Believe it or not I was recently on a non climbing holiday in Zimbabwe with my parents, sister and her husband Eddy. However I managed to convince my dad to come climbing with me on our only free day while my Mom and sister went shopping and Eddy played golf. It was late morning as we left the car and started the fifteen minute walk to the route I wanted to climb.
Opened by ADK in 1994 at 7c+ it is a test piece in Zim that has not been repeated. The route is a thin undercut seam that runs diagonally up and right across a beautiful purple, red and white streaked wall. The seam is so thin that only your finger tips fit into it. There are also almost no foot holds so you’re forced to smear your feet, making for a powerful and pumpy climb. The route is called Titanic as the seam looks like the bow of a ship.
Walking in to try the route my excitement turned to fear as I felt the pressure mount. I had less than a day to teach my Dad how to belay and do the route. “I wish I’d brought the belay plate and not the grigri”, I thought to myself. As I put in the draws and worked the moves with my Dad, I cast my thoughts back ten months to when I had tried and failed in spectacular fashion last October. Julia and I had driven up to Harare for her mums 60th and a bit of a climbing trip. Time had been limited and I had only had three days to try redpoint Titanic.
As lunch time temperatures were up to 40°C we opted for 4am starts to make the most of the relatively cool mornings. These were particularly important given that we didn’t have any chalk. Idiots.
On the first day we ate breakfast and drove the half hour to the start of the walk only to discover that I’d forgotten my whole climbing bag. Julia did not mince her words in telling me what she thought. I squeezed my feet into her climbing shoes, put on her harness and Ryan Holl belayed. On top of the pain in my feet, I also felt like a cat with socks on. The day heated up and I gave up.
On the morning of the second 4am start I walked out the front door half asleep and stepped bear foot into a pile of warm dog poo. We first went and did a bunch of other routes that the area had to offer. By the time I got onto Titanic it was late morning and just too hot. Despite giving it my all, I felt like the shit I’d stepped in that morning and was not up to the challenge. As we walked out to go to Julia’s Mom’s 60th I got a feeling it was not going to happen this trip.
After the party we took a much needed rest day which left us with three days to climb. Ryan Holl had told us about two other unrepeated ADK routes. The first was Elastic Eland, a short overhanging open-book with polished walls that goes at 26. I tried it and Julia and Ryan worked on T.C.E., an awesome ADK 23 trad route nearby. It took me half hour to work out how to get off the ground, and once there, the belayer would not have had a flattering view.
With one karma sutra type move to another I bagged the second ascent of the route. The other unrepeated route was the Alchemist at Shamu, a beautiful setting 60Km east of town. It’s a 25m dead vertical golden granite wall with a few widely spaced tiny edges. We got there late and the route was in the scorching midday sun – the worst conditions possible.
Julia abbed off and hung the draws for me. I then went for and got the onsight! Its took a lot out of me but it is always good to onsight an ADK 28. Could I get the hat-trick?
The third and last day I had on Titanic last October was another 4am start. Putting on my shoes I got the feeling in my gut that is seldom wrong: this will be the go that I’ll get it. I got past the crux for the first time and clipped the last bolt. I had it.
All the hard work was done. But then my foot slipped and in an instant I was hanging on the rope thinking, “I will not be the iceberg that sinks this ship today”. I had one more go but fell low.
There was no hat-trick.
It was a bitter pill to swallow as we drove back to Cape Town.
Arriving at the base of the route, my father looked up in amazement and disbelief, “You can climb this?”. Well I am going to try! I gave him a crash course in belaying that went like this, “Dad, when I fall off, let go! Do not hold the device!” With that and getting the worst feed of rope possible, I clipped my way up the first three bolts in a stiff rigid manner as I was somewhat terrified.
To get to the forth bolt one has to do an awkward mantle onto a small ledge. While doing the mantle I slipped off and fell in an instant that felt like forever to the first bolt, where I ended up, hanging upside down. I turned myself around while thinking, “Dad you are solid?”. He was a little wide eyed but did not say a thing. After that I relaxed and worked out the moves, while Dad got the hang of feeding rope in and out.
With annoyingly itchy wrists (something that happens when I get nervous) I started off and got the bottom all wrong. It took way too long and too much effort to get to and do the mantle. Standing on the mantle I got a bit of a shake out before the crux.
I did the crux moves and was soon clipping the last bolt, a little surprised that I had gotten to the high point of last October’s efforts. I had one hard move to do before the climbing eases for the long run out to the chains. By now dad was shouting at top of his voice, “Go Clint! I know you can do it! Come on my boy!” Doing an under-cling the closer your feet are to your hands the smaller the chance is of your feet slipping off, but the strain is higher on your fingers. The mistake I made last October was that I had my feet too low. With sheer determination I placed my feet high and popped my right hand for the sinker under-cling. It stuck and soon after I was clipping the chains with my Dad jumping up and down.
With all the excitement I convinced Dad to follow me up an easy route around the corner. I had followed Julia up it once and seemed to recall it to be a 16. By the time I was at the top I realised it was more of a 21. I set up a belay and shouted down, “Dad I can always lower you back down if you’re finding it too difficult. You can climb!”
Like a chemical reaction is irreversible I knew the tough old bugger would never give up even if it kills him. How would I explain it to Mom if something happens to Dad? I was already feeling guilty for the impending unintentional sand bag. It took a long time and lots of pulling and tight rope before Dad (at seventy years of age) pulled over the top exhausted and with skinned knuckles and grazed elbows. Lucky he does not feel pain. He did not say much on top as I packed up, he just sat and looked off into the distance.
That evening while sitting on the old colonial veranda of Julia’s Mum’s house, eating cheese and wine, Dad told everyone with great excitement all about Titanic and the route we did.
His hands and fingers were clutching imaginary grips in the air as he explained the moves. He kept telling them how beautiful the area was and how lovely the view was from the top.
Then he looked at me and said, “I bet with a little training I can climb that route.” As I agreed with him I thought to myself, “Welcome to my world Dad!”
It was worth it now to have swallowed that bitter pill last October. I could not have asked for a more beautiful route in a more amazing setting. It was also the first route that my Dad has ever seen me climb, and I will remember that day forever. I love you and sorry for the sand-bagging Dad.f
Clinton is sponsored by First Ascent, Black Diamond and Five Ten