I’d decided that I’m not big on Duck but seeing as Jeremy had joined us and he’d never climbed this ultra classic, I thought I’d give myself a chance to find the joy that everyone else experienceses on Bombay Duck.
I think that it’s the squashed traverse that I find most disconcerting. Watching Anton match hands to the right of the roof and then swing his feet up, underplayed the challenge involved in that mount.
l mentioned to Jeremy that we were in good hands. Anton has climbed this route more times than he can remember! I really enjoyed it this time though. Next time I might even be relaxed enough to manage posing for a photo, mid-traverse!
Next up was Indian Giver. For some reason, I couldn’t get that peanut sized nut out of the start! After burning out my arms I felt bad about leaving it in for Jeremy to clean (who had never done this route before). It came out first time for him, without him even using a nut cleaner. After that I realised that there was no need for me to be concerned about our new climbing partner… he was quite self sufficient.
Pulling through the roof on the lip of that cheesecake slice, is always a challenge for me. Jeremy however managed to avoid all balance related issues by hanging on one hand and mounting that roof, fuelled by endorphins!
When I eventually reached the summit… I realised from the ache in my limbs that it was time for a holiday. Anton had found a stick-insect friend and we were all happy to call it a day.
The day started with a lead slip, midway up that glassy 15 m crack! Anton was safe… initially with Hugh spotting and then ensuring there was enough ‘bomb proof’ pro.
While Anton took a few moments to reset himself and Hugh started breathing again; the reality of what lay ahead became a little more tangible for me. This climb that I’d decided to do, is bound to transform one in some way or another. Anton had planted the seed some time ago, sharing photos of the breath-takingly long crack and then Hugh’s tone of voice, when he spoke about the route, had cemented my resolve to give it a try.
Anton shifted his balance, moved through the crux and managed to place that mother of a cam before topping out on a comfortable ledge at the start of another crack.
I knew the exposure, difficulty level and desolation of this climb would be hard for me to face alone – so I begged to be in the middle. Other than that I didn’t try to control anything. Being in the middle, meant that there would almost always be someone watching over me. As leader Anton would carry the heaviest load of pro and Hugh would carry the heavy bag that was weighed down with supplies essential for this full-day journey! When you know that a climb will take you to your limits and you are still OK to carry something for the team… it speaks volumes for the kind of person that you are. Leaders cannot be self-centred. Brave, generous followers are what make the journey possible!
The first few moves proved to be almost impossible for me… with my left foot jammed into the crack and my right hand holding onto a miniature crimp, I was very relieved to get some support from below. Hugh must have known that I could do without my faith taking a knock, straight after that crucial point of having made the choice to take on this 5 star, 6 pitch country trad! Thanks to that, I managed to get to the part where one rests against one’s back and then I remembered the guidance not to hesitate once you’ve started that layback! The only thing that threw me was that BF cam. I had to ‘take’ and the sheer weight of that metal monstrosity added swear words and an extra metre to the rope!
One could see the benefit of decades of climbing, by the way Hugh motored up that crack; fast and with great layback technique… by the time he got to the top, you could feel the traction in those wrists just from looking at his face!
The great thing about Energy Crisis is that it forces you to take a decisive leap from the word ‘go’. There is no room for faffing around in limbo when survival is at stake: you’re either in for 6 pitches or you choose not to start, there is no way to ‘draadsit’.
That second pitch’s groove and splits-like traverse flowed well for all of us. Hugh must have been cursing my paranoid need to have refreshments for a week; as he stood up on that not so positive crux.
Anton forged on. Each climber has a deep understanding and wisdom about the things that support his / her progress. When you climb with complete mindfulness, self-restraint comes naturally. This is what I realised while watching Hugh belay Anton. He was aware of Anton’s needs before they were spoken!
I quietly requested that we do the lower traverse – Energy Supplement… I was thinking: how can I maximise the chances of me getting to the end of this. Those butternut slippery Energy Crisis rails were not on the list of things that would avoid my brain from short circuiting.
The whole way through the climb I had a strong feeling of support. I was being helped by my climbing partners and also by many who weren’t with me. When I start doubting myself, I remembered things that those who helped prepare me for this, had said to me before:
‘No need to be in showroom condition’;
‘There’ll be none of that’,
‘I wouldn’t ask you to climb something with which you couldn’t cope’ and
‘Harness the longing and use it to enjoy each step’.
Even my mom wished me well and I know it must’ve taken all her strength to allow her to do that. The attitude of everyone you care about influences your journey and your courage when you climb; they seemed to know that intuitively by the way they wished us well.
If climbing is humbling, then big face climbing shows you the universe… you don’t become smaller you just gain perspective of yourself in a much bigger territory.
Hugh knew Anton was clipping both ropes, so wasn’t waiting to hear which rope to give slack on… he helped me be more responsive to Anton’s demands and also checked the commands that were muffled due to strong gusting winds and us being around the corner.
Before starting I wanted to see the photos of what lay ahead. Fortunately Hugh was very adamant: no, I should just start! As I rounded that arête, I noticed that I’d have to unclip and re-clip Hugh’s rope twice.
That was a good thing because it kept me focused on the things I could influence. Anton had chalked up the hidden side-pull on the other side of an exposed bulge that got me to the dassie crawl. That was a first for me, given that I’d missed my call-up to bootcamp and had never learnt how to leopard crawl on jagged rocks!
When I told Hugh how it had gone, my elation came from the fact that traverses used to be my nemesis and yet I’d overcome some rope challenges and broken my assumption about my feeling towards them!
Somehow Hugh made it over the ’Holy…. step-through-space’ with 5-date balls and the kitchen sink on his back! I was convinced that he would never fit through that claustrophobic passage but ‘Chuck python’ was slithering at tempo with a broad smile on his face!
I asked each of them separately how many more pitches and both of them lied separately that there were 4 more to go! At first I thought perhaps they meant we’d done 4 because I was expecting them to say we were almost there! I tucked into the snacks, realising that this is the climbing that people explain, teaches one perseverance. Then I realised that I’d better not eat TOO much lest I wake up my digestive system!
The next pitch started with lovely graspable gargoyles. Later, you reach a cavity with an overhanging bulge. You have to feel around above your head; until you get a good enough jug that can be used to hoist yourself up on. It has to be in a way that allows you to get your foot to your ear, for the first step. I had a fight with a cam which I ended up sneekily clipping onto Hugh’s rope… feeling a bit guilty about leaving the tough cleaning for him.
He had the wisdom to send the bag ahead and managed to mount that bulge despite all of the adrenalin cajoling from above. Anton was climbing like a pro and the red stone backdrop was breathtaking!
He climbed without complaining. That last ‘off belay’ shout from him, was like music to my ears! Our leader was safe, we’d get there.
I underestimated the final pitch, thinking the major challenges were behind us – first the splits below the roof and then I made the mistake of approaching this ‘mini-mouse ledge’ from above (instead of below!) I did a belly flop onto it and was praying the momentum of my inelegant landing wouldn’t send me over the edge! With my heart beating like a poolpump… I started up the black wall. Anton leaned over and warned me to look out for the white crimps. My mind was so tired by that stage that (I admit it), I actually left a little cam in the mountain! Fortunately Hugh was close on my heels and still willing to clean up my mess!
What a day! We joined Anton on that beautiful gargoyle covered Gothic-looking mountain top. For a person who had just lead 6-pitches consecutively, in less than 6 hours – Anton looked amazingly fresh at the end. I asked Hugh to spot me on the walk out. I could hardly walk. Hugh was the first to abseil 40m down into a dark-ominous looking crack.
We left the butterflies and the hot gusting mountain… it was time to return. I swam in the river with Hugh and Eva and Sandy lead me to the secret Maal gat – an oasis in this harsh wilderness. She convinced me to trust that high pressure waterfall!
If you love climbing or are just hungry for adventure then this is totally for you!