Most tourists visiting the Reunion Island drive up the Maïdo road to take in the stunning vistas on the Mafate Cirque from its viewpoint. However, there are more fun and adventurous ways to take in the scale of the ramparts of this massive natural amphitheater and explore the various ecosystems along the volcanic slopes of the mountain, like rock climbing the Maïdo Peak or mountain biking back down to the coast.
“Argh, my left foot is blocked in that crack!” I exclaim in annoyance while I am twisting my foot in an unnatural way in an attempt to pull it out. With my weight on my right foot that is resting on a 2 centimeter-wide ledge in the smooth volcanic rock and no idea where to find a decent hold for my hand for my next move I feel the adrenaline rushing through my body. About 1,000 meters below my feet the Mafate Cirque spreads in a splendid greenery brutally shaped by erosion. Some islets – isolated hamlets and villages – are scattered with a few red rooftops giving color contrast and sense of scale.
Bad sign: my right leg starts shaking… I find a hold and pull on my arms strongly to forcefully get my left leg out of the crack to the next tiny ledge. My rock climbing shoes have as much grip as they lack comfort (meaning that it feels like I could just walk on a smooth vertical wall!). I am learning to trust my feet and to push myself up using the smallest hold on the rock. I am breathing fast and not only because it is physical but mostly due to the fact that I am impressed by the shear drop below me. I make progress slowly, testing every hold as the volcanic rocks can be tricky and stay in one’s hand. I push further until I eventually reach our mountain guide Olivier who is waiting for me on a safe ledge and who has been showing me the way and securing me. I unhook my cow tail from my harness and secure myself to the rebelay before I take a deep breath.
“Was this the most difficult stretch?” I hopefully ask Olivier. With his military rescue professional background having spent most of his life in the mountains of the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Reunion Island, and with his prestigious mountain guide certification, Olivier conveys confidence and he immediately reassures me. He calmly explains what to do on the next and last stretch of this 200-meter vertical climb and how to approach the fragile summit of the sled-standing Maïdo Peak. “When you arrive at the stones with the red color, you don’t walk on the ridge, but you horseback ride it” Olivier explains with his French accent. I have a hard time picturing the situation but as soon as my head reaches the ridge line leading to the summit I understand: the narrow 15-centimeter path is unstable. In an awkward way I throw my right leg above the ridge, and start riding it until I can stand up on a wider platform. With my toes very uncomfortably cramped in my climbing shoes I stumble the last few meters to the top at 2,205 meters.
All along today’s climbs and abseils, we have been enjoying breath-taking views on the Mafate Cirque with its peaks, ramparts and islets. Here, all the way up the Maïdo Peak, we have just reached a climax with a 360-degree panorama on the isolated Cirque, only reachable on foot or by helicopter. The adrenaline rush and efforts required to conquer this summit gives us a better idea of the scale of this natural wonder – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – forged only 3 million years ago by the collapse of the Piton des Neiges volcano.
A few people are yelling and waving at us from the viewpoint, taking photos of the three rock climbers dominating the Cirque of Mafate, a rare sight as summiting the free standing peak remains a secret adventure on the intense Reunion Island.
Claire & Marcella
- No previous rock climbing experience is needed to summit the Maïdo Peak. Two ways are possible to get to the summit: the relatively easy one accessible to all, and the more demanding one with a 6a+ difficulty to pass that can be lowered to 5c thanks to a few ladders.
- For non rock climbers, these scales grade the toughest passage along a climb and start at 3a to end at 9c+ with 3 letters (a, b, c) and a “+” that can be added to denote the difficulty. To get an equivalent gradation based on where you are from, refer to this website.
- To live this rock climbing adventure for which you need a mountain guide, get in touch with Adventures Reunion. FYI, text and photos in this article are based on the demanding route.
- To fully rest before and relax after this adrenaline-packed adventure, we recommend you to stay at the LUX Saint Gilles, the only 5-star hotel of the Reunion Island located at the foot of the road to the Maïdo.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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