a washed out weekend

It felt like the trip was ill-fated from the start. Shortly after I had booked the tickets for the original comp date the comp got postponed due to bad weather. So i begrudgingly changed tickets and wondered if I wasn’t taking a risk on a comp that might very well be rained out again. But I was keen to compete and to hang out with friends I hadn’t seen in a long time who would most certainly be competing as well.
So the weekend began. From past experiences I have learned not to “save” myself for comps. It almost always turns out to be the wrong decision and I kick myself later for not getting the most out of any potential climbing days. So with this in mind we ventured off to The Narrow (after having climbed at Kirk Falls the day before). In the back of my mind I still thought “what if I get to the comp completely trashed and dork it just out of fatigue”. So I didn’t go guns blazing into the Narrow. Besides that I found myself completely un-used to the style of climbing there and was soon flailing on even the easier routes. The overhanging quartzite walls lend themselves to a very specific style of climbing. Your accuracy and concentration have to be on form to get anywhere there and you often have to siege a route and get a precise fitness and set of engrams for it.
It’s one of those days where you can’t be chasing red points so much as enjoying getting out, getting some climbing in, enjoying hanging out with friends and being fascinated by the small chameleon that we found and most of all being treated to the sight of Andrew opening Double Dragon. He reckons it’s a 33 but knowing Andrew and hearing what Brian had to say about the route (regardless of how effortless Pedley made it look) it is most likely a 34.
As we were driving home that night, fairly bushed from the last 48 hrs of activity, I contemplated how wonderful it would be to not have to get up at 4:30am to go to this DWS comp the next day. But I had come all this way, made all this effort, there was no bailing out now.


A hazy morning drive

We arrived on a very hazy morning to find a rather sleepy campsite and very few competitors. Slowly but surely they started to trickle in and eventually things began to get underway. Briefings happened, competitors slapped together some make-shift chalk bags and off we trekked to the wall. The walk-in was slightly more treacherous as the water level had risen above the easier walk in.


Some of our innovative DWS chalk bag designs

Once things got underway we began to enjoy the vibe of hanging out next to the river, watching climbers bail in the water on their attempts. The women’s first qualifying route was far too easy, with all of us getting to the top and barely feeling like we had warmed up. But at least it was a gentle introduction to the comp and a way to shake off the comp nerves and get used to the fall into the murky water. I was amped to sink my teeth into the harder routes.



Climbing the Women’s first qualifying route

But as I was drying off on the spectators side we noticed the ominously dark grey clouds rolling in. We started discussing whether we could sit it out (as it seemed likely to be a flash storm) or whether we should make a break for it now before that walk out got even more treacherous. In the end it ended up being a bit of both. By the time we had all our gear collected it had already started pouring down and any thoughts of waiting it out quickly disappeared as the competition wall became soaked and the crowd scampered or rowed their way back to the campsite. I was quietly grateful that my Summit Series TNF jacket was so competent at battling the elements.

So we changed into dry clothes, went home and drowned our sorrows in sushi.  *sigh* To come all this way and to barely climb and not get to finish a comp is bitterly disappointing. But these outcomes are not in our control and at the very least a weekend away where I get to see so many friends is never a bad thing. I probably won’t be rushing to the next DWS comp if they ever do organise another one but I can feel the spark ignited to compete again.


South Africa’s first Deep Water Soloing competition

About a month or so ago I was invited to join SA’s first Deep Water Soloing comp.  I was itching for a competition and more so for an excuse to travel up north and hang out with my climbing friends there and get on long abandoned projects.  There have been far too few trips to Boven and the Magaliesberg lately.  But April should change all of that.

The original date for the comp was 9th March but due to torrential downpour, the comp was moved to 30th March.  Hopefully the river has subsided nicely and the weather gods will be on our sides.

I’ve only had the pleasure of deep water soloing once before on a magical trip to Vietnam a few years back.  This style of climbing really appeals to me.  I am a water baby at heart and getting a good mix of water and rock always fills me with energy.



It is a quick way to feel like you are on holiday.  Vietnam was a phenomenal trip.  One that I will remember for a lifetime.  Not only because of the funtastic climbing but also because of the people we met and the wild anarchic society of this 3rd world country that reverberates with my need for chaos and adventure.  And being half asian it’s interesting to get in touch with that side of my culture.

Most of the climbing was actually at Butterfly Valley where the holiday grades made it a great time to onsight as much as possible.

Having a blast onsighting another classic line at Butterfly Valley

Having a blast onsighting another classic line at Butterfly Valley



It’s not called Butterfly Valley for nothing


I am glad we went to Vietnam when we did as it seemed to be getting progressively more commercial right in front of our eyes.

But anyway, that is enough reminiscing.  Onwards to the comp this weekend.  I have been told not to expect the pristine blue waters of my memories but rather muddy brown river water.  Oh…..and apparently there is a large mouthed fish and a crocodile I have to watch for.  It’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.

The line that wasn’t

This morning was a completely failed mission. I now retract my statement that if you had a bolt gun and just peppered Kirk falls with bolts you couldn’t go wrong. I went wrong. So very wrong.
I got up this morning before first light. My gear was packed. I was keen to go check out a line that I had been spying at Kirk Falls. Satisfied that I have provided some easy lines for the sake of a more friendly grade profile at the crag I was back on my more selfish mission of finding a fun and challenging line for myself.
While opening up my previous route I had excitedly spied some large pockets underneath the roof to the right. This had potential. A warm-up scramble through the beginning face looked like it did a fine sweep through a boulder roof section to end in victory climbing that took you all the way to the top of the crag. Perfect.
Admittedly when I rolled out of bed I had a bad feeling. But I decided to push on through. The first sign that my feeling might have been spot on should have been when I realised that I hadn’t charged the drill batteries the night before. But surely they can’t take that long to charge? Not longer than it would take for me to get ready. Plus in all likelihood I wouldn’t need both batteries because previous experience has taught me that first rekkies on an overhanging route take a lot longer than you think.
I then ran out of the house to return seconds later to grab my ipod nano. I have slowly started adding “comfortising” to my equipment. Ear phones and an ipod go a long way to save your ears from the noise of the drill and groovy music helps keep the energy up.  Next on my list is a pair of gloves for all the jumaring.  Bolting is a fast way to become a gear junkie (well as fast as the budget will allow). I am now drooling over all the fun hardware like pulleys and trad gear to make the process more efficient.
Once I got to the crag the mission really began. I abbed down too far to the left, jumared back up to move the anchors only to find that the tail of the rope had cheekily wrapped itself around a branch. *sigh* Rappel down, retrieve rope, jumar back up (eish, well there’s the core work-out I needed this morning). Move anchors, rappel down, knock off loose rock on the way. Looks good so far. Do some gardening on the way. Reach the roof aaaaaand……hmmmm. Not as good as it looked from the ground. The line will go but the move looks burly and unpleasant. More hmmmm. Traverse out to the left. Cast around desperately for a way through that roof.  There is a slim undercling but the moves before and after it are on shallow rails.  This is quickly loosing the “ooh” factor.  I hung on the rope morbidly. I was sad that what looked like such a fun line before and after this section might not be suitable. Check the time. Oh dear, doesn’t seem like enough to retrieve all the gear and re-set up to scope out an entirely new line.
Hurrumph. I couldn’t believe I was walking all this heavy equipment in and out of the crag without drilling a single hole. Well, not all missions can be successful. And finding out where you can’t go is just as important as finding out where you can go. I live to bolt another day.

Chasing waterfalls

Destiny’s Child might have advised against chasing waterfalls but what did they know about adventure?  Certainly I wouldn’t have found them dangling off a cliff in the Eastern Cape, grinning from ear to ear.  But I’ve jumped ahead.  Let’s begin at a type of beginning.

About a year ago I received an email at work asking climbers to come suss out the potential of the rock in the Eastern Cape.  Foreign clients of theirs had commented on the huge cliff faces and they wanted to expand on the adventure side of the business.  I was keen.  The bosses had other tasks that demanded their attention.  So the email got forgotten.

That is until a year later when fate twisted and turned and I fell in love with a tall Norwegian lad whose favourite place on earth happened to be this very same stretch of wild coast.  He knew the owners as old friends and treated the great rolling hills and streams as his back yard.

Finally a long weekend came up and off we went to explore.  Our first day there we paddled, scrambled and hiked our way up the rivers to look at 3 different spots that he thought might be suitable.  The cliffs certainly are breathtaking at first glance.  At second glance they do tend to look a bit broken.  But if I’ve learned anything it’s that you can’t fully judge a piece of rock until you’re on it.

Approaching the waterfall from the top

Approaching the waterfall from the top

Day 2 saw us hiking 4kms round to the top of one of the waterfalls.  Having developed my climbing in a sport climbing scene I’ve become used to the convenience of sport climbing, to the shopping mall-esque accessibility of walking up to a line of bolts and climbing.  Having to set up your own anchors, and test out virgin rock has a whole other feel to it.

We over-engineered the anchors, slinging massive boulders and setting up no fewer than 4 points.  And even though the set-up was solid enough to swing a bus from you still have that moment of doubt as you ease yourself over the edge, wondering if there is anything you missed.  But only for a moment because suddenly you are distracted by the 100m cliff face in front of you, beautifully framed by a waterfall on one side and lush vegetation on the other.

Originally we were just going to abseil a few metres down to check it out but as I was going down I thought “why not” and lowered myself to the furthest ledge I could.  “What’s the harm while I’m here?” I thought.   Next thing I hear an incredulous and a mirthful exclamation of “are you climbing?!” from above.  My partner laughed at me as he watched me scamper up the face, self-belaying and grinning from ear to ear at every crisp and (thankfully) solid edge that I found.  I couldn’t help but try out a few more lines while we were there.  Sadly there doesn’t appear to be anything harder than a 23 but my goodness, that rock is magnificent.  I shook my head every now and then thinking “this is madness, self-belaying up a rock face that we have no idea if it is solid or not”.  But the thrill was too intoxicating.


Very excited to have topped out and thrilled about the quality climbing

It is in an awe-inspiring setting where you feel 100 miles from civilisation.  Where waves are crashing in the distance and cows are mooing in the middle distance.  And a line doesn’t have to be hard to be enjoyed.  Perhaps for my own pleasure I will keep searching for the harder route but in the meantime I could bolt some quality routes.

The wide open spaces that call to us....with the sea in the distance.

The wide open spaces that call to us….with the sea in the distance.

This weekend was just the break I needed to reset the batteries.  Camping has a way of doing that for me.  That time spent underneath the stars knowing that you have nowhere to go, nothing to do that is more important than soaking in the natural life energy around you, breathing in the fresh beauty of relatively untouched land.  The only problem now is that the itchy feet are getting itchier.  And this just fed the need to get out there, to be on month long road trips.  To explore, explore, explore.

But at the very least (once I have sorted out the logistics with the owners) it is somewhere I could happily spend a few long weekends developing.

Death Star Canteen

It’s not always the hard projects that give you the most satisfaction.

On Sunday I opened a 21 at Kirk Falls.  It was everything I had been looking for in my next addition to the crag.  I wanted a nice long, fun warm-up, easily accessible to any new people that might come to the crag.  This route keeps you thinking and feels sustained, yet just when you are feeling pushed there is a great big hold to grab on or a wonderful ledge to stand on.  I think it is the kind of warm-up route that I will appreciate for a long time and hopefully it will see lots of mileage and bring just as much joy to others.

And to add to that, I gave it a playful name – Death Star Canteen.  I just know that every time someone mentions it there will be a chorus of quotes from one of my favourite Eddie Izzard skits.

My sights are now set on the harder lines to the right of it.  2 beauts are standing out proudly and calling to me.  Perhaps I will mission out there tomorrow morning and have a little look-see…..

My list

When I was 17 I randomly decided one day to write up a “list of 50 things to do before I die”.  My best friend at the time thought it sounded morbid so I changed the title to “list of 50 things to do in my lifetime”.  This was before that Morgan Freeman movie came out and the term “bucket list” became common.  I had already gone sky diving for my 16th birthday so that wasn’t on there.  That left space for activities like riding on elephants or in helicopters.
Shortly after school I backpacked around Europe and zoomed through half of that list.  It’s easy to do lots of weird and wonderful things when you are traveling and especially if you are earning pounds.
But once I got back home, started studying and working,  the list stayed in my wallet, becoming dog-eared and faded.  This morning while checking Facebook I saw that yet another person had gone white water rafting.  Item 1 on my list.  I have paddled down rivers but nothing that would be classified as white water rafting.  I dug out ye ol’ list and had a look at it for the first time in years.  I smiled.  17 year old me had some good ideas.
The next potential item to come off the list might be hiking the Otter trail.  But who knows when I will spend a New Years in Times Square or dive the Great Barrier Reef.
I lingered over #49.  It simply said “Peru”.  This isn’t the original list.  The original was burned in the fire that took down my uncle’s house where I was staying shortly after returning home.  Along with a lot of the treasures I had brought back from overseas I lost that list.  So after the fire I wrote up a new one, this time with only key words for each item.  I couldn’t remember what the original #49 was but after a disastrous trip to Peru (the only trip I did not enjoy during my travels) I was determined to return there one day and replace the bad memories with good ones.   Ah, how young and headstrong I was on that trip, missioning around a South American country on my own, bashing through the forests.  Learning enough Spanish to hire a canoe and trusting that these strange men at the docks wouldn’t try and pull a fast one.
I know that it is year of the Horse and that it is meant to gallop by.  Its starting to feel like most years do that.  And before you know it, its a decade since you last looked at your bucket list and there are still items on it like “hedge maze”.  Well there is a hedge maze in joburg just waiting to be walked through so what’s my excuse now?

Warrior in the city

My sensei once said that it is one thing to be a monk and train every day of your life in a monastery but to be a warrior in a modern-day setting was another story entirely.
Lately those words have been ringing in my head as I struggle with being trapped in an urban environment week after week.  Gone are the days when I could pick up and road trip for a month at a time.   As long as I could scrape money for camping fees together I would find a way.  Some years I spent more time in a tent than I did under a roof.  I could climb on rock at least 4 days a week and progress was quick.  The days were golden.
Now it’s time in form of leave that I need to scrape together.   Climbing projects are left for weekends only and progress is slow.  I long for the lifestyle of my European counterparts,  traveling to the many crags I dream of, climbing the grades I aspire to.  I have to find a way to bring the monastery to the city.  I have to get out and explore more.  And I have to keep pushing for those goals.  There is always a way.

In the meantime mini road trips and adventures will have to keep me going.  The photo shoot at Howick Falls is a prime example.  I’m lank excited to have an excuse to return there.  Especially while the falls are raging.  It’s gonna be a great day out.


Okay, I’ll admit it.  When I started loading my car up this morning in the dark even I thought “perhaps this is a little extreme”.   But I had been up since 3am, excited at the prospect of getting a pre-work bolting session in.  I had been phaffing away the time, telling myself to take it easy.  Missioning out in the dark was just fool-hardy.

So when the faaaaaaintest bit of light begun to appear I was out of there.  Hell, if you mission out before your first cup of coffee then it is definitely extreme.  Everything went remarkably smoothly (except for the fact that I had to hack a make-shift brush together.  I clearly remember putting one in my pocket but it must have fallen out in transit) and I walked away with a new line gleaming in the morning light.  Ah, so satisfying.

With Kirk falls gaining more and more interest lately I have felt responsible for supplying some easier lines.  Now that that is achieved its all systems go for finding that harder proj.  Exciting times.

The wandering spirit

Lately I have been craving to compete again, to push further, to seek some sort of new adventure.  I guess part of it is that I haven’t been able to road trip in what feels like forever.  Recent work pressures and personal frustrations have meant that I am rooted to the spot and feeling progressively more and more claustrophobic as I long to be outside and far, far away, doing what I love.  There is the possibility that I might be going to the Magaliesburg in April for a week of trad climbing.  Holding all fingers, toes and shiny trad gear that I can make it happen.

Recently the opportunity came to compete in SA’s first Deep Water Soloing comp.  I leapt at the chance to get out, even if just for a weekend, and be amongst the greater community and feel the thrill of competition once more.  But sadly, the weather gods sent torrential downpour to bar my way.  The fat lady has not sung, however.  The comp has been post-poned to hopefully sunnier days at the end of the month.  Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise and gives me more time to become “bikini ready” (yep, I do have a girly side).

Some small relief came in the form of our local bouldering comp, the Rumble.  The comp had a decidedly festive vibe to it and I was better prepared for the competition mindset this time.  I made sure I warmed up properly and this made throwing myself into the “must have power now” physical space more attainable.  It also meant less dorking.  Funny how that makes for a more enjoyable comp.  These comps also have the power to draw old* climbers out of the woodwork and its always great hanging out again afterwards.

It’s the Saturday after the comp and my weekend plans fell through in a big way.  So while the casuals at the gym were setting routes to populate the now empty walls I went off to do some route setting of my own.  I had been spying some more easy lines at Kirk falls.  With the crag becoming more popular I feel the need to populate it with more accessible lines for everyone before I go looking for my next big project.  It’s a tough call because both options are equally inviting but when I arrived one day at the crag and found a bunch of kids climbing my lines I knew it was worthwhile getting a few more lines of that grade up before feeding my own needs.  There are some beauts on the left of the wall.  Even though they might be of lower grades I think they will give anyone a feeling that they have been on a bit of a journey.

* I don’t mean old as in age.  Old as in they haven’t been around for a while.


It’s funny how something that looks like an obstacle can sometimes turn into a step up.

This past month has been full of stress and some challenging times.  And while I don’t wish stress on anyone we do learn what we are made of when you are enduring trial by fire.  And often you end up learning not only that you CAN handle it but also learn a few tricks along the way.  Likewise I would never wish injury on anyone.  But you sure do learn a lot about your body and how to use it wisely while you are recovering.

All sorts of factors that I thought would hinder my climbing, may have slowed me down for a bit, but they have just made me more determined and being used as tools to improve my climbing.  I am learning how to get quality not quantity out (although I still crave the quantity.  How wonderful a road trip would be right now.)

By illonapelser