Home adventures

Life has been puttering along with all it’s trials and challenges.  Work has kept me from going on the road trips I generally go on this time of year.  And as glum as I have been at seeing all my friends rave about what a good time they are having in destinations all around the country it has somehow not been all bad.  It’s interesting when a home crag captivates you so much that the distant hills are no longer greener.  And there have been a few highlights along the way.

I have been slowly adding some creature comforts to my “drilling kit”.

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Yes, that is an iPod and a trowel you see hidden amongst the Jumar and brush clutter.  This morning was a prime example of a gardening bolting mission where that came in handy.  Huge sods of dirt rained down the crag as I hacked away at the sand bank that looms over my latest route.  The iPod is becoming as essential as the jumar.  There is nothing quite like having The Glitch Mob egg you on at 6 o’ clock in the morning as you wield a power tool while dangling off a cliff.  It’s also handy at muffling out the noise of the drill.

I had a funny little misadventure the other morning on my way to bolt.  I was stomping through the sugar cane before the sun had risen when suddenly something came stomping right back at me.  My first thought was that it was a wild boar and I was in serious danger.  My second thought was that it was a porcupine* and I was in some danger.  I backed away in disbelief as it headed straight for me, veering off at the last second to carry on crashing through the bushes behind me.

And just as unbelievable to me is that I have yet to blog about my send of Enterprise.  It was one of those sends that are so elegant that you bask in the success of it long afterwards.  Yes, Enterprise.  That gorgeous beast of a route that had me stuck on it for longer than I would like to admit.  Although it is one of those routes that you don’t mind being stuck on for a while because every attempt is pure joy.  Yet, I was frustrated that the move that nobody else considered a move was shutting me down.  True, I couldn’t reach the hold using the drop knee beta that apparently made it child’s’ play.  Instead I was using a horrible little nubbin and boosting to a slot.  But I could stick it fresh every time.  What a silly place to come off.  Then one day I was let in on the secret of the hands-free rest that everyone else knew about and suddenly the game was afoot.  The goal was attainable.  And in the meantime I had gotten fit enough to give the painfully pumpy moves at the end of the route a serious go.

The day finally arrived when everything came together.  My beta was refined, my body and mind were fresh and keen and the conditions were better than they had been all summer.  I suddenly found myself on the final crux move, serene and un-pumped.  What had been a bar fight for so long was now a gentle stroll with time to shake out and feel the cool wind rustle my hair before I placed the final heel above my head and nimbly work my way up the side pull to the final clipping hold.  I had barely even grunted.  It always amazes me how a route can go from feeling impossible to a doddle in such a short space of time.

And thanks to the fitness on Enterprise, Star Date went down a mere week later.  Sometimes being home is not so bad.

* and holy cow, are they supposed to be that large?

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Type 2 fun

I’m sitting here on a comfy cloud of white bed sheets, reminiscing about the past few days. Most of the bruises, scratches and sore muscles only made themselves apparent after a warm shower and some creature comforts. Trad missions certainly have a healthy dose of Type 2 fun.

It all started when Evan announced that one of his oldest friends was visiting from the UK. Bringing his lady and child in tow, “Ted” was keen to spend a week in the Magaliesberg with his brother, revisiting some of the classic trad lines they had explored as kids.

Being an overly enthusiastic sport climber, my experience of trad climbing is not enough to shake a micro stopper at. But this year has already proven to be one where I explore outside of my comfort zone and I have been keen to rack up some more mileage in this discipline. I had also heard many good things about the Cedarberg and Tonquani.

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Sunsets in the camp site

I’m still amazed at how we bent the laws of physics. All the trad climbing and camping kit for 4 days was scattered across my lounge. It shouldn’t have been possible to squash them into 2 backpacks yet we managed*. So off we hiked with our heavily laden backpacks to the camping area. The only indication that we had found the right spot was the cage that you put your food supplies in to keep it safe from passing baboons.

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Food cages

Fred practically glowed with delight as he showed us around the area that first evening. He scampered off ahead as agile and at home as a rock rabbit. It was apparent that these gorgeous kloofs had been fertile grounds for his fondest childhood memories. And it soon became obvious why. Nights under the stars, moonlit swims in the Mermaid’s Pond, the feeling that you were miles from civilisation surrounded by endless valleys of quality rock.

Interesting rock formations are common around these parts

Interesting rock formations are common around these parts

I’ve been around enough traddies and heard enough of the stories to know that the mindset is very different from sport climbing. Your goals shift from chasing hard red points to simply getting to the top of the route and surviving. The days are longer, the gear is more extravagant and there is a lot more going on. Grades are only there to indicate what you can do without falling. Because the leader never falls. Right?

On the Monday we spent the day either following Ted up routes or under his watchful eye. The time it takes to get up a few pitches of trad was the biggest adjustment for me. I was bleak when we had to bail off a route due to fading light. Retreat felt like defeat. We returned the next day on our own to complete Red Corner, one of the classics of the area.

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On the third day we were starting to gain confidence and thought we now knew enough to find Boggle by ourselves. Everyone had told us this was the “must do” route in the area and the clincher was that you got to abseil off a set of chains at the end. We had also been told that the exposure was frightening. That part didn’t bother me. My full attention was on whether I would be able to find out where the second pitch went. I am Navigationally Challenged at the best of times and the vague trad route descriptions weren’t filling me with confidence. Yet we were armed with a carefully drawn out topo supplied by Ted and the belief that all we had to do was head to the chains and follow “Fred’s” chalk from the previous day. How could we possibly go wrong?

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Our carefully drawn out topo

The first pitch was straight forward. Scramble up to large tree. Climb to next large tree. I stared at the second pitch for a while before venturing off. Somehow I was meant to know where to cross the arête. I saw some chalk over there so that’s where I headed. I cruised up, marvelling at the rock and its cool features and just as I remarked “this is great climbing” things started to go a little pear. I clipped into a rusted piton and searched for the next tale-tell sign of chalk or some recognisable feature. Had Fred mentioned a piton? How about 2 pitons? Surely he would have used them as landmarks. Why couldn’t I find anymore chalk?

Climbclimbclimb. Lead out. Place a Rockcentric just for the hell of it. Stand on ledge. Pull out topo. Confused. Looklooklook. Traverse back and forth. Where is this line? I saw the bolts of the 27 we had to cross. But the way there doesn’t look friendly. I’m definitely off-route. Gaze waaaaay back to the last spot where I was sure I was on route. Meh. I’m not keen to down climb all that way. That’s it. I’m setting up a stance and getting my partner up here. I can see a line out of here. We’re just going to have to take the line of least resistance. That chickenhead looks good enough to sling. Let’s just give it a good tug. It broke off! Scream. Fall. I’m going to die. Scream more. It caught me! That placement caught me. I’m alive! Breathebreathebreathe.

 

The piece that caught me

The piece that caught me

Funnily enough that fall made me more determined to find Boggle. But climbing around and looking for it once again proved no more fruitful than my original forays. So onwards we pioneered. Our only mission now was to get out of there and back to camp in time to pack up and leave before the gates closed. You’ve never seen a grin so big as when I mantelled out and slung that tree at the top of the crag. My mood improved by several grades.

We had survived the hazardous situation I had placed us in. I had taken a fall on gear and other than getting a massive headache later I was relatively unscathed. Running on adrenalin we made it back to camp and recounted our story in high spirits. We said our goodbyes and traveled back to civilisation, laughing at the disdainful look the beggar at the petrol station gave us. We obviously looked worse for wear. It didn’t matter at that point. We were golden.

 

*Granted, my partner’s backpack weighed nearly as much as me