Tag Archives: tablemountain

Bosun’s crucible delivers white gold

Showing the way through the roof [Photo: Zane]

Anton made his way through the Double Direct roof as if it was a jungle gym… starting the day with an immediate crux that is certain to leave you warmed up and inspiring Julie to do the same!

As I clung onto the undercling (as if my life depended on it alone) and prepared for the high foot above the roof… Julie gently reminded me that inevitably, I’d have to move my arms up too.

Kate’s Touch and Go [Photo: Anton]

Kate was keen to be training again. Incredible that there were two thirds female climbers on this wall! The women who were there with me, all had this sovereign clarity that announces itself without introductions.

Survived the ‘warm-up’ [Photo: Anton]

What bliss to pull up onto that ledge and know that the roof was behind me… little did I know that I would spend ages unsuccessfully trying to dislodge a cam from Magnetic Wall. That too was surmountable for Anton… after having lead Magnetic, without so much as a ‘watch me’; Anton patiently and without resentment returned on top-rope to clean up what I could not!

Unfortunately as Anton made his way up a very sketchy Quake the toprope got caught on a few too many horns, one of which was out of sight.  Eventually, Anton had to climb past in order to unhook from above! My heart was in my mouth calculating the drop and not being able to visualise the trajectory of the swing.

Brian was on Farewell to Arms and showed what is possible with determination and perserverance. What a styling ascent of that roof designed for leaders with unwavering belief in self!

Brian on Farewell to Arms [Photo: Anton]

Next up was Margo and her peaceful way of dancing through what could’ve been a curse-a-minute climb!

Margo in her element [Photo: Anton]

It was a happy reunion when Margo topped out!

Magical Moment [Photo: Anton]

Would I make it through another climb? Claire was leading the whole of Jacob’s, determined to achieve this beautiful goal she had set for herself. She was also blessed with Hugh in the wings, a patient and extremely observant climber, who does not miss a beat! So, I was needed for the second climb.

Mercifully, Cable Way crag was most convenient and yet I found that traverse difficult to hang onto with straight arms! Anton had sailed along, jamming and relying on good legs… while I was determined to squeeze the rock and stay as close as possible to solidity.

Turning out towards the exposed view from Bosun’s chair was inevitable and my emotions went full circle… recovering as I sat still and focussed enough to spot a white feather catching an updraft. Next, I heard the familiar clink of Anton’s cams above the roof and the Swifts cutting through air like they wanted to rip up my fear.

Anton had coiled the rope over chicken heads, like only a master rope manager could and I simply had to work from right to left… beautiful predictability with a turquoise view of beaches; rivalled only by Seychelles (because of its warm welcome).

Alchemy approaching [Photo: Anton]

The monster crocodile rock formation to the right of the crag, dwarfed Lion’s Head. Our rope-code comms (due to limited audio because of the cavity within which I was perched) was foolproof and I knew exactly what was being signalled. ‘Climbing’ I called and everything started to flow… even the chimney was possible without beta, despite the fact that I did it the hard way and not by stemming the way Anton had.

Mindset is everything; as well as reminding one’s self that you are safe – instead of continuously anticipating all sorts of unlikely and imaginary pain.

Can you be consistently persistent and rest, when necessary, instead of quit? Can you focus on the next step that you know you can and must take?

The day ended with unexpected and hugely appreciated clarity… once again Bosun’s chair highlights what really matters!

Peace at the Table

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.

Cushioned by clouds [Photo: Anton]

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.

Leading to beat ‘Take Off’

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.

Joy Squared [Photo: Anton]

Riaan and Marele were wondering what’s next despite completing a grueling Roulette.

Post Roulette Smiles [Photo: Anton]

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!

Technicoloured climbing [Photo: Anton]

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.

Happiness Is… [Photo: Anton]

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.

The weather changed to overcast, in a flash!

It was almost time to go home but there’s always time for photo opportunities!

Sandwiched between bliss [Photo: Anton]

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.

Rockstars [Photo: Anton]

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.

Arrow into red line overload

I decided that Bull’s Eye is drawn in red on the RD because it symbolises the danger zone… how poetic that it’s merely the solution to crossed lines!

Anton leading that renegade roof!

Top Gun’s soundtrack was on repeat in my head… Riaan pointed out the brown hawk on the other side of Africa rivine with Maverick crag and its inverted steps looming in the distance. Nature facilitates freedom… it’s all about life and space. Water is flowing down the Left Arrow buttress as if it’s a commodity in excess and the Spring Watsonias and ‘sterretjies’ are starting to emerge!

Before the highway to the Danger Zone

Riaan lead, Anton cleaned up ahead of me and I held up the rear on the 1st pitch of Bullshoot. Anton lead the final pitch and I trusted my first foot jam after a previous bad experience of not being able to retrieve my foot while falling!

Trusting that natural support

A pretty, white crag, baking in the sun and  trustworthy rails that you can get a handle on while smearing to your heart’s content!

I waited in a spiderman squat, straddling the arete on a miniature ledge; next to Anton who was on a hanging belay, with a view to die for. As Riaan followed, he was scoping out his next lead, not taking anything  for granted. Paying attention to detail is key! The walk-off alongside the ravine was beyond beautiful.

The guys became silent as they considered the journey to Bull’s Eye.

Two-finger pocket FTW!

Riaan lead that sustained crack as we held our breath!

The bold and the beautiful

Riaan scaled a beautiful crux which I decided is reserved for the Robin Hood’s of the world. Based on the volume of the grunts, Farewell to Arms is actually easier than Bull’s Eye.

Further on the edge…

Anton followed the first pitch with stylish technique.

Then the move I had not seen coming! Anton wasted no time on lead, with a solid foot jam and a horizontal push across that ceiling.

Riaan Top Gun in space

Living in techni-colour beats a life of fear any day! This is reality, if you let it in.

On the walk out, we helped dozens of lost hikers who were heading up the mountain in the late afternoon : dressed in purple slippers; uncomfortable high-heeled boots and without any water. Never a dull moment on this Wonder of the World!

A fresh start courtesy India

Birthday boy looking amped

I found myself wondering what kind of assumptions and beliefs my climbing partners’ hold; as we made our way up Table Mountain to be greeted by 6 degrees C and wind that held the potential to cancel afternoon cable car trips:

  • ‘Predictions are not the territory and need to be verified by doing a proper reccie.
  • Unless we have witnessed factual evidence to the contrary there’s always a chance to climb!
  • Waiting for ideal and comfortable conditions will be like waiting for Godot.’

I was thinking that I’d humour my team and join them for the cable car ride so that I could indulge in hot waffles at the restaurant while they climbed! As we stepped outside the cable car station we were welcomed by thick cloud and rocks that were so wet that we could see our own reflections!

That was where they drew the line. We decided to go to the lower buttress and check out the conditions below the clouds. Riaan, very timeoulsy, cashed in on his free birthday rides and was wishing he’d opted for his favourite Winter climbing destination – Hellfire.

The usual suspects re routes were sopping because of a waterfall coming down the first pitch at the Venster ledge; so we moved far left to the dry but damp-in-patches, India section.

Anton provided Riaan with some very abstract RD… ‘you go straight up and then left of that bush’. I was still thinking (which bush and how can one go straight up when there are tiny pebbles for feet and precious little place for pro): when I noticed that Anton was already a few metres up Somersault. Despite the fact that Riaan had never climbed this route before, he seemed satisfied with the abbreviated instructions! As he got going he realised just how hollow some of the sections of the route felt and I noticed him tapping the rocks and getting very creative about pro placement.

In the generous spirit of India giver

By now Anton was in 5th gear and completely out of sight but that didn’t seem to bother Riaan who likes to figure things out on his own. Anton could rather have lead this dodgy route because he was familiar with it but I had a sneaky suspicion that he gave it to Riaan as a present, to slow him down for a change and give him a brand new puzzle to solve. Well, it certainly wasn’t boring! Aimée and I remarked that Riaan’s technique of dropping all his lower body weight down to foot level below that squashed roof section…. was very clever. He managed to sit on his haunches, stomach sucked into the mountain; while placing gear in the crack around the corner.

The future is so bright…

Then as he made it past that super awkward roof, fingers jammed into a difficult-to-balance-on-crack; he was greeted by some loose blocks and flakes. We all know that the weather and the seeping water influences the rock… I imagined the rocks becoming ill-fitted puzzle pieces.

Aimée was also out of sight by now and was having the time of her life on this fridge-like surface. Anyone who can brave the Cape Town ocean on a surfboard, the way she does… would probably agree with her that this weather was quite pleasant! Riaan didn’t swear or complain… he just took his time, checked everything (making no assumptions) and used more pro than usual.

The benefit of me climbing last, was that nobody could hear me mutter! From the first few moves, my concentration was in ‘super focus’ mode! What a dodgy start, even on toprope! I tried to copy the way Riaan had done that roof but by the time I reached the crack… elegance was no longer on my radar. You have much more success if you push away and pull… climbing requires you to eject yourself from your current surroundings, if you want to make it easier to pull yourself into the place you want to be!

This steering wheel gives you wings!

Thankfully Anton waited on the corner and could witness my experience of the inverted cheesecake slice. I jammed my shoulder into the top sheltered roof-corner and thinking I was very clever stemmed my right foot onto a little crack… unfortunately it was sopping! I found the hold for my right hand but as my wet shoe smeared on the arete… it slipped! Fortunately just before that, Anton gave me the exact co-ordinates of the left horn and I was able to rely on upper body, brute force to get me onto that ledge!

I bundu-bashed through the spicy wild rosemary not wanting to get anywhere near to the edge and was quite exhilirated by the aroma therapy that the herb crushing delivered!

Well, other than my rope that had gotten hooked just before the corner and Riaan having to make himself safe in order to retrace his steps on that ledge to get rid of the slack; everything had gone swimmingly well.

What do you mean you’re not doing another climb Louise?

The rest of my team top roped Dehli Belly and Bombay Duck.

Making merry!

Riaan discovered the wet parts that were just where one least needed them… that button on the Dehli sunroof is hard enough to press in dry conditions but at least he could warn the others about it! That was his birthday present though… it looked like he’d thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.

Aimée was high on tradding after too much of a break and looked like she was in seventh heaven.

As we raced down the walk out, I realised that what one believes in and assumes is the ingredients of one’s next adventure! If you merely treat that voice of fear like any other informant and choose to rely on best practices and reality; then you break free from imaginary nightmares, into the beauty of the here and now.

The waterfall coming down the right Arrow buttress was a sign of hope for this water-starved province. My simul-abseil was a highlight, followed by the singing Proteas on the walk-out!

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!

Touch and Go – ‘What you most fear is what you most need to do’

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.

You’ve got to love this roof [Photo: Riaan]
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.

Real trad territory [Photo: Anton]
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.

Genuine test [Photo: Anton]
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!

Who you gonna call… [Photo: Anton]
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.

Anton leading [Photo: Riaan]
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.

Farewell to Arms at its best [Photo: Anton]

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.

Grateful [Photo: Anton]
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

Triple Indirect – for the love of climbing

Catching my breath on the Last Tango [Photo: Anton]
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.

How did you lead this? [Photo: Anton]
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.

Competence with style [Photo: Anton]
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?

Cable Car Surfing Magnetic style – Riaan

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!

Swinging to REM

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 Dream leading

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.

Straight Up on first pitch REM [photo: Anton]
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.

‘Dossing’ on the dassie ledge 

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!

Leading the gorilla-sized roof in the mist

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.

Bottom’s Up [photo: Anton]
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.

Eventually we’re in sight [photo: Riaan]
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.

Finale, fingertips for the win

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!