Ben Heatlie – Free at Last

Don't Mess with Hex River Farmers

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.

Dave Birkett chalking up through the crux

Dave Birkett chalking up through the crux

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

3.Remote Control - Line and grades

Remote Control - Line and grades

Blaas Kloof

Mary Leading Scary Pitch 3 (20)

Mary Follows on Pitch 4 (23)

Dave casually cruising up Pitch 5 (25)

Dave a little moving along a little less casually on Pitch 6 (28)

Dave approaching the crux

Dave moving through the crux

Dave on the scary pitch 7 (23)

5 Responses to Ben Heatlie – Free at Last

  1. Dolf Lombard Jan 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    HI Adam

    Could you please contact me offlist. We have Radio tower on The top off Ben Heatlie and I want to talk to you about an idea.



  2. Coert Jan 24, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I would like to get in contact with someone of the group that climbed the Ben Heatlie mountain.
    Thank you

  3. Jeremy Colenso May 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi Adam , a fantastic achievement by the team and a wall definitely on my to do list. Can you just check up on the name. Bobby Woods, Mike Hislop and I opened a route straight up Castle Rocks to the right of Apollo around 1990. I think we called it Remote Control and wrote it up in the MCSA journal. It might also have been called Thrasher on account of the fact that Bob forgot his harness and had a few uncomfortable hanging belays in a harness made out of slings! If memory serves me right my choice of name was adopted. All the best. Jeremy.

    • adam May 24, 2015 at 8:22 pm #

      Thrasher is on castle rocks. You’re getting old!


  1. » March 22, 2010 - Birkett Climbs Massive South African Route - Mar 22, 2010

    […] UK hardman Dave Birkett has free climbed a new 11-pitch route in the Ben Heatlie amphitheatre in the Hex River Valley near Cape Town, South Africa. The route Remote Control 7c (5.12d)  was climbed on natural gear and is a worthwhile adventure for anyone interested in exploring this isolated canyon. More details here and here. […]

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