Tag Archives: hellfire

Buoyant on Burn Out

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.

Hellfire… where spirits soar!

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.

Current video on Instagram ‘Gale force South Easter’  @kragaapindiebos

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.

Riaan conducting from up high [photo courtesy Anton from previous trip]

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!

Aiming high [photo that Anton took while providing moral support during a previous visit to Hellfire]

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.

Light at the end of the tunnel [Anton with us in spirit, as this is his photo from when they discovered the tunnel]

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.

Sultans of Hellfire

‘Pyjama bushes’ wearing pink and purple furry petals [Photo: Jeremy]

The dark and heavy clouds creeping over the mountains on the other side of the river had us wondering what we were doing at Hellfire with trad gear.

As usual we decided to do the walk-in and make a call on the weather once we could inspect the crag.

Arctic Ascent

Polar fleeces are not often spotted on lead but this one was determined to stay on because not even Burn Out was warm, to start off with, today. Riaan and Louis didn’t waste any time before introducing Jeremy to the Burn Out crag.

Anton: Hell or High Water on Burning Ambition

Anton started on relatively drizzle protected, Burning Ambition; leaving the weather call for the ledge above the first pitch. I was wearing gloves and a beanie, thinking that we can always abseil down, if this wind continues.

Bad conditions have a way of honing your attention. You know your fingers are cold and less reliable. You go slower, ensuring you find the best feet that won’t slip. Technique improves with super focus… why don’t I always climb like this?

Anton set up a top-rope for the ambitious crack, despite ominous clouds gathering in the distance. Higher up he even used the left side of the open book for his left foot and that helped to take the strain off his arms. One needs to be planning ahead to notice these things because a layback is the last place on which you want to be reconnoitering. I was grateful to be on top-rope in these freezing conditions and my blind-spot caused a fair deal of layback misery. I stopped after the traverse under the roof, pleased to discover how hanging on  straight arms, makes traverses far more manageable. Anton suggested I climb a bit higher to minimise the swing but I conjured up drizzle puddles everywhere above the roof (in my imagination) and ended up swinging back to safety without the firmness of the crag to guide me.

After that Anton did the whole of ‘Blue by you’. I tried the part below the roof and used every last ounce of strength to get to those few-and-far-between pebbles. When you manage to eak out the centimetres required to get to the next tiny but positive crease; you really start to understand the concept of barn-door potential. I felt very satisfied after I’d finished that tiny-flake vertical wall that required one to keep one’s balance above one’s feet in order to stay on. I swung back to the ledge a little sooner than I should have… another lesson in ‘it’s always better to follow your belayer’s safety instructions’!

Stemming the Hellfire – with cryptic clues

Next Riaan lead Burning Ambition after a quick coffee to recover from Burn Out. Anton basically told him to follow the chalk, in the usual abbreviated way in which they successfully communicate.

A handful of beauty – Burn Out

Jeremy showed his appreciation for this rock by the stylish way he mounted Burn Out.

Sultan on lead [Photo: Anton]

Pictures speak louder than words for the next challenge that Riaan and Anton took on. A very hard, new climb ‘ Crackwore’ which judging from the footage might be about a grade 23.

The crack that cuts like a knife [Photo: Anton]

Riaan taking advantage of a foot jam!

Wedged-in and jamming the rail crack

Streaky sandstone that looks very slippery seemed to be providing lots of satisfaction!

All that glitters is not gold – Hellfire  [Photo: Anton]

Riaan was concerned about the thin, slatey flake.

Reaching the light at the end of the tunnel [Photo: Anton]
Boys being boys, Anton and Riaan followed an eerie cave-tunnel and were rewarded with a way to spelunk to the corner crack on the second pitch.

‘The priviledged and the pilgrim’ David Whyte

We wound our way down to the road. I was feeling so happy and aware of how much I had to look forward to.

Look up, your feet will know where to go [Photo: Jeremy]

Epilogue to a memorable adventure!

Samson and the pillars of rock
Splits on caramel icing-sugar rock
Sultans of Hellfire!

A colourful band of merry men – Carpe Diem on this icy day in the Du Toit’s Kloof!

Burn out to freedom

A proper reach

Anyone who has the impression that mountains can be conquered… learns differently at Hellfire.

The cold front had hit Cape Town and we couldn’t spot the tollgate lights until they were right in front of us. I had to pinch myself to believe Hellfire was so warm and clear! The crag had that streaky caramel look and not a breath in the air.

Clean slings

Anton lead the first pitch of Burn Out. As he put out the pro above the first roof; Riaan was explaining to me that you anchor in low and so that you don’t get yanked forward on belay. Any  tug toward the crag would result in more slack  that could cause your climber to bottom out.

Anton carefully moved feet to his previous hand holds. On the layback crack he placed some bomber gear and did a sideways step-for-change to the far left pebble.

I enjoyed the challenge until the layback crack and then fortunately Anton pointed out that without the high arete pebble for my right foot and a half way stop below my matched hands, it wouldn’t be possible to reach far left.

Riaan raced up and before I knew it he was preparing for pitch two! I felt obliged to warn my team that I wasn’t sure I’d make it… last time I did it, I promised myself I wouldn’t try it again until I was grown up.

Riaan pointing out the joys of pitch 2 (Photo: Anton)

I managed to let go of my addiction to certainty as I watched Riaan start this lead climb that showed the leader what they were in for, right from the first high foot to the dodgy  loose block move! Before you even start this climb, you know; anything might happen. As I accepted that, I realised that that may well be the answer to freedom! There’s no point trying to control the future when anything’s possible, you merely need to give it your best shot.

Riaan hopped along the tiny feet. Often he’d rely purely on arms and a few smears. With a shock, I had deja vu as I saw him do twisty foot jams and tricky beta that involved compression moves and one hand working it’s way directly above the other on a very hard to balance vertical crack.

I watched him traverse left and then scale that mother of a crux. Without missing a beat he flew over the roof using drop knees. His  limbs, all working together in rhythmic collaboration that assured his top out.

I gave the rib-high first foot one look and luckily Anton made some suggestions that got me started. To my detriment I avoided the foot jams and never found my third point of ‘unreliable’ contact. Before I knew it I was shouting ‘take’.

Riaan pointed out the side pull that, given Worcester body positioning, could have been very positive. ‘Where the hell was Worcester?’ my stressed mind was saying. Next I was swinging across the slippery crag with nothing positive to hold onto.

Hellfire profile ftw
The art of Hellfire (Photo: Anton)

Jokily and easing the angst I was feeding; Riaan suggested that Anton read a book on the ledge. ‘Can I be lowered Anton, I don’t think I can do this?’ Anton didn’t miss a beat with his firm.. ‘ the rope’s not long enough!’

Either I haven’t carried enough ovens in my life or I was having a bad day… most likely both. If you think you’re shit hot on run-out face climbs, come to Burn Out to get cut back down to size.

I swung so far away, I had to ask to use Anton’s rope in order to work my way back across that butternut skin, smooth rock. Eventually I made it to the fist jam that would help me recover my forearms and my crying fingers.

My throat was parched. Anton followed gracefully. Next up was the crouching tiger, hidden dragon… crunched-up-body, traverse-left-with-a-pointy-toe move of Riaan’s that I tried to mimic.

Riaan had marked the little left toe crease that I had to use to push myself up through the crux. By my 3rd try I was using the green cam to get myself motivated to start aiming for that high pinch… it would’ve helped (although maybe just a little) if I wasn’t confusing a pinch for a thumb lock off! I asked Riaan to take and even though Anton had a good waiting spot; I begged him to keep going so that I could ensure the blood returned to my forearms and recover my fingers which would not have got me out of a swimming pool, let alone a crag, at that point! I should’ve anchored myself in but I’d reached that stage of a climb when you realise that if you’re not selfish, your mind will turn against you (which is even worse for the team).

You cannot breakthrough if you’re controlled by your fear. When you’re desperate, you become very crafty… I spotted a slightly elevated rock that I hadn’t noticed before and which was set back a bit in the cavity. It gave me the centimeter I needed to reach the miniature crux crimp that was on the horizontal surface beyond the sloper that had kept me entertained for so long. I pulled my whole body up using that right hand and thanked God I’d made it to the ledge below the roof. Now I could rest my brain and wait for Anton who would talk me through the roof.

What a relief! When Anton scaled the crux, he must’ve thought I was celebrating because I was doing my spiritual healer cum toy-toy ritual to recover my arms.

After some much needed water; the roof (which I dreaded more than anything else) was a cinch because I was not on the sharp end of the rope and I knew that soon I’d be able to relax.

Pulling through the roof with a view (Photo: Anton)

When your climbing partners have high expectations of you and don’t loose faith in you, even when you do…. you find the strength to do what you thought was impossible! The beauty of freedom is not knowing what will happen and managing to pull through .

The river runs through it

The wind was picking up a little and I was happy that I was too tired to even contemplate more climbing.

Five Frenchmen arrived just as Riaan did the first pitch of Burnout (because who wouldn’t want to do it for a second time, right)!

Balancing the Burn Out

Riaan took a fall on lead as he swung across to the far left. His matched hands slipped, and were carrying all his body weight… luckily, he saw it coming, fell well and there was a large cavity below.

Riaan and Anton still had energy for Burning Ambition and I offered to show the French climbers the way. They laughed at me when I asked if they first needed to warm up… had I not noticed the hectic walk in?

Then I showed them the Wall of flames sport section. I couldn’t resist telling these visitors to keep an eye out for the local leopard… their reactions did not disappoint!

As we raced back to the cars…. my mind wondered. Your fears come out on Burn Out and then you get to the point where they no longer matter, as long as you haven’t given up! Approval is irrelevant as survival instincts kick in. The self-satisfaction of knowing you dug deep and didn’t give up in the face of hardship must be one of the most empowering feelings… what more can you attempt with support in the wings?

Black geckos matched the charcoal encrusted trees. Little flowers were popping up everywhere.


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!

Hellfire – when Table Mountain is blowing

‘We’ll head for Lucifer’s Ledge and make that our base.’ I was thinking, ‘for my sins’…. I’d had little sleep and dragged myself out of bed at 5, thinking: ‘all I need to do, is do the Hellfire walk-in for training and then at least I’ll be working towards my goal to be fit enough for full-day country climbs. You can imagine my surprise when I realised that instead of having the option to bail at any time, today there were only two of us climbing and so the buck stopped with me.

In order to adjust my mindset, I remembered something that my trad role model Silke told me:  ‘Just because you don’t feel like you’re in showroom condition; it doesn’t mean you can’t climb.’ It proved to be true because we had a super day of climbing.

Relief when burning ambition is behind you
Relief when burning ambition is behind you

Anton cleverly chose climbs he knew I wanted to return to, as well as ones that would be good training grounds for that mother of a crack on Cedarberg’s Energy Crisis (that I’m hoping to meet come the end of the year).

Like butter on Burn Out
Getting my hands in that little crack on Burn Out
Get high in that little crack on Burn Out

Next we did Burning Ambition which has a cracking start to its second pitch! Following on the layback felt good for the first time and the traverse under that roof feels completely different when you breathe while doing it.

The difference that a bit of oxygen can make
After the traverse: The difference that a bit of oxygen can make!
Fighting a stubborn nut
Fighting a stubborn nut

Anton saved the day by rotating and then retrieving the nut that seemed like it was destined to spend eternity in that Hellfire crag.

Lowering from the anchors for gear retrieval
Lowering from the anchors for gear retrieval
Anton getting some more Burning Ambition
Anton getting some more Burning Ambition

Our last pitch was Warm Up, which I’d seen Mira lead.

Look lots of places to put your hands and feet!
‘Look lots of places to put your hands and feet!’

When Anton puts his mind to something, he finds a way to make it happen…. and three pitches we were going to do!

I loved the bulgy sections that one had to straddle and enjoyed embracing that reliable, solid sandstone on Warm Up.

Jamming myself into a cubbyhole on Warm Up
Jamming myself into a cubbyhole on Warm Up
That awkward moment...
That awkward moment…

The swifts were doing aerial shows and the bewitching Yellowwood Amphitheatre was beckoning, like the Lonely Mountain, across the kloof.

We proved that it’s possible to visit Hellfire and return in time for lunch. The red Heath, purply miniature cottonball flowers and intoxicating wild rosemary celebrated my slightly stronger knee tendons on the walk out. When you keep up the things that build your sense of self and are good for you, you start learning how to make yourself comfortable in any territory!

The wild side of Hellfire

Mira mojo!
Mira mojo!

We arrived in drips and drabs and so did the drizzle! Despite this Anton was set on exploring the Prow which captured his imagination quite some time ago. Somehow, Riaan and Louis had energy for ‘Wildfire’ which I could not have named more aptly!

Anton ignored the precipitation as he started up a precarious crack and despite the biting wind, was determined to do some ‘Sapphire’ seeking! After hearing that my exaggerated breathing was somewhat off-putting… I remembered to be poised and managed to refrain from making a single remark about the polar weather conditions (kind of essential, given that I was not even the one climbing)!

Fortunately a damp and run-out ‘Sapphire’ forced us to switch to ‘Sideburn’. After Anton’s first horizontal move to mount the ledge and then another roof, I realised this would be a good opportunity for me to face my heel hooking and mounting demons. The ‘Wall of Flames’ side of the prow, looked more like a lichen-salad!

I like the way Anton immerses himself in the territory before making choices. His decisions are based on factual observations on the climb and not fear of what might lie ahead. A great way to explore the unknown. The fact that he already has exit strategies lined up, makes trailblazing a responsible albeit risky experiment!

Going skew on sideburn
Going skew on sideburn [photo: Anton]

The wet conditions even tested Riaan’s patience. That roof didn’t seem to phase him though… One needs to move as fast as Wildfire on the flat-wall section and then mere mortals would freeze after a glance at that BF roof. While Louis fought his way up this grade 22 climb, Riaan was wondering how Hellfire in Spring can be so icy!

Riaan chilling on top of Hell
Riaan chilling [photo: Anton]

Louis never gives up and always first thinks independently about what will work for him in the moment.

Louis on fire!
Louis on fire! [photo: Riaan]

As I was patting myself on the back for surviving the gale force and ready to reward myself with copious amounts of food; Anton pointed out that ‘The Burn Out’ was in fact very protected and that we could easily complete one pitch within my deadline.

Saucy brunch - heaven is a place in Hellfire
Saucy brunch – heaven is a place in Hellfire

Burn out didn’t fail to challenge me and I missed a foot that resulted in a bit of a cheat ending which was fine as I’d done much more than I imagined possible.

Busy Burn out wall
Busy Burn out wall [photo: Riaan]
Our friends from Finland joined us and brought with them the most cheery bright energy.

Radical joy!
Radical joy! [photo: Anton]
They took on ‘The  Melt Down’ and ‘Wounded Warrior’ and somehow managed to both lead with a light-heartedness that made if feel like Christmas in Hellfire.

Hellfire – Freezes Over

I was praying for a warm-up climb but instead I got the opposite for two reasons: there was nowhere to hide from the bone-chilling wind and ‘Burning Ambition’ is no walk in the park! We were there on my request and surely I should’ve known by now that the last place one gets what one wants is in Hellfire… it’s the place where you get to face your fears.

Hellfire colours
Hellfire colours

The quieter part of me that’s a glutton for growth, was thrilled though. Yvette was practically bubbling over with the excitement / nervous energy that goes with doing ‘Burn Out’ (5 star climb) for the first time.

Yvette captures the coffee smiles
Yvette captures the coffee smiles

It was hard for me to tell how the rest of our climbing team were feeling because their warrior skills are honed in ways that I can only dream mine could be. If I had to guess, I would say they were very happy to be outdoors doing ‘fun’ routes!

Yvette, hot stuff on Burn Out
Yvette, hot stuff on ‘Burn Out’

Anton lead the first pitch of ‘Forked Tongue’ for the first time (which was a test of mind over matter, given that it was so cold I was surprised he could feel his fingers).

The base of Forked Tongue
The frigid base of ‘Forked Tongue’

I was fantasizing about hot coffee and wondering what good resolutions I could make that would forgive ever having spoken with a forked tongue and magically make the 2nd pitch disappear (which starts with a grade 23 bat-like move)!

The wind was getting stronger and ‘Burning Ambition’ was less exposed, miraculously we chose it as the more appropriate route for the weather.

After Anton muscled up the crack and did the splits across the traverse, I asked Louis to stay a few metres behind me at all times…. for beta and moral support! Louis was so upbeat about climbing anything, his optimism was infectious!

HF Burning Ambition
After taking a bite of ‘Ambition’

I learnt that redoing a climb really helps with technique and confidence. The only upsetting part was when I bit into the crag under the roof section… I guess I wanted extra protection!

Louis on Fire
Louis on fire

I left Hellfire early but the rest of the team took on ‘Melt Down’ and ‘Wounded Warrior’.

Anton Leading Melt Down
Anton steaming up Hellfire crag

As I was leading the walk-out for the first time, I realised that it’s OK on my own in the wild. You need to lift up your head to check your direction and see there are cairns at every corner waiting to guide you; when you feel insecure there are footprints, of those who’ve gone before you and when you do lose the path, rather backtrack to familiar ground before heading forward again!

Flying over Melt Down
Yvette captures Riaan Flying

Not getting what one wants is often exactly what one needs… I’ll return again unless hell freezes over!

Hellfire – Finding my Feet

There’s new life bursting through fire damage in the Du Toit’s Kloof… radical joy is always a possibility where nature’s concerned.

When you can't fly, find feet... Helfire teaching me how to listen
When you can’t fly, find feet… Hellfire teaching me how to listen

You don’t wake up during Winter at 5h30 for Hellfire, unless you have a wild streak or a support system that helps you swim against the current. Those who permit one this opportunity for personal mastery / flagellation or go so far as to encourage you to keep it up, are to be treasured!

Anton lead the first pitch.

This dodgy look on belay may not be repeated... Anton going strong
This dodgy look on belay may not be repeated… Anton going strong

One of the nuts popped out and Riaan was depending on a rope that was only just dangling over the far corner of a rock. This was the only thing separating him from a pendulum swing if he did take a fall. I was the one to take a fall though… my hand slipped on the flattish ledge and in my desperation to avoid retracing my steps, I grabbed the rope and hung on for dear life! When fears from the past haunt you, illogical behavior can ensue. Have faith and start again wherever you end up because it’s never the same as a previous fall – each fall teaches and changes you.  I would’ve had much more power left in my arms if I’d realised you can retreat in order to make headway!

Forked Tongue’s 2nd pitch starts with a venomous bite (that’s assuming we started at the right spot and weren’t on something harder).

Riaan, courage in the face of uncertainty!
Courage to lead in the face of uncertainty!

Riaan didn’t commit to doing it until he’d placed about the 6th pro, by then he’d done such incredible athletic feats, it seemed ridiculous for him to turn back! I was belaying and there was a lot of complicated gear placing required by him, in order to protect while ensuring the ropes don’t cross. It was also a huge learning experience for me regarding maneuvering the ropes individually in order to be responsive enough for slack while holding enough tension on the other rope so that he wouldn’t fall too far. It was a great team effort with Anton, in his calm and assertive way, helping both of us through this potentially dangerous challenge.

The easy choice would’ve been to give up and do a familiar climb but letting go of certainty was the magic that introduced us to this wicked climb. Courage for adventure offers one realisations that you may never have anticipated, that’s what I need to remember every day! Riaan showed the mountain the utmost respect, and was rewarded. When your team member succeeds in doing something THAT hard it’s pretty pathetic to worry about your own ability to merely follow! So I kept my pathetic thoughts to myself.

I would’ve taken a scary fall if it wasn’t for Anton leaning across the gaping pit helping me stick to the crag. You have to hang from your hands then bump one further right, so that you can swing far enough to reach something to stand on. No one can hang in space alone for long. If you don’t have feet then at least ensure that you have a friend.

Once you reach the flatter face, the climb becomes very enjoyable, although I was a little unreliable in the cleaning department. Climbing depends 100% on your internal state… I was shocked into letting go of all distractions very early in the climb when Anton pointed out that I was cleaning his gear!

A friend of mine told me that just because you’re not ‘show room condition’  on a particular day, it doesn’t mean that you have to forfeit climbing completely. I skipped Burn Out while my team enjoyed it.

Burn Out
Combustion on Burn Out

After basking on a boulder I left with more energy than I’d arrived with.

Hellfire – where time stops

A pair of Witkruis (Verraux) eagles set the tone for a morning of magnificence at Du Toit’s Kloof! Those majestic hanggliders catch my heart and make it soar for at least a week! Swear words of admiration come to mind when I’m in their presence… and I feel like I can see more clearly.

Hellfire was shining because of the soaking it had had after the past few weeks.

I was so busy smelling the roses… I lost the rest of my group on the walk in! Mmmm, that’s a first… even for me. Fortunately there’s cell phone coverage and I soon found my way to Burn Out Wall where I followed on the first pitch.

We went left on the ledge past some gaping gaps (I reeled when I noticed how far the stones I kicked were falling) until the corner crack, which is right next to ‘Fallen Angel’. I felt somewhat godforsaken just looking at it.

Cracking up in Hell
Cracking up in Hell

Apparently after the awe-inspiring experience of witnessing those birds of prey, I was about to be cast out of heaven! The idea of a 4m crack surrounded by nothing but glassy crag made me start imagining my Lego arms popping out of their sockets.

While belaying Anton who lead it superbly, I also realised that hot Hellfire can become Arctic-shiver-to-the-bone wind tunnel, depending on where you perch! 5 metres away Riaan was basking in the heat like a lazy dassie.

Anton leading next to Fallen Angel
Anton leading on Burning Ambition
Seeing a ghost
Seeing a ghost

It’s amazing how good I am at memorising beta when my life depends on it! My arms and legs were shaking by the time I got to the ledge and my frightened eyes didn’t really help to encourage my ascent. Things improved once I was reminded to breathe normally and there were actually footholds on the crag!

Some useful beta instructions came from up high and helped me find a useful undercling that offered a welcome end to my efforts for the day.

Anton was determined to lead ‘Burn Out’. I was surveying this courageous testing of limits from a massive boulder nearby.  My son calls Anton, Deadpool, the Marvel hero who is known for his physical prowess and self-healing powers. Spare a thought for his fabulous family members who’ve seen him recover from a serious climbing accident and supported him in his return to this sport that he loves so much.


Burn Out doesn't disappoint
Burn Out doesn’t disappoint

I could see the gifts that persevering through the recovery years must have afforded Anton, as he painstakingly lead Burn Out… which just doesn’t let out! He accomplished it, one arm breaking protection point at a time and I realised that that’s what it takes to face one’s fears. Not considering giving up and doing it regardless of how long it takes.

Riaan followed in record time. I think he realised our planned time of departure was getting close and thought… ‘why not waste myself and make up lost time?’ Anyway, I was still the last to complete the walk out.

As I left the sparkling river and confused swallows, I realised once again that mountains reset my mind. Not even the traffic jam could phase me.

Burning Out at Hellfire

A wise and slightly concerned friend of mine enquired about the motivation behind me pushing my limits.

I’m aware that I’m not immune to something many of us grapple with… trying to protect myself from the fear of being ordinary. I don’t think that’s my main motivation for doing a sport that many consider to be extreme though because I know I have friends and family who accept me just the way I am. I admit that I do struggle with self-worthiness but the allure of testing my courage is something much bigger than climbing per se… it’s not linked to grades or what others think… I hope that it’s mainly to do with me experimenting with a new way of living that involves doing more of what I love; allows me to put myself in vulnerable situations; lets me do things despite being uncertain about the outcome and dealing with the discomfort that comes from exposing my imperfections!

Hellfire Prow
Hellfire Prow

Hellfire was the only option on a wet day when water was running down every orifice in Table Mountain. Even the Du Toit’s Kloof was looking quite misty and the lazy part of me was relieved that perhaps we were just there for the walk-in workout.

The sandstone was dry though, despite the periodic mist / drizzle that was fortunately blowing away from the overhanging crag!

Riaan was awarded the dubious pleasure of leading ‘Burn Out’. The beginning was tricky but he was marking his beta very considerately, highlighting that handholds basically become footholds… so you just have to follow the chalk. He made the layback look easy and kept his eye out for the smallest pebbles that allowed for bridging and well balanced pauses.

So when he says ‘watch me’ then you must know there’s a BF crux to look forward to! Another dead give away that a climb is going to blow my mind, is when he makes an effort to place a fair amount of protective gear! We watched as he managed to find something to push his foot against and then smear / dyno to a lovely horn…

By the time I started climbing I was colder than I ever thought it was possible to be in Hellfire. Climbing with a thermal jersey is something I hardly ever do!

I remembered the advice that foot jams would be of great use, as long as you inserted your toes sideways and then twisted them back to normal! Unfortunately due to my near accident after a footjam at Trappieskop, it took me about 3 failed efforts, a ridiculously precarious effort of trying to hang on the crag while worming out of my boiling hot jersey and almost giving up, before I got the nerve to jam properly. Fortunately Anton was nearby to clean the gear that I ignored out of self-preservation and remind me that I just needed to shake out my pumped arms, give my sewing machine legs a chance to chill and then I’d be able to solve it.

The crux was enough to burn me out totally, I asked for a break and swung around helplessly looking for an easier way up or out of hell. The bullet proof advice that got me through the crux was ‘there’s only one way to do Burn Out, so stop looking for alternatives!’

The taste of relief, when I reached the overhang, was edible! I made myself comfortable on the ledge and decided to wait for Anton and the comfort that would come from having someone nearby to help me build up the courage to finish.

Watching how the final overhang was mounted, made it look like a synch: a drop knee, stand up, reach for a jug and then match left foot in order to get the left hand jug… concluded by an effortless smear and summit.

Well let’s just say, I need to practice getting comfortable with drop knees on an overhang. I opted for an uncool but comforting froggie position, straighten legs, desperately grasp for the horn while pushing myself in the opposite direction of the crag. Anyway, miraculously and just as the drizzle started making the rock feel slimy, I managed to get on top of Hellfire and enjoy the bliss that comes from experiencing and surviving it!

When self-worth is an issue in one’s life, there’s something very healing about having friends who are witnessing your journey and volunteer to teach and support you. I am extremely grateful for that. I’d like to think that my passion for climbing comes from a deep longing to test my brave heart and prove to myself that it’s unruined despite everything I’ve put it through in my life. The day ended with a leading 101 for me, in an off-width crack, just right of the Pit of Despair. A challenging long term project, to work on in my free time and look forward to!

Note: Brene Brown's research has helped me with some of the sense that has come from my reflections.