When Prof. Julian Bayliss (http://julianbayliss.co.uk/) found this special mountain formation on Google Earth satellite imagery, his scientific heart began to beat higher. “I’ve done similar scientific expeditions in Africa, but this one immediately looked very special to me. Almost like a fortress of rock.” says Julian. This is four years ago now. What followed was an exciting science adventure full of rock climbing, rainfall and the discovery of new species…
My name is Julian Bayliss and I have been working in Africa for the last 25 years, although I am from Wales originally. I am an ecologist and conservation scientist, but also an explorer. In 2005 I discovered the largest rain forest in southern Africa at Mt. Mabu also in northern Mozambique. Since this time there has been a concentrated effort on surveying these mountains which has resulted in many new species to science (approximately 50). Four years ago, I noticed another potentially interesting site using satellite imagery. From the satellite image it looked like an extinct volcano with a basin of forest in the crater. What stood out was that the surrounding land was heavily cultivated, but the forest was intact. This led me to believe that the forest was inaccessible and the rock just too high for local people to climb up unaided. In February 2017, I finally manged to recce the site and the local people confirmed this – they know of no one, living or past, who has been to the forest on top … because you cannot get there. When I made the recce, Mount Lico turned out to be a real fortress of rock. The lowest point was a 125m rope climb. So, I called on the skills of two of the UK’s best climbers – Jules Lines and Mike Robertson.
Finally, in May 2018 all preparations for the expedition were done and our team of 28 people (half scientists, half support crew) could start this adventure. The mission was to assess the biodiversity of a site which is primarily undisturbed by humans (Mount Lico).
The expedition started with basics like deciding a basecamp and thrashing out a fresh trail to the lowest section of the cliff. This involved a lot of sweating, macheting and a good portion of luck which finally led us to the precise point we’d hoped for. We also received the news that no climbing on Lico would be permitted until the local chiefs had all got together and organised a ceremony. On day two the chiefs arrived, and a medium-sized team of locals and carriers set off on our new trail. The ceremony was carried out and some very melodic words were sung, drifting away on the breeze…
Jules and Mike now are officially blessed and ready to start their mission: free climb the granite face and set up some static ropes for us scientists to go up. Both climbers meticulously studied drone footage and all available information beforehand. However, there still were some big unknowns, of course. Protection? The true height? How much kit to take along? And would we ‘uninitiated’ scientists be able to make the arduous trip up the ropes? Jules hiked up the opening pitch, about 5a he says. What followed was a mixture of greenish slabs and grassy ledges all around 5a/5b which mostly asked the climbers’ ‘jungle skills’. Once they reached the top and hauled all gear, food and tents to the high camp, it was our turn to do this thing called jumar. Everyone who wanted to, did it. Anyone from age thirty to sixty-four, found the strength to learn to jumar a 125m rope in a jungle, with no previous experience. What a great and exciting experience!
Now the ‘real’ work started, and we’ve spent about one weeks on top of Mount Lico…
Results are still being analysed as the expedition only finished at the end of May 2018, but so far, a new species of butterfly to science has been confirmed. We are expecting more new species (such as small mammals) but this will take a few more months.
For more images and scientific information see this article: http://julianbayliss.co.uk/lico/ and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/jun/17/the-secret-rainforest-hidden-at-the-heart-of-an-african-volcano-in-pictures
The expedition was funded by the TransGlobe Expedition Trust, Biocensus, The African Butterfly Research Institute as well as DMM Climbing and Marmot. Marmot tents were vital to the well-being of the expedition and spent shelter during hours of heavy rainfall.
Photo: (c) Jeffrey Barbee/allianceearth.org