The South Easter was blowing but it was a glorious sunny day and we were sure that the weather would improve. We started on our way to the Lower Buttress but Simon and his friend, inspired us to hike up to Fountain Ledge in the hope of the cable car opening later.
To cut a long story short; I’m super unfit. Riaan and Anton sprinted to the start of Finale, burdened with full trad racks; while I panted and stumbled through the scrambles with my handbag-sized pack.
The only way I managed to make it to the base of that beautiful white crag was to promise myself that the walk-in would be my training for the day and there’d be no need to climb.
Anton and Riaan were convinced I’d cope with the route though and once I saw the straight-up face; I was in awe of the beauty and magnificence of the rock. It captured my interest in the same way La Vida did.
The first few metres did not offer easy gear options to Riaan but looked relatively climbable.
When Riaan curses then you know it’s a bloody hard lead. Well, he was half way through that ‘shrinky-dink’ rail and standing on a fraction of his toe, on the only pebble in a 2 metre radius – when he used colourful expletives to impress on us that we should not miss that foot!
Anton offered to do all my cleaning so I could speed through the traverse by merely unclipping. Despite being spoilt by my climbing partners, that thin rail and the fact that I was hanging on less than fingertips resulted in an involuntary Elvis leg by the time I neared the ledge. The body releases stress through tremours, so even though I didn’t say a word (come to think of it, I possibly wasn’t even breathing); the effect of Finale was somatically visible! My thoughts were with leaders who discover (when they’re hanging by a fingerprint) that it’s definitely not a grade 18!
Riaan and Anton only just fitted on the ledge and I stood on a shoebox-sized shelf, staring out at Camp’s Bay – elated that the traverse was behind me.
The beginning of ‘Don’t Squeeze I’ll Laugh’ is daunting for a leader! There’s a bouldery layback and then a side-pull with a reach that offers good hands but only smearing until you get to the point where you need to get your toe up to shoulder height! I watched Riaan rock his knee and then his body up onto the shelf… it looked completely do-able.
Well, if it wasn’t for Anton’s timely tips as I cursed my way up that short and memorable pitch, it would’ve ended quite differently for me. It was a close call as I balanced on that flat, mini-rail and tried to lift my horizontal body by rocking my high toe forwards. The ropes in front of me tempted me to grab something solid but Anton reminded me that you never grab a rope while climbing. Thanks to his curt ‘you can do it’ – I muscled through the nightmare mantel / grovel, pushing myself to a point I never knew was possible.
Anton sailed through the route without so much as a sigh.
Next up was Escalator to Boltergeist. Riaan experimented with his balance on the crux, varying his position, while Anton made suggestions from below, based on a photographic memory of the rock folds.
I had the benefit of a chalk trail but still had to ‘take’ thrice. Boltergeist has a lovely hand-to-foot match where you rely on a balancing right foot on a crease that gets you to a slopey layback and freedom. Leaders must face their fears on this pitch. I had the benefit of a climbing partner on each side walking me through the moves for this crux… Boltergeist is even hard when you’re following and supported – I have huge respect for anyone that faces this route alone.
Anton had a silent and calculated way of getting through this tricky climb (that makes only the supernatural feel at home)!
What a day of climbing and my team still had energy for Roulette! I was more comfortable about walking up with 3 backpacks and a trad rack than I was to do any more climbing!
I hiked up slowly with my heavy load… the Winter-gold Proteas, Confetti Bush and Arum Lilies seemed brighter than usual – marking my way! The dark, glossy Sunbird’s energy was so vivid that I almost felt its joy. There was no-one to offer me help and I was determined not to stop, lest I give up. Finally I reached the final ascent and a tourist making his way down, offered to help this wild-eyed / crazy African woman (aka me), I declined because I didn’t want to inconvenience him.
Once I reached the top I had to admit that I could really use some help. The straps were cutting into me. I had a newfound appreciation for the weight of the load that trad leaders need to carry. A guardian angel called Jeremy (whom I didn’t know from a bar of soap) carried one of my bags for the last stretch and told me that hikes like this bring the best out of a person!
My team was keeping a spot for me at the cable car, they had climbed faster than I had walked! What a day; what a climb; what a mountain? There are angels everywhere.