No duck, no dinner

That moment when your alarm goes off and the only adventure you believe you have stamina for, is in dreamland. There was a possibility that we’d be doing a grueling 5 pitch climb and I was worried that after not having climbed for a while; I’d let my team down by running out of steam / finger strength!

Loving Cape Town

On days like this when you’re questioning why you climb; you just need to trust that you will add value and that all you need to do is pitch up and not overthink things (especially while you’re still waking up).

The same way one finds a way to live up to one’s responsibilities, regardless of how you feel; so it is with climbing. As long as you don’t let imaginary risks freeze you, you will come through.

The cable car was closed due to strong winds and a whole busload of tourists was turned away. I couldn’t have been happier, climbing on the Lower Buttress would be less exposed.

Anton on Dehli Belly

Today was all about climbing style for me, how would I maximize the use of my legs in order to save my finger tendons? How could I get comfortable with hanging away from the crag, in order to get enough space between me and the rock in order to see the multitude of opportunities for making me feel more secure.

Bombay and Delhi Belly have a cheesecake slice topography. You work your way through layers of magnificent wedges. The sun made the rock appear fudge-coloured and Riaan made traversing between wedges, look like a piece of cake. The rails have a melted Bar One texture: slippery and smooth from all the climbing traffic.

Even when you’re standing on a little pebble; the glossiness takes away any sense of comfort that it will hold your weight! This is no problem when, like me you are following but leading these popular routes requires one to live on a prayer. Smearing up those lay back cracks becomes more reliable than finding feet.

Contemplating the Duck

Anton reminded me that I’d solved this before; that I’d know what to do in the moment. Once I’d reached the roof; that squashed traverse looked particularly uncomfortable. There was no room for rigidity or concrete in one’s spine! When I found a great little finger lockable handle, I felt more able to fold my body, like a crouching spider. Twisting and bending doesn’t come naturally to me but one needs to adapt to one’s territory or suffer. As soon as I put aside my default climbing style and submitted to what was required, things became a great deal more comfortable.

Riaan challenged me to only use the crag face and not the other rock that one could use for stemming. By opting for an inspiring route, one can always back-out later but if you don’t try it; you’ll never know your own potential!

Anton was experimenting on Dehli Belly and both of them opted for Belly contortion-ism and roof acrobatics from above. After a while my mind quietened down and I was able to be still and just soak in the scenery and the sun. There were other climbers who changed their plans because of the howling winds and there was another group dealing with flakey Left Hall.

Letting go of self-centredness is the first step to a meaningful existence. As one gains altitude, one’s challenges shrink in relation to the vastness of the territory… that is why I climb!

Triple Indirect – for the love of climbing

Catching my breath on the Last Tango [Photo: Anton]
I’m always inspired by women who can hold their own on the mountain. I met one who’s also my namesake by middlename. She mentioned that it had been a while since she climbed and that she was feeling butterflies. I’m always relieved when I hear that even experienced climbers can feel like that before an adventure.

I was keen to climb without really knowing what we were heading for. It was a good approach because had I have been aware that we would be scaling a roof and doing memorable traverses in triplicate, I may have struggled with my mindfulness!

It’s one thing to follow when you have mixed feelings but Anton had to lead! The ambivalence, that must’ve come from knowing he had to contend with a prong that moves, was only visible once he’d already passed it and made it through the crux.

How did you lead this? [Photo: Anton]
I refused to believe that there’d be no place to recover until the open book before the traverse. It’s a slightly overhangy, pumpy face climb that relied on arms throughout.

Competence with style [Photo: Anton]
Next up was a roof that juts out by about a metre. Although I was told it’s a grade 16, the detailed instructions for finding the little knob to pull up on, made me start replaying some of the less soothing REM tracks in my mind.

I was determined not to hesitate while in a horizontal position. This paid off and so did Anton’s timely reminder for me to unclip while speeding past that roof.

Next up was a very long traverse. Riaan joked over the walkie-talkie that if we came off there we’d swing to Constantia… well let’s just say that when I started plotting trajectories my technique improved in a split second.

Anton was having trouble with slack on his rope, it must’ve gotten caught somewhere between him and I because Riaan had it taught as far as I could see! I was imagining Anton having to problem-solve while leaning out to that roof with slack in the system. We’d swapped ropes and fortunately Anton has many years of experience with dealing with surprises like ‘rope in a chicken-head’. Just when I was wondering how I could help (retracing one’s steps to find a wedged rope is not easy, when there are two followers on a reverso), Anton caught up with me.

I was grateful that he could guide me because unlike my fellow male climbers, I missed the class where one learns how to see the ‘so-called’ obvious route lines! I didn’t even see cracks, let alone lines. We went below Bosun’s chair onto ‘Farewell to Arms’. True to its name, that was the limit for my arms! I ungracefully cursed my way to the belay stance; thrilled to have completed the pitch despite having left a fair deal of cleaning up to Anton! Once again, unable to fathom how mortals lead this territory.

When a journey becomes challenging, having the ability to forge ahead, alone, depending purely on one’s own strength and self belief, is rare! Besides extensive training and life experience what is it that helps build mental stamina to remain calm and secure, under pressure?

Cable Car Surfing Magnetic style – Riaan

By the time we reached Magnetic wall I was happy but wasted and begged Anton to pass me, after yet another traverse. All I had to do was follow his moves and we all made it safely to our destination.

The fact that my climbing buddies still had an appetite for Roulette, tells you a thing or two about their fitness. I, on the other hand got tired flaking the abseil rope and was super impressed that I could reach the cable car queue in a semi-dignified state.

What a day and what a magical mountain! Triple Indirect… there is nothing lukewarm about it – attractive or repulsive… either way, every part of it generates a passionate response!

Kicking Lower Buttress

What consititutes a good day of climbing? If I get to the mountain and learn something, I’m thrilled. Being able to support other climbers also constitutes a great day of climbing. When I’m with people I trust and an opportunity presents itself that falls within that broad principle… it’s for me.


Getting one’s ducks in a row [Photo: Anton]
We had an awesome day and covered a fair deal of route mileage between the four of us:

I observed the way Hugh lead the 3 x 20+m pitches of Fraser’s, imaginging myself getting to a point where I too could manage the ropes so elegantly that everything just flows;

The peace of mind that comes from climbing with experience [photo: Anton]
Jeremy with nerves of steel, didn’t think twice about the option to lead Indian Giver and was in great hands receiving guidance from above and below;

Spatchcock splits on the Duck [photo: Anton]
Bombay lead by Anton was a wonderful experience for me, as I paid attention to the myriad of options for hands and feet, for the first time;

Jeremy still had the stomach for Picnic Time for Teddy Bears and top roping acrobatics on Quake with Anton, who also volunteered for a few gruelling courses of Delhi Belly!

With much support, I did some lowering and indirect belaying… essential skills and not hard if you are using the right gear and your set-up is correct. Fortunately I had help with interpreting these abbreviated instructions (that can mean more than one thing depending on the situation):

‘… Rope!’     = Up rope immediately… there’s way too much slack!

‘Watch me!’ = There’s slack that needs to be taken up but make damn sure you don’t tug because I’m doing a hard move (Note: ‘Watch’ is not visual in this situation: It’s about extreme focus and sensitivity relating to rope taughtness because there’s rope drag and you can’t see anything).

At risk of becoming laid back [photo: Anton]
It was getting very hot and the rusty looking Flame Heath told the story of the drought. Our progress could’ve been quicker but the eternal optimist in me, is sure I’ll improve in the efficiency department given enough practice.

When you ask a hiker that is heading for the crags, where he’s going and he answers Table Mountain… then you must know that you’re dealing with a first timer!

My climbing buddies pointed him in the direction of Platteklip because he wasn’t equipped for crags or even chains and scrambling. They helped him get back on track with a few survival tips that wouldn’t scare him off. That’s a wonderful gift: to be able to humbly meet people at the stage of the journey they’re at and give support in a way that doesn’t dampen their ‘wanderlust’!