A complicated way to simplify life

I found myself grovelling my way up a grotty chimney, who knows how far above my last pieces of pro. I had lost track after the first few lead outs. All that mattered was getting the lads off the mountain and the longer I dallied, the slimmer our chances were of doing it without an epic. The light was quickly fading, I was bumping and sliding my way through dirt and Dassie poo and I was seriously reviewing the life choices that had brought me to this point. Sure, we had been in high spirits for 7 pitches up this behemoth but now I was starting to think some not pretty thoughts in the direction of Snort.

Months earlier, the tenacious Dr Edelstein had sent out a feeler email to Jimbo “Mohawk” Smith, Johan Lanz and I, suggesting we join the AAC/MCSA exchange. I was in a yes phase of my mood cycle so I skimmed over the email, shrugged at the acronyms and simply replied “I’m in.” I didn’t have a clue what I was signing up for but I believed that, with Snort involved, it would be a helluva ride.

I soon found out that AAC stood for the American Alpine Club and Snort’s vision was to get as many of their climbers over here to sample our trad climbing followed by a trip to America at some stage where they would reciprocate.  What followed was months worth of strategizing, big talk about large groups of psyched climbers descending on the Cedarberg and wild parties with dancing girls (Snort’s version). And then more talk of manageable sized groups of anyone keen to join, with some reasonable locations (the rest of the committee’s version). There was a lot of back and forth via emails until eventually the day arrived.
The Americans had landed and the trip began on Table Mountain.

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The classic climber on Table Mountain shot.  Pic by Allister Fenton

Further sampling of our local trad menu included tastes of Yellowwood, Hellfire and the Magaliesberg. But the main event for many of us was the Blouberg trip. Having all heard the tales of the walk in (which could be anything from 2 – 6 hrs depending on which stories you listened to), the extreme heat (forecast to be 33°C), and the difficult path finding through the dreaded Boulder maze, there were mixed feelings about this leg of the trip. With mutinous mutterings stirring and alliances forming, it was starting to smack of an episode of Survivor.

After a minor confrontation between the rebel leader (aka Cheeky Boy) and the federation, the air was cleared and we put our heads down to our fate. We marched up the hike from Frans’ Kraal in the dark, a stream of headlamps slinking it’s way up to the vlaktes. Dropping our bags we wondered what the campsite looked like in the light.

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The line of headlamps slinking it’s way up to Blouberg. Photo by Damien Schumann

We weren’t to see it till 2 days later as we set off the next morning in the dark, already stressing about the rising temperatures. Having spent some hot days at Yellowwood, I worried how I would get up its big bad brother without suffering from the cramps that were often synonymous with a day of multi-pitching in the sun.

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Yellowwood amphitheater. Spot the two climbers if you can.

The excitement was high. The strategies were rolled out and we set off in our various teams. Paul stepped up to the plate, opting to do the first pitch of Teddy Bears in exchange for James and I leading the meatier later pitches. But his attempt was not to be. The “delicate flake” a few meters up proved to be too balancey and trick.  Within minutes our first pitch was stalled by Paul’s ground fall as his two small cams ripped out of the flake and he flew off, getting away lightly with some bruises and a badly sprained ankle. To his credit he dusted himself off and followed me up the first pitch of our contingency plan, Bush Pig.

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A topo if you please

With his ankle throbbing, Paul swallowed his pride and chose to abseil down after the first pitch in order to not “slow down the team” and James and I set off in high spirits despite the unorthodox start to our day. Between us, James and I had over 2 decades of sport climbing but only a smattering of trad climbs. Surprisingly, we quickly found our groove and raced up the next two pitches to meet the rest of the climbers on the Grassy Ledge. Hoorah, we had caught up. All around us the teams were reshuffling and leapfrogging onto different routes from what they had set out on whether it was because they realised they had bit off more than they could chew or they had lost team mates due to injury or illness.  “They’re dropping like flies” Squeaks commented. We realised our ascent wasn’t too shabby in comparison. From the Grassy Ledge Chris joined us as his team had retreated.

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James having a whale of a time up Blouberg

Which brings me back to the grotty chimney, 4 pitches later (and one crazy moment when a swarm of bees flew up the crag, stunning everyone into frozen climbers, hoping to be passed by unnoticed). Why was I here I asked myself. Despite the enormous amount of gees James and I had given to this day, 13 hours later we found ourselves hitting our first low. I shook my head as I thought “what would my brother think of me now, squirming my way up this rock like the way we used to shimmy up the door frames in the house when we were little? …..maybe I should’ve stuck to the cozy door frames instead of finding myself in what is fast approaching an epic.”

As the light faded so did our enthusiasm for the route. The terrain looked different in the light of the headlamps.  Foot holds became harder to find and we now inched our way up the wall instead of yarding.  We topped out thanks to Chris taking the final pitch and then looked aroun.  Disappointed. This was not the promised top out. More mountain loomed above us, barely catching the light of our headlamps.

With a lot of false starts we finally scrambled to the top.  Had we known the territory was going to be so treacherous we would’ve thought twice about soloing it in the dark.  Eventually Chris spotted headlamps in the distance and we raced towards the cavalry.  We found the Americans waiting patiently with Jimbo and Snort who led us on the not trivial 2 hour hike back to camp in the dark. Surprisingly, the others who we had last seen on the Grassy ledge were hours behind us. We were the lucky ones who made it back on aching legs to our sleeping bags by 11pm. I vaguely recall hearing the others stagger in at 4am. By all standards, us silly sport climbers had done well.

The next morning was a slow one. We finally got to hang out at the campsite in the light. Stories of all the epics were swapped and notes compared. Remarkably, everyone had come out smiling. In fact laughing and singing. And that was when I understood why we were here. Why we put ourselves through this. It gave us perspective. It brought us peace in some weird way. With every meter gained up that rock face we left our first world problems further and further behind. We scrambled, crimped and side pulled our way to freedom from our 9-5 lives. Far from being “weird” for pursuing such adventures we were being more natural in this state. Swimming in crystal clear water, being part of a community of our like minded tribe, living with a lightness and passion, fired up with fresh air and the kind of jet fuel that runs through your veins that instead of needing rest after a week worth of solid grueling exercise and lack of sleep, leaves you feeling invincible and capable of grinding through more hours of trekking with nearly half your body weights worth of stuff on your back. You know that whatever comes up, you’ll make a plan and deal with it. It makes you feel in touch with the earth again, away from the noise and over-stimulation of your city life.  And in the heinously complicated way with all the shiny engineered gear and intricate rules that is part of our sport, for a few days we simplify our lives to be all about survival.

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Affirmation

This time of year I generally make a pilgrimage to the Western Cape.  It’s a great time of year to escape the humidity of Durban and join the groups of climbers taking advantage of the dry conditions in the cape.
And because I’m often catching up with friends I haven’t seen all year it lends itself to a time of reflection as you swap stories and compare notes of how the year has gone.  And without realising it, the words spilling out my mouth were all positive,  accomplished and hopeful for the future.
True to year of the horse it has galloped by, not only with a breathtaking speed but with all the adrenalin of a full-paced gallop.  If you weren’t holding on tightly,  it threatened to throw you off.  But if you were up for the challenge, you were in for a thrilling ride.
So it hasn’t been easy going but I feel a lot of growth and learning has happened not only in my climbing but in my personal and working capacity.  I learned how to bolt, I knuckled down and became ever more determined to hold on.  Something which crystallized in those few thrilling moments on my second route at Rock Masters (more about that later).
I became more comfortable in my own skin as a climber and in my job and even in the role I play in the community.
But mostly there was that rare feeling of “I am where I want to be”. For such a huge chunk of our lives we are striving to get somewhere. We are always in the process of getting to that goal. And once we get there, there’s always the next goal or the goal posts have changed. Seldom do we feel accomplished in the moment. And sure, not all aspects are right and there is still a long way to go. But it’s a good feeling to feel satisfied in the here and now instead of living in the perpetual “one day”.
And as I spent the day trad climbing on Table Mountain with my good friend Arno, all the good feelings of an accomplished year gone by were captured with a simple smile and shared high five as we topped out by the cable cars.

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Smiles all round

it won’t dampen my spirits

At the beginning of the week I was a bit depro.  October was fast looking like a month where I wouldn’t get out much due to commitments to family and friends.  And the spring rains have definitely started.

Roger, as always, was optimistic.  “This is why we have Thursdays”.  Looking at the weather report it seemed like Thursday was possibly the worst day of this week to venture outdoors.  But it wasn’t going to stop us.  I had one day this week I was going to get out and I was going to milk it.  We knew that the overhanging crags could handle a bit of light rain.  It was the humidity you had to worry about.  Fortunately, both Roger and I have plenty to keep us busy regardless of the weather.

So we packed bolting gear on top of our climbing gear and met at the parking lot at 8:30 am.  I dropped Roger off with the bags, parked the car and jogged back.  When we got to the crag we quickly set about gluing some bolts that we had chopped and moved last week.  I felt enormously satisfied by this “stream-lining” of the crag.  The chains of my one route made for a far more fun, less daunting ending (because that’s how we party).  And one of the bolts on another of my lines was now just that much nicer to clip.  Onwards.  We moved to the end of the crag where Roger wanted to bolt his new line and I found this below The Holodeck (rope bag put there just for perspective on how ha-yuge this thing was):

Failed onsight solo?

Failed onsight solo?

There were no marks to the body to denote that it was attacked.  So my guess is this cane rat (?) bailed off the side of the crag unexpectedly.  Who knows.  But he was a big bugger and I’m glad I didn’t run into him in his more lively state where he could sink those incisors into me.

My climbing was a bit retarded this day.  It felt like there was a disconnect between my brain and my muscles.  My aim was off on the big moves.  My beta was all over the place and my footwork wasn’t coming naturally.  But still, I got a good number of burns out and while the heavens opened out I tested Roger’s new line.  It was the soonest we had ever climbed on newly glued in bolts.  Usually we come back on an entirely different day once we’ve glued.  I could hear Roger getting more and more nervous as I climbed up and first weighted the bolts, then took falls on them and eventually lowered off on them.  Well, the manufacturers weren’t lying about the 2 hr setting time so no hardware went flying out unceremoniously.  Thereby obeying Rule #1.

And off we trundled back to the car in the pouring rain.  Now in my opinion, gear that allows me to play outside in the rain is an extreme win.  Especially in summer in Durban.  And that makes this jacket my new most beloved piece of gear.

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Not only is it a stunning colour but when I unzipped it I discovered that it had kept me as dry as my boyfriend’s sense of humour.  Incredible.

A weekend romance

I don’t know what it is about climbing weddings that feel extra special to me.  I guess when you spend as much time around people as climbers do around each other and have shared in some extreme adventures it forms a different kind of bond.  And when you get to share in a special day when one of your community is practically glowing with joy, well, that’s an occasion worth giving up a weekend and driving across the country for.

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You’ve never seen us look so dressed up

At the end of the evening I was sitting on the couch with my beloved and grinning.  We were watching the climbing boys prancing around the dance floor, their enjoyment obvious.  I realised how safe and loved I felt amongst this group.  I knew that through all the years and all the events we’d shared, we would never let one of our own come to any harm or stand alone.

It has meaning

We screened the Reel Rock Tour 9 at the gym last Wednesday evening.  It is an annual event that I’ve come to look forward to.  The award winning, adrenalin-filled films are rather entertaining and crowd pleasing and I enjoy the social aspect of sharing in that experience.
However, after watching this year’s Reel Rock Tour I felt mildly disappointed.  It hadn’t had nearly as much of the edgy climbing as previous years.   This year they had chosen to dig into the history of Yosemite and make it one feature film rather than usual format of a collection of shorter stories.

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But the following day and the day after that the history and the lessons from the film clung to me and seeped into my brain, swirling around, waiting for me to notice them and ponder them further.

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Girl power

One of the most alluring things about moving back to Durban and climbing here was that there was such a strong girl climber contingent.  And I mean that in all senses of the term.  Not only was it a closely knit group of many more girls than I had seen up North but these chicks were strong.  And determined.  And could give me girl beta.  It was a huge boost to my climbing.

That was about 8 yrs ago.  Slowly but surely the ladies moved away and I was left to tackle KZN climbing on my own.  Until recently when Faye moved back.  The strongest of the lot.  I’m not ashamed to say that I have a bit of a climbing crush on my dear Faye.  And anyone watching her glide up the rock face would feel the same.  It doesn’t matter what else life throws at her, Faye is a born climber.  And it’s rad that she has come back and is keen to mission.  Plans are being formed and dates are being booked.

And speaking of booked, my sister emailed me this morning with the itinerary for her birthday.  I was firstly shocked to see that it was in the beloved Umtentu.  And secondly more shocked to see that it was a 4 day bicycle trek.  Married life has certainly changed my very corporate sister.  I’m excited for this upcoming adventure for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is the bonding time with my sister which has been seriously lacking of late.  And utterly grateful that she gave such advanced warning.  I should be able to not fall off a bicycle by October right?  Right????

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.