The Middle Buttress

  • Grade context: FR


This feature stands like a tall island (or row of islands) in the wide stony passage that leads up from the Star Wars Buttress to the summit. Across the scree from the starting point of X-Wing and Jedi Mind Trick, the lower base of the Middle Buttress is reached by moving uphill and to the right a dozen paces or so. Three climbs have been put up here, but only one gets much follow up use.

To access the upper reaches for setting a top rope, hike from the lower base for about 15 meters uphill along the south side of the buttress. This brings you to a divide stuffed with two, freight car-sized boulders and assorted debris. The divide separates the lowest island of the buttress from its higher neighbor to the east, and in it you’ll find a very steep passage that requires 4th class moves when accessing the top. Look for notched steps, carved into the lining walls by previous users. (At one time, someone apparently made a routine of reaching this position.)

Above the divide, move left onto the lower island and seek out a suitable anchorage depending on the route you’ll be working. For the horn above Hyperdrive, a couple of long slings will probably be enough. But for the rough open corner at the top of Launch Pad, you’ll need the kind of multi-pointed anchor system that requires knowledge and experience to build. Your gear should probably include a handful of draws and stoppers (#1-3), a couple of cams (#1-2), some slings and a long narrow gauged line for making a cordelette.

Featured routes include:

  1. Launch Pad

  2. Crack-a-Lackin'

  3. Hyperdrive

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.
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


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.

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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Grade Route

Launch Pad is a low-angled pitch suitable for beginners, partly because the route is pretty obvious and can be clearly viewed from the bottom. A shallow boulder on the ground near the base of the climb makes a fine perch for the belayer.

  1. Begin climbing at the lowest and most western point of the Middle Buttress and ascend directly up the arete, choosing from ample holds.

  2. Continue up the conspicuous ridge line to finish the pitch at a vertical wall. Construct an anchor using abundant natural pro.

FA: Jim Ryan, Christian Hettick & Jean Michelle Delmot, 2005

So far, this conspicuous crack has been a great route for falling off of. Even with a top rope, it’s still waiting for a pure ascent. For now, the anchor is the same as for Launch Pad. The belay stance, however, is about eight meters up the scree on the east (left) side of the Middle Buttress. Consequently, you’ll need to watch for dislodged rocks as the top rope drags on the unseen surface up above the climbing zone. In the future, when someone has the chance, permanent anchor bolts should probably be placed above this pitch.

  1. The climbing starts out steep and mostly straightforward. After kung·foo·fightin’ your way past an offensive bush, follow a vertical joint that might work for a lie-back higher up.

  2. The uppermost section requires unforgiving hand placements in a razor-laced crack behind a flake.

  3. Transitioning from the crack onto a ledge above is the crux. Once that’s behind you the route merges with Launch Pad for an easy finish.

This route begins on the east side of the Middle Buttress just below the entrance to the 4th class access passage described earlier. For a top rope anchor, scramble up the same access route as for Launch Pad and place slings around a prominent horn located at the top of the route.

  1. The climbing starts out moderate and becomes a bit tricky at an off-balanced face just below the top.

FA: Jim Ryan, Christian Hettick & Jean Michelle Delmot, 2006

Just upslope and east of the Middle Buttress you’ll notice an isolated, tapered gendarme that’s about 25 meters high. Tom Bloom and I put up a lone route beginning at the lowest point on tower’s northwestern base. The climbing can be unsettling as the stability of the rock surface is quite dodgy. Still, ample, solid material is available for those with the will to send it. Bring a medium range of stoppers, cams and TCUs, as well as some slings and longer draws for protection.

  1. Ascend up and left, making use of frequent holds and pockets.

  2. Checking for large hollow-sounding flakes (which may be weakly attached to the superstructure) work your way to the top of a high-up offwidth where a flake splits from the main edifice.

  3. Mantle the flake and step over the gap to an easy finish.

Avoid rapping from the chossy, fragmented horn on top in favor of spanning the deep, narrow chasm to the south and continuing with a 4th class descent along the southeastern backside of the prominence.

FA: Jim Ryan & Tom Bloom, 2007

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