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The School of Rock

  • Grade context: FR

Summary

The School of Rock and Crags Beyond

Description

Solid rock surfaces on interesting cliffs and buttresses; this is where to go for the technical climbing. As a bonus, it’s also scenic, shaded, and a relatively short hike from the car. The area gets its name from the fact that students and other new climbers form the American school in Tunis were often brought here for an introduction to the sport (2004-2008).

A nice feature of the School of Rock is that many of the routes remain shaded throughout the day. This makes it a comfortable place to climb even during a scorcher.

If you already have some experience, the climbing here is easy to moderate...but also adventurous. Be prepared for loose rock and some dodgy pro. Much of the limestone is consolidated and strong, but some of it can be as chossy as a moldy stack of crackers.

The routes in this region are single pitched and typically rigged for top roping. Most are protected with the help of natural anchor points found on top of the buttresses and the surrounding crags. Many can be secured with a couple of long (3 meter) slings looped over massive knobs, ‘chicken heads’ and boulders.

On trad routes, choose gear placements carefully to avoid having them plucked during a zipper. For all the routes described, a relatively light rack will suffice, including a good range of stoppers, a handful of spring loaded camming devices, and maybe a few hexes and tri-cams.

A helmet for the belayer is strongly recommended! Loose stones abound and the route called ‘Death Star’ was named for a chunk of falling rock that Christian Hettick was able to dodge as he faithfully belayed his partner (2005).

Clustered here and continuing up toward the summit of Ressas, the main climbing crags include: (Along with their associated routes.)

A. The Star Wars Buttress (Death Star, X-Wing, Red-Five Standing By, Jedi Mind Trick)

B. The Middle Buttress (Launch Pad, Crack-a-Lackin', Hyperdrive)

C. The Right Wall (Pilgrim's Progress - Pitches 1,2, and 3)

D. The Next Crag (Shakin'-Flake)

E. The Terminator Buttress (Schism, The Headwall, Side Winder, Heart of Darkness)

Access issues inherited from Djebel Ressas

Regional Status:
Most of Djebel Ressas is now an excellent setting for a day of rewarding outdoor activity. But the site hasn’t been developed in any formal sense as a recreational objective. Perhaps that’s partly due to its official status as a “nature preserve”. Just as likely, though, it’s because there hasn't been much of a demand for that kind of development in Tunisia. Ressas is a bit off the beaten path, and most folks prefer to spend their leisure time nearer the beaches or in other venues. At this writing there are no maintained hiking trails, trail markers, or service facilities at the mountain. Images viewed on Google Earth™ give some idea of the approaches and the general landscape.
Access:
Until January of 2007 hikers at Djebel Ressas could come and go as they pleased. That winter, however, stricter regulations were established following a brief police action against fundamental Islamic insurgents hiding in the surrounding region. Since then, permission is needed in order to explore the mountain legally. This can be arranged by checking in at a national guard station in the nearby village of Mornag and receiving a permit. Later, you might be required to present the permit to an officer waiting at the base of the mountain.

If you don’t mind flying under the radar, an unofficial approach would be to arrive early enough in the morning (say before 8:00 am) to reach the trailhead before the officer, thereby avoiding the annoying detail of acquiring and presenting a permit.

It may be possible to arrange for permission in advance by contacting the regional security officer at your country’s embassy in Tunis. I do this when I’m scheduling a group excursion to the mountain, just to avoid any hassles. You’ll be asked to provide basic information about your trip such as the date, number of your party, names of participants, and a brief itinerary outlining your plans. Working with the U.S. embassy, it usually takes me from one to two weeks to secure a permit in this way.

Ethic inherited from Djebel Ressas

Guidelines

The development of climbing at Djebel Ressas has been gradual and sporadic. In the absence of an active climbing community no rules have been established beyond those personally dictated by good form, common sense, and respect for the local herdsmen who graciously allow access to what is essentially their backyard. While sport climbing has taken hold on Djebel Zaghoan to the south, the climbing on Ressas has remained traditional. Some old isolated bolts can be found on the higher cliffs, but no bolted routes had been established at the time of this writing.

Grades:
The ratings indicated for these climbs are tentative and have only been backed up by a very small handful of experienced climbers. Besides, the folks I partner with aren’t much concerned about that side of the business, anyway. As long as you’re climbing with pals, and the rock is fun and safe, it’s all good.
Future Development:
The projects described here are just a fraction of what could be done, and there’s plenty of potential for new developments. Undoubtedly, stronger climbers will put up higher caliber routes in the future.

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