Swinging to REM

There was a big troupe of climbers gathered at the Cable Car queue and as usual I felt like the impostor. That was just my usual reel though because you couldn’t find a more supportive, unpretentious and down-to-earth bunch anywhere.

We did a simu-abseil… it worked like a charm for me but Anton had to keep putting on the breaks for my sake. One of my many TM guardian angels was already leading Finale; she’s a great role model. Riaan figured that seeing as our warm up climb was taken, why not just start on REM!

I’m surprised that the scramble didn’t ring a bell that I’d been there before.

Anton Dream leading

Anton lead the first pitch brilliantly, while the moist, cloud-air gave the Cableway Wall a chilling good-morning hug.

The pungent smell of a crushed blister bush filled the air, as I started my ascent. That crack in the roof with the side pull had been my nemesis the time before but fortunately I didn’t recognize it and as a result I was breathing and managed to stay calm and replicate the beta.

I crawled into that dassie ledge and marveled at the way the Dream had felt way more possible this time.

Riaan gave the first pitch of REM a bash by going directly up the face instead. I would’ve liked to see how he was doing but let’s just say that I had a few things occupying my mind… like how to untangle our ropes mid-traverse and stepping on grape-sized pebbles. REM’s the perfect name for that climb… you have to get into a sleeping position on the dassie ledge because there’s no space to sit up straight.

Straight Up on first pitch REM [photo: Anton]
The misty view through that cavity, created a ‘Ring of Kerry’ effect. While the anchors were being balanced in order to ensure minimum shock-loading in the event of a lead fall… I was having a mini-siesta.

‘Dossing’ on the dassie ledge 

Suddenly, it dawned on me that we weren’t heading in the direction of the Last Tango traverse! We would be climbing over the BF roof above us that overhangs (by about a foot) the ledge we were sitting on!

Leading the gorilla-sized roof in the mist

Riaan managed it on lead and made smearing (at shoulder height) look absolutely normal.

With Anton’s guidance I managed to side-pull that roof crack. I got my feet as high as possible… which was not that high because there was a gaping cavity between the crag and the ledge we were standing on.

I managed to spot the chalked up crimp which was my only route to salvation. To get there, there was an indent that one could pinch. I reached the crimp about 60 cm up and my right hand found a little block to push down on. The problem was, I had to get my feet up high in a ‘stemming-on-a-wide-door-frame, kind of position’. This had to be done while my hands were way above my head.

I tried it a few times. I even tried to use pure brute arm force because I was getting no power from my slipping feet.

It’s possible that I also looked too far ahead and didn’t see anything juggy to save my over-pumped arms.

Anyway, I down-climbed precariously a few times hoping not to lose my grasp of the overhang. I wanted to back out in the face of this adversity and uncertainty. Fortunately, Anton knew I just needed to recover my wits and didn’t entertain any impulsive notions of being lowered. It’s OK to be scared but irrational resolutions based on fear will just lead to more hardship.

Bottom’s Up [photo: Anton]
Anton’s ‘the-only-way-is-up’ demeanor gave me the courage to take on the tough part. Eventually, I decided to climb the rope, in order to avoid the roof heroics and save my arms for the sustained hard climb that still lay ahead.

Anton was agreeing to whatever I suggested I could handle, aware that calmness on the crag, is the most essential first step to safety. I got so tangled in my slings and helmet that I vowed I’d cut my hair off to avoid aesthetics-induced risks in the future.

My walkie-talkie wasn’t in a convenient spot for me to communicate with Riaan in that high-pressure situation. I had one last try and found myself swinging further out than I had ever done before, a couple of metres away from the crag… not something I’d choose for my day-to-day R&R. I closed my eyes momentarily so that the lack of control would not frighten me – it was crucial to be still. I was very aware that I couldn’t escape my reality for more than a few split seconds because while swinging you need to ensure that you face the crag when you get close to it. Despite that, there’s no excuse for me not talking to my belayer!

Anton realised that I needed him to just focus on my progress and check every single move I was making because that would give me the confidence and mental stamina to believe that I could recover from this setback.

After a few false starts… I managed to climb the rope. We were back in contact with Riaan and he suggested I clip into Anton’s rope to guide me back to the crag while I rope-climbed to just above the tricky section.

I did a safety clove hitch above the excess rope to ensure that my progress was banked. That helped me feel secure.

Fortunately, Anton told me not to worry about cleaning or sorting out the rope climbing paraphernalia, until I’d reached a ‘comfortable’ spot. That saved my arms and I could make my way to the mini ledge. I squeezed in there so that I could lie down and recover while removing my rope climbing tools and allow the rope slack to be taken up.

The bad thing about wriggling into a dassie cavity is that it’s hard to find a walkie talkie at the back of your harness and once again I couldn’t be responsive with comms! Fortunately Anton sailed up that roof.

Eventually we’re in sight [photo: Riaan]
I was very agitated by a hiking ‘clown’ shouting jokes at the top of his voice. Fortunately the noise subsided just before I reached another roof. I was determined to avoid it but thanks to good beta from above and below, I made my way over the roof. There was no easier alternative!

We scrambled out and I was already smiling about the memory of swinging to the Last Tango. I resolved to practice more smear stemming, overhangs and feet on creases.

Finale, fingertips for the win

While I basked in my new found confidence in rope climbing technicalities, Anton and Riaan managed ‘Don’t Squeeze I’ll Laugh’ woven into an exhausting mix that started with Finale and ended on Boltergeist – just for the fun of it!

Gullet dispatches on Oddshouters

I was in no condition to do any form of hard climbing, or so I thought. It was OK, we all kind of agreed that we’d do a lot of pleasant climbing because it had been raining during the night.

Learning to love laybacks on Africa crag [photo: Anton]
We started on the 5 star Atlantic crag which only gets very hard if you’re the one leading, you go off route or you stop looking for feet. There are lovely cracks and a layback.

I was loafing, as the middle climber: not having to clean the shared gear and putting on sunblock instead of belaying. The interesting thing about coming back to hard challenges is that they never feel the same the next time around.

I was dreading a few sections but minor adjustments, like the fact that I was looking for feet on the open book and making sure I didn’t wander off into run-out areas, made the world of difference.

Peristalsis on Gullet [photo: Anton]
Perhaps that is how people overcome difficulties – they just keep trying… not afraid to return to discomfort! Something that was unbearable before gives a different experience as one transforms one’s self… the change merely a product of perseverance and faithfilled support rather than any particular talent.

Anton leading the potluck challenge [photo: Hugh]
We were thinking Africa Crag, Anton was thinking Africa Crack. Mmmm crag would be more laid back. Eventually we settled on Africa Crag via Gullet. What we didn’t see coming but I suspect Anton might have, was the spicy detour to Africa Crag via the Oddshouter traverse.

Sidepull helps me traverse like a crab [photo: Anton]
I remembered this traverse vividly because the last time I was here I was alone on this tiny belay ledge, out of earshot AND the crag was slippery! So there was no way the challenge could be harder this time around.

Now I’m thinking…. well it can’t get harder than that…. Africa Crag should be like a cool down.

‘You gotta have faith’

Little did I know, we were heading for a traverse and a half…loose block and all! The Africa Crag rail is minute… I don’t even know how we got our fingertips in there let alone supported weight on them! Smearing on lead above the abyss must require an iron resolve that things will improve.

After that we could smell the roses, enjoy the rock and look forward to that well earned pudding!

Signal hill witnessing our journey [photo: Hugh]

Table Mountain Can Can

When ‘The last of the Mohawks’ climbers don’t pitch up at the cable car, then you must know that the weather prediction is horrendous. I imagined that we were just humoring Riaan by going to check out the top of Table Mountain. There’d be no need for us to burst his bubble because Van Hunks was going to do it.

Baby dassies look a bit like big, shiny, dark hamsters… they were as hopeful as us on that ledge; dreaming of sun and protection from the wind, while the cloud just crept closer.

Mind the crack

Next thing, I found myself standing at the tea-cave, instead of having tea in the wi-fi lounge. We were at the start of Oddshouters. Riaan was about to lead the sustained diagonal crack with creases for feet… a fall would definitely cause one to bottom out. The only upside I could think of, was that while the roof lasted, at least it would be dry. I was so bent on paying attention to his beta (for the sake of survival) that he’d already reached up for the out-of-sight ledge and swung his leg around the arete for a mount, by the time I remembered about photos.

Surprise tea party! [photo: Riaan]
I followed in the middle, so I merely needed to unclip. I was so amped that I’d survived that crack! Thank heavens Riaan could read eyes… how do you say in a split second that you need someone to pull a rabbit out of the hat or you’re going to slip? My belayer produced the rabbit… a lovely finger pocket that would help me up! My fingers were finished as I lifted myself high enough to flop onto my chest and caterpillar up the final section… I was completely wasted but relieved to have faced my fear and altered the way I look at traverses.

No turning back [photo: Anton]
 Anton did all the cleaning and showed the difference it makes to use your legs instead of your fingers to ascend!

As Riaan moved up the second pitch… I was thinking, this looks OK. There were layers of rock and he’d do a drop knee and reach to the following one. The part that was deceiving was the extent of the overhang. I relied heavily on the rope and Anton’s moral support to manage the first one. Smearing was essential on the crux. After that I was so happy I was making progress that I passed a cam and had to deal with it on a tight rope and in a very awkward position.

My fight song [photo: Anton]
By this stage I was boiling and had Popeye arms. Against all odds, it had become a perfect day and my stockings and thermals were officially overkill.

Can Can has a dirty or a hard start. Surprise, suprise… the guys opted for hard! If it was up to me I would’ve chosen grovelling up that crack ahead of having to mantel up a clean roof.

I took my time to choose my moves and focus on technique. Anton was whizzing past me, experimenting with hard off-route options, until I realised I couldn’t unpick a nut.

I left the gear, jammed in the rock and wondered how Anton would manage. He has no problem with stubborn little buggers. I have to admit that I need to work on my lack of patience and faith in my cleaning!

I enjoyed the long cracks and although it must’ve been treacherous to lead because there were long sections with no options for pro that’s not on steroids!

Riaan leadng crazy Can Can

The Africa Crack and Can Can ledge became our base for some time, as Anton and Riaan experimented with options… Anton playfully checking it out from all angles and on a ledge that was really only spacious enough for snakes on the far left.

The Can Can reccie

I backed off, imagining that I might get in the way of an almighty pendulum swing. These guys certainly enjoy their training but everything they do is carefully considered from a safety angle and if it doesn’t pass the responsible risk test, it doesn’t happen. When a crux move is so close to a ledge… one cannot be impulsive about what might work. I have learnt through their example that it’s very wise to always make sure one’s approach is solid before attempting something because one can always return to a challenge on another day.

Anton on the crux

We all made it up there. I was amazed and would never have unpuzzled it myself. Never thought one could do a layback on such a tiny little side-pull, with one’s heel up high; to provide the force required in order to reach up for an invisible and very high hand-hold (because smearing on stuff-all does not count)!

Doing the Can Can [Photo: Anton]
I found myself wishing the hikers would tone it down. I felt that the only way I could deal with this challenge, would be, if I had complete silence.

Anton started the photos while climbing [photo: Anton]
Next up, Anton lead the long Africa Crack traverse. A picture speaks a thousand words… embracing that traverse allows Table Mountain to have healing conversations with one’s soul!

Anton traversing the arete [Photo: Riaan]