Turbo drive kicked in as I realised that I was late for the cable car. The staff sensed my panic and ushered me past the ‘tourist-happy’ gridlock.
I prayed for wisdom and the mountain offered spicy-brown Sage – intoxicating and bursting with healing properties!
We had a plane to catch, so headed straight for one of the most attractive climbs on the mountain… Jacob’s… the answer to my second prayer! Marele and Riaan were nearby on Roulette and I watched in awe as Riaan skipped along that traverse as if he was inserting cams from a freeway! Marele followed without so much as a grunt.
Anton was leading with a deadline but this seemed to be business-as-usual and didn’t stop him from taking time to record Marele’s courage on Roulette. I on the other hand was having to relearn how to get over an overhang while ‘don’t-waste-time’ was on repeat in my brain. We were so fortunate to be following hard-earned experience – Claire was taking special care to observe every detail of Anton’s lead and Anton was being super thorough.
Anton’s ease was infectious and soon Claire and I were lost in the joy of climbing and miles away from unnecessary stress. I also noticed an incrementally positive relationship between Claire’s happiness (and this climbing friend of mine is a remarkably joyful soul on any given day) and her altitude.
Riaan and Marele were wondering what’s next despite completing a grueling Roulette.
While my team headed off to The Dream. I opted for some Rest-and-Relaxation in the Cable Car queue.
A girl that was part of a school tour returned the cash that I’d absent-mindedly dropped. So honest and this might have been more money than she’d ever held… teaching me that a tiny unexpected action can grab a heart and make it sing again!
While Marele ascended the Dream, she reminded me of the Painted Lady flower we’d brushed past: beautiful; completely in her element and with a strength of character that didn’t need words.
I was chilling at the turnstiles, a human placeholder for our team – chatting to the cable car attendant who had a UWC degree; spoke French but couldn’t afford takkies to hike up Table Mountain.
While my team took on the windy conditions, I couldn’t help being amused by the way the couple in front of me in the queue were rowdily seeing to their teeny-boppers’ narcissistic needs. The wife mentioned to her husband that his incessant moaning about the ‘no dogs rule’ was ruining my good karma – I didn’t mind, I was content with watching the abundance of free imported entertainment that was bustling around me.
It was almost time to go home but there’s always time for photo opportunities!
Table Mountain has a way of restoring those who have the priviledge of sharing the spirit of this rock. My wish is that I nurture a mindset that ensures I know I can complete whatever climb life throws in my path.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
What blows my mind is how my climbing friends can read a route description like the one for The Dream’s 2nd pitch: ‘Start left of a small overlap and do a hard pull-up onto the face’ and then think… aaaah, let’s go and onsite that!
Do they somehow magically know when they see that above the dassie crawl there’s a section where there’s nothing positive to hold or put pro in; that, that must be the route! If the only way to place a nut involves jamming a little cam above it, then you must know how dodgy the start is!
By the time I follow on a route with one of my climbing buddies, they’ve usually already gone through the intense process of trial and error, terror and agony that must be involved in finding and figuring out how to lead it!
One would hardly believe that there was a 4 hour cable car queue when you saw how quiet the crags were. Our friends made things feel slightly less isolated as they were on Magnetic wall nearby. It is possible to reach the ledge for The Dream from below… I realised that this was probably not the easiest way to get there when I noticed Riaan was revealing the sections of the scramble to me, one at a time; in order to prevent overwhelm.
The benefit of a challenging scramble is that there’s no room to contemplate the route that lies ahead, you need to block out everything unrelated to your next move.
Although I managed to quiet my mind, my feet were sweating excessively! It may have had something to do with the copious amounts of heal balm, spread on the night before!
From what I could see from Riaan’s ascent of the first pitch, enjoying The Dream is all about finding little feet… he had ways of looking comfortable, standing on pebbles and his splits-like traverse with a match of feet in the middle, made use of the only two creases below that rail! My brain was on record-mode because I’ve learnt from past experience that when he provides a tip, best you pay attention!
He made the step up over the cracks that split the ceiling, look totally do-able, coming from further below than one would consider stepping down because there was a good foot and then even taking a moment to chalk up the side pulls that could make all the difference for my attempt. Not even a grunt as he reached the cubbyhole!
The great thing about the first pitch is that your climber is visible all the time, which helps with responsive belaying. There’s no room for selfish thoughts about the future when a climber depends on you for their safety. This changed the gears in my brain and when Riaan shouted ‘off-belay’, I found myself looking forward to touching this reliable sandstone again.
By the time I got to the ‘balancey’ crack through the roof, my weight was badly distributed and I had to rely on the top rope for a brief moment. I was panting like a dog, my hand was dripping blood, my muscles were finished and yet I found myself smiling! Being pushed to one’s limit is uncomfortable but I had surprised myself!
Discovering that one can try something that challenging (what would previously have been judged impossible), is thoroughly delightful. The fact that I’d lost my balance, faded into insignificance compared to the excitement of seeing a glimpse of a dream.
As I did the unrelenting corrugated dassie crawl, on my exposed elbows and unprotected knees… I was thinking how poetic it was that I had this nudge into optimism on ‘The Dream’ and on New Year’s Eve (when I usually tend to focus on what I haven’t managed instead of being grateful).
It was a huge relief for me to be in the mountain, instead of hanging on the side of it. Unfortunately, I crawled past the belay stance and took forever to set up bomb-proof anchors in the wrong spot and after almost throttling myself with a multitude of tangled necklace slings, I even got baffled by my reverso.
So after that humbling experience.. I had to accept the news that I’d have to move again! I could hear from the comments that calling this lead a challenging ascent would be the understatement of the century. I would belay from the edge of the dassie crawl, so that I could see what was happening on the crag. I had a solid anchor from below that was tightly connected to my harness and my rope was also tied in on the crag. The pro that was protecting Riaan from above was relatively flimsy because of the lack of options on that face.
Riaan chalks up a few pebbly looking crimps for rediculously small feet… next he’s standing on them and doing a crazy hard pull up from a miniature crimp (aka stuff-all). Later, he showed me the hand jams, the step up onto the overhang and then he disappeared up a difficult ‘Magnetic-type’ wall.
Just as I was starting to feel lonely… Anton appeared out of the heavens, with a broad grin and on a top rope! I was blessed to have him watch my progress on this testing climb. Motivated by all the encouragement, I made it to the first resting spot and got enough energy back for that notch in the roof.
By then I felt like it could be the end of this climb, I was already tremouring. Fortunately I could follow Anton who was solving the puzzle for me because there is very little in the line of useful crimps and you need to use brain over braun to make progress there!
I was so focussed on my climb I didn’t even get annoyed that I was in a photoshoot. How Anton took those photos hanging on little pebbles, I have no idea.
The final two pitches were the way to get back to our bags. A great day of teamwork and climbing and such a fantastic end to 2016!
It struck me that all one needs to do is give one’s self permission to dream in the first place and then the rest of the magic gets a life of its own! The paradox I’ll chew on in 2017, is that it’s the big dreams that are the most humbling and that provide an unexpected type of satisfaction!
Aimée and Anton were set on doing something worthy of celebrating the arrival of Ava. Our climbing started with a bang on the Dream Ledge: Double Direct is was! Some of the others on the mountain were also planning eco-friendly athletic-fireworks on Dynamite and Captain Hook!
As I appreciated that roof at the start of Double Direct, I accepted that it was time to face that demon. Now, the word ‘demon’ has two meanings: we all know the torment that one can associate with it but it can also mean ‘skillful performer’. I was being ‘gently nudged’ to transform distress into marvel.
I watched carefully as Anton slid between crag and that slab that allows for pancake-type bodies to squeeze in there. Then with high spiderman-like feet, tiptoeing on corners (that were in my blindspot for my last attempt on this roof), he launched up to grasp that beauty of a horn.
Aimée was with me, so I felt calmer than usual which doesn’t really say much. I climbed carefully over an ominous looking, yet unbeknownst to me, completely harmless, mimic of a ‘bee-on-steroids’ fly (with bulbous eyes and Halloween-like transparent black-tinged wings)!
At the risk of getting pins-and-needles I wheedled myself into that ‘toilet-seat-like’ crack. How refreshing to have the opportunity to survey my options while resting! Finding feet is the difference between suffering and wizardry… a small victory for me.
Despite the fact that my empathy / concern for Aimée’s progress was entirely unnecessary (because she seemed completely at home with the idea of feet at ear-height); this broadened awareness was a good sign of me building teamwork muscles!
Next up was Magnetic Wall… or should I say frozen wall! Anton managed to lead this crag flawlessly, despite icy fingertips and me taking tight at the most uncalled-for moment when he only had two points of contact. Taking tight when slack is needed is dangerous, especially on this ‘hard-to-place-pro’ lead. Belaying is all about being 100% in tune with your climbers’ needs. Anton highlighted the crimp and side-pull mini crack that were the difference between climbing and becoming dry ice on that wall.
Given that we were all tremouring from the cold and there was limited time left for climbing: Anton suggested sunny Arrow Final.
We ended the day with the fastest 60m climb I’ve seen Anton do in one pitch (the maternity ward was calling)! Anton shouted ‘off belay’ and we immediately responded ‘that’s us’! Arrow Final has a way of targetting one’s heart and opening up your spirit… I pictured the great humble adventurers who discovered this route in their big boots. Every climb is different, embrace the unique lessons from the one you’re on!
There was a fire raging in the MacClear’s beacon area at the highest point on Table Mountain! The Fire Chief asked us whether we’d give his men a hand. I assumed that he was looking for new recruits! Fortunately he was merely preparing us to applaud when his brave men, who’d been fighting throughout the night, walked past. How does one train to be able to perform on demand when you’re sleep deprived? What kind of person is selfless enough to volunteer for that dangerous and hard job of curtailing the fire damage caused by arson or careless actions by others?
These men bring their A-game whenever they’re called upon to do so. I’d like to be capable of that too and today looked like the ideal time to test it, as we were headed for a 5-star classic that was not on ‘The Dream Ledge’ by accident! Until now, ‘Farewell to Arms’ was not something I imagined that I’d try, in any realm other than my imagination.
Anton assured me that I’d done the first pitch before and then they disappeared to do Double Direct. Riaan’s unwavering faith in my abilities made me feel better about attempting this. After following on the splits-inducing traverse, I reached the 2nd pitch which had been explained to me in great detail. I asked Riaan to repeat the beta about three times; as if, somehow memorising the theory would help me get an ‘A’. Riaan humoured me because warnings about what to look out for, can make a huge difference when you’re doing something above your comfort level. Composure and focus when you’re in the territory, is something you can only get from yourself though.
The roof section was awesome! I say this now. At the time, I started off with my centre of gravity too far to the left, to be able to capitalise on the gaston to the right. Anton helped me with some timely advice, despite the fact that he was leading his own challenge towards Magnetic Wall. Third time lucky… I made it up! I will admit that the limit-pushing resulted in some language unbecoming to a lady and some bossy requests for Anton to stay opposite me at all times.
Fortunately our climbing party don’t take orders from me and ignore all insults that aren’t premeditated! Anton moved on and I was given the opportunity to think imaginatively.
The ‘Touch and Go’ stance is one of the most awe-inspiring ledges… the clouds rolling in, made it fairy tale material! While I allowed the blood vessels in my arms to recover their composure, Riaan explained the beta that would get me over the next two overhangs. How he lead the last pitch, without losing two fingers in the twisted lock; giving up or at least cursing, I have no idea! While watching this athletic feat; I came to the conclusion that silent climbing is not a sign of comfort. It is the reward for practicing so hard that one develops a deep conviction that one has what it takes to finish what one’s started! Mettle and fortitude are earned and the result of mental presence and a history of not giving up before you’ve tried.
The last pitch certainly tested my edges. After three attempts at the final crux, I made a decision to save my arms and climb the rope. This is progress because I managed to do it alone for the first time and realised that there are many options available to one, when you reach an obstacle. The bad part was that although I communicated what I was doing, I forgot to put the walkie-talkie on… so I left my team in the dark while I faffed around with prussiks and slings!
After 75m of hard climbing, I felt ecstatic. I was very appreciative of my team who had all the patience in the world with me. I was celebrating the beginnings of a faith in my ability to solve problems, without buckling under pressure.
I passed on the final climb for the day, ‘The Dream’ because I had reached mine!
If you love climbing or are just hungry for adventure then this is totally for you!