As soon as I make a sharp right at the base of the gully (after the rickety-as-hell stairs that are sure to fall down very soon), I see Faye Brouard and Andrew Scott dumping a rope at the base of Roger Nattrass’s Mango Tango, a 31 (8a+) that Faye has been working on.
“Kathpoo!” Faye shouts at me, “Fayesicle!” I shout back. No-one knows why we do this cutifying of names, but it’s pretty funny as Faye throws down her rope with a ‘doof’ sound and a small poof of dust rises up around her stuffed-up sneakers. She may be diminutive but she’s far from cute. The girl has been ripping it up of late, having bolted and opened one of the hardest lines at Umgeni. Faye’s calling it 30 (8a) for now, Serotonin Explosion, but since no-one had managed to repeat it yet, we’re not actually sure what it is. Suffice to say ‘really frikkin’ hard’ probably sums it up.
“Hey you going up this now?” I ask after a quick down-jacket squish-hug. “Ja, going to give it a little go I reckon!” The photographer in me wakes up and I forget my urge to climb and after a quick discussion it’s decided I’ll hang a rope and shoot some pics. Andrew runs up the gully with me to explain where I should set up (and ties the fixed line so I don’t kill myself). Five minutes later Faye is on the route, she has her game face on, and I’m hanging right by the crux trying to not think about how old my rope is as it stretches under my weight.
Faye attacks the route with her usual focus. Her face is pale down in the shade of the trees, Andrew has my cap on his head, and he’s making small talk with Scott Sinclair who is also watching. Faye isn’t listening to them as she moves silently and strongly up the bottom section, a balanced dance up a grey arête that is painted with stunning streaks of orange rock as it grows in height. Easy to see why Roger named it Mango Tango.
I am half expecting Faye to kind of struggle a bit at least, make some noise, look stressed, paw around…but it doesn’t happen. She’s climbing like a goddamn machine and before I know it she has moved right through the sweet rind of orange rock into the beginning of the crux and Andrew says ‘Kath, um I think you’re standing on Faye’s hold’. You know when you’re kind of in the middle of someone’s move on their redpoint of the hardest grade they’ve ever climbed?
I desperately try and move up but because it’s a dynamic line I’m now stuck and the best I can do is shuffle left and try my hardest to keep my legs out the way…I am so close to Faye that she fills up the whole frame of my camera on it’s widest angle. D’oh. She ignores me completely and does the heel hook, and pulls up so effortlessly I am tempted to throw something at her just to make the picture look better, get some reaction on her face. But that wouldn’t be a nice thing to do to your friend. I guess.
Faye’s right hand is holding an absolutely tiny crimp, it makes my fingers recoil in horror just looking at it, and she stances for the spit-you-off catch move where one has to release from a pocket and catch a side ways sloper to stabilise. She throws, catches, stabilises and moves her feet. She suddenly looks like she’s come back to the world the rest of us live in, and she realises the hardest bit is over. A shake out, a chalk up, and she moves over the last couple of metres to the chains. Boom. I yell really loudly, I feel like I just climbed that thing with her!
Fayesicle just sent Mango Tango and it dawns on me that she just changed South Africa’s climbing history. In fact she just changed the World’s climbing history. Faye Brouard climbed the hardest route a South African woman has ever climbed, on Women’s Day. I am kind of boggling at the whole idea, and start lowering off when Tessa Little comes racing down the pathway.
“Faye! Was that you yelling?”
“No, that was Kath” (I cringe a bit)
“But did you do it?”
“Yep! I sent it!” She says with a little jiggle and a goofy grin
Tessa is delighted and the two women hug. I snap a pic. The pic says it all really. Tessa Little was the first South African woman to climb 30 (8a), and that was pretty much 13 years ago when she opened Jack of All Trades at Boven. Tessa is chatting to me later in the week at the 10th annual Durban Bouldering Competition, where she is pulling on her shoes to try a problem at the far end of the wall. “Yes, it was very emotional for me actually, knowing that Faye had climbed a 31. I’ve been kind of waiting for this, and I was just so happy it had happened, progression, it’s a big thing for women’s climbing as we begin to see what’s really possible” she says as she pulls onto a move I’ve been throwing myself at for thirty minutes, and does it effortlessly.
I don’t know what else to say. For most people it’s just a person who climbed a rock with less grips than some other rock. Big deal, but for me and for most climbers, this is so much more personal. It’s about self belief and mental shifts, about stepping up your game and never doubting what you can achieve. I have begun to really get annoyed when people say ‘Ja but Faye’s super human’ or the classic ‘She has the genes though…the Brouard genes’. As if that makes it less of an achievement somehow? Bull man, Faye is just as human as the rest of us, and she has been working her whole life to get to this level. And that’s what I think about when I’m getting my arse kicked on any route I’m trying at the moment, progression. Up. Go. Grow.