Apologies for the delay on writing any blogs this year, my website has been a work in progress so here is an incredibly late blog that will be in two halves.
I wanted to write about the South African trad exchange which now seems like a distant memory from the beginning of the year. For me this has been one of two highlights of an incredibly mixed year for me. I decided to do as much route training as possible before heading but even sneaked in some January sessions at Red Wall, Gogarth. The excitement was building for heading somewhere completely new and meeting the South African team.
The hospitality and friendliness of the South African climber’s was incredible with a huge amount of organisational skills from Julia Wakeling. After skimming over the itinerary and just being psyched to go climbing for 3 weeks I completely underestimated how much we were going to be packing in, I’m also pretty certain their tactic was to wear us out with the walk ins and copious amounts of alcohol.
On arrival, and straight off the plane, myself, Pete and Mikey headed up to the majestic table mountain with Snort (one of the colourful characters of the group). Table mountain towers above Cape Town with some amazing views and impressive exposure I did my first climb of the trip weighing in at a hefty E4 it was great and just the right level after a long flight.
The next morning we got up super early to join the rest of the team at Wolfberg. On the trip over we realised that Snort had left half his climbing kit and I couldn’t find some of my trad rack which I was pretty sure I’d left safely at the climbing wall (eventually got it back). Instead of telling the real story Snort decided to concoct a ridiculous one that involved partying, drinking and orgies in the van. What’s more ridiculous is that everyone believed this story for a couple of days, when Julia brought it up on the way back to Cape Town I couldn’t stop laughing and eventually told her the truth.
To me there are so many fond memories of this trad trip; the great bbq’s, drinking wine and socialising, pancake breakfasts, incredible rock to climb on. For me the highlights include:
Climbing at Tafelberg; even with a 3 hour hike-in carrying water and suffering in the heat this crag stood out for so many reasons. Every climb was five stars, and I had a great day with my climbing partner Jimbo ticking off numerous E4’s and 5’s. The route that stands out for me here is Blue Mountain Direct which was given 25 or E5 put up by Steve Meyers and Tiny, this felt like the biggest sandbag I’ve been on. I had to dig deep and try really hard finding ways to attain the breaks on small holds and placing more cams than I needed to. But the climbing and the exposure on this route were five stars. To me it was also pretty magical bivvying out under the bright starry sky. I didn’t sleep much but for once I wasn’t complaining.
Watching Steve Mclure flash Double Jeopardy (E8) on Table Mountain, I mean we all know he’s a pretty good climber right!? It was great to see everyone get their silly side out with 80’s style themed get up. Myself, Pete and Steve decided to have a look at triple jeopardy with local heroes Jimbo and Clinton. It was pretty roasting up there and Pete and myself both fell off at varying stages on the crux. Pete gave up but I had a look at the rest of the route. I though it was hard but what is more impressive Steve went first and with some vague information he cruised up this route managing to recover and make the holds look better than they actually were.
Climbing with Snort at Yellowwood, although this was a ridiculously early start (got up at 3am) and by about 1 we were baking in the sun and I had blisters on my toes. But climbing here on one of Snort’s first ascents called Fantastic Time felt like a real adventure. The rock quality wasn’t as good but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on going to this incredible place. It was very different to most of the places we climbed at the climbing on each pitch was serious, engaging and enjoyable. I did however disappoint snort by lay backing the bit where I was told the only way to do it would be to jam.
The last part of the trip was at a place called Blouberg with another 5 hour epic walk in and bivvy overnight. I was teamed up with Richard Halsey to climb an E5 called Once in a Blue Moon (aptly named because it had taken Hector a long time to complete the route for the first ascent). To me a lot of this was now type 2 fun, I could barely put my climbing shoes on without them being painful let alone climb in them. The lunch breaks were great but I was apprehensive about climbing the crux pitch when I couldn’t stand on big footholds. I don’t know why and luckily it played into my court but I was actually in less pain standing on small holds which the crux had plenty of, with minimal gear and a couple of hard to reach bolts I found this pretty committing, maybe more like E6. I was pretty terrified of taking a big lob onto small cams but somehow I managed to make up a random sequence of moves to clip the bolt and carry on to safety, much to my relief and the climbers around us. I thought we’d been making good progress on the pitches and topped out just before sunset, but little did I know we still had the maze to come and we hit it just as it went dark. This wasn’t where you wanted to be getting lost, but there were a few of us stuck up there. We were managing to make our way down at a slow rate of progress in a group when Mikey and Garvin found us, as it turns out we weren’t even the last people. Snort was against more rescues as it would be character building to bivvy for the night at the top for anyone else who was stuck. Luckily mikey and a couple of others headed out again to gather up the stragglers. Although this was mostly type 2 fun for me with my feet being in so much pain by this point I learnt some valuable lessons and it is probably one of the days that I still remember clearly and with an element of fondness. Even the descent from blouberg the next day was a bit of a mission with some of us nearly getting very lost. We had various stories from Saffers about 12 hour walks to get to or from the crag.
It was time for some of our hosts to go their separate ways and the rest of us carried on to Waterval Boven.
For me the second half of the trip to Waterval Boven was a bit of an anticlimax, don’t get me wrong it was great fun and the climbing was good but it’s not what I would travel half way across the world for when we have such good sports climbing already in Europe. However, this is only my opinion and I have heard rave reports so don’t be put off by my thoughts. The rock quality on the classics is stunning and there are many world class lines but I was spoiled by the sublime trad climbing beforehand. I will give you my highlights of this part and if you are climbing out there hopefully some of the quality lines that Boven has to offer. The rock has a beautiful orange hue and there are some spectacular features but I feel it is a risk for any climber going here. With stories of people being robbed, held at knife point and Candice giving us her mace spray for the last few days it didn’t feel like a safe town to be in, however if you do visit the couple who run roc n rope are lovely and my recommendation would be to stay up at the beautiful tranquilitas, even though the road up is slightly sketchy the best climbing is up at this accommodation.
Luckily it was only on the penultimate day we had any incidents but it wasn’t very pleasant when Becca got bitten by dogs as we were walking out from the Restaurant crag. It was pretty nerve wracking on the drive in, there are buildings here that used to be accommodation mostly for visiting climbers but they are now abandoned and squatters from a political faction seem to have taken over. When we drove in we pretended we knew this guy to be able to climb there. Ben and Candice had to leave to get to the airport, so when a thunderstorm started brewing myself, Sophie and Becca walked out. As we approached the buildings three dogs started running out barking and baring their teeth, what is strange is that they went round myself and Sophie and started biting Becca who had been the furthest away. Luckily the guys managed to call the dogs off but not before they had done considerable damage. I’m not sure I could’ve remained as calm as Becca did, I’m pretty sure I’d have started crying if it had been me. Luckily the guys on the site were decent enough and one of them walked us to the gate to make sure we were ok, it was the first time this had happened so we decided it wasn’t worth reporting it to the police.
Urisk the Rustic Brownie – given a grade of 23 the climbing is not a walkover but it is also at an amenable grade. The best bit about this route is that it is in an exceptionally photogenic location right by the waterfall.
Freak On (24/7a) – the first route I did at Waterval Boven and what a cracker it is with some really funky moves near the top of the route.
Lotter’s Desire (27/7b+) – this has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of red/orange rock with some intricate climbing. It has a real sting in the tail.
Bikini Red (27/7b+) – another stunning line with a sting in the tail.
Snapdragon (29/7c+) – Dastardly tricky moves all over the place from start to finish, I found the mid section to be my crux with many of the holds never being quite as good as you would like them to be.
Monster (29/7c+) – one mega long pumpfest, make sure your arms are in full working order before you set off on this one. What a beauty!
Jack of all Trades (30/8a) – like its name says you really have to be good at a bit of everything for this route. It starts off pretty steady but gradually gets harder the higher you get until you’re all out fighting not to drop it at the top.
The non climbing highlight of the trip for me was heading to Kruger on Safari for a rest day after climbing at Waterval Boven, it’s something I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting South Africa. I wasn’t sure if we would spot the big five, even if we didn’t it was a great laugh heading there with Ben, Sophie and Becca. I think half the fun is looking for the animals, I don’t think I’ve concentrated on anything for that amount of time in a while. We caught a quick glimpse of a Leopard which was the most exciting but for me, I love Leopards and if I could be one animal I would like to be a Leopard for their graceful speed and agility. We saw Lion’s from a distance, plenty of Elephant’s, Giraffe’s, Hippoptamus and Zebra’s. I could’ve spent more time there, I think there is something magical about seeing creatures in their natural habitat hunting and exploring.
On my return from South Africa after an incredible trip I was riding a wave of psych; the day after I got off the plane,on a pretty cold March day, Pete robins and I headed to check out Caff’s new route Gravity Wave (E8 6c).
When we first abseiled into the route I had this feeling of being intimidated by the route with no chalk it looked impossible and scary with the sea lapping beneath us. Pete set off along the start, having been on it before with Caff he decided to check the moves out. The start looked tricky with not much gear and there is a bouldery crux in the steepest part of the route. Then it’s just a case of keeping your pump under control with shallow cam placements.
As Pete put chalk on the route it started to look more possible and I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to attempt a flash of this route. Pete stripped most of the gear except the blind wires that protect the crux (the same kit Caff had in for the first ascent) and the starting gear just before it as they would have been a nightmare to get out.
I set off along the bold starting traverse with some trepidation trying not to think about what would happen if I fell off at this point, breaking it down into baby steps in my head. I thought get to the starting gear and the pre-crux wires first, then if I feel good I should just go for it. I tugged on the wires to make sure they were seated properly and went for it. Surprisingly I made it through the crux boulder with help from Pete on the moves and I was soon into the shake out on Chicama. Ok now it was just a case of making it through some big moves on reasonable holds in steep terrain. As I moved along I placed the cams I’d been given, pulling up high to view the placements and wishing I hadn’t as they were all so shallow. all I had to do was keep breathing, stay calm and try not to question if they would hold on a fall. In a certain amount of disbelief I made it to the top and then stripped the same amount of gear for Pete to grab the 4th ascent of Caff’s new route. Did I do it in the best possible style? Absolutely not, I think I could’ve done it in better placing all the gear but I did it in a style that I felt comfortable with and placed as much of the gear as possible. Is it E8 6c? I’m not sure of the grade, some bits felt pretty out there to me and without chalk or beta I think it would’ve felt hard on the crux, but the route suited my style after the crux in that I just had to stay calm and manage any developing pump.
Part 2 of my blog to follow soon……….