Big girls don’t cry

Paige Claassen once wrote an article about crying at the crag.  While climbing can certainly stir all sorts of emotions and stir them hard, I can’t remember ever crying.  When I read the article I thought perhaps I’m just not that girly or different people respond in different ways.  Paige is one of my climbing heroes so I didn’t dismiss her words. Someone who gives everything they have every time they step off the ground certainly gets a bit more cred than your local gym rat.

But I digress.  Today was probably the closest I came to letting loose on the water works while on the sharp end.

I haven’t been tradding for a while and my trad experience as a whole is limited. But my head space feels good at the moment and that environment is starting to resonate with me.  And most importantly, I need to not look like a complete noob when a bunch of hard core Americans come to SA next month for the trad exchange which I have been roped into help organise.

Likewise, Charlie also needed to dust off ye ol’ nut scratcher and get back on the mountain.  He chose Africa Lunch for our come back route.  And while it is firmly within both our grade ranges…..we ended up with multiple mepics (mini epics).

My moment came as I set confidently off on the 23 pitch.  I doddled up the crack, humming to myself, casually placing gear along the way, being careful to keep the red cam aside as apparently I would need it right at the top.  I paused on the jugs at the top of the flakes and eyed the next part.  The rail looked fairly good but it was hard to see what was happening up the arête.  I checked the gear I had placed one more time and set off.

The rail turned out to be worse than expected and went from barely accepting my fingertips to narrowing even more the further you went from your protection.  So I put this attempt into reverse gear and frantically down climbed back to the cams, burning precious forearm and shoulder juice.  I eyeballed it again and made another go, this time getting just around the corner. By now my eyes were starting to bulge.  The rail stuck true it’s nature and got progressively worse and the arête had not magically presented options.  Reverse reverse reverse!  By now I was breathing heavily and losing some of my composure.  So I did what most people do in this situation – lace the hell out of the rail in front of you.

“I don’t know if I can do this Charlie.  I’m terrified.”

“You only get one attempt at an onsight.  You can do this.  Calm yourself and go for it…..Although you’re looking pretty calm.”

I’ve been scared on trad.  It’s like expecting to get wet when you surf.  It’s inevitable.

Nearly every time we go out one of us remarks about how scared they are just as we are about to cast off into the crux.  And either we suck it up and do it or the other manages to talk us through.

I think I gave it another go before asking him to take.  Not a normal thing to do on trad.  I sat looking balefully at the rock, silently begging it to reveal it’s secrets and feeling like I had broken some sacred rule.  I pulled myself together and went for it, moving with confidence and getting further around the corner only to find no feet and no great ideas leaping into my head about how to go up.  Tearing back to my gear I flamed out.  My mind snapped.  I was severely shaken. This time I had red lined.  The holds were too bad.  The potential swing into the rock too frightening.  I was close to hyperventilating with fear.

Charlie suddenly remarked that perhaps this wasn’t the way.  I looked up to the left and could see a sequence.  I had just enough gumption left to try the new sequence.  I focused in once again and made my way up the flakes, shakily reaching for the next rail only to find a polished surface.  I was breathing like a steam train to hold it together just long enough to place some gear and yell Take.  My shattered nerves said “no further”.  

“I nearly didn’t make that!” I heard the quaver in my voice and felt the emotion burning the back of my throat.  I was close to tears.  I gulped down the emotions while Charlie apologized profusely for sending me into the great unknown.  But even knowing that was the cause and not my poor onsighting abilities didn’t make it better.  At least not until much later when reason had returned.  I ended up stancing right there and then and our mepics continued for the day. But we arrived on terra firma no worse for wear and I even got to lead one of the ultra classics – Atlantic crag.  Which restored a modicum of faith in my trad climbing ability and ended us off on a high note.

I lay awake last night dissecting the day and determined to push on.  It got me thinking, perhaps I am no braver than anyone else (in fact, the way I was feeling at the end of that day, I certainly wasn’t).  Perhaps the reason I hadn’t broken into tears before was that I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough.  I studied the route guide and I know I will be back soon.  I know I am not done.

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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

Tradathon

When the Tradathon was first announced I vaguely toyed with the idea of attending.  I needed to rack up more trad mileage and it could be a fun event.  Besides, how often do we have events in little ol’ KZN?  As the time drew nearer, the buzz grew and more and more people contacted me saying they would “see [me] there”.  So it was a no-brainer when Dave “fancy pants” Drummond mentioned that he was looking for a trad partner.  I signed up the same day.

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Dave “fancy pants” Drummond

The morning arrived of the event and I wondered why oh why it had to start so early.  But they made up for it by serving free Jetboil coffee.  What a win.

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Coffee with a ….. smile

The morning was spent spotting familiar faces and listening to briefings about the day’s event.  Soon it was time to rack up and head for the cliffs.  Monteseel boasts almost 300 routes and stands proudly towering over the Valley of 1000 hills.  This venue, which dates back to the 1940s, gives you a real sense of being in the great outdoors even though it is a short drive from suburban life.  With the sounds of farm life hazily drifting in from the distance and the wide open spaces below you it has that freedom of exposure that lets your city life melt away as you clamber up some superb routes.

Monteseel is an ideal venue for trad climbers of all levels of ability.  With a walk-in that is so short it makes Legoland look like a hike and protection so good that even my 2 yr old niece could confidently place a bomber cam or two, it is an ideal training ground.  Black Diamond Equipment took advantage of this and ran workshops for beginner traddies throughout the morning.  Experienced hands such as Gavin Raubenheimer and Julia Wakeling took the bright and shiny climbers through their paces, teaching them how to safely tie in, place and retrieve gear and gave them a whirl on some of the classic routes.

Our little team of climbers spent the day on the Eastern Buttress, cursing the blazing sun and brambles but ever so smitten with the great quality of rock.  When we got hot and thirsty enough we returned to the main area where we found a hive of activity.  Over 100 climbers were laying siege on Monteseel.  We took a lunch break in the shade, soaking up the sight and threw “useful” comments from the peanut gallery.

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It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to so many climbers in my back yard.  That warm fuzzy feeling only grew as we listened to the slide show that evening at the Hacienda.  While climbers quenched dusty throats with drinks and filled their tummies with lamb from the spit we were entertained and educated by Mike Roberts, Roy Gooden, Steve Bradshaw and Roger Nattrass.

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Enjoying a beer at the Hacienda

“Microbe” gave an historical account of the climbing at Monteseel and we soon realised what a crucial part our little home town crag had played in the development of climbing in the country.  Not only was it the origin of our current grading system but it was where the hard men of the day came to test their abilities and push boundaries.  Why they did it in such horrific fashion is beyond me.  The home spun harnesses that caught them already looked debilitatingly uncomfortable.  They then chose to use the least protective of all materials, lycra, to come between them and severe harness burn.  Nutters, all of them.  And perhaps that was the secret of their feats of daring, the intense desire to not fall.  Roger entertained us with many eye-searing pictures of skinny lycra clad hippies, inspiring their generation to push their limits.

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Some colourful characters still visit our crags

Spot prizes were thrown out to the delighted crowd for categories such as “coldest ears” and “most sun burnt”.  There was nearly a lynching over the raffle for the highly desired trad rack but all in all it was a friendly atmosphere.  My hat goes off to Black Diamond Equipment for a well organised event.  I’m sure many happy memories and aspiring new traddies were born that Saturday morning.

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Sunset belaying at Monteseel

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