To the ancestors. Those who have come before us, alive or dead, climbers or not, upon whose shoulders we stand tall.
Where the heart goes the mind and body must follow. It was a scorching mid-February afternoon in 2007 when I first laid eyes on her. The most beautiful, most seductive and certainly the most knee-jittering, intimidating one of her kind.
I believe my first words were “ no line could possibly go through those roofs! It must go off to the left somewhere.”
I had come to climb Oceans of Fear, a breathtaking line on the iconic Klien Winterhoek Peak. This mountain symbolises South African Rock Climbing to me. Its routes guard the stories and struggles of the most significant feats of rock mastery of our past. A rich Cape climbing heritage with this summit as its silver lining.
The Frontal, opened by Londt in the twenties, was way ahead of its time. And Oceans of Fear! The first ascent of which, was quite simply the finest ever achieved in SA. Three other routes exist on the entire face. The times they are a-changing paved the way for Greg Lacey and ADK to succeed on Oceans. ADK took it all on alone to establish Wall of Silence in 1986.
Then two ambitious youngsters with balls of steel, Jeremy Colenso and Jeremy Samson, put up Children of the Sky a few years later. To put a line up on this wall means something. There are only a few, they are desperately hard and committing, and the climbers who have played by her rules and succeeded are among those I respect most in the world.
Since that first visit I have returned many times. Every time my eyes would scour the face for weaknesses, piecing them together and imagining myself up there, attempting a new line.
Last summer, two new free pitches went directly up to The Ledge of Forgotten Dreams, as part of what I hoped would become an entirely new route. My heart was officially in it and I knew it was just a matter of time.
In March 2011, Clinton Martinengo arrived back from Argentina. He agreed to go before I could even finish saying that there were multiple question marks with this line.
“It takes an incredibly unlikely line through massive roofs, blank sections, and topped by the section of the headwall that nobody had ever attempted to climb”, I told an already fully committed Martinengo.
That kind of commitment is what it takes to have a climbing resume like his – second to none.
On 16 March our adventure began. We were armed with all sorts of gadgets and a spare of everything. We also carried in a drill, the use of which we kept to an absolute minimum (8 bolts, excluding stances, over 400m). If we were to fail, it wasn’t going to come down to a lack of equipment. In fact, we were uncharacteristically well prepared, but I had been carrying in provisions and static rope all summer.
I had quite a while to get it right. Most importantly, the support and equipment we received from friends stood us in good stead to take on this unlikely objective.
Many thanks to Tristan Firman, Jimbo Smith, Michael Woodward, Mark Johnston and Adam Roff.
A retreat off the wall once its starts to ‘kick back’ is next to impossible, and since we weren’t going to do it in a day, we had to fix pitches. Traditional siege tactics (fixing ropes to our highpoint each day and jumaring back up the next) over one continuous attempt. A “one shot one kill” approach, so to speak. Returning after having been shut down becomes more difficult with each attempt. A lesson thoroughly drilled into me by Slanghoek Amphitheatre three years ago (I still have not been back).
Everyday we rope soloed up to the ledge and continued up to the previous day’s high point on our jumars. The day ended with a little more knowledge of our route and new question marks. In the end, we had three giant loops rigged from our highpoint down to the ledge, ensuring our safe return to the Ma’Kooi Bivvy at the base of the wall.
My journal entry on Day 2 reads, “Tomorrow is going to be a big day. We will discover if the route will go. Ningo aids the Cloak of Black Mystery Pitch and extends it to the big corner. From there, I will attempt the massive roof! How far rock climbing has come in the Cape! Hope it goes. Going to a space in outta place!”
On the final day we were faced with the most serious question mark. Casting away the fixed lines and totally committing ourselves to climbing the headwall, was a necessity we both knew would come, yet we couldn’t help feeling a deep unease in that silent duty.
ADK’s “Three Rules of Alpinism” became a mantra for me during the six brutal days we spent opening the line. Although, I have amended them slightly to suit my needs. I prefer to call them The Three Rules of The Unkown and I’ve changed the order:
1. Expect to fail
2. One bite at a time
3. Never give up.
And with that, we stepped into the Wide Open Waters Pitch 25R. Sometimes one needs to call on a little luck to succeed.Commitment and perseverence are also very useful tools to have in one’s armoury. But if your heart is not in it, it always seems so much harder. Difficulties were taken in our stride to the point where we hardly even noticed them. The days had merged into something, we dissolved into nothing and the route became everything.
The night had been spent shivering furiously without food and sleeping bags because we had been too exhausted to retrieve supplies from the Ledge after summitting. The final push to the summit had wasted us. We had planned to walk off and rope solo back up to the ledge for our gear, but only just managed to collapse in a heap of exhaustion at the base.
We didn’t eat, we didn’t make tea, we didn’t even talk much. We just lay down at the mercy of the elements and waited for tomorrow – satisfied. My final entry: “Never slept. My mind kinda just shut off periodically. Was shaken out of it before sunrise by serious thunder and lightning. My first words of the day were – we’re fucked now!”
It seemed the Winterhoek was tired of playing nice and decided to throw her toys out the cot when it hurt us most. “Made a mad dash to The Ledge of Forgotten Dreams at sunrise. Was so fucked, don’t know how we did it. Stripped everything and headed back to Ma’Kooi Bivvy for tea and breakfast.” Fortunately the sun burnt off enough of the weather to spare us a long, cold and hungry wait for a window to escape. Perhaps, like me, the Klein Winterhoek struggles with good byes, and just wanted to get it over with quickly.
We didn’t wish to prolong anything either and hastily made tracks. Only now, in hindsight, can I appreciate how much of ourselves went into establishing our latest addition to The Klein Winterhoek’s storybook, Art of Hearts 25R A3. It took two weeks for my body to recover sufficiently to climb again. It took a month for my mind to recover so that I am able to focus long enough to string two sentences together for this article. My heart, curiously, has not skipped a beat.
About the Author:
Joe is a student currently studying Anthropology and philosophy. He’s on the top end of climbing in the cape right now pushing the levels in Trad climbing and was recently awarded the MCSA Supertramp 2011 Award.
From his story above you can see that he works really hard in the mountain and is phenomenally fit and when he is not climbing, he goes running.
Joe is sponsored by
Clinton is sponsored by: