Burn out to freedom

A proper reach

Anyone who has the impression that mountains can be conquered… learns differently at Hellfire.

The cold front had hit Cape Town and we couldn’t spot the tollgate lights until they were right in front of us. I had to pinch myself to believe Hellfire was so warm and clear! The crag had that streaky caramel look and not a breath in the air.

Clean slings

Anton lead the first pitch of Burn Out. As he put out the pro above the first roof; Riaan was explaining to me that you anchor in low and so that you don’t get yanked forward on belay. Any  tug toward the crag would result in more slack  that could cause your climber to bottom out.

Anton carefully moved feet to his previous hand holds. On the layback crack he placed some bomber gear and did a sideways step-for-change to the far left pebble.

I enjoyed the challenge until the layback crack and then fortunately Anton pointed out that without the high arete pebble for my right foot and a half way stop below my matched hands, it wouldn’t be possible to reach far left.

Riaan raced up and before I knew it he was preparing for pitch two! I felt obliged to warn my team that I wasn’t sure I’d make it… last time I did it, I promised myself I wouldn’t try it again until I was grown up.

Riaan pointing out the joys of pitch 2 (Photo: Anton)

I managed to let go of my addiction to certainty as I watched Riaan start this lead climb that showed the leader what they were in for, right from the first high foot to the dodgy  loose block move! Before you even start this climb, you know; anything might happen. As I accepted that, I realised that that may well be the answer to freedom! There’s no point trying to control the future when anything’s possible, you merely need to give it your best shot.

Riaan hopped along the tiny feet. Often he’d rely purely on arms and a few smears. With a shock, I had deja vu as I saw him do twisty foot jams and tricky beta that involved compression moves and one hand working it’s way directly above the other on a very hard to balance vertical crack.

I watched him traverse left and then scale that mother of a crux. Without missing a beat he flew over the roof using drop knees. His  limbs, all working together in rhythmic collaboration that assured his top out.

I gave the rib-high first foot one look and luckily Anton made some suggestions that got me started. To my detriment I avoided the foot jams and never found my third point of ‘unreliable’ contact. Before I knew it I was shouting ‘take’.

Riaan pointed out the side pull that, given Worcester body positioning, could have been very positive. ‘Where the hell was Worcester?’ my stressed mind was saying. Next I was swinging across the slippery crag with nothing positive to hold onto.

Hellfire profile ftw
The art of Hellfire (Photo: Anton)

Jokily and easing the angst I was feeding; Riaan suggested that Anton read a book on the ledge. ‘Can I be lowered Anton, I don’t think I can do this?’ Anton didn’t miss a beat with his firm.. ‘ the rope’s not long enough!’

Either I haven’t carried enough ovens in my life or I was having a bad day… most likely both. If you think you’re shit hot on run-out face climbs, come to Burn Out to get cut back down to size.

I swung so far away, I had to ask to use Anton’s rope in order to work my way back across that butternut skin, smooth rock. Eventually I made it to the fist jam that would help me recover my forearms and my crying fingers.

My throat was parched. Anton followed gracefully. Next up was the crouching tiger, hidden dragon… crunched-up-body, traverse-left-with-a-pointy-toe move of Riaan’s that I tried to mimic.

Riaan had marked the little left toe crease that I had to use to push myself up through the crux. By my 3rd try I was using the green cam to get myself motivated to start aiming for that high pinch… it would’ve helped (although maybe just a little) if I wasn’t confusing a pinch for a thumb lock off! I asked Riaan to take and even though Anton had a good waiting spot; I begged him to keep going so that I could ensure the blood returned to my forearms and recover my fingers which would not have got me out of a swimming pool, let alone a crag, at that point! I should’ve anchored myself in but I’d reached that stage of a climb when you realise that if you’re not selfish, your mind will turn against you (which is even worse for the team).

You cannot breakthrough if you’re controlled by your fear. When you’re desperate, you become very crafty… I spotted a slightly elevated rock that I hadn’t noticed before and which was set back a bit in the cavity. It gave me the centimeter I needed to reach the miniature crux crimp that was on the horizontal surface beyond the sloper that had kept me entertained for so long. I pulled my whole body up using that right hand and thanked God I’d made it to the ledge below the roof. Now I could rest my brain and wait for Anton who would talk me through the roof.

What a relief! When Anton scaled the crux, he must’ve thought I was celebrating because I was doing my spiritual healer cum toy-toy ritual to recover my arms.

After some much needed water; the roof (which I dreaded more than anything else) was a cinch because I was not on the sharp end of the rope and I knew that soon I’d be able to relax.

Pulling through the roof with a view (Photo: Anton)

When your climbing partners have high expectations of you and don’t loose faith in you, even when you do…. you find the strength to do what you thought was impossible! The beauty of freedom is not knowing what will happen and managing to pull through .

The river runs through it

The wind was picking up a little and I was happy that I was too tired to even contemplate more climbing.

Five Frenchmen arrived just as Riaan did the first pitch of Burnout (because who wouldn’t want to do it for a second time, right)!

Balancing the Burn Out

Riaan took a fall on lead as he swung across to the far left. His matched hands slipped, and were carrying all his body weight… luckily, he saw it coming, fell well and there was a large cavity below.

Riaan and Anton still had energy for Burning Ambition and I offered to show the French climbers the way. They laughed at me when I asked if they first needed to warm up… had I not noticed the hectic walk in?

Then I showed them the Wall of flames sport section. I couldn’t resist telling these visitors to keep an eye out for the local leopard… their reactions did not disappoint!

As we raced back to the cars…. my mind wondered. Your fears come out on Burn Out and then you get to the point where they no longer matter, as long as you haven’t given up! Approval is irrelevant as survival instincts kick in. The self-satisfaction of knowing you dug deep and didn’t give up in the face of hardship must be one of the most empowering feelings… what more can you attempt with support in the wings?

Black geckos matched the charcoal encrusted trees. Little flowers were popping up everywhere.


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