Tag Archives: vensterbuttress

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!

No duck, no dinner

That moment when your alarm goes off and the only adventure you believe you have stamina for, is in dreamland. There was a possibility that we’d be doing a grueling 5 pitch climb and I was worried that after not having climbed for a while; I’d let my team down by running out of steam / finger strength!

Loving Cape Town

On days like this when you’re questioning why you climb; you just need to trust that you will add value and that all you need to do is pitch up and not overthink things (especially while you’re still waking up).

The same way one finds a way to live up to one’s responsibilities, regardless of how you feel; so it is with climbing. As long as you don’t let imaginary risks freeze you, you will come through.

The cable car was closed due to strong winds and a whole busload of tourists was turned away. I couldn’t have been happier, climbing on the Lower Buttress would be less exposed.

Anton on Dehli Belly

Today was all about climbing style for me, how would I maximize the use of my legs in order to save my finger tendons? How could I get comfortable with hanging away from the crag, in order to get enough space between me and the rock in order to see the multitude of opportunities for making me feel more secure.

Bombay and Delhi Belly have a cheesecake slice topography. You work your way through layers of magnificent wedges. The sun made the rock appear fudge-coloured and Riaan made traversing between wedges, look like a piece of cake. The rails have a melted Bar One texture: slippery and smooth from all the climbing traffic.

Even when you’re standing on a little pebble; the glossiness takes away any sense of comfort that it will hold your weight! This is no problem when, like me you are following but leading these popular routes requires one to live on a prayer. Smearing up those lay back cracks becomes more reliable than finding feet.

Contemplating the Duck

Anton reminded me that I’d solved this before; that I’d know what to do in the moment. Once I’d reached the roof; that squashed traverse looked particularly uncomfortable. There was no room for rigidity or concrete in one’s spine! When I found a great little finger lockable handle, I felt more able to fold my body, like a crouching spider. Twisting and bending doesn’t come naturally to me but one needs to adapt to one’s territory or suffer. As soon as I put aside my default climbing style and submitted to what was required, things became a great deal more comfortable.

Riaan challenged me to only use the crag face and not the other rock that one could use for stemming. By opting for an inspiring route, one can always back-out later but if you don’t try it; you’ll never know your own potential!

Anton was experimenting on Dehli Belly and both of them opted for Belly contortion-ism and roof acrobatics from above. After a while my mind quietened down and I was able to be still and just soak in the scenery and the sun. There were other climbers who changed their plans because of the howling winds and there was another group dealing with flakey Left Hall.

Letting go of self-centredness is the first step to a meaningful existence. As one gains altitude, one’s challenges shrink in relation to the vastness of the territory… that is why I climb!

Kicking Lower Buttress

What consititutes a good day of climbing? If I get to the mountain and learn something, I’m thrilled. Being able to support other climbers also constitutes a great day of climbing. When I’m with people I trust and an opportunity presents itself that falls within that broad principle… it’s for me.

 

Getting one’s ducks in a row [Photo: Anton]
We had an awesome day and covered a fair deal of route mileage between the four of us:

I observed the way Hugh lead the 3 x 20+m pitches of Fraser’s, imaginging myself getting to a point where I too could manage the ropes so elegantly that everything just flows;

The peace of mind that comes from climbing with experience [photo: Anton]
Jeremy with nerves of steel, didn’t think twice about the option to lead Indian Giver and was in great hands receiving guidance from above and below;

Spatchcock splits on the Duck [photo: Anton]
Bombay lead by Anton was a wonderful experience for me, as I paid attention to the myriad of options for hands and feet, for the first time;

Jeremy still had the stomach for Picnic Time for Teddy Bears and top roping acrobatics on Quake with Anton, who also volunteered for a few gruelling courses of Delhi Belly!

With much support, I did some lowering and indirect belaying… essential skills and not hard if you are using the right gear and your set-up is correct. Fortunately I had help with interpreting these abbreviated instructions (that can mean more than one thing depending on the situation):

‘… Rope!’     = Up rope immediately… there’s way too much slack!

‘Watch me!’ = There’s slack that needs to be taken up but make damn sure you don’t tug because I’m doing a hard move (Note: ‘Watch’ is not visual in this situation: It’s about extreme focus and sensitivity relating to rope taughtness because there’s rope drag and you can’t see anything).

At risk of becoming laid back [photo: Anton]
It was getting very hot and the rusty looking Flame Heath told the story of the drought. Our progress could’ve been quicker but the eternal optimist in me, is sure I’ll improve in the efficiency department given enough practice.

When you ask a hiker that is heading for the crags, where he’s going and he answers Table Mountain… then you must know that you’re dealing with a first timer!

My climbing buddies pointed him in the direction of Platteklip because he wasn’t equipped for crags or even chains and scrambling. They helped him get back on track with a few survival tips that wouldn’t scare him off. That’s a wonderful gift: to be able to humbly meet people at the stage of the journey they’re at and give support in a way that doesn’t dampen their ‘wanderlust’!

The Duck that keeps on Giving

I’d decided that I’m not big on Duck but seeing as Jeremy had joined us and he’d never climbed this ultra classic, I thought I’d give myself a chance to find the joy that everyone else experienceses on Bombay Duck.

After a good year trad climbing

I think that it’s the squashed traverse that I find most disconcerting. Watching Anton match hands to the right of the roof and then swing his feet up, underplayed the challenge involved in that mount.

Tendons in need of a holiday

l mentioned to Jeremy that we were in good hands. Anton has climbed this route more times than he can remember! I really enjoyed it this time though. Next time I might even be relaxed enough to manage posing for a photo, mid-traverse!

 

 

 

 

 

Next up was Indian Giver. For some reason, I couldn’t get that peanut sized nut out of the start! After burning out my arms I felt bad about leaving it in for Jeremy to clean (who had never done this route before). It came out first time for him, without him even using a nut cleaner. After that I realised that there was no need for me to be concerned about our new climbing partner… he was quite self sufficient.

On the receiving end of Indian Giver

Pulling through the roof on the lip of that cheesecake slice, is always a challenge for me. Jeremy however managed to avoid all balance related issues by hanging on one hand and mounting that roof, fuelled by endorphins!

Jeremy looking amped

When I eventually reached the summit… I realised from the ache in my limbs that it was time for a holiday. Anton had found a stick-insect friend and we were all happy to call it a day.

 

 

 

 

 

What are we waiting for?
A stick insect that can climb helmets…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giving a Duck – Lower Buttress

The Watsonias make Table Mountain look like a carefully tended botanical garden in Summer.

Watsonia [photo: Anton]
Pretty in pink [photo: Anton]

Delicate pink as far as the eye can see! So, as we started on Fader’s Frontal, I was feeling the abundance… in awe of the fact that naturally harsh conditions are the ingredients for a miraculous metamorphosis. There was, however, one wild thing that I wanted to subdue today and that was the gusting wind. Fortunately the experienced members of the team helped us choose this protected route.

After committing, by reaching far at the end of that traverse under the roof; the radical joy, that comes from just sitting on that ledge and quietly drinking in that harbour panorama, is hard to  replicate.

Anton lead his way up that smooth arrête.

Launch-time
Launch-time

I witnessed how my climbing partners were always thinking at least two steps ahead for themselves and the rest of us… that’s what it takes to stay safe! Are the ropes crossing and who should follow first to minimise swinging falls? Little checks, that keep things simple and limit risk, is all one should be thinking about.

Merging with the crag might make this scramble on belay, less scary
Maybe, merging with crag will make scrambling less scary!
Getting closer to the arrete for comfort!
Getting closer to the arrête for comfort!

Harmony is essential. That is what I seek in life and what keeps one alive on the mountain. There is unity in the intention to be there for one another, an emphasis on what needs to happen to get everyone to the summit.

 

Everything is done to ensure the most stable, predictable environment when it comes to the things that one can influence.

There is no space for conflict or egos. Generosity as opposed to fairness reigns because each climber offers something unique.

We did a scrambling traverse on belay in order to get across to Frasers.

Halo moments
Halo moments

Quite unnerving (even though we were using pro), to step over the abyss to the belay stance for the last pitch of Frasers. Once there, I had to stop and smell the rose oil… this crag could be a perfumery.

Even though I have all the opportunity in the world to memorise how these routes are lead… I tend to just enjoy the pleasure of following and not having to carry the burden of decision making which is shared by the rest of my team on lead.

Bombay Duck was up next and I was happy to pass and allow Louis some much needed climb time.

Teamwork on Bombay Duck
Teamwork on Bombay Duck

I even had energy to take my friends and children to the Quarry later.

Paradoxically, regular ‘me-time’, is what makes it possible to be generous and then when you choose to care, the world becomes a friendlier place.

Arrow through ‘Venster’: Mind over matter

A wise person once told me that when you find an activity that nurtures you, you should treat it like you would have treated an appointment with Nelson Mandela… it should receive top priority! Mira embodied that principle by pitching up for a last climb of the season with us… against all jet-setting odds! So did Riaan because he managed to climb despite having left his shoes behind! Anton has connections with angels who support his climbing to such an extent that they will arrange for a delivery on command; at the designated ‘remote ledge’, bearing a spare pair of climbing shoes.

Riaan leading Manoeuvers by Moonlight... the long name matches the traverse!
‘Manoeuvers by Moonlight’… the length of the traverse does the name justice!

Somehow Riaan managed to lead ‘Manoeuvers’ despite wearing ‘pantoffels’ (Afrikaans for slippers) and Starlings dive-bombing (well over the speed limit) his helmet while he was dyno’ing the hard roof crux! I didn’t even hear a foreign swear word as Mira made her way along the 15m traverse on this grade 20 (in reality harder than a 6b) route on Table Mountain.

Mira rocking the moonlight traverse [photo: Anton]
Mira rocking the Moonlight traverse [photo: Anton]

I followed on Fader’s which has some awkward cracks and corners which make for delightfully unusual pitches; including a dense garden that runs across the last pitch! A black prehistoric-looking lizard was doing push ups while we heard about the ‘Manoeuvers’ adventure.

Somehow, my friends weren’t bleeding and didn’t need recovery time after the climb of the century… Mira aka ‘girl-power-personified’ summed that epic journey up as ‘fun’.

In seventh heaven
Leading on a five star in seventh heaven

Next up was Bombay Duck which Mira on-sited with some experienced guidance from Anton.

Riaan managed to lead ‘Fingerlocking Good’ in loose shoes. It took me a few attempts before I got through the tricky start. I only noticed the great side-pull when it was pointed out to me and once I realised that a layaway was the only way up, I managed to let go of my clingy need to embrace the mountain ‘froggy-style’.

After a very enjoyable vertical wall climb which would have been treacherous on lead because of the dodgy flakes… I made my way up the final scramble. A perfect day of learning about walking cams and trusting in one’s self… I left the mountain feeling extremely satisfied.

Joie de vivre
Joie de vivre on lead!

My climbing friends were picking up litter and generously helping out lost and harassed visitors to Table Mountain whom they didn’t know from a bar of soap. This is all part of the climbing spirit that I’ve come to appreciate… if one wants to fix things one cares about; the trick is just to start by taking any crack of opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

Mira going where few men have gone before
Mira: ‘I’ll be back for more climbing in South Africa’

 

A damp ‘Venster’

Leading in the clouds!
Leading in the clouds!

I gave the candy floss covered mountain one look and prayed that we’d be doing the Lower Buttress. The weather prediction was good though, so we went up the cable car to check things out. When you need gumboots to navigate the path to the coffee shop, then no one will be climbing up there! The only thing we could do there safely, was get a hot beverage at the wifi lounge. All we could see through the glass chill-out lounge was fluffy cloud… could’ve sworn we were at a ski lodge!

Smelling the roses at the wifi lounge
Smelling the roses at the wifi lounge

Just as I started enjoying this abnormal M.O. for a climbing morning… I was reminded that there’s never time for chilling when there are crags waiting to be climbed. We made our way to plan B.

Riaan and Louis were on the verge of going to Hellfire in search of drier air when they decided, at the last minute, it was a bit late for that expedition and joined us on the Lower Buttress.

I scored about 10 out of 10 for cold feet… suddenly a tendon that only hurts on long downhill hikes became a huge disability and I was coming up with completely irrational and lame excuses!

Fortunately, Anton had mercy and selected the dry ‘Picnic time for teddy bears’ route that would be fine for me to climb. The moisture in the air was cloud precipitation but has the same effect as drizzle: turning sandstone into marble and chalk into icing! Heaven knows how these guys lead in these conditions… extreme fitness, confidence in one’s judgement and balance are pre-requisites. My damp demons (of the floor being pulled out from beneath my feet at ‘The Hole’) were surfacing and I promised myself that I only needed to complete one climb and I’d be impressed.

The Lazy Teddy Bear who thinks she's clever
The lazy Teddy Bear who thinks she’s clever

Thank goodness Anton warned me about the hygroscopic lichen… apparently the teddy bears consume metres of it at their picnic! It looks pretty harmless but moist air basically transforms lichen into slip-and-slide ‘vet plantjies’!

Anton enjoyed Dehli Belly from the top and Riaan and Louis joined up with us, leading from below.

Leading a slimy Dehli Belly
Riaan leading with a smile

Riaan and the others followed up with exciting finger locking and roof experiments that involved some ear height heal hooks and horizontal, compressed maneuvers!

Is it a bird, is it a plane?
Is it a bird, is it a plane?

This mortal soul decided she’d seen enough of the inside of a cloud while hanging from the side of a crag… and celebrated the end of her workout with some coffee.

Next Louis lead Finger Locking (which is a hard climb in good conditions) and he did well to get past the tricky start. The further he progressed the more the drizzle started to hit that side of the crag!

New cam in action!
New cam in action!

After Louis had completed the hardest part of the climb, Riaan saw how the water was pouring down the face of the crag and they all agreed that he should down climb! There are many rules that apply when you climb and knowing where to draw the line, is essential.

A calm and reassuring in the face of uncertainty
Calm and reassuring in the face of uncertainty

This was a first for Louis who did amazingly well, by placing and retrieving extra gear in order to make his descent on this pumpy pitch, safe. Despite being completely wasted, he managed a smile when he reached the chossy gully.

I realised that I tend to talk too much when I get nervous… something I’ll try and manage in the future.

To abseil from a natural anchor or to down climb?
To abseil from a natural anchor or to down climb?

It must’ve been a nightmare experience but thanks to many level heads, a great deal of courage and muscle power on Louis’ part – the challenge was overcome.

Strong guy retrieving the last cam
Fresh legs retrieving the last cam

The ropes had been wet and despite that Anton had done a superb job of dealing with the agility required for down climb belaying. Louis left the mountain with big smiles, saying it had given him what he needed that day! He thanked everyone for the unwavering support.

When a band of climbers are faced with a challenge, everyone suddenly has all the time and the patience in the world. The word deadline loses its meaning in a situation like this because rushing would be the main threat. It’s in these moments that the value of life becomes crystal clear… everything else fades into insignificance!