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.
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!