You don’t visit Hellfire if you feel half-hearted about your climbing. If you don’t believe in yourself, Hellfire will devour all traces of your confidence.
The walk-in tells you the story that this territory has survived and flourished despite savage conditions. Looking back across the Du Toit’s Kloof we could see the threatening rain clouds. Those who’d had past experiences of how quickly this solid and smooth sandstone can turn into a suicidal slip-and-slide were not going to hesitate to call it a day or just wait until the rain had moved.
Anton was quick to get started while it was still dry, knowing there are bolts on the top of the first pitch in case we needed to lower ourselves. ‘Wounded warrior’ is always harder than you imagine it might be, even if you use the opposite crag to stem.
Karl suggested we wait a while and watch what the weather had in store for us. This gave me great faith in his leadership and commitment to keeping himself and us safe. I could see that he’d obviously had some past experiences of how quickly a climb can turn into a nightmare, if you don’t pay attention to warning signals from the weather.
Riaan was leading Burning Ambition in a protected overhanging part of the Hellfire crag and had a brainwave to set up a top rope and return to the dry ledge. We all gathered at the sheltered corner. I watched as team members whose usual focus is efficiency – shifted their attention to innovation in order to maximise climbing challenges in the dry zone of the area to which we would be restricted.
Marie’s Hellfire baptism was on Burnout, lead by Riaan. It enticed the usual expletives but just added to her ‘jouies de vivre’! Next Marie took on the never ending Burning Ambition crack, as if it was a fascinating puzzle. She calmly dealt with it, one section at a time. Her consideration toward the other climbers resulted in her taking a break and then completing it with her usual measured and stylish movements that conserve energy and maximise flow.
In complete contrast, I was not trusting pebbles or smears, so in order to find big enough feet for my ‘pantoffels’, I took giant steps that resulted in lots of strain on my fingers and arms.
Riaan was working his new route right next to me. This gave me confidence to start. He was standing on ridiculously small pebbles and using a miniature crack to work his hands up. When I reached the traverse I went right with my arms using high feet to push me in that direction. Riaan pointed out a foot miles away from me and a side-pull that would help. I took a ‘Holy Hellfire’ swing and used half a finger to pull myself out of the splits.
Next up was a traverse into a narrow dassie crawl. What a scary feeling balancing my entire body into that small cavity… what if I slipped and fell head first?
Riaan reminded me of where to go next after he did a mother of a roof above me. I had seen Louis traverse across there and it took some upside down horizontal climbing where one lifts one’s belly close to the crag ceiling in an effort to transfer some of one’s weight to one’s high legs.
I took the easier low route and would’ve struggled had he not pointed out the undercling that would help me balance enough to stand up.
Attempting that overhang with the heel hook was huge victory for me and I delighted in the praise from my fellow climbers who’d all been supporting on the ledge. They knew how much courage it requires for me to face that type of challenge and helped to make it possible by witnessing my determined albeit awkward progress.
If one doesn’t venture into uncertainty you cannot change your existing landscape… being stuck has proven more excruciating than starting something uncomfortable – I have learnt that the hard way.
I suspect that the roof Riaan and Louis dealt with, is only frequented by ‘Fallen Angels’, a route in the same vicinity.
Anton played on the run-out face just left of the crack while supporting Marie. After Burning Ambition, Karl went on to Warm Up when the drizzle dried up. He lead with Louis on belay and was surprised to see myself and Marie topping out instead. Riaan and Anton did their usual gymnastics on Burn Out next to us.
What a beautiful way to end a glorious day! Marie summed it up well by saying that ‘God must’ve paused for a day or two when he created the mountains in the Du Toit’s Kloof’. We left the pretty caves and the Black Eagles behind and I was thinking about how savage Hellfire could be and how it’s partly that, that allows it to survive devastating conditions.
There are those who go to Hellfire to eradicate alien vegetation… they are the unsung heroes… the real angels of Hellfire!