Hellfire seemed like a good option, given that the Sou’Easter was rebuffing even the most Gung-Ho climbers’ Table Mountain plans! Unfortunately the Du Toit’s Kloof also had ominous clouds threatening from all sides.
My mind was racing through potential hazards… today there were only two of us; so if there was an emergency that involved Riaan, the buck would stop with me.
After a flippant ‘perhaps the weather will be better in Montagu’; I realised that today was the day for me to learn to manage my mindset. The wind might howl but it wasn’t that windy yet! After silently going through a few of the emergency procedures that I know; I resolved that I am resourceful enough to deal with whatever comes our way.
We were rewarded by a bird of prey soaring above the glorious red crag – majestic wings, stretching out its sovereignty. By the time we reached the base of Burn Out, my anxious chatter subsided. Riaan’s cams were already jangling and the rope was flaked, while I was still wondering whether my makeshift water-bottle was going to misbehave (and act like an unwanted, 1 litre-heavy, rudder gone haywire) on that roof that prefers light bottoms!
Riaan is your ‘go-to’ guy if you’re looking for someone who knows how to navigate Burn Out without burning out! Stealth feet tiptoeing up vertical lines, thanks to a solid layback; clever stemming and ‘popping up’ (aka relying on brute arm strength) on precious little – all made it look like a well-rehearsed martial arts performance.
I was more relaxed than usual on the first pitch; finding good feet and the just-in-time advice about laybacks and space provision for matching, helped me relish the journey to the ledge.
I knew that I would have to dig deep for the sustained, slightly overhanging pitch two today: I was not in showroom condition and I didn’t have my usual team standing nearby, to clean and back me up when I faltered. Now was not the time to be selfish… Riaan had to lead this unrelenting and jug sparse crag! I put on my wind-cheater; hoping our leader would make it to the top, despite the speed of the heavy clouds moving overhead (14m per second by now).
The start was super tricky with a high left foot and a weird outward compression side-pull for the right hand. Riaan managed to stand while sliding a shoulder up until he could get the solid right foot. A rock broke off and hurtled passed me… Who said that mountains don’t move? Hopefully this wasn’t a sign of things to come?
It was all about feet until he got to an intermediate sloper and had to smeer and bounce up with a fair amount of arm power. I watched Riaan jamming his feet in narrow shafts; as if it was the most straightforward thing to do. He didn’t hang around to rest until after that bunched up, high leg, ninja traverse.
In order to approach the crux he said he did a fingerlock (I have not yet been able to conjure up enough faith in the idea that two digits jammed and then twisted in a sharp crack, can support one’s weight without finger casualties)! Then he basically pulled up the crux on arms alone and a little smearing.
Riaan sailed over that glorious roof and involuntarily waved a wind-breaker flag… the howling gale grabbed it and made ripping noises which assisted in accelerating my, ‘Louise is climbing‘, response.
Today, I would not allow myself to get Burnt Out and I would believe I could make it.
I learnt how to toe jam but not enough and committed the cardinal sin of cam-assisted recovery. I also ‘took’ on the crux while cursing the inhospitable and distracting wind. I did eventually manage the crux, after doubting myself (matching on a pinch is not something I do often and I struggled to believe it could help me hoist my cam-laden hips over that bulge). Riaan explained that all I had to do, was find the miniature crimp at 11 o’clock and then smearing would work!
I looked out at the beauty of Hellfire as I psyched myself up for the roof. The roof was a close call… I refused to drop the limbs that were sending me in the wrong direction! I almost slipped. After scaling the roof on a thread of remaining strength, I had to accept that not ‘letting go’ of things that weigh you down and provide a false sense of safety, can be the difference between maintaining balance and a dangerous fall!
The word ‘brimstone’ is derived from burning stone and it also means butterfly… perhaps it takes fire and brimstone to bring about a positive metamorphosis. Seeing how one behaves in desperate situations can be humbling and uncomfortable to witness but knowledge of that part of you, allows you to transform. Desperation also brings out the grit and the magician in one and once you accept that that is part of you… the sky is the limit!
I left the gusty mountain vowing to train harder, hone my skills and determined to improve.
Riaan suggested we abseil down Burning Ambition and then we spelunked our way down a tunnel. Riaan warned me to step over invisible holes that led to darker cavities below us. I slid down slowly, ensuring I had enough control to land on solid footholds. The sun broke through, flooding me with a heavenly welcome and renewed confidence.
The fallen rock had smashed into Riaan’s still-intact Black Diamond backpack… mine had a ladybug hitching a ride on it! I was grateful for these signs of good fortune that flew in the face of my usual forboding.