Table Mountain – Taking the lead on the Ladder

I started because I’d promised. As I got higher, I felt happier. One cam was not well placed, so I followed up with a very reliable sling. That gave me confidence to climb away from the mountain, using better technique. It felt good leading and I had lots of support. Even on the ledge, I knew what to do to anchor myself safely.

Once you sit down though, you should not lose focus! I attached my belay device and shouted ‘Climb when ready’ before I’d pulled up the rope! Another rookie mistake… I left my nut picker behind!

The rest of the climb was blissful. Lovely ears and chicken heads to grab along the way… So many possible feet!

If you had to ask me now, where the placements were on the 2nd pitch… I’d have to admit to failing the ‘observe everything’ test because I did the bare minimum of what’s needed when you follow.


Although this has nothing to do with climbing, it does have everything to do with the extent to which I believe I deserve to give myself permission for adventure: While climbing this 5 star ‘pathway to divinity’, I decided that – life is enough of a challenge as it is, there’s no need for me to be my own worst enemy. That’s the benefit of spending time on the mountain your mind moves away from solving the past and you’re forced to let go of whatever is in the way of you shifting into just ‘being’.

Table Mountain – Courage not Comfort

On my way to the cable car I was already at ‘minus 6 points’ on the climbing excuses penalty system… thinking of all the good reasons why I deserved to climb something easy that day!

Abseiling dual highway style
Abseiling dual highway style

So this time there were only two of us doing Roulette. I was less good than usual at stealing beta because I take my belaying responsibility very seriously. Although Riaan basically gave me the dummy’s guide to the traverse… I was still over-thinking it and exhausted my arms just before the high ledge. For some reason I couldn’t get the finger strength to release the cam properly, possibly trying to pull it out before camming it as far as I could. I fell once and then spent a fair deal of time resting on the foot triangle just below the two crimps. This is progress because I never used to return to a resting spot when I felt I was reaching my limit… today I did and it makes all the difference! Eventually we agreed that I’d just unclip and Riaan would do Roulette backwards in order to clean up my mess!

Little did I realise that the courage part of the climb was yet to begin! Riaan swung / flew up the arch using laybacks and a hand jam above the horn in order to rest. I followed and forgot that a layback works on the principle of applying more pressure to your hand hold by pushing your feet in the opposite direction. This is worth mentioning because that mistake caused me to re-climb the arch four times! In between each climb I had the most challenging experience I have ever dealt with…. Hanging in mid air, 1 metre above and 1 metre away from the ledge. There was only one way to get back on the mountain. I’d have to be lowered to exactly the right spot where I could swing myself to the ledge and hold on with my toes! Thank God for walkie-talkies! I basically gave instructions in centimetres. Because too much slack could have forced me to climb the rope. Too little and I was stuck in mid air. The belaying was superb and despite my anxiety all responses were very calm, which made a huge difference to my state of mind.

The guys on Jacob’s looked nervous on my behalf!

At one point when I was so wasted I just wanted to give up… I checked with Riaan if there was another way of getting home without having to climb again.

Climbing is always the solution to the problem, I should know that by now. Anton offered to come down and help me but they suggested I give it one more go and they’d pull me up (God knows how).

Well let’s just say the pulley system worked like a bomb. I have seldom moved that fast on a crag. I’m not sure if the climbers on Jacob’s knew about my heavenly assistance but they were super impressed at the speed at which I finally got out of there… Not to mention the sudden lack of swearing! Actually, I recall confirming my unwavering belief that there is, in fact a God.

Coming out of the abyss
Climbing out of the abyss

Next time I’ve made some progress on that arch, I’ll use a sling to keep me close to the crag if I need a bit of recovery time… That would’ve saved my arms from the full run-through each time I ran out of finger strength!

I was finished and was finishing on Jacob’s.
My hands were bleeding a bit and my body was tremouring from the physical as well as mental stress. My breathing sounded like that of someone reaching the end of the Comrades!

The after taste of bravery
The after-taste of bravery

The benefit of doing that climb was learning that when you’re up against a monumental challenge, calm breathing is essential; when you think you’re alone, you just need to ask for help and although you think comfort is the thing that you need… turns out it’s courage that’s required in order to reach the sustainable path out of discomfort! Things that felt unbearable before the climb have faded into insignificance because now I have perspective… Comfort is such a relative concept!

Fader’s Frontal – there’s nowhere to hide

Have you ever had those days when the warrior in you goes AWOL? It must be a Mother’s Day weekend because I have been beyond lazy!

I lent hard on my climbing team for motivation to climb. Fortunately climbing is not about you and regardless of how hard it is to get started when all you want to do is loaf… even if you begin because of your team… eventually you realise it’s always nourishing!

Fader's Frontal - fully exposed
Fader’s Frontal – fully exposed

We started on Fraser’s, one of the prettiest climbs on the Lower Buttress. I was blessed to spend time with a super experienced tradder who is very generous with sharing lessons about safety and discipline and shows by example how to maximise the enjoyment one gets from climbing!

Luckily for me the gale force kept us on the protected left side of the Lower Buttress. I was satisfied after one climb but Anton managed to find a protected area that wouldn’t scare me off (which wasn’t hard that day) and so I followed on Fader’s Frontal. The start is interesting, as it has a few tiny overhang, ledge and arete challenges to solve… they were enough to expose the problem I was having with engaging my mental strength for the day.

Just like life, when it comes to climbing, whether you follow or lead… it demands that you find the leader in yourself. I could spend my life looking towards others to help me with my life choices… but that’s the lazy route that isn’t sustainable… climbing forces you to solve your own problems with your own God-given strengths. Something which mere mortals like myself, often like to escape from or shift onto others.

It’s not helpful to one’s team if you say that you’re struggling but there are days when that’s the only way you can get past it… I think the key thing is that it shouldn’t be like that EVERY climbing day, sometimes I need to be the strong one! Once it’s exposed you can let it go. I stopped fading as I got higher on Fader’s… even the vegetation became tolerable… smearing on the crag became safer than risking loose sandy sections.

I learnt a lot. When you’re feeling small, focus and attentive listening becomes your oxygen! The difference between your climbing partner telling you to unclip or untie is massive and so are the consequences of not listening properly! You completely get the reason for the compulsory habit of buddy checks and only starting to climb when the command arrives. When you think you’re not a warrior, it’s the training in the art of war that keeps you and others going!

Pleasure... courtesy Fraser's
Pleasure and a smile… courtesy Fraser’s

While we watched the tahrs, their naturally peroxided hair blowing in the wind… the rest of our climbing group were testing their own edges re technique on ‘Manoeuvers by Moonlight’, with a BF roof section and traverses that seemed to never end!

Tahr not unlike a wild goat [source: wikipedia]
Tahr not unlike a wild goat [source: wikipedia]

Hellfire – where time stops

A pair of Witkruis (Verraux) eagles set the tone for a morning of magnificence at Du Toit’s Kloof! Those majestic hanggliders catch my heart and make it soar for at least a week! Swear words of admiration come to mind when I’m in their presence… and I feel like I can see more clearly.

Hellfire was shining because of the soaking it had had after the past few weeks.

I was so busy smelling the roses… I lost the rest of my group on the walk in! Mmmm, that’s a first… even for me. Fortunately there’s cell phone coverage and I soon found my way to Burn Out Wall where I followed on the first pitch.

We went left on the ledge past some gaping gaps (I reeled when I noticed how far the stones I kicked were falling) until the corner crack, which is right next to ‘Fallen Angel’. I felt somewhat godforsaken just looking at it.

Cracking up in Hell
Cracking up in Hell

Apparently after the awe-inspiring experience of witnessing those birds of prey, I was about to be cast out of heaven! The idea of a 4m crack surrounded by nothing but glassy crag made me start imagining my Lego arms popping out of their sockets.

While belaying Anton who lead it superbly, I also realised that hot Hellfire can become Arctic-shiver-to-the-bone wind tunnel, depending on where you perch! 5 metres away Riaan was basking in the heat like a lazy dassie.

Anton leading next to Fallen Angel
Anton leading on Burning Ambition
Seeing a ghost
Seeing a ghost

It’s amazing how good I am at memorising beta when my life depends on it! My arms and legs were shaking by the time I got to the ledge and my frightened eyes didn’t really help to encourage my ascent. Things improved once I was reminded to breathe normally and there were actually footholds on the crag!

Some useful beta instructions came from up high and helped me find a useful undercling that offered a welcome end to my efforts for the day.

Anton was determined to lead ‘Burn Out’. I was surveying this courageous testing of limits from a massive boulder nearby.  My son calls Anton, Deadpool, the Marvel hero who is known for his physical prowess and self-healing powers. Spare a thought for his fabulous family members who’ve seen him recover from a serious climbing accident and supported him in his return to this sport that he loves so much.


Burn Out doesn't disappoint
Burn Out doesn’t disappoint

I could see the gifts that persevering through the recovery years must have afforded Anton, as he painstakingly lead Burn Out… which just doesn’t let out! He accomplished it, one arm breaking protection point at a time and I realised that that’s what it takes to face one’s fears. Not considering giving up and doing it regardless of how long it takes.

Riaan followed in record time. I think he realised our planned time of departure was getting close and thought… ‘why not waste myself and make up lost time?’ Anyway, I was still the last to complete the walk out.

As I left the sparkling river and confused swallows, I realised once again that mountains reset my mind. Not even the traffic jam could phase me.