Table Mountain Tradathon – pay it forward

Table Mountain Magic (video Riaan, poster photo Tony)

When you have to park your car at the bottom of the cableway road despite having arrived an hour before the first cable car… it’s Tradathon day. There were a number of instructors around, offering their knowledge in the form of trad workshops. Many of them and others that wanted to claim routes early, walked up India Venster.

My heart was in my mouth before we even started because let’s just say that I didn’t follow my team member’s instruction not to lift a pen the day before the Tradathon. Also, I had a sneaky suspicion that the comment about ‘today’s a good day for you to do your first trad lead’, was in fact not meant as a joke.

Riaan started so fast, on Roulette that I didn’t have a chance to back out. I’ve never seen so many ropes on the same crag. In fact just before the traverse on the first pitch, I was so close to another climber, he was practically tied in on my shoulders!

Watching the traverse being done was like a dream unfolding… that kind of grace only seems achievable in the realms of my subconscious. The highlights were the section where you fly over a footholdless gap while hanging from a ledge and when you reach for a dream in the form of a higher ledge.

It was very challenging for me and despite the ‘beginner-clutching’ that I’m capable of resorting to… It was an incredible feeling to get through the crux of that traverse. My arms had been inefficiently spent and my hands were aching, so when it came to unclipping after the crux…. I didn’t have the staying power and my hand slipped.

Merciful knee bar on Roulette (photo by Charles)
Merciful knee bar on Roulette (photo by Charles)

Fortunately the gear placements held well and I had an injury free fall.

The feeling of relief was fantastic, fuelled to a large degree by the fact that I finally had an opportunity to rest my crying limbs. After what probably felt like an age for everyone supporting me (but wasn’t noticeable to me because of their generous climbing spirit), I was ready to swing back on the crag. Trying something that stretches one’s limits is easier on Tradathon day because everyone is encouraging you in your moment of anxiety (often just by being super quiet in order for you to solve your dilemma). I never felt that I wouldn’t get up and it was mainly due to the empathy from the dozens of climbers around me that I felt calm. ‘We’ve all had that feeling and understand what you’re going through’ were the vibes permeating my mind. It would be disingenuous at this point to neglect mentioning that feeling calm doesn’t necessarily imply not swearing!

It took me ages to realize how long Anton had been hanging on the side of the crag (fortunately he’d made himself safe) and that I was also blocking the way of another climber wanting to do a different route from below. Survival instinct super-focus is a double edged sword that one must be very wary of when others are in this with you… that was enough to really motivate me to get back up. After some tricky double rope maneuvering and my team having to get very creative to help me out of the tangle… I reached the top of the first pitch with a huge sense of achievement. I finished on Jacob’s Ladder and Anton did the scoop, the way one is intended to complete Roulette. Riaan and Anton have a gift when it comes to spontaneously weaving climbs, to suit the team’s needs, in ways that many struggle to understand.

Although I’d decided I was done for the day… Everyone else hadn’t forgotten about introducing me to lead climbing. We ended up on Farewell to Arms (Jacob’s Ladder, ideal for learning was like a supermarket checkout) because it was quiet in that area and a good way to connect to an easy diagonal pitch for me to try and lead. It seemed poetic seeing as I’d pretty much be saying farewell to the idea of my arms being able to do anything for the rest of the day and that’s assuming I’d survive it! I ended up leading purely fuelled on… my team’s done so much to make it possible for me to lead, the least I can do is give it a try. They were blinded by the sun but fortunately have photographic memories because I was told exactly where to go and where the key places were for gear placement!

I received a prize at the Tradathon dinner for that lead. I think my team knew that I needed something like that… not the prize per se but it felt like a milestone that would indelibly etch the learnings of that day into my mind. Things that can be the difference between life and death : like the cam I placed that wasn’t open enough to come up against any resistance, the importance of finding space in your mind to ensure that those around you are safe the moment you’ve had an accident and the technique required to do two person belaying properly in order to minimize the risks and ensure both ropes are kept taught. The fact that I fell, following on Magnetic wall (lead superbly by Anton) and wasn’t even able to clean all my own cams, will give an indication of my level of ‘wastedness’ by the time I finished. Somehow Anton managed another Roulette and just for good measure Riaan did Roulette three times that day!

The day ended with the prizes at the Tradathon but those humble climbers who offer their knowledge and encouragement generously, regardless of recognition… they’re the reason climbing spirit lives on! Everyone in the community is indebted to climbers like that whom it’s impossible to thank appropriately, other than by paying it back by learning that humble way and sharing with others who’ll blossom from realising that with the right skills and attitude: something that seemed impossible yesterday, can in fact be done today!


Burning Out at Hellfire

A wise and slightly concerned friend of mine enquired about the motivation behind me pushing my limits.

I’m aware that I’m not immune to something many of us grapple with… trying to protect myself from the fear of being ordinary. I don’t think that’s my main motivation for doing a sport that many consider to be extreme though because I know I have friends and family who accept me just the way I am. I admit that I do struggle with self-worthiness but the allure of testing my courage is something much bigger than climbing per se… it’s not linked to grades or what others think… I hope that it’s mainly to do with me experimenting with a new way of living that involves doing more of what I love; allows me to put myself in vulnerable situations; lets me do things despite being uncertain about the outcome and dealing with the discomfort that comes from exposing my imperfections!

Hellfire Prow
Hellfire Prow

Hellfire was the only option on a wet day when water was running down every orifice in Table Mountain. Even the Du Toit’s Kloof was looking quite misty and the lazy part of me was relieved that perhaps we were just there for the walk-in workout.

The sandstone was dry though, despite the periodic mist / drizzle that was fortunately blowing away from the overhanging crag!

Riaan was awarded the dubious pleasure of leading ‘Burn Out’. The beginning was tricky but he was marking his beta very considerately, highlighting that handholds basically become footholds… so you just have to follow the chalk. He made the layback look easy and kept his eye out for the smallest pebbles that allowed for bridging and well balanced pauses.

So when he says ‘watch me’ then you must know there’s a BF crux to look forward to! Another dead give away that a climb is going to blow my mind, is when he makes an effort to place a fair amount of protective gear! We watched as he managed to find something to push his foot against and then smear / dyno to a lovely horn…

By the time I started climbing I was colder than I ever thought it was possible to be in Hellfire. Climbing with a thermal jersey is something I hardly ever do!

I remembered the advice that foot jams would be of great use, as long as you inserted your toes sideways and then twisted them back to normal! Unfortunately due to my near accident after a footjam at Trappieskop, it took me about 3 failed efforts, a ridiculously precarious effort of trying to hang on the crag while worming out of my boiling hot jersey and almost giving up, before I got the nerve to jam properly. Fortunately Anton was nearby to clean the gear that I ignored out of self-preservation and remind me that I just needed to shake out my pumped arms, give my sewing machine legs a chance to chill and then I’d be able to solve it.

The crux was enough to burn me out totally, I asked for a break and swung around helplessly looking for an easier way up or out of hell. The bullet proof advice that got me through the crux was ‘there’s only one way to do Burn Out, so stop looking for alternatives!’

The taste of relief, when I reached the overhang, was edible! I made myself comfortable on the ledge and decided to wait for Anton and the comfort that would come from having someone nearby to help me build up the courage to finish.

Watching how the final overhang was mounted, made it look like a synch: a drop knee, stand up, reach for a jug and then match left foot in order to get the left hand jug… concluded by an effortless smear and summit.

Well let’s just say, I need to practice getting comfortable with drop knees on an overhang. I opted for an uncool but comforting froggie position, straighten legs, desperately grasp for the horn while pushing myself in the opposite direction of the crag. Anyway, miraculously and just as the drizzle started making the rock feel slimy, I managed to get on top of Hellfire and enjoy the bliss that comes from experiencing and surviving it!

When self-worth is an issue in one’s life, there’s something very healing about having friends who are witnessing your journey and volunteer to teach and support you. I am extremely grateful for that. I’d like to think that my passion for climbing comes from a deep longing to test my brave heart and prove to myself that it’s unruined despite everything I’ve put it through in my life. The day ended with a leading 101 for me, in an off-width crack, just right of the Pit of Despair. A challenging long term project, to work on in my free time and look forward to!

Note: Brene Brown's research has helped me with some of the sense that has come from my reflections.