La Vida or nothing!

‘La Vida’ Loca

‘We could make it in the world if we walked toward it [the mountain] like this… our eyes full of light… with a faithful expectation.’ David Whyte

Ross Suter passed us on the scramble-in’.  He mentioned with a sparkle in his eyes that some days he just loves to give the wild child in him some free rein. His cover page, ‘Tarzan-like’ image on the Hellfire guidebook came to mind.

Claire Keeton on Times Live, quotes Prof. Brymer’s research that uncovers motivations (other than adrenaline) that drive extreme sport participation. ‘ … It facilitates more positive psychological experiences and… human values such as humility, harmony, creativity, spirituality and a vital sense of self’. This finding rang true for me, with someone like Ross in mind.

I really thought I wasn’t mountain material that day but my team would hear nothing of it! I hesitated for a moment and then something inside me decided that I would climb whatever came my way.

It was love at first sight of La Vida! Call me a masochist but that pearly run-out face and pretty arette, looked super attractive in the imitation-Summer, berg wind conditions.

Leading with wings

I would’ve been petrified if I was in Anton’s position, having to lead this route! The kind of leaders who take on routes like this are highly trained athletes. Crazy behaviour for them would be NOT exploring this enchanting crag.

Anton lead with an against all odds, confident view of the future. The odds were the lack of pro options at the start!

Riaan warned me about some of the far reaches that require a good ape index… it certainly helped that the leap of faith holds had been highlighted in chalk for me!

Somehow I managed to stay blissfully ignorant of the fact that Riaan had switched to ‘Farewell to Arms’ and was leading us to the roof that I seemed destined not to scale! My smile vanished, as it dawned on me but I was fully present as Riaan described exactly which way my body should face when I reach for that awkward gaston with my right hand. I stood on the white rock and pushed away, just as I’d been instructed to do. One gets few moments like that in life; a ‘blow your mind’ glimpse of what’s possible! Our climbing mascot was there to mark my achievement as I stood up on that roof. Nothing can take away the fact that you saw your potential. After that the floodgates of possibility opened and I felt in love with life.

Merging with the crag: gecko-style [photo: Riaan]
My completion of that pitch was less than graceful with a ‘take’ on the overhangy crimpy section but not even that could smother my elation.

Riaan and Anton had mercy and after 4 grueling pitches, we finished on Magnetic wall… avoiding that Farewell to Arms, double-whammy roof. I was finished and famished… completely satisfied with life!

Not shying away – on the face of Hellfire

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.

Safety in numbers

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.

On ‘Wounded warrior’ in the mist [Photo: Anton]

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.

Finding the flow on Burning Ambition

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 ‘takkeling”BlueByYou’ [Photo: Anton]

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.

On a mission [Photo: Marie]

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.

Burn out wall in all its glory [photo: Louis]

 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.

Anton the sensei

There are those who go to Hellfire to eradicate alien vegetation… they are the unsung heroes… the real angels of Hellfire!

Touch and Go – ‘What you most fear is what you most need to do’

When you feel like you don’t know whether you are coming or going you probably just need to touch and go!

Double Direct’s starting roof lived up to it’s reputation. Riaan dared me to climb last and stop looking for attention but I shamelessly went in the middle and benefited from being taught about the bucket for a left hand before reaching for that horn above that ‘toilet seat-like’ slab of crag that one needs to jam one’s self into.

You’ve got to love this roof [Photo: Riaan]
Anton had done the acrobatics quite effortlessly on lead… and could probably have managed it in the dark. Riaan did the hard straight-up ‘Quake’ route.

Real trad territory [Photo: Anton]
Next up, was that Touch and Go traverse under the overhang. With a seemingly effortless match of high hands and pull up – Riaan started and aimed for that far right foot pebble which would get him to the rail. With feet smearing along the cavity and one arm dealing with pro, he swung under the roof to the corner. I watched with hyper-focus as his foot felt for that low heel hook around the corner, all while Anton was ensuring no rope crossing etc.

I was following OK until I removed the cam that was protecting my and Anton’s ropes on separate quickdraws. As if it wasn’t hard enough to support my weight on that rail; the cam also decided that it was the perfect time for me to do a dance with it. As I wrestled with the sneaky cam that was wrapping itself around me and my rope; I was also reprimanding myself for removing Anton’s pro and racking my brain to find a way to redeem myself as a team member.

Anton selflessly and firmly mentioned the only logical action that was possible, given that I’d already expended my last drop of strength – ‘forget about the pro and secure yourself first’! Disappointment in self can be more disabling than fear. On the mountain you must be present at all times and accepting one’s mistakes, is step one to deciding what next to do. Correcting an error immediately is not always the best way to be a team player. It should be safety first given immediate risks and then think about the future imaginary ones.

Genuine test [Photo: Anton]
I made it to the corner with Anton reminding me to lower my heel hook just in time. I was relieved that I could clip Anton into a directional at that point! When I looked up for something to assist my ascent – everything looked terribly smooth. I was starting to shake with exertion. Riaan helpfully called ‘leave the cleaning to Anton and go for 1 ‘o clock’… which was all I needed to find the position of a useful jug but my stressed-brain was thinking – where the hell is 1 o’ clock!

Who you gonna call… [Photo: Anton]
I took and then it wasn’t far to get to the anchors, panting like a steam train.

Now I understand what Tony Lourens’ book is referring to when it says ‘This is a genuine test for tradsters who want to take the next step.’ I felt like it had required a giant leap and I was just following.

Anton leading [Photo: Riaan]
Next up was ‘Farewell to Arms’ because according to Riaan it was the fastest way up. I was mesmorised by this awe-inspiring crag that was framed by two overhangs… thinking, this is trad territory at its finest!

I held my breath for Riaan’s lead of this pitch and my parched throat helped me keep my concerns to myself. I watched as Riaan used the slopey, little side-pulls and wide feet. He pointed out the high crimp one must reach up to before the rail. Next, he moved right, like a ninja by cupping his left fingers, so that a slippery looking handle became the jam that allowed him to hoist himself up from a layback smear.

Farewell to Arms at its best [Photo: Anton]

He used body parts to describe what we should look out for on the parts of the route that were invisible to us. My fingers lasted for a fraction of a second on that side pull. I gave the rest of the route one look and decided that a rope climb would be a sensible way to ensure I had something left for the final traverse over the roof.

Anton supported me and Riaan had to ‘take’ while I left him in the dark about my course of action.

I promised myself, I’d train overhangs, laybacks and jams and communicate better next time. Anton managed to maneuver through those two overhangs efficiently and without a hitch.

Finally, I realised the end was near. I saw a luminous yellow rope, speckled with black and wedged in a rail. I remember thinking that nobody would put pro there. Just before I reacted to the thought that it might be a snake, I spotted a leg! The long skinny gecko was more frightened than me. I was the trespasser.

Grateful [Photo: Anton]
It was boiling because of the berg wind, I was fantasizing about water after my challenging climb. The loud whirring sound of the wind through the cables made me so thankful we’d been protected from it around the corner.

My sense of humour returned as I sipped from the strategically placed water bottle, it was a perfect day and I suddenly had nothing to complain about!

It feels possible to accept how far one still needs to go when you’re able to appreciate just how far you have come!

Note: Title quote from Mosswood Hollow by Robert Moss

Gamifying Roulette – one crux at a time

Flash forward [Photo: Anton]
This day could’ve been the last opportunity for Roulette before Winter… a chance to take up where I left off, about a year ago!

Before I even reached the hardest pitch on my previous two attempts at Roulette, my fingers and my mental stamina failed me.

Today, my guardian angel’s advice was: just remember to breathe! It was de ja veux, there were climbers on Last of the Mohawks, as well as a rent-a-crowd, for some reason. Anton and Yvette were nowhere near us, on Double Direct and Touch and Go! I tried to block out the memories of struggling alone on that ledge below the overhang… today would be different.

My guardian angel – with passtimes not for mere mortals [Photo: Anton]
Riaan sailed through the first pitch. I remember thinking, how does he manage to hang around on that treacherous traverse for long enough to place gear? Later I found out, he had placed a lucky mascot on the crux that decided it was more into base jumping than hanging around on rails… I found it at the bottom of the traverse. Laughing helped me start.

My mind was so focused on the hard moves that lay ahead that I got lost on the easiest pitch. I spent some time in that vertical crack, remembering how to breathe.

Following on Mascot Courage [Photo: Riaan]
I reached the knee bar and shook out my arms. Next was the big step across and I used the low feet that I noticed Riaan uses. I rested on my toe on that triangle, other leg dangling and imagined myself pulling up past those crimps and up to the top rail. The cam came out! My fingers were tired just when I realised there was one more cam to go! All my gear was hanging on my rope, I reached the end of that traverse on a prayer. Riaan got a close up view of the face of fear as I climbed onto that ledge (I must’ve forgotten I was on a rope)!

Riaan post Roulette on Boltergeist [Photo: Anton]
The good news arrived. Riaan would wait directly above the overhang and so I would have support if I fell into space. He showed me the hand jam that allowed him to reach the next high jug. I followed and although I looked like Rocky after many rounds in the ring (because of bruised knuckles that had jammed so well), I made it past my previous experience’s multiple fall-induced rope climb spot. Fortunately Riaan reminded me just in time that the mountain was only offering a layback and my froggie position would not end well.

Spot Roulette mannetjie [Photo: Riaan]
My Roulette mascot had magically made it to the crux before me. I manoeuvered onto this miniature ledge. My arms were exploding. I asked if we could avoid the scoop (the hardest pitch). Why would we avoid it… there’d been no takes thus far? We were doing Roulette weren’t we?

A magical ledge that gives energy [Photo: Jamie]
Riaan explained calmly that if I listened to the beta this would be easier than other roofs I’ve scaled. He described it down to the detail of what angle one’s body faces when you lift your left leg to a foot jam at the level of your shoulder!

Then a miracle happened. A camera man appeared from the heavens, hanging from the ledge below Abseil Africa. Jamie was going to do about a 30 m jump from there. I was already struggling with the idea of having to follow Riaan on this hard pitch… I knew I wouldn’t be able to climb while ‘Fear Factor on steroids’ was taking place around us. Fortunately, Riaan was super curious to see this and we agreed to wait and watch. What we saw is on the formal climbing websites, so I won’t give it away here. All I can say is that even though we were only watching, I was amazed I managed not to wet myself!

Riaan led through the roof like a pro. I was grateful for the Hollywood company…. I would not have to do this alone! By the time I set off my arms were fresh. I balanced around the scoop using the miniature crimps. Then I smeared up that crack, found the side pull and the rail for my right foot (I’d memorised this). I faced Lion’s Head and went for the toe hook, cranked my body up to barely reach that horn with my right hand. By now I was swearing like a sailor and giving the camera man a running commentary about how I felt about my climbing partners’ faith in me.

Anton makes time to smell the roses [Photo: Riaan]
Roulette had taken every last ounce of my energy on each pitch! How these guys lead it multiple times a day, I have no idea. Riaan and Anton went on to do Boltergeist and the others were on Don’t Squeeze.

The feeling of satisfaction that comes from having faced one’s fears is hard to explain. My team knew what this meant to me. It’s incredible what is possible when you listen to and learn from experienced and confident leaders that believe in you and I am very appreciative of all of them.

Having the guts to start, when you know just how hard the route that lies ahead is… comes from deep within. Trusting that you have grown since you last stood in that hard spot helps to drown out the echos from the past and allows you to hear the music.

I will never forget this day and I will try and remind myself that I should never wish I could erase past mistakes because it’s the difficulties that bring the skill and wisdom that make places from before feel different today.

Yvette with a view [Photo: Anton]

Jacob’s Ladder and Escalating technicolours

I arrived, as if ready for warfare.. my preparation was meticulous. I donned my helmut like a female Viking commander. In the battle called life – this warrior was silently chanting.

Euphoric Marie was keen to test out the tradding waters and Louis arrived in the nick of time… running upstream against the Platteklip gorge challengers.

Marie would get to try classic Jacob’s’ for the first time.

How many partners do I need in order to coil a rope [photo: Anton]
I got the fight I was looking for: I got our rope in such a tangle on the hanging belay that I had to interrupt Louis’ lead while I sorted out Medusa’s tangle! I also learnt the importance of tie’ing someone off, with one hand while on belay!

Some Americans arrived on the rail and I must have gathered my wits because they were none the wiser re my little rope saga and asked me for advice.

Louis had enjoyed using his new gear and it was easy to clean.

Finally [Photo: Anton]
Anton had sailed through his lead and was amped to do something else. Marie was looking lovestruck by trad! She was rejoicing about the pink flowers that find a way to blossom out of this barren rockface.

We started on the last pitch of Escalator. A calm rhythm began to emerge within me, drowning out my warcry. Breadcrumbs took us along that traverse that we’d watched Anton do with such grace.

Pure joy

Climbing requires flowing movements of precision and poise… elegance makes things easier. The higher I rode that Escalator the more discernment and ease entered my mental realm. Climbing hones your thinking until it’s just you and finding a way of stylishly doing the next step.

Marie sailed up TM on a cloud of happiness and Anton returned for the last pitch dose of ‘Don’t squeeze I’ll laugh’ and then the last part of ‘Boltergeist’ for good measure.

Whenever I’m on the mountain it swallows my Excalibre and I leave with magical powers of peace and tranquility.

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’!

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]