Hellfire – Finding my Feet

There’s new life bursting through fire damage in the Du Toit’s Kloof… radical joy is always a possibility where nature’s concerned.

When you can't fly, find feet... Helfire teaching me how to listen
When you can’t fly, find feet… Hellfire teaching me how to listen

You don’t wake up during Winter at 5h30 for Hellfire, unless you have a wild streak or a support system that helps you swim against the current. Those who permit one this opportunity for personal mastery / flagellation or go so far as to encourage you to keep it up, are to be treasured!

Anton lead the first pitch.

This dodgy look on belay may not be repeated... Anton going strong
This dodgy look on belay may not be repeated… Anton going strong

One of the nuts popped out and Riaan was depending on a rope that was only just dangling over the far corner of a rock. This was the only thing separating him from a pendulum swing if he did take a fall. I was the one to take a fall though… my hand slipped on the flattish ledge and in my desperation to avoid retracing my steps, I grabbed the rope and hung on for dear life! When fears from the past haunt you, illogical behavior can ensue. Have faith and start again wherever you end up because it’s never the same as a previous fall – each fall teaches and changes you.  I would’ve had much more power left in my arms if I’d realised you can retreat in order to make headway!

Forked Tongue’s 2nd pitch starts with a venomous bite (that’s assuming we started at the right spot and weren’t on something harder).

Riaan, courage in the face of uncertainty!
Courage to lead in the face of uncertainty!

Riaan didn’t commit to doing it until he’d placed about the 6th pro, by then he’d done such incredible athletic feats, it seemed ridiculous for him to turn back! I was belaying and there was a lot of complicated gear placing required by him, in order to protect while ensuring the ropes don’t cross. It was also a huge learning experience for me regarding maneuvering the ropes individually in order to be responsive enough for slack while holding enough tension on the other rope so that he wouldn’t fall too far. It was a great team effort with Anton, in his calm and assertive way, helping both of us through this potentially dangerous challenge.

The easy choice would’ve been to give up and do a familiar climb but letting go of certainty was the magic that introduced us to this wicked climb. Courage for adventure offers one realisations that you may never have anticipated, that’s what I need to remember every day! Riaan showed the mountain the utmost respect, and was rewarded. When your team member succeeds in doing something THAT hard it’s pretty pathetic to worry about your own ability to merely follow! So I kept my pathetic thoughts to myself.

I would’ve taken a scary fall if it wasn’t for Anton leaning across the gaping pit helping me stick to the crag. You have to hang from your hands then bump one further right, so that you can swing far enough to reach something to stand on. No one can hang in space alone for long. If you don’t have feet then at least ensure that you have a friend.

Once you reach the flatter face, the climb becomes very enjoyable, although I was a little unreliable in the cleaning department. Climbing depends 100% on your internal state… I was shocked into letting go of all distractions very early in the climb when Anton pointed out that I was cleaning his gear!

A friend of mine told me that just because you’re not ‘show room condition’  on a particular day, it doesn’t mean that you have to forfeit climbing completely. I skipped Burn Out while my team enjoyed it.

Burn Out
Combustion on Burn Out

After basking on a boulder I left with more energy than I’d arrived with.

Table Mountain – Butterflies in my Dehli Belly

I’m not the only one yawning in the growing queue for the cable car. Anton already knows the tourists will be queueing all morning but there won’t be a car going up because the wind’s too strong at the top.

Riaan Volunteering on Fear Factor
Riaan Soliciting Fear Factor

Delhi Belly…. The first precarious ‘stand on pebble, reach for skyscraper while left hand under-clings’ move, short circuits my brain. I duck to Bombay Duck, even though I’m following. The rail is marble-smooth.

We have a narrow ledge for anchoring. Belaying involves sitting on one foot, face to the mountain as the icy wind gusts through your bones. I’m loafing on a cracked ledge that looks like it may or may not last for another year (the loafing and the ledge)!

The 2nd pitch must be one of the most exciting climbs I’ve done. Just watching the leading, makes me resort to slow breathing in order to gather my wits. Lots of feet but not much to hold onto. Riaan points out the secret crimps that looked like nothing… and the side rail in the blind spot. When he repeats himself… you may start saying your prayers. I have to focus on my breath again. Anton assures me that I’ll find it do-able… it’ll be fine.

Fast and fingery, with bridged feet… is the way through this. It helps when your belayer is so relaxed he can literally hang over the side and point out the pocket you just cannot believe is useful but proves to be the only redemption from your pain!

Finally on the ledge… the roof hanging heavy above me. I miss a Falcon sighting. That’s the penalty for worrying about the future. There’re so many miracles if you just pay attention. The sparkling waterfall gurgles joyfully down the left buttress and all I can think of is ‘roof’.

Anton flying curtesy Dehli Belly
Anton flying curtesy Dehli Belly

Anton leads the ceiling… When I think the worst is over there’s still a crux with two buttons for hands. I decide that there are times when you can cheat and not feel guilty about it. This is one of them!

Bombay Duck to the rescue! Reaching the top, any route will do. I’m feeling happy…  mountain medicine.

Paarl Rock – On top of the world

Home of the Daredevil. Freedom tastes like this. Alien and attractive. Trees shining. Proteas in weed-like abundance!

Cracks of opportunity are enough. Birds of prey in the shadows. Naked dam. My thirst grows! Hiking is pretty but if it’s wild adventure that you’re after…. return to climb.

Freedom requires friction
Freedom requires friction
Note: Paarl Rock Mountain Reserve is on the road that passes the Amphitheatre and the Victoria Dam. You drive until you get to the reserve gate where you can buy a map and a permit.

Nursery Buttress – Brings me to my knees

The ‘Weber test’ is used by my buddies to figure out if it’s too windy to climb on Table Mountain… it basically involves imagining what would happen to a Weber in that weather, if the answer is: it would turn into a parachute and fly horizontally, then you know you need to come up with another plan for exercise because climbing in gale force conditions, isn’t recommended.

Kirstenbosch would be sheltered… I agree but am thinking; I wonder how much of a workout one can get at ‘strolling-around-the-lawns-and-smelling-flowers-Kirstenbosch’? I should’ve known better though… our friend who majors in off-the-beaten-track hikes with hard core scrambles, was with us: it was more like ‘bad-ass-drop-dead-beautiful-hike-with-altitude-Kirstenbosch’.

Our hike was between Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine and we made our way past the African Cedars with their little dry cones.

Nusery Buttress Kicks Ass
Nusery Kicks your Buttress  

Experienced scramblers hike with a short rope available, just in case. The scrambles were a bit like the ones around the Table Mountain abseil points… not too tricky but they deserve respect. Parts of the path were along a trickle of a waterfall… although we were glad it wasn’t as slippery as it should be in Winter, we were sad about just how harsh the drought has been!

I was warned that it’s lovely snake territory… thick foliage and lots of food sources everywhere. When I first started tradding I hated the scrambles without the rope. Now I realise it’s wrong to judge before you’ve given something a chance. Holding the little side pulls and rails is so much fun when you know you need to be super careful. I loved the feeling of the rock and paying exquisite attention to my next step.

Scrambles for Africa
Scrambles for Africa

I regretted not having discovered this in my university days! Why has it taken me so long to get to know the real Cape Town? You only meet adventure when you have the courage to introduce yourself!

What do these friends of mine have that drives them to explore the unknown? An unquenchable love of nature, many friends who share the same passion and inquisitive minds. At this point all I thought I had, was sore knees! I was the youngest one of the group but was practically limping home. An unpleasant ache from an old climbing injury isn’t going to stop me from doing many more ‘explore new crag’ adventure hikes like this one!