Roger Nattrass recently sent Gravity’s Rainbow (8a) We asked him for a few words about the send and below is his story…
Hard rock climbs are quick to expose your deficiencies. Not strong enough, not fit enough, too fat, too weak or too white. In my case Gravity’s Rainbow added a new factor to the mix – too damn proud. Evan Wiercx opened this fantastically technical line 20 years ago. It was one of only a handful of routes that he opened and was the hardest by far. When I managed the second ascent a few weeks later he asked me to grade it – which I did at 29 – as hard as sport climbing got in 1990 in KZN. No way was I going to give it a bigger number. I was young and I was the best! Only my routes were the hardest and having ‘cheated’ my way through Evan’s testpiece I certainly wasn’t going to give the line the kudos it deserved.
The crag is found on the state of the prestigious Hilton College. The routes are all technical and short. The longest line follows a gently overhanging golden wall and is long enough to be protected by 7 bolts. This is Gravity’s Rainbow. A grade 26 walk-in takes you to the technical crux at the 4th bolt. You will spend hours staring at the rock deciding which hopeless foothold to use … all while hanging on a three-finger crimp and a two-finger Gaston (an inside-facing layback edge). It requires not only power but also poise – otherwise your feet blow off and you are out of there!
Back in 1990 I had a huge problem. That damn upstart Wiercx could do all of this and I seemingly didn’t have a hope in hell of hanging onto the tiny edges while standing on those footholds. So I came up with the cheater’s sequence that is known as ‘The Flying Squirrel’ – a wild and uncontrolled sideways leap to an undercling. A move that pretty much tears your shoulder joint from its socket then slams your right hip into the wall. Very desperate, very painful and very, very low probability. I fell off it again and again as the bruises got bigger and bigger – but it seemed a simple sacrifice to keep my fragile ego on the top of its tottering pedestal.
Eventually I launched and smashed my way through the crux and held on to the top, casually declared the line ‘probably 29’. Twenty years later it has only seen four ascents and has spat off many more. One of the successful, the legendary Paul Brouard, responds with cheeks ballooning and eyes bulging when you ask how hard he found it. Enough said.
Two years ago I decided to resend the route. For a couple of reasons. It is only 11 minutes from my house to the top of the route and I wanted to use it as a yardstick for my condition. But most importantly, I think some part of me wanted to see if I could actually climb the crux. I re-bolted the route and added the obvious direct finish (a grade 23 Fontainebleau exit). My uber strong bouldering mate Willem and I worked the line for a few weeks and got close but our effort was continually interrupted by other projects. It would then take a few visits to get back to where you once were – such were the subtleties of this masterpiece. Even once solved it remains so tricky you could honestly leave your chalk bag at the base. There is no time to dip your hands on this one.
The big repeat went down a week ago and it was not without an additional challenge. My left little toe had been fractured three weeks earlier and refused to be stuffed into a climbing shoe. I dug around in my cellar and found an old pair of resoled shoes and cut a hole for my grumpy pinkie toe to peep out of. Very cute and rather weird. I had to be very gentle with the two critical foot locks and the aged floppy resoles made the footwork even more of a challenge. But there was no alternative so I battled on and on a cool Sunday morning ‘Tsssaaah!’ Sharma shouts echoed across the valley … followed by the inevitable ‘Whhoo … hoo’ when I rolled onto the top. No demons or flying rodents this time, just honest power. A fine, fine line. One that will go down in history as the first 30 (8a) to be opened in KZN.
Sorry Evan …
Roger is the author of A Climber’s Guide to KwaZulu-Natal Rock
Click here to read the ‘Roger Nattrass Interview‘