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.
[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?
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.
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.
I should have placed my first piece prior to stepping off the ledge.
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.
The coffee was a good reward at the end of the climb.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t expect the weather to change from gale force to perfect overnight… yet I found myself at the top of Table Mountain, preparing my mind for climbing.
Anton informed me, on a need-to-know basis, of which bits of Jacob’s I would be leading. This was perfect because there was no need for me to spend any unnecessary time being nervous.
Theory is useful but when it comes to leading, you need to just start because it’s impossible to wait until you are prepared for everything! Also, unless you have lead, you won’t realise what it involves, so you miss opportunities for learning because you’re not aware of all the levels of focus that it requires! That is why, one of my climbing role models describes it as one of the most mindful activities one can do. If I had to come up with an antonym for ‘unconscious’, it would be ‘trad-leading’.
Louis commented on my quietness… he said, he could hear my brain working twice as hard as usual.
I was relieved when I found the bird bath. I almost went too far left because I saw another cavity, so I was thrilled to find the piton that confirmed, I wasn’t lost. Louis decided to finish, even though their second pitch started at the roof before the hanging belay.
I was feeling like a fish out of water, without my usual buddy checks. Leaders have to develop rock-solid safety habits because it’s a responsibility that often needs to be done in isolation. Thanks to my climbing partners always insisting on checks, it was second nature for me to check myself.
Louis was dealing with heavy rope drag because of opting for a long single pitch. He was also running out of slings!
One could see that I wasn’t looking for gear placements that would allow for efficiency and save my strength. My mind was saying; use anything that looks bomb-proof…. the other nuances were beyond me, for now.
If you want to force yourself to be organised… lead. After one experience of struggling to find the right sized cam you will never have a randomly ordered rack again!
I was relieved that Anton offered to carry the kitchen sink that I’d chosen to bring along… unnecessarily catering for Arctic winds on a wind-free Summer morning is ridiculous.
Our friends did great gymnastics scaling the roof on the first pitch of Escalator.
I was convinced that my concentration quota had been used up for the day but I was about to discover that one can hugely underestimate how long one can remain focussed. Next up was staircase. Anton explained how I should deal with the two ropes. The first pitch was enjoyable. The traverse was noisy because of the number of climbers on the ledge. I found the loud voices annoying but was also adding to the chaos. I was encouraged to trust what the rope was saying… if it was being taken up and there was no slack, I should trust that I could climb.
Anton realised how far I still have to go in terms of judging cam size against rail space. This is a key competency when you’re leading because otherwise you waste precious strength when you can least afford it. Knowing that Escalator’s last pitch has some challenges, he mapped out the cam plan for me: ‘Louise it’s yellow, grey, green and make sure you match on that pebble and then you’ll find another foot around the arete’. I would’ve bailed if it wasn’t for his belief in my ability to lead and his confident guidance!
The words I used to express my delight in reaching those solid anchors, were not very polite! I struggled a bit with the two rope belaying and the rope drag. I should’ve remembered the way I’d placed the ropes, as this would’ve helped me predict which would have the most slack at the correct moments!
When it comes to pro… size definitely matters! I was relieved to hear that my placements were OK. I had not checked that all the slings were properly clipped into the beaners! When placing gear I should not only have double-checked my cam placements by pulling on them; I should’ve also checked the slings in the cams, by giving them a tug too. Thinking you have protection when it’s not reliable is worse than having none!
The joy of climbing is that you are expressing yourself through your movements. Leading is a very creative exercise that requires very few words but speaks volumes! It also exposes all one’s weaknesses and forces you to face what you need to develop.
If you love climbing or are just hungry for adventure then this is totally for you!