Buoyant on Burn Out

Hellfire seemed like a good option, given that the Sou’Easter was rebuffing even the most Gung-Ho climbers’ Table Mountain plans! Unfortunately the Du Toit’s Kloof also had ominous clouds threatening from all sides.

My mind was racing through potential hazards… today there were only two of us; so if there was an emergency that involved Riaan, the buck would stop with me.

After a flippant ‘perhaps the weather will be better in Montagu’; I realised that today was the day for me to learn to manage my mindset. The wind might howl but it wasn’t that windy yet! After silently going through a few of the emergency procedures that I know; I resolved that I am resourceful enough to deal with whatever comes our way.

Hellfire… where spirits soar!

We were rewarded by a bird of prey soaring above the glorious red crag – majestic wings, stretching out its sovereignty. By the time we reached the base of Burn Out, my anxious chatter subsided. Riaan’s cams were already jangling and the rope was flaked, while I was still wondering whether my makeshift water-bottle was going to misbehave (and act like an unwanted, 1 litre-heavy, rudder gone haywire) on that roof that prefers light bottoms!

Riaan is your ‘go-to’ guy if you’re looking for someone who knows how to navigate Burn Out without burning out! Stealth feet tiptoeing up vertical lines, thanks to a solid layback; clever stemming and ‘popping up’ (aka relying on brute arm strength) on precious little – all made it look like a well-rehearsed martial arts performance.

Current video on Instagram ‘Gale force South Easter’  @kragaapindiebos

I was more relaxed than usual on the first pitch; finding good feet and the just-in-time advice about laybacks and space provision for matching, helped me relish the journey to the ledge.

I knew that I would have to dig deep for the sustained, slightly overhanging pitch two today: I was not in showroom condition and I didn’t have my usual team standing nearby, to clean and back me up when I faltered. Now was not the time to be selfish… Riaan had to lead this unrelenting and jug sparse crag! I put on my wind-cheater; hoping our leader would make it to the top, despite the speed of the heavy clouds moving overhead (14m per second by now).

 The start was super tricky with a high left foot and a weird outward compression side-pull for the right hand.  Riaan managed to stand while sliding a shoulder up until he could get the solid right foot. A rock broke off and hurtled passed me… Who said that mountains don’t move? Hopefully this wasn’t a sign of things to come?

It was all about feet until he got to an intermediate sloper and had to smeer and bounce up with a fair amount of arm power. I watched Riaan jamming his feet in narrow shafts; as if it was the most straightforward thing to do. He didn’t hang around to rest until after that bunched up, high leg, ninja traverse.

In order to approach the crux he said he did a fingerlock (I have not yet  been able to conjure up enough faith in the idea that two digits jammed and then twisted in a sharp crack, can support one’s weight without finger casualties)! Then he basically pulled up the crux on arms alone and a little smearing.

Riaan sailed over that glorious roof and involuntarily waved a wind-breaker flag… the howling gale grabbed it and made ripping noises which assisted in accelerating my, ‘Louise is climbing‘, response.

Riaan conducting from up high [photo courtesy Anton from previous trip]

Today, I would not allow myself to get Burnt Out and I would believe I could make it.

I learnt how to toe jam but not enough and committed the cardinal sin of cam-assisted recovery.  I also ‘took’ on the crux while cursing the inhospitable and distracting wind.  I did eventually manage the crux, after doubting myself (matching on a pinch is not something I do often and I struggled to believe it could help me hoist my cam-laden hips over that bulge). Riaan explained that all I had to do, was find the miniature crimp at 11 o’clock and then smearing would work!

I looked out at the beauty of Hellfire as I psyched myself up for the roof. The roof was a close call… I refused to drop the limbs that were sending me in the wrong direction! I almost slipped. After scaling the roof on a thread of remaining strength, I had to accept that not ‘letting go’ of things that weigh you down and provide a false sense of safety, can be the difference between maintaining balance and a dangerous fall!

The word ‘brimstone’ is derived from burning stone and it also means butterfly… perhaps it takes fire and brimstone to bring about a positive metamorphosis. Seeing how one behaves in desperate situations can be humbling and uncomfortable to witness but knowledge of that part of you, allows you to transform. Desperation also brings out the grit and the magician in one and once you accept that that is part of you… the sky is the limit!

Aiming high [photo that Anton took while providing moral support during a previous visit to Hellfire]

I left the gusty mountain vowing to train harder, hone my skills and determined to improve.

Riaan suggested we abseil down Burning Ambition and then we spelunked our way down a tunnel. Riaan warned me to step over invisible holes that led to darker cavities below us. I slid down slowly, ensuring I had enough control to land on solid footholds. The sun broke through, flooding me with a heavenly welcome and renewed confidence.

Light at the end of the tunnel [Anton with us in spirit, as this is his photo from when they discovered the tunnel]

The fallen rock had smashed into Riaan’s still-intact Black Diamond backpack… mine had a ladybug hitching a ride on it! I was grateful for these signs of good fortune that flew in the face of my usual forboding.

Bosun’s crucible delivers white gold

Showing the way through the roof [Photo: Zane]

Anton made his way through the Double Direct roof as if it was a jungle gym… starting the day with an immediate crux that is certain to leave you warmed up and inspiring Julie to do the same!

As I clung onto the undercling (as if my life depended on it alone) and prepared for the high foot above the roof… Julie gently reminded me that inevitably, I’d have to move my arms up too.

Kate’s Touch and Go [Photo: Anton]

Kate was keen to be training again. Incredible that there were two thirds female climbers on this wall! The women who were there with me, all had this sovereign clarity that announces itself without introductions.

Survived the ‘warm-up’ [Photo: Anton]

What bliss to pull up onto that ledge and know that the roof was behind me… little did I know that I would spend ages unsuccessfully trying to dislodge a cam from Magnetic Wall. That too was surmountable for Anton… after having lead Magnetic, without so much as a ‘watch me’; Anton patiently and without resentment returned on top-rope to clean up what I could not!

Unfortunately as Anton made his way up a very sketchy Quake the toprope got caught on a few too many horns, one of which was out of sight.  Eventually, Anton had to climb past in order to unhook from above! My heart was in my mouth calculating the drop and not being able to visualise the trajectory of the swing.

Brian was on Farewell to Arms and showed what is possible with determination and perserverance. What a styling ascent of that roof designed for leaders with unwavering belief in self!

Brian on Farewell to Arms [Photo: Anton]

Next up was Margo and her peaceful way of dancing through what could’ve been a curse-a-minute climb!

Margo in her element [Photo: Anton]

It was a happy reunion when Margo topped out!

Magical Moment [Photo: Anton]

Would I make it through another climb? Claire was leading the whole of Jacob’s, determined to achieve this beautiful goal she had set for herself. She was also blessed with Hugh in the wings, a patient and extremely observant climber, who does not miss a beat! So, I was needed for the second climb.

Mercifully, Cable Way crag was most convenient and yet I found that traverse difficult to hang onto with straight arms! Anton had sailed along, jamming and relying on good legs… while I was determined to squeeze the rock and stay as close as possible to solidity.

Turning out towards the exposed view from Bosun’s chair was inevitable and my emotions went full circle… recovering as I sat still and focussed enough to spot a white feather catching an updraft. Next, I heard the familiar clink of Anton’s cams above the roof and the Swifts cutting through air like they wanted to rip up my fear.

Anton had coiled the rope over chicken heads, like only a master rope manager could and I simply had to work from right to left… beautiful predictability with a turquoise view of beaches; rivalled only by Seychelles (because of its warm welcome).

Alchemy approaching [Photo: Anton]

The monster crocodile rock formation to the right of the crag, dwarfed Lion’s Head. Our rope-code comms (due to limited audio because of the cavity within which I was perched) was foolproof and I knew exactly what was being signalled. ‘Climbing’ I called and everything started to flow… even the chimney was possible without beta, despite the fact that I did it the hard way and not by stemming the way Anton had.

Mindset is everything; as well as reminding one’s self that you are safe – instead of continuously anticipating all sorts of unlikely and imaginary pain.

Can you be consistently persistent and rest, when necessary, instead of quit? Can you focus on the next step that you know you can and must take?

The day ended with unexpected and hugely appreciated clarity… once again Bosun’s chair highlights what really matters!

Peace at the Table

Turbo drive kicked in as I realised that I was late for the cable car. The staff sensed my panic and ushered me past the ‘tourist-happy’ gridlock.

I prayed for wisdom and the mountain offered spicy-brown Sage – intoxicating and bursting with healing properties!

We had a plane to catch, so headed straight for one of the most attractive climbs on the mountain… Jacob’s… the answer to my second prayer! Marele and Riaan were nearby on Roulette and I watched in awe as Riaan skipped along that traverse as if he was inserting cams from a freeway! Marele followed without so much as a grunt.

Cushioned by clouds [Photo: Anton]

Anton was leading with a deadline but this seemed to be business-as-usual and didn’t stop him from taking time to record Marele’s courage on Roulette. I on the other hand was having to relearn how to get over an overhang while ‘don’t-waste-time’ was on repeat in my brain. We were so fortunate to be following hard-earned experience – Claire was taking special care to observe every detail of Anton’s lead and Anton was being super thorough.

Leading to beat ‘Take Off’

Anton’s ease was infectious and soon Claire and I were lost in the joy of climbing and miles away from unnecessary stress. I also noticed an incrementally positive relationship between Claire’s happiness (and this climbing friend of mine is a remarkably joyful soul on any given day) and her altitude.

Joy Squared [Photo: Anton]

Riaan and Marele were wondering what’s next despite completing a grueling Roulette.

Post Roulette Smiles [Photo: Anton]

While my team headed off to The Dream. I opted for some Rest-and-Relaxation in the Cable Car queue.

A girl that was part of a school tour returned the cash that I’d absent-mindedly dropped. So honest and this might have been more money than she’d ever held… teaching me that a tiny unexpected action can grab a heart and make it sing again!

Technicoloured climbing [Photo: Anton]

While Marele ascended the Dream, she reminded me of the Painted Lady flower we’d brushed past: beautiful; completely in her element and with a strength of character that  didn’t need words.

I was chilling at the turnstiles, a human placeholder for our team – chatting to the cable car attendant who had a UWC degree; spoke French but couldn’t afford takkies to hike up Table Mountain.

Happiness Is… [Photo: Anton]

While my team took on the windy conditions, I couldn’t help being amused by the way the couple in front of me in the queue were rowdily seeing to their teeny-boppers’ narcissistic needs. The wife mentioned to her husband that his incessant moaning about the ‘no dogs rule’ was ruining my good karma – I didn’t mind, I was content with watching the abundance of free imported entertainment that was bustling around me.

The weather changed to overcast, in a flash!

It was almost time to go home but there’s always time for photo opportunities!

Sandwiched between bliss [Photo: Anton]

Table Mountain has a way of restoring those who have the priviledge of sharing the spirit of this rock. My wish is that I nurture a mindset that ensures I know I can complete whatever climb life throws in my path.

Rockstars [Photo: Anton]

Guardian angels on Boltergeist

Guardian angel watching over us [Photo: Anton]

The South Easter was blowing but it was a glorious sunny day and we were sure that the weather would improve. We started on our way to the Lower Buttress but Simon and his friend, inspired us to hike up to Fountain Ledge in the hope of the cable car opening later.

To cut a long story short; I’m super unfit. Riaan and Anton sprinted to the start of Finale, burdened with full trad racks; while I panted and stumbled through the scrambles with my handbag-sized pack.

The only way I managed to make it to the base of that beautiful white crag was to promise myself that the walk-in would be my training for the day and there’d be no need to climb.

Broad shoulders – enough determination for a whole team

Anton and Riaan were convinced I’d cope with the route though and once I saw the straight-up face; I was in awe of the beauty and magnificence of the rock. It captured my interest in the same way La Vida did.

The first few metres did not offer easy gear options to Riaan but looked relatively climbable.

Leading in paradise

When Riaan curses then you know it’s a bloody hard lead. Well, he was half way through that ‘shrinky-dink’ rail and standing on a fraction of his toe, on the only pebble in a 2 metre radius – when he used colourful expletives to impress on us that we should not miss that foot!

Support for Finale from the apostles! [Photo: Anton]

Anton offered to do all my cleaning so I could speed through the traverse by merely unclipping. Despite being spoilt by my climbing partners, that thin rail and the fact that I was hanging on less than fingertips resulted in an involuntary Elvis leg by the time I neared the ledge. The body releases stress through tremours, so even though I didn’t say a word (come to think of it, I possibly wasn’t even breathing); the effect of Finale was somatically visible! My thoughts were with leaders who discover (when they’re hanging by a fingerprint) that it’s definitely not a grade 18!

Preparing for the Squeeze

Riaan and Anton only just fitted on the ledge and I stood on a shoebox-sized shelf, staring out at Camp’s Bay – elated that the traverse was behind me.

The beginning of ‘Don’t Squeeze I’ll Laugh’ is daunting for a leader! There’s a bouldery layback and then a side-pull with a reach that offers good hands but only smearing until you get to the point where you need to get your toe up to shoulder height! I watched Riaan rock his knee and then his body up onto the shelf… it looked completely do-able.

Riaan’s arms lead the way

Well, if it wasn’t for Anton’s timely tips as I cursed my way up that short  and memorable pitch, it would’ve ended quite differently for me. It was a close call as I balanced on that flat, mini-rail and tried to lift my horizontal body by rocking my high toe forwards. The ropes in front of me tempted me to grab something solid but Anton reminded me that you never grab a rope while climbing. Thanks to his curt ‘you can do it’ – I muscled through the nightmare mantel / grovel, pushing myself to a point I never knew was possible.

Anton sailed through the route without so much as a sigh.

Don’t squeeze or I’ll swear [Photo: Anton]

Next up was Escalator to Boltergeist. Riaan experimented with his balance on the crux, varying his position, while Anton made suggestions from below, based on a photographic memory of the rock folds.

I had the benefit of a chalk trail but still had to ‘take’ thrice. Boltergeist has a lovely hand-to-foot match where you rely on a balancing right foot on a crease that gets you to a slopey layback and freedom. Leaders must face their fears on this pitch. I had the benefit of a climbing partner on each side walking me through the moves for this crux… Boltergeist is even hard when you’re following and supported – I have huge respect for anyone that faces this route alone.

Rodeo on Boltergeist crux [Photo: Anton]

Anton had a silent and calculated way of getting through this tricky climb (that makes only the supernatural feel at home)!

What a day of climbing and my team still had energy for Roulette! I was more comfortable about walking up with 3 backpacks and a trad rack than I was to do any more climbing!

Horizon in harmony [Photo Anton]

I hiked up slowly with my heavy load… the Winter-gold Proteas, Confetti Bush and Arum Lilies seemed brighter than usual – marking my way! The  dark, glossy Sunbird’s energy was so vivid that I almost felt its joy. There was no-one to offer me help and I was determined not to stop, lest I give up. Finally I reached the final ascent and a tourist making his way down, offered to help this wild-eyed / crazy African woman (aka me), I declined because I didn’t want to inconvenience him.

Once I reached the top I had to admit that I could really use some help. The straps were cutting into me. I had a newfound appreciation for the weight of the load that trad leaders need to carry. A guardian angel called Jeremy (whom I didn’t know from a bar of soap) carried one of my bags for the last stretch and told me that hikes like this bring the best out of a person!

My team was keeping a spot for me at the cable car, they had climbed faster than I had walked! What a day; what a climb; what a mountain? There are angels everywhere.

Sultans of Hellfire

‘Pyjama bushes’ wearing pink and purple furry petals [Photo: Jeremy]

The dark and heavy clouds creeping over the mountains on the other side of the river had us wondering what we were doing at Hellfire with trad gear.

As usual we decided to do the walk-in and make a call on the weather once we could inspect the crag.

Arctic Ascent

Polar fleeces are not often spotted on lead but this one was determined to stay on because not even Burn Out was warm, to start off with, today. Riaan and Louis didn’t waste any time before introducing Jeremy to the Burn Out crag.

Anton: Hell or High Water on Burning Ambition

Anton started on relatively drizzle protected, Burning Ambition; leaving the weather call for the ledge above the first pitch. I was wearing gloves and a beanie, thinking that we can always abseil down, if this wind continues.

Bad conditions have a way of honing your attention. You know your fingers are cold and less reliable. You go slower, ensuring you find the best feet that won’t slip. Technique improves with super focus… why don’t I always climb like this?

Anton set up a top-rope for the ambitious crack, despite ominous clouds gathering in the distance. Higher up he even used the left side of the open book for his left foot and that helped to take the strain off his arms. One needs to be planning ahead to notice these things because a layback is the last place on which you want to be reconnoitering. I was grateful to be on top-rope in these freezing conditions and my blind-spot caused a fair deal of layback misery. I stopped after the traverse under the roof, pleased to discover how hanging on  straight arms, makes traverses far more manageable. Anton suggested I climb a bit higher to minimise the swing but I conjured up drizzle puddles everywhere above the roof (in my imagination) and ended up swinging back to safety without the firmness of the crag to guide me.

After that Anton did the whole of ‘Blue by you’. I tried the part below the roof and used every last ounce of strength to get to those few-and-far-between pebbles. When you manage to eak out the centimetres required to get to the next tiny but positive crease; you really start to understand the concept of barn-door potential. I felt very satisfied after I’d finished that tiny-flake vertical wall that required one to keep one’s balance above one’s feet in order to stay on. I swung back to the ledge a little sooner than I should have… another lesson in ‘it’s always better to follow your belayer’s safety instructions’!

Stemming the Hellfire – with cryptic clues

Next Riaan lead Burning Ambition after a quick coffee to recover from Burn Out. Anton basically told him to follow the chalk, in the usual abbreviated way in which they successfully communicate.

A handful of beauty – Burn Out

Jeremy showed his appreciation for this rock by the stylish way he mounted Burn Out.

Sultan on lead [Photo: Anton]

Pictures speak louder than words for the next challenge that Riaan and Anton took on. A very hard, new climb ‘ Crackwore’ which judging from the footage might be about a grade 23.

The crack that cuts like a knife [Photo: Anton]

Riaan taking advantage of a foot jam!

Wedged-in and jamming the rail crack

Streaky sandstone that looks very slippery seemed to be providing lots of satisfaction!

All that glitters is not gold – Hellfire  [Photo: Anton]

Riaan was concerned about the thin, slatey flake.

Reaching the light at the end of the tunnel [Photo: Anton]
Boys being boys, Anton and Riaan followed an eerie cave-tunnel and were rewarded with a way to spelunk to the corner crack on the second pitch.

‘The priviledged and the pilgrim’ David Whyte

We wound our way down to the road. I was feeling so happy and aware of how much I had to look forward to.

Look up, your feet will know where to go [Photo: Jeremy]

Epilogue to a memorable adventure!

Samson and the pillars of rock
Splits on caramel icing-sugar rock
Sultans of Hellfire!

A colourful band of merry men – Carpe Diem on this icy day in the Du Toit’s Kloof!

City Rock: Taking a leap of Faith

There was a great deal of excitement about a new route in the indoor climbing gym that involved a diagonal dyno. Not something I would try, if it was up to me. I realised very quickly that explaining the reason I avoid dyno’s and trying to get out of it, would put more of a spotlight on me than just trying it quickly.

Anton had a great time doing it; in fact he kept going back for more.

Anton Flying High

I didn’t even try and resist. I stood on that mantle ledge, aware of a number of onlookers. That de ja vu feeling of ‘I don’t have the strength to face this challenge’ came over me. The difference here was that I couldn’t hide or walk away without having to explain why I was being so irrational. My witnesses were completely aware that I have what it takes to complete this jump safely. With great empathy, they talked me through what was required. Somehow they must’ve sensed my lack of faith in my abilities. ‘All you need to do is lunge’. It sounded attractive but the fears of past injuries were shouting the opposite.

I took a leap of faith; aware that my fears were echos from the past and relevant to a smaller, weaker version of me. I would trust their belief in me and encourage a new mindset. I also wanted to let go of all the foreboding that came from past disappointments and to welcome more adventure and safe endings as viable scenarios.

What a scary joy… elbowing out excuses and trying something that had such an uncertain outcome.

Once again I realised that humility fosters grace…. an opportunity that eludes you if you avoid uncertainty!

Humility Personified – Jeremy

Arrow into red line overload

I decided that Bull’s Eye is drawn in red on the RD because it symbolises the danger zone… how poetic that it’s merely the solution to crossed lines!

Anton leading that renegade roof!

Top Gun’s soundtrack was on repeat in my head… Riaan pointed out the brown hawk on the other side of Africa rivine with Maverick crag and its inverted steps looming in the distance. Nature facilitates freedom… it’s all about life and space. Water is flowing down the Left Arrow buttress as if it’s a commodity in excess and the Spring Watsonias and ‘sterretjies’ are starting to emerge!

Before the highway to the Danger Zone

Riaan lead, Anton cleaned up ahead of me and I held up the rear on the 1st pitch of Bullshoot. Anton lead the final pitch and I trusted my first foot jam after a previous bad experience of not being able to retrieve my foot while falling!

Trusting that natural support

A pretty, white crag, baking in the sun and  trustworthy rails that you can get a handle on while smearing to your heart’s content!

I waited in a spiderman squat, straddling the arete on a miniature ledge; next to Anton who was on a hanging belay, with a view to die for. As Riaan followed, he was scoping out his next lead, not taking anything  for granted. Paying attention to detail is key! The walk-off alongside the ravine was beyond beautiful.

The guys became silent as they considered the journey to Bull’s Eye.

Two-finger pocket FTW!

Riaan lead that sustained crack as we held our breath!

The bold and the beautiful

Riaan scaled a beautiful crux which I decided is reserved for the Robin Hood’s of the world. Based on the volume of the grunts, Farewell to Arms is actually easier than Bull’s Eye.

Further on the edge…

Anton followed the first pitch with stylish technique.

Then the move I had not seen coming! Anton wasted no time on lead, with a solid foot jam and a horizontal push across that ceiling.

Riaan Top Gun in space

Living in techni-colour beats a life of fear any day! This is reality, if you let it in.

On the walk out, we helped dozens of lost hikers who were heading up the mountain in the late afternoon : dressed in purple slippers; uncomfortable high-heeled boots and without any water. Never a dull moment on this Wonder of the World!

A fresh start courtesy India

Birthday boy looking amped

I found myself wondering what kind of assumptions and beliefs my climbing partners’ hold; as we made our way up Table Mountain to be greeted by 6 degrees C and wind that held the potential to cancel afternoon cable car trips:

  • ‘Predictions are not the territory and need to be verified by doing a proper reccie.
  • Unless we have witnessed factual evidence to the contrary there’s always a chance to climb!
  • Waiting for ideal and comfortable conditions will be like waiting for Godot.’

I was thinking that I’d humour my team and join them for the cable car ride so that I could indulge in hot waffles at the restaurant while they climbed! As we stepped outside the cable car station we were welcomed by thick cloud and rocks that were so wet that we could see our own reflections!

That was where they drew the line. We decided to go to the lower buttress and check out the conditions below the clouds. Riaan, very timeoulsy, cashed in on his free birthday rides and was wishing he’d opted for his favourite Winter climbing destination – Hellfire.

The usual suspects re routes were sopping because of a waterfall coming down the first pitch at the Venster ledge; so we moved far left to the dry but damp-in-patches, India section.

Anton provided Riaan with some very abstract RD… ‘you go straight up and then left of that bush’. I was still thinking (which bush and how can one go straight up when there are tiny pebbles for feet and precious little place for pro): when I noticed that Anton was already a few metres up Somersault. Despite the fact that Riaan had never climbed this route before, he seemed satisfied with the abbreviated instructions! As he got going he realised just how hollow some of the sections of the route felt and I noticed him tapping the rocks and getting very creative about pro placement.

In the generous spirit of India giver

By now Anton was in 5th gear and completely out of sight but that didn’t seem to bother Riaan who likes to figure things out on his own. Anton could rather have lead this dodgy route because he was familiar with it but I had a sneaky suspicion that he gave it to Riaan as a present, to slow him down for a change and give him a brand new puzzle to solve. Well, it certainly wasn’t boring! Aimée and I remarked that Riaan’s technique of dropping all his lower body weight down to foot level below that squashed roof section…. was very clever. He managed to sit on his haunches, stomach sucked into the mountain; while placing gear in the crack around the corner.

The future is so bright…

Then as he made it past that super awkward roof, fingers jammed into a difficult-to-balance-on-crack; he was greeted by some loose blocks and flakes. We all know that the weather and the seeping water influences the rock… I imagined the rocks becoming ill-fitted puzzle pieces.

Aimée was also out of sight by now and was having the time of her life on this fridge-like surface. Anyone who can brave the Cape Town ocean on a surfboard, the way she does… would probably agree with her that this weather was quite pleasant! Riaan didn’t swear or complain… he just took his time, checked everything (making no assumptions) and used more pro than usual.

The benefit of me climbing last, was that nobody could hear me mutter! From the first few moves, my concentration was in ‘super focus’ mode! What a dodgy start, even on toprope! I tried to copy the way Riaan had done that roof but by the time I reached the crack… elegance was no longer on my radar. You have much more success if you push away and pull… climbing requires you to eject yourself from your current surroundings, if you want to make it easier to pull yourself into the place you want to be!

This steering wheel gives you wings!

Thankfully Anton waited on the corner and could witness my experience of the inverted cheesecake slice. I jammed my shoulder into the top sheltered roof-corner and thinking I was very clever stemmed my right foot onto a little crack… unfortunately it was sopping! I found the hold for my right hand but as my wet shoe smeared on the arete… it slipped! Fortunately just before that, Anton gave me the exact co-ordinates of the left horn and I was able to rely on upper body, brute force to get me onto that ledge!

I bundu-bashed through the spicy wild rosemary not wanting to get anywhere near to the edge and was quite exhilirated by the aroma therapy that the herb crushing delivered!

Well, other than my rope that had gotten hooked just before the corner and Riaan having to make himself safe in order to retrace his steps on that ledge to get rid of the slack; everything had gone swimmingly well.

What do you mean you’re not doing another climb Louise?

The rest of my team top roped Dehli Belly and Bombay Duck.

Making merry!

Riaan discovered the wet parts that were just where one least needed them… that button on the Dehli sunroof is hard enough to press in dry conditions but at least he could warn the others about it! That was his birthday present though… it looked like he’d thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

Aimée was high on tradding after too much of a break and looked like she was in seventh heaven.

As we raced down the walk out, I realised that what one believes in and assumes is the ingredients of one’s next adventure! If you merely treat that voice of fear like any other informant and choose to rely on best practices and reality; then you break free from imaginary nightmares, into the beauty of the here and now.

The waterfall coming down the right Arrow buttress was a sign of hope for this water-starved province. My simul-abseil was a highlight, followed by the singing Proteas on the walk-out!

Burn out to freedom

A proper reach

Anyone who has the impression that mountains can be conquered… learns differently at Hellfire.

The cold front had hit Cape Town and we couldn’t spot the tollgate lights until they were right in front of us. I had to pinch myself to believe Hellfire was so warm and clear! The crag had that streaky caramel look and not a breath in the air.

Clean slings

Anton lead the first pitch of Burn Out. As he put out the pro above the first roof; Riaan was explaining to me that you anchor in low and so that you don’t get yanked forward on belay. Any  tug toward the crag would result in more slack  that could cause your climber to bottom out.

Anton carefully moved feet to his previous hand holds. On the layback crack he placed some bomber gear and did a sideways step-for-change to the far left pebble.

I enjoyed the challenge until the layback crack and then fortunately Anton pointed out that without the high arete pebble for my right foot and a half way stop below my matched hands, it wouldn’t be possible to reach far left.

Riaan raced up and before I knew it he was preparing for pitch two! I felt obliged to warn my team that I wasn’t sure I’d make it… last time I did it, I promised myself I wouldn’t try it again until I was grown up.

Riaan pointing out the joys of pitch 2 (Photo: Anton)

I managed to let go of my addiction to certainty as I watched Riaan start this lead climb that showed the leader what they were in for, right from the first high foot to the dodgy  loose block move! Before you even start this climb, you know; anything might happen. As I accepted that, I realised that that may well be the answer to freedom! There’s no point trying to control the future when anything’s possible, you merely need to give it your best shot.

Riaan hopped along the tiny feet. Often he’d rely purely on arms and a few smears. With a shock, I had deja vu as I saw him do twisty foot jams and tricky beta that involved compression moves and one hand working it’s way directly above the other on a very hard to balance vertical crack.

I watched him traverse left and then scale that mother of a crux. Without missing a beat he flew over the roof using drop knees. His  limbs, all working together in rhythmic collaboration that assured his top out.

I gave the rib-high first foot one look and luckily Anton made some suggestions that got me started. To my detriment I avoided the foot jams and never found my third point of ‘unreliable’ contact. Before I knew it I was shouting ‘take’.

Riaan pointed out the side pull that, given Worcester body positioning, could have been very positive. ‘Where the hell was Worcester?’ my stressed mind was saying. Next I was swinging across the slippery crag with nothing positive to hold onto.

Hellfire profile ftw
The art of Hellfire (Photo: Anton)

Jokily and easing the angst I was feeding; Riaan suggested that Anton read a book on the ledge. ‘Can I be lowered Anton, I don’t think I can do this?’ Anton didn’t miss a beat with his firm.. ‘ the rope’s not long enough!’

Either I haven’t carried enough ovens in my life or I was having a bad day… most likely both. If you think you’re shit hot on run-out face climbs, come to Burn Out to get cut back down to size.

I swung so far away, I had to ask to use Anton’s rope in order to work my way back across that butternut skin, smooth rock. Eventually I made it to the fist jam that would help me recover my forearms and my crying fingers.

My throat was parched. Anton followed gracefully. Next up was the crouching tiger, hidden dragon… crunched-up-body, traverse-left-with-a-pointy-toe move of Riaan’s that I tried to mimic.

Riaan had marked the little left toe crease that I had to use to push myself up through the crux. By my 3rd try I was using the green cam to get myself motivated to start aiming for that high pinch… it would’ve helped (although maybe just a little) if I wasn’t confusing a pinch for a thumb lock off! I asked Riaan to take and even though Anton had a good waiting spot; I begged him to keep going so that I could ensure the blood returned to my forearms and recover my fingers which would not have got me out of a swimming pool, let alone a crag, at that point! I should’ve anchored myself in but I’d reached that stage of a climb when you realise that if you’re not selfish, your mind will turn against you (which is even worse for the team).

You cannot breakthrough if you’re controlled by your fear. When you’re desperate, you become very crafty… I spotted a slightly elevated rock that I hadn’t noticed before and which was set back a bit in the cavity. It gave me the centimeter I needed to reach the miniature crux crimp that was on the horizontal surface beyond the sloper that had kept me entertained for so long. I pulled my whole body up using that right hand and thanked God I’d made it to the ledge below the roof. Now I could rest my brain and wait for Anton who would talk me through the roof.

What a relief! When Anton scaled the crux, he must’ve thought I was celebrating because I was doing my spiritual healer cum toy-toy ritual to recover my arms.

After some much needed water; the roof (which I dreaded more than anything else) was a cinch because I was not on the sharp end of the rope and I knew that soon I’d be able to relax.

Pulling through the roof with a view (Photo: Anton)

When your climbing partners have high expectations of you and don’t loose faith in you, even when you do…. you find the strength to do what you thought was impossible! The beauty of freedom is not knowing what will happen and managing to pull through .

The river runs through it

The wind was picking up a little and I was happy that I was too tired to even contemplate more climbing.

Five Frenchmen arrived just as Riaan did the first pitch of Burnout (because who wouldn’t want to do it for a second time, right)!

Balancing the Burn Out

Riaan took a fall on lead as he swung across to the far left. His matched hands slipped, and were carrying all his body weight… luckily, he saw it coming, fell well and there was a large cavity below.

Riaan and Anton still had energy for Burning Ambition and I offered to show the French climbers the way. They laughed at me when I asked if they first needed to warm up… had I not noticed the hectic walk in?

Then I showed them the Wall of flames sport section. I couldn’t resist telling these visitors to keep an eye out for the local leopard… their reactions did not disappoint!

As we raced back to the cars…. my mind wondered. Your fears come out on Burn Out and then you get to the point where they no longer matter, as long as you haven’t given up! Approval is irrelevant as survival instincts kick in. The self-satisfaction of knowing you dug deep and didn’t give up in the face of hardship must be one of the most empowering feelings… what more can you attempt with support in the wings?

Black geckos matched the charcoal encrusted trees. Little flowers were popping up everywhere.


Jacob’s tree – bearing golden nuggets

Written by Anton

[Also, take a moment to read and learn from Hugh’s accident report below]

Standing at the base of Jacob’s Ladder with a razor sharp saw in my hand, about to do some tree cutting and tidying up. Louise is sorting ropes; a climber is heading for Jeopardy via Jacob’s and is complaining how wet and cold the rock is. How did we get here?

Tired remains – ‘stripped of bark’ from being step to the ladder

Last Saturday Hugh, Jeremy and myself met at the cable car. Weather was perfect, sun was rising and the area warming up. As per usual we discussed what to climb… some options. The start was agreed. La Vida first 2 pitches then we move to Fountain ledge with all its options. Up we go in the cable car and on the top a very different climate. Windy and cold. Quick review: we will go down and make the call. The call was La Vida as discussed. I lead the first 2 pitches, Willis and Jeremy follow. The wind was gusty and cold, rock was bearable, not too cold. We all went up to the Cobblestone Gendarme traverse, wind was strong and freezing. Quick review of where to go once again.  Discussion. ‘Let’s get onto Jacob’s out of the wind.’ Off we go.

At the base of Jacob’s Ladder we sort out gear and the ropes. As per usual we are having our discussion about the world and all its problems. Willis gets me on belay and I have all the gear. At that point I asked Jeremy for my wind jacket incase I am cold on the hanging belay. Willis then secures himself to the tree for an upward pull, should I come off. The tree is synonymous  with the start of Jacob’s.

Off I go; using the tree, to step up to the start, no gear placed. The tree has had its fair share of wear and tear from hundreds of climbers using it as a step ladder to and onto Jacob’s. I step up off the ledge, left hand not quite holding me, left  and right foot on narrow slopey damp rock. I move my right hand to get to a good pinch. At that point, my right foot slips and I go backwards (left hand not holding onto the rock). I land square on the tree with my bum just above the Y split. The tree breaks below the Y split  and I fall onto the ground from where I started. My right shoulder in line with the edge of the starting point. From there down is a 15 m drop.

The tree breaks and also tells a story of ‘long term human impact’

My belayer had tied into the tree branch. His point where the sling was secured was on the part of the tree that broke off. Had I gone all the way down he would have joined me. Foot note is: classic errors made on a regular basis.

  1. I should have placed my first piece prior to stepping off the ledge.
  2. Belayer tie to the base of the tree and a second piece of gear out for the upward protection.

So that is why I had the saw and was cleaning up. The rock was a lot wetter than the previous week and got colder the higher you went. A good exercise  to climb with care and watching my every move to avoid a repeat and place sufficient gear.

Buffy on an ice cold crag [photo: Anton]
The coffee was a good reward at the end of the climb.

Defrosting [photo: Louis]

Accident Report by Hugh:

Why ‘when shit hits the fan’ is not a carte blanche for preventable accidents?

In choosing our sports we (given our general ages), know the consequences of accidents .

Taking into account the mileage we have clocked with the exception of the Lion’s Head accident, we have a pretty solid track record.

The “Tree Fall“ has got me and I’m pleased to see, all of us, thinking.

Given that the potential worst case scenario (in which case I doubt we would be writing this nor reading it) was a matter of centimetres:

We have been at that location numerous times.
We discussed on the way up to the ledge another accident (conditions!)
We sorted the ropes, I did the usual sling over the tree trunk anchor, and you were off.
The easiest part of the easiest pitch of the day.
Except, and here it becomes interesting: Accidents as we know through personal experience have the following profiles –
Those with fatalities are discussed and analysed in detail by either survivors / witnesses and those in the know, or interested parties (human nature loves the gory stories).
Then we have those with serious injuries (Lion’s Head), ditto, with the survivor adding to the eventual analysis.
Those with less serious injuries, have less analysis, along the lines that ‘shit happens” (I can guarantee that quite a few of these incidents had far more potential consequences and were most likely preventable).

We had a fall which in itself was not necessarily preventable (fortunately our guy was bruised and battered but not broken). But the really bad potential consequences were not considered. I as the belayer was responsible for this situation.
Familiarity breeds contempt. By this I mean we know that spot intimately.
The climber is going to place protection relatively soon after starting on ‘relatively’ easy climbing .
The anchor on the tree is pretty much a “gesture “ to good practice, mainly for the consequence of a fall after gear is placed, and therefore technically for an up directional pull (even a lower placed sling may not have done the job).
The failure of not considering all possibilities and adequately providing for these, was the critical issue.

‘So what?’,  you may ask?
Well, accidents we come out of unscathed are probably the best learning events we have (the airline industry lives by these events).
Similar situations (safe ledge reducing the “exposure” factor): The first pitch of Omega and the 3rd pitch of Atlantic Crag . One could even look at most of the climbs on the Bombay Duck ledge.
I know gear is scarce, time is short but….the anchor has to be right and the first protection placed as soon as reasonably possible.

Happy but safe climbing is the deal we seek !