A damp ‘Venster’

Leading in the clouds!
Leading in the clouds!

I gave the candy floss covered mountain one look and prayed that we’d be doing the Lower Buttress. The weather prediction was good though, so we went up the cable car to check things out. When you need gumboots to navigate the path to the coffee shop, then no one will be climbing up there! The only thing we could do there safely, was get a hot beverage at the wifi lounge. All we could see through the glass chill-out lounge was fluffy cloud… could’ve sworn we were at a ski lodge!

Smelling the roses at the wifi lounge
Smelling the roses at the wifi lounge

Just as I started enjoying this abnormal M.O. for a climbing morning… I was reminded that there’s never time for chilling when there are crags waiting to be climbed. We made our way to plan B.

Riaan and Louis were on the verge of going to Hellfire in search of drier air when they decided, at the last minute, it was a bit late for that expedition and joined us on the Lower Buttress.

I scored about 10 out of 10 for cold feet… suddenly a tendon that only hurts on long downhill hikes became a huge disability and I was coming up with completely irrational and lame excuses!

Fortunately, Anton had mercy and selected the dry ‘Picnic time for teddy bears’ route that would be fine for me to climb. The moisture in the air was cloud precipitation but has the same effect as drizzle: turning sandstone into marble and chalk into icing! Heaven knows how these guys lead in these conditions… extreme fitness, confidence in one’s judgement and balance are pre-requisites. My damp demons (of the floor being pulled out from beneath my feet at ‘The Hole’) were surfacing and I promised myself that I only needed to complete one climb and I’d be impressed.

The Lazy Teddy Bear who thinks she's clever
The lazy Teddy Bear who thinks she’s clever

Thank goodness Anton warned me about the hygroscopic lichen… apparently the teddy bears consume metres of it at their picnic! It looks pretty harmless but moist air basically transforms lichen into slip-and-slide ‘vet plantjies’!

Anton enjoyed Dehli Belly from the top and Riaan and Louis joined up with us, leading from below.

Leading a slimy Dehli Belly
Riaan leading with a smile

Riaan and the others followed up with exciting finger locking and roof experiments that involved some ear height heal hooks and horizontal, compressed maneuvers!

Is it a bird, is it a plane?
Is it a bird, is it a plane?

This mortal soul decided she’d seen enough of the inside of a cloud while hanging from the side of a crag… and celebrated the end of her workout with some coffee.

Next Louis lead Finger Locking (which is a hard climb in good conditions) and he did well to get past the tricky start. The further he progressed the more the drizzle started to hit that side of the crag!

New cam in action!
New cam in action!

After Louis had completed the hardest part of the climb, Riaan saw how the water was pouring down the face of the crag and they all agreed that he should down climb! There are many rules that apply when you climb and knowing where to draw the line, is essential.

A calm and reassuring in the face of uncertainty
Calm and reassuring in the face of uncertainty

This was a first for Louis who did amazingly well, by placing and retrieving extra gear in order to make his descent on this pumpy pitch, safe. Despite being completely wasted, he managed a smile when he reached the chossy gully.

I realised that I tend to talk too much when I get nervous… something I’ll try and manage in the future.

To abseil from a natural anchor or to down climb?
To abseil from a natural anchor or to down climb?

It must’ve been a nightmare experience but thanks to many level heads, a great deal of courage and muscle power on Louis’ part – the challenge was overcome.

Strong guy retrieving the last cam
Fresh legs retrieving the last cam

The ropes had been wet and despite that Anton had done a superb job of dealing with the agility required for down climb belaying. Louis left the mountain with big smiles, saying it had given him what he needed that day! He thanked everyone for the unwavering support.

When a band of climbers are faced with a challenge, everyone suddenly has all the time and the patience in the world. The word deadline loses its meaning in a situation like this because rushing would be the main threat. It’s in these moments that the value of life becomes crystal clear… everything else fades into insignificance!

Manoeuvers by Moonlight – epic adventure

The climbers who named this hard 4 pitch route must have been on it until dark, in 1984 when they discovered it. The nocturnal naming seemed apt to me because most of the time I had the Afrikaans phrase ‘dit is nag’ on repeat in my brain.

Our friends were on Fader’s Frontal and I was impressed to note that one of them was part of the team that projected and named that climb in 1979!

Anton making first pitch magic
Anton making first pitch magic

One of the many challenging things about Manoeuvers is that you feel very small on this large expanse of crag because of the sheer area of rock that it spans: horizontally and vertically! Arrow buttress is not the most popular choice of climbing area to start off with and the fact that this route includes the longest traverse on Table Mountain, generally puts off the average rock climbing pleasure-seeker! I suspect that pleasure-seeking is not high on the agenda of my fellow climbers and they certainly aren’t average in any sense of the word… leading these routes requires a brave heart, an unwavering belief in self and machine-like disciplined training!

That 'I want to go home' kind of fall'
‘Swing in mid air, want to go home’ kindafall

In fact, I was perfectly happy to ‘sit this one out’ but when Riaan pointed out that it was purely because of me that they’d brought up two ropes and it would add an extra level of difficulty to the leading… I realised that today was the day for me to defy my traversing demons! The great thing for me was that I was never alone because there were three of us climbing. That may sound kind of ‘soft’ but after a fall off the 25m traverse; I decided to go easy on myself and just laugh off the fact that I needed to keep at least one of them in sight, at all times! I kept wondering what it must feel like to lead… the difference between falling off on lead, compared to my falls on top rope is vast! Anton had the onerous task of supporting me during my ordeal on the traverse. I needed him to talk me through climbing a rope, again! Gear magically fell into place and all I had to do was step up.

The end of the long traverse to freedom
The end of the long traverse to freedom

Everything was waiting to assist me on this adventure for which, I somehow decided, I wasn’t worthy to sign up.

The elation I felt, when we reached Riaan, who was perched precariously in a solid hanging belay stance, is hard to explain… the fact that I had a brick-sized rock to stand on and rest my weary arms, was like bliss!

Time for a post traverse break!
Time for a post traverse break!

As if it wasn’t hard enough for Riaan to lead the ‘bulgy-roof-on-steroids’ that requires double-jointed manoeuvers; Swifts were dive-bombing him from all directions.

Shot gun, stick it in steel roof
Riaan leading the shot gun, stick it in steel roof

I cheated in order to mount the roof and was feeling too burnt out for the traverse that lay ahead. Just then, Anton mentioned to me that he’d dropped his sling. I’ve seldom been so pathetic… practically begging him to forgo the sling, in order to ensure I’d have company. After getting me safely to Riaan and the elaborately balanced anchors, Anton finally got to retrieve his booty. As I sat on the ledge recovering my breathing to below emergency-rythm, we realised Anton had taken a whipper just after removing some pro above him! Fortunately the pendulum swung into space. There was a remaining cam and a nut keeping him on top rope and he had to get creative to work his way back to the beloved roof.

Anton's massive pendulum
Anton’s massive pendulum

Anton lead the final pitch, as if he had all the energy in the world! Luckily Riaan pointed out that I had some superfluous slings hanging all over the place because I almost managed to strangle myself just before the ledge when the slings got in a twist with my pony tail!

Stemming like a pro!
Stemming like a pro!

Just when I thought there’d been enough surprises that day… Riaan came plummeting down about one centimeter away from me after flakey crimps broke off just before the summit!

Final pitch smiles
Final pitch smiles

The amount of scrapes and bruises that we collected was pretty impressive. The rock on Arrow buttress is flakey sharp and a friction assisted grovel, is tantamount to exfoliation by jagged rock!

When you drink mountain water and collapse from exhaustion at the end of a climb you know you’ve tested your boundaries! I would never attempt that without such experienced leaders. The lesson for me was learning that one’s toughest mental blocks can be overcome, as long as you have companions that you trust and the realisation that one is not always the best judge when it comes to one’s own capabilities!

Lion’s Head – It’s never for Naut

The top part of Lion’s Head has the kind of sandstone you just want to feel. Flaring cracks, side-pulls, under-clings and flakes for Africa. You don’t, however want to be forced to support your weight on the thinnest parts of some of them… Due to that and the fact that the ledges are so accessible, Lion’s Head acts as a last resort for us when everywhere else is windswept.

I also quickly discovered that staying close to the crag is safest because of the unexpected rocks that sometimes come careering down the side of the mountain!

Slangolie disappearing courtesy Sou'Easter
Slangolie disappearing courtesy Sou’Easter

We couldn’t establish the cause of the ‘asteroid storm’ but put it down to some uninformed hikers with kicker-happy feet. Not surprisingly, there’s even a route called Asteroid in that area! I suppose it’s a grade 23 because while you’re hanging onto the crag with two fingers you’re also having to dodge rocky projectiles!

Clifton sector must have one of the best views in the world. The bays looked calm but the white horses told a different story. Today the cable car was closed and Slangolie was quickly disappearing under an extra-down duvet! Something I was fantasizing about.

Kitty and lioness
Kitty and the leading lioness

I was pleased to see Yvette leading again. Anton started nearby on Cosmonaut which has a tricky first pitch. Despite not having climbed here for some time, the navigation seemed effortless for him. I didn’t know what to expect as this was my first time. I was happy to be the only one following though, which was a sign of progress for me.

Cranking up
Cranking up

The second pitch was amazing and lasted forever… very straight up, which allowed for great audibility. The rest of our climbing party was planning a third pitch right to the top. Anton wanted to prioritise work-out time so we stayed on the 2nd level in order to maximise exhaustion potential!

Next we did Clifton Crest, a 5 star beauty with a splits-like start.

The luck involved in our friends returning, just before our 3rd climb, ran out when they declined to take my spot which just couldn’t compete with lunch.

In retrospect, I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to do the 1st pitch of Codgernaut… we even had ‘Mike the legend’ there, in person, to give us the route description! Anton started from the tea cave and pulled straight through the bulge. There was another technical section which  he enjoyed so much he decided to go back for more. So I’m wondering where this name came from, is the climb ‘Codgernaut’ because it’s not heavy enough to qualify for Juggernaut… or is it the path to maturing gracefully?

I got through it on a prayer with cams hanging untidily on the rope. I was so relieved when I saw Anton, who responded flippantly, ‘Come on Louise, you can follow anything that I can lead’; with the kind of unwavering faith I hope to nurture in myself, one day.

Hats off to everyone who leads on Lion’s Head… I spent my time wondering how the hell it’s possible, when you need to double check every hollow hold and nudge any precarious looking blocks, assuming nothing will necessarily remain connected to the crag.

The walk-out was magnificent with a kaleidoscope of flowers to welcome Spring and bid us farewell!