “I also always harboured a dream to take my rock climbing to high altitude and my first foray is due for 2020 in Karakorum [Pakistan] on Trango Towers. The climb is called Eternal Flame, and has never had a British Ascent. To climb it would be like winning an Oscar!”

Filmmaker and director Alastair Lee climbed with the team to capture the expedition in a film called Blood Moon which will premier at the Brit Rock Film at the Pleasance Theatre on October 25.

Robbie said: “I honestly can’t wait to see the film. Madagascar is a wild country, the wall we climbed is beautiful, exposed and world class, and injuries aside, we had a ridiculously good time on the wall that I think will show through in the film.”

Tickets available from www.britrockfilmtour.com