Magnetic Ideas

‘Difficulties can be overcome. It’s the imaginary ones that are the problem.’


Bypassing the Double Direct route doesn’t avoid the necessity to mantel. My climbing partners did it very stylishly and in record breaking time because there were others waiting for the route. They smeared and matched on the horn, without a grunt or even heavy breathing. I managed to overheat before I even got there, while cleaning on the traverse. As I cursed my stifling wind breaker, I managed to get my heel up to my ear in order to avoid (what would have been) a much easier smear and as a result, I ended up perpendicular to the crag. After all that unnecessary exertion, I practically pulled my jacket off with my teeth before I even reached a comfortable spot!

Anton traversing beyond the horizon

Anton had visions of me leading Magnetic wall and went to the trouble of setting up all the gear, so that all I needed to do was clip in. There are few ledges with such awe-inspiring views and a Falcon even graced us with its presence.

I followed, imagining what it would be like to lead this route. Well let’s just say that that really blew my mind! Before I’d even given leading a chance, I was over-analysing what it would feel like being in front of the rope while pulling up on these two-finger sized pebbles!

I started worrying about what was next, instead of just paying attention to the rock I was on. By the time I finished I’d already tired out my fingers because of not being very present and conjured up a third rope, imagining that I’d be leading with a back-up top rope! Anton started explaining how things would work if he lowered me: I’d pull myself along the traverse, in reverse using the slings he’d set up for that purpose, so that I could anchor myself on the ledge and belay him down. At that point my brain short-circuited. I realised that there’d be no safety of the top rope and I imagined myself swinging in space on that traverse. I could feel the wind picking up and imagined us having trouble understanding each other in a difficult situation.

Fear definitely gets in the way of listening! It’s not a bad thing to plan for what can go wrong but excelling in only that, is debilitating.

Eventually we settled on us both being lowered from the abseil point. Anton did all the cleaning, while I followed on the face of Magnetic wall… avoiding the traverse completely!

It was a good experience because this time I really had to pay attention to where I was following on this gearless route. I noticed the natural cracks that were the obvious path to lead me home. I found the moves easier, as I’d done them a few moments ago and I was no longer anxious.















Anton did Quake and it was good to see him pushing himself.

I vowed to play with leading on easy routes in my spare time and practice my new skills: such as lowering a climber; climbing a rope; setting up bomb proof balanced anchors that avoid the potential for shock loading; rope management and getting myself out of the system on belay.

Magnetic Foreboding… ‘you mean there won’t be a top rope? [Photo: Anton]
When you’re given the opportunity to set great goals then you realise where you must grow! Goals have a way of really, showing up one’s limitations, focusing one’s attention on so many more levels and making learning exponential!

Another mind blowing day on the mountain!

Fountain Ledge: Leading Humble Pie

I didn’t expect the weather to change from gale force to perfect overnight… yet I found myself at the top of Table Mountain, preparing my mind for climbing.

Lion King aka Cape Town’s killer Lion’s Head view [Photo: Hugh]

Anton informed me, on a need-to-know basis, of which bits of Jacob’s I would be leading. This was perfect because there was no need for me to spend any unnecessary time being nervous.

Theory is useful but when it comes to leading, you need to just start because it’s impossible to wait until you are prepared for everything! Also, unless you have lead, you won’t realise what it involves, so you miss opportunities for learning because you’re not aware of all the levels of focus that it requires! That is why, one of my climbing role models describes it as one of the most mindful activities one can do. If I had to come up with an antonym for ‘unconscious’, it would be ‘trad-leading’.

Louis commented on my quietness… he said, he could hear my brain working twice as hard as usual.

Quo Vadis Louise? [Photo: Anton]

 I was relieved when I found the bird bath. I almost went too far left because I saw another cavity, so I was thrilled to find the piton that confirmed, I wasn’t lost. Louis decided to finish, even though their second pitch started at the roof before the hanging belay.

I was feeling like a fish out of water, without my usual buddy checks. Leaders have to develop rock-solid safety habits because it’s a responsibility that often needs to be done in isolation. Thanks to my climbing partners always insisting on checks, it was second nature for me to check myself.

When gear is sparse and options are limited! [Photo: Anton]

Louis was dealing with heavy rope drag because of opting for a long single pitch. He was also running out of slings!

One could see that I wasn’t looking for gear placements that would allow for efficiency and save my strength. My mind was saying; use anything that looks bomb-proof…. the other nuances were beyond me, for now.

If you want to force yourself to be organised… lead. After one experience of struggling to find the right sized cam you will never have a randomly ordered rack again!

I was relieved that Anton offered to carry the kitchen sink that I’d chosen to bring along… unnecessarily catering for Arctic winds on a wind-free Summer morning is ridiculous.

Happiness is… Jacob’s Amazing Technicolored Dream
Happy Gecko [Photo: Anton]






Our friends did great gymnastics scaling the roof on the first pitch of Escalator.

 I was convinced that my concentration quota had been used up for the day but I was about to discover that one can hugely underestimate how long one can remain focussed. Next up was staircase. Anton explained how I should deal with the two ropes. The first pitch was enjoyable. The traverse was noisy because of the number of climbers on the ledge. I found the loud voices annoying but was also adding to the chaos. I was encouraged to trust what the rope was saying… if it was being taken up and there was no slack, I should trust that I could climb.

Anton realised how far I still have to go in terms of judging cam size against rail space. This is a key competency when you’re leading because otherwise you waste precious strength when you can least afford it. Knowing that Escalator’s last pitch has some challenges, he mapped out the cam plan for me: ‘Louise it’s yellow, grey, green and make sure you match on that pebble and then you’ll find another foot around the arete’. I would’ve bailed if it wasn’t for his belief in my ability to lead and his confident guidance!

The words I used to express my delight in reaching those solid anchors, were not very polite! I struggled a bit with the two rope belaying and the rope drag. I should’ve remembered the way I’d placed the ropes, as this would’ve helped me predict which would have the most slack  at the correct moments!

When it comes to pro… size definitely matters! I was relieved to hear that my placements were OK. I had not checked that all the slings were properly clipped into the beaners! When placing gear I should not only have double-checked my cam placements by pulling on them; I should’ve also checked the slings in the cams, by giving them a tug too. Thinking you have protection when it’s not reliable is worse than having none!

The joy of climbing is that you are expressing yourself through your movements. Leading is a very creative exercise that requires very few words but speaks volumes! It also exposes all one’s weaknesses and forces you to face what you need to develop.

I’m sure I can figure this out… [Photos: Anton]













Table Mountain gives permission to Dream

What blows my mind is how my climbing friends can read a route description like the one for The Dream’s 2nd pitch: ‘Start left of a small overlap and do a hard pull-up onto the face’ and then think… aaaah, let’s go and onsite that!

Do they somehow magically know when they see that above the dassie crawl there’s a section  where there’s nothing positive to hold or put pro in; that, that must be the route! If the only way to place a nut involves jamming a little cam above it, then you must know how dodgy the start is!

You have to dassie crawl before you can dream [photo: Riaan}

By the time I follow on a route with one of my climbing buddies, they’ve usually already gone through the intense process of trial and error, terror and agony that must be involved in finding and figuring out how to lead it!

One would hardly believe that there was a 4 hour cable car queue when you saw how quiet the crags were. Our friends made things feel slightly less isolated as they were on Magnetic wall nearby. It is possible to reach the ledge for The Dream from below… I realised that this was probably not the easiest way to get there when I noticed Riaan was revealing the sections of the scramble to me, one at a time; in  order to prevent overwhelm.

Jamming on the never ending dream [photo: Anton]

The benefit of a challenging scramble is that there’s no room to contemplate the route that lies ahead, you need to block out everything unrelated to your next move.

Although I managed to quiet my mind, my feet were sweating excessively! It may have had something to do with the copious amounts of heal balm, spread on the night before!

From what I could see from Riaan’s ascent of the first pitch, enjoying The Dream is all about finding little feet… he had ways of looking comfortable, standing on pebbles and his splits-like traverse with a match of feet in the middle, made use of the only two creases below that rail! My brain was on record-mode because I’ve learnt from past experience that when he provides a tip, best you pay attention!

He made the step up over the cracks that split the ceiling, look totally do-able, coming from further below than one would consider stepping down because there was a good foot and then even taking a moment to chalk up the side pulls that could make all the difference for my attempt. Not even a grunt as he reached the cubbyhole!

The great thing about the first pitch is that your climber is visible all the time, which helps with responsive belaying. There’s no room for selfish thoughts about the future when a climber depends on you for their safety. This changed the gears in my brain and when Riaan shouted ‘off-belay’, I found myself looking forward to touching this reliable sandstone again.

By the time I got to the ‘balancey’ crack through the roof, my weight was badly distributed and I had to rely on the top rope for a brief moment. I was panting like a dog, my hand was dripping blood, my muscles were finished and yet I found myself smiling! Being pushed to one’s limit is uncomfortable but I had surprised myself!

At a reach [photo: Riaan]

Discovering that one can try something that challenging (what would previously have been judged impossible), is thoroughly delightful. The fact that I’d lost my balance, faded into insignificance compared to the excitement of seeing a glimpse of a dream.

As I did the unrelenting corrugated dassie crawl, on my exposed elbows and unprotected knees… I was thinking how poetic it was that I had this nudge into optimism on ‘The Dream’ and on New Year’s Eve (when I usually tend to focus on what I haven’t managed instead of being grateful).

It was a huge relief for me to be in the mountain, instead of hanging on the side of it. Unfortunately, I crawled past the belay stance and took forever to set up bomb-proof anchors in the wrong spot and after almost throttling myself with a multitude of tangled necklace slings, I even got baffled by my reverso.

So after that humbling experience.. I had to accept the news that I’d have to move again! I could hear from the comments that calling this lead a challenging ascent would be the understatement of the century. I would belay from the edge of the dassie crawl, so that I could see what was happening on the crag. I had a solid anchor from below that was tightly connected to my harness and my rope was also tied in on the crag. The pro that was protecting Riaan from above was relatively flimsy because of the lack of options on that face.

Riaan chalks up a few pebbly looking crimps for rediculously small feet… next he’s standing on them and doing a crazy hard pull up from a miniature crimp (aka stuff-all). Later, he showed me the hand jams, the step up onto the overhang and then he disappeared up a difficult ‘Magnetic-type’ wall.

Giving my everything! [photo: Anton]

Just as I was starting to feel lonely… Anton appeared out of the heavens, with a broad grin and on a top rope! I was blessed to have him watch my progress on this testing climb. Motivated by all the encouragement, I made it to the  first resting spot and got enough energy back for that notch in the roof.

Taking a break on the vertical sofa [photo: Anton]

By then I felt like it could be the end of this climb, I was already tremouring. Fortunately I could follow Anton who was solving the puzzle for me because there is very little in the line of useful crimps and you need to use brain over braun to make progress there!

Riaan, at the helm on The Dream

I was so focussed on my climb I didn’t even get annoyed that I was in a photoshoot. How Anton took those photos hanging on little pebbles, I have no idea.

The final two pitches were the way to get back to our bags. A great day of teamwork and climbing and such a fantastic end to 2016!

It struck me that all one needs to do is give one’s self permission to dream in the first place and then the rest of the magic gets a life of its own! The paradox I’ll chew on in 2017, is that it’s the big dreams that are the most humbling and that provide an unexpected type of satisfaction!