Tag Archives: fountainledge

Guardian angels on Boltergeist

Guardian angel watching over us [Photo: Anton]

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.

Broad shoulders – enough determination for a whole team

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.

Leading in paradise

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!

Support for Finale from the apostles! [Photo: Anton]

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!

Preparing for the Squeeze

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.

Riaan’s arms lead the way

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.

Don’t squeeze or I’ll swear [Photo: Anton]

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.

Rodeo on Boltergeist crux [Photo: Anton]

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!

Horizon in harmony [Photo Anton]

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.

Jacob’s tree – bearing golden nuggets

Written by Anton

[Also, take a moment to read and learn from Hugh’s accident report below]

Standing at the base of Jacob’s Ladder with a razor sharp saw in my hand, about to do some tree cutting and tidying up. Louise is sorting ropes; a climber is heading for Jeopardy via Jacob’s and is complaining how wet and cold the rock is. How did we get here?

Tired remains – ‘stripped of bark’ from being step to the ladder

Last Saturday Hugh, Jeremy and myself met at the cable car. Weather was perfect, sun was rising and the area warming up. As per usual we discussed what to climb… some options. The start was agreed. La Vida first 2 pitches then we move to Fountain ledge with all its options. Up we go in the cable car and on the top a very different climate. Windy and cold. Quick review: we will go down and make the call. The call was La Vida as discussed. I lead the first 2 pitches, Willis and Jeremy follow. The wind was gusty and cold, rock was bearable, not too cold. We all went up to the Cobblestone Gendarme traverse, wind was strong and freezing. Quick review of where to go once again.  Discussion. ‘Let’s get onto Jacob’s out of the wind.’ Off we go.

At the base of Jacob’s Ladder we sort out gear and the ropes. As per usual we are having our discussion about the world and all its problems. Willis gets me on belay and I have all the gear. At that point I asked Jeremy for my wind jacket incase I am cold on the hanging belay. Willis then secures himself to the tree for an upward pull, should I come off. The tree is synonymous  with the start of Jacob’s.

Off I go; using the tree, to step up to the start, no gear placed. The tree has had its fair share of wear and tear from hundreds of climbers using it as a step ladder to and onto Jacob’s. I step up off the ledge, left hand not quite holding me, left  and right foot on narrow slopey damp rock. I move my right hand to get to a good pinch. At that point, my right foot slips and I go backwards (left hand not holding onto the rock). I land square on the tree with my bum just above the Y split. The tree breaks below the Y split  and I fall onto the ground from where I started. My right shoulder in line with the edge of the starting point. From there down is a 15 m drop.

The tree breaks and also tells a story of ‘long term human impact’

My belayer had tied into the tree branch. His point where the sling was secured was on the part of the tree that broke off. Had I gone all the way down he would have joined me. Foot note is: classic errors made on a regular basis.

  1. I should have placed my first piece prior to stepping off the ledge.
  2. Belayer tie to the base of the tree and a second piece of gear out for the upward protection.

So that is why I had the saw and was cleaning up. The rock was a lot wetter than the previous week and got colder the higher you went. A good exercise  to climb with care and watching my every move to avoid a repeat and place sufficient gear.

Buffy on an ice cold crag [photo: Anton]
The coffee was a good reward at the end of the climb.

Defrosting [photo: Louis]

Accident Report by Hugh:

Why ‘when shit hits the fan’ is not a carte blanche for preventable accidents?

In choosing our sports we (given our general ages), know the consequences of accidents .

Taking into account the mileage we have clocked with the exception of the Lion’s Head accident, we have a pretty solid track record.

The “Tree Fall“ has got me and I’m pleased to see, all of us, thinking.

Given that the potential worst case scenario (in which case I doubt we would be writing this nor reading it) was a matter of centimetres:

We have been at that location numerous times.
We discussed on the way up to the ledge another accident (conditions!)
We sorted the ropes, I did the usual sling over the tree trunk anchor, and you were off.
The easiest part of the easiest pitch of the day.
Except, and here it becomes interesting: Accidents as we know through personal experience have the following profiles –
Those with fatalities are discussed and analysed in detail by either survivors / witnesses and those in the know, or interested parties (human nature loves the gory stories).
Then we have those with serious injuries (Lion’s Head), ditto, with the survivor adding to the eventual analysis.
Those with less serious injuries, have less analysis, along the lines that ‘shit happens” (I can guarantee that quite a few of these incidents had far more potential consequences and were most likely preventable).

We had a fall which in itself was not necessarily preventable (fortunately our guy was bruised and battered but not broken). But the really bad potential consequences were not considered. I as the belayer was responsible for this situation.
Familiarity breeds contempt. By this I mean we know that spot intimately.
The climber is going to place protection relatively soon after starting on ‘relatively’ easy climbing .
The anchor on the tree is pretty much a “gesture “ to good practice, mainly for the consequence of a fall after gear is placed, and therefore technically for an up directional pull (even a lower placed sling may not have done the job).
The failure of not considering all possibilities and adequately providing for these, was the critical issue.

‘So what?’,  you may ask?
Well, accidents we come out of unscathed are probably the best learning events we have (the airline industry lives by these events).
Similar situations (safe ledge reducing the “exposure” factor): The first pitch of Omega and the 3rd pitch of Atlantic Crag . One could even look at most of the climbs on the Bombay Duck ledge.
I know gear is scarce, time is short but….the anchor has to be right and the first protection placed as soon as reasonably possible.

Happy but safe climbing is the deal we seek !

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!

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.

A beacon signalling the dream

Dream material
Dream material

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.

Riaan... how to do the roof on one's first attempt!
Riaan… how to do the roof on one’s first attempt!

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.

Roof puzzle
Roof puzzle

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!