20 years ago last January bob woods and I climbed a route up the ben heatlie amphitheatre in the Hex. We aided most of the route taking many days and bivvies over the affair. Three years ago I went back with Tieni Versfeld and Tony Dick to see if we could free it – a long time dream of mine. We got the aid out of 3 of the pitches but were overcome by difficulty and darkness.
I went back last week, taking no chances this time, with Dave Birkett and Mary Jenner. Mary and I dispensed with the first 4 pitches (20,16,20,23) then deployed the Birkett. Pitch 5 has some tricky 23ish moves to a thin rail under a massive roof. Then it’s a race against your arms to get to the belay – a hanging one on the rail when your gear runs out. Dave railed past the belay by mistake so came wandering back a few metres lulling one into the impression that it was easy. Mary and I followed with a rest. The pitch is 25.
After cleaning some plants out the rail and trying the moves through the roof, dave returned to the hanging belay for that mandatory of British trad rituals – a roll-up cigarette. Thus emboldened he sent the pitch. Although only about 15m long it is crazy hard – some no-footholds railing followed by a massive reach through the roof. Then the crux move to get to a rattly ledge. He reckoned 28. We aided.
Rock is bad for the start of the next pitch which makes for scary grade 23. The last 2 hard pitches are on cederberg quality rock – a magnificent steep 19 on big lay-aways, and a Yosemite-style flare which Dave led with cramping biceps. We raced for the top, found the rap anchors from 3 years ago just as the sun set and made it back to the cave at 10:30pm, passing a pair of watchful eyes glowing in the head-torch beam – presumably a leopard.
This route is an amazing adventure, and this valley is one of the last great wild places in the cape. Water is a 2 hour round-trip from the cave, and the cave is a 3.5 hour walk from the car. Loads of blister bush and an entertaining scree at the top complete the pleasure.
The remote nature of the place and some quirky pun which I now forget led us to call the route ‘Remote Control’. There are a couple of other big trad lines to be done in this amphitheatre, but unfortunately most of the rock on the wall is flaky horror.
Some early forays hoping to find the next Milner were disappointing – it’s just not that kind of rock. It tends to be tradable or not really climbable. No bolts have been used in this valley. It would be great to keep it that way.
‘Remote Control’ will not be the best route you ever climb, nor have the best rock, but will be one of your most memorable outings. And remember, if there’s no possibility of failure or an epic, it isn’t an adventure!
All Pics Adam Roff