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!

2 thoughts on “Swinging to REM”

  1. hahaha…yes REM on Table Mountain has got nothing to do with the band REM! The music is definitely different…glad you got the calmness back to do the correct things in moments of stress. Prusiks are amazing!

  2. Skills give safe climbing a whole new level of experience….the more the better….can give your guardian angles a break as well!
    Well done you are getting there….small steps to reduce your anxiety and fear levels.
    Safe climbing = happy climbing

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