Let me simply start off by saying that the Roc Rally this year had little chance of happening. After putting in all we had in 2010, topped off with a massive party, the aftermath hit us like a bad hangover and we simply said: “Never again”. We looked at the calendar and realised that the tenth Roc Rally anniversary was looming. What is so amazing about a decade anyway, or a 21st? Maybe just a good excuse to do something wild or to go even bigger than ever? We definitely had it in the back of our minds that our big ideas to pull off something really special need to be reserved for a bumper 2012. Then what was left for this year? Just us staring high up against a feint crack system through a massive overhang with not a whole lot of psyche!
The weeks leading up to the Rally one has to say, is often slightly stressful for us. There are logistical nightmares of getting people, food and music to the sleepy railway town of Waterval Boven on the edge of the Mpumalanga escarpment. Without going into the boring details of the comedies of errors that struck on the last hour, you know things are not going to plan when the tick list starts growing onto the next page instead of slowly diminishing as the master plan is supposed to unfold. Why on earth did I ever utter the thought: “Hey, let’s pull a generator across the top of Baboon Buttress, light up the crags below and have some night climbing on the Friday!”?
By mid Friday afternoon nothing more could go wrong. Some friends and volunteers were still out at the crags putting up the last fixed top anchors on routes for us. Everything was roughly in place and there was a distinct calmness over me and the atmosphere around Tranquiltas Adventure Farm. The quiet before the storm. The camp site had steadily filled up from early in the week but during the day most climbers bailed from work and were now milling about, pitching tents, putting tea on the pots or cracking an early drink to get into the swing of the weekend.
After nine years I have to keep reminding myself that as an event organiser, you actually must not do a lot, except tell people what to do! Of course this is only possible in theory or in the boardroom. For an event like this, your friends and volunteers are your belayers (and off course your wife!). Without them you can train, prepare mentally, have all the right gear and experience but no big climbs will ever happen if the belayers are not there when you are ready for the send. And to go free solo is not an option here. Alex and I can never thank the friends and volunteers enough, you know who you are.
Show time. Who ever mentioned the quiet before the storm? The weather report predicted 1.2mm of rain between 17h00 and 18h00. The sun went down and thunderbolts of lightning struck in the pouring rain. A whole 4.5mm fell between 17h45 and 18h20! When will they ever get it right? This little sower meant that our grand scheme to serve food at the crag during the night climbing was canned, just in case the rain stayed on. After supper, informally, as it was meant to be, climbers started ambling down to the base of Baboon Buttress to tick their first route of the weekend for scoring bonus points in the ‘Boven Roc Rally 2011.
What about the lights? ”We may as well start the generator after going through the exercise of stringing lights all over the base of the crags?”, I suggested and sent a strong climber to pull-start the gennie into action, right? Wrong! Mr Strong Climber snapped the cord of the generator right through the middle and there we were again with another unplanned twist in the tale and a rush to replace the rope – you would think that with all the climbers around a little piece of rope would be easier to improvise!? Just one pull and the gentle purr of the generator made the little drops of sweat dry up on my forehead as the trail below lit up into a romantic evening fairy crag.
It was clear to see who spent good money on a decent headlamp (and remembered to put fresh batteries in!), walking along the base of the routes. Many teams discovered how much fun climbing could be having only a few L.E.D.’s beaming ahead. For most climbers it was their first night session ever. I did not plan to climb but seeing everybody having a jol, followed by a friendly offer to use a harness quickly put me on the rock. Just a little fiddling with the headlamp to choose the right brightness made me select the flashing mode. One of the bystanders could not resist to say: “Yeah, flash it!” I decided to play along and add a bit of spice to my route by “flashing” the route. I only lasted a third way up the route when the stroboscopic effect literally almost made me throw up. Thank goodness for a jug where I fiercely made the click on top of my Black Diamond Storm headlamp onto the wide setting and climbed on. I felt that it would be good to return the favour and at least belay someone (on a rather thick rope!).
Much to the amusement of some and to the disgust of others I opted to belay with a Munter hitch. “He is NEVER belaying me!” came the cries from wide eyes in the peanut gallery! What can one say to that? Modern sport climbers are nicely spoilt with fancy toys. That feint crack in the overhang started gaping with features and the angle seemed not really that steep, but more importantly the psyche was back!
Against all odds – these three words spun in my head leading up to, and throughout the weekend as the wheels fell off at times. But there is something to be said for “homo climber sapiens”. They get stuff done and they don’t like to be told that it is not possible. They will jump fences, wade rivers, cross continents, pay bribes, bum rides just to get to the base of a rock face to start an adventure. Be it 8 meters or a thousand and 8. And here in ‘Boven, against all odds, “they” came along and fixed stuff, hauled stuff, bought stuff, put stuff up, took stuff down and lived through another adventure. So did we.
Weary eyes popped open. Saturday morning meant kick-start the day with breakfast rolls and coffee! I had been looking forward to those rolls for a long time, truly a special little highlight in my Roc Rally days. Late registration admin got out of the way, a quick briefing forgot half the instructions anyway, funky dressed up teams paraded their costumes, synchronised watches and three … two … one … run!
Le Mans-style craziness of 90 climbers charging a clothes line followed where score sheets get plucked off before racing on to climb against the clock. The elaborate rules explained how you needed to score by doing routes according to your pre-defined handicap. Bonus points got given for longer routes as well as each different crag visited and the hardest routes climbed on the day got thrown onto another column of the spreadsheet.
Frantic at five o’clock as the last teams stumbled in to avoid penalties for being late. Formulas in the background had our steaming computers spit out a leader board and prepare for handing out T-shirts followed by prize giving with a prego roll in the other hand.
Thanks to our kind and loyal sponsors, the prizes were amazing as always and every climber a winner, walking away with big smiles from a day where 731 climbs were conquered by 94 climbers on the famous red quartzitic sandstone cliffs of Waterval Boven.
Francois Venter and Jaco Smuts from Team Quadraginta Superbus (don’t ask, I was told!) took the trophy for doing 54 routes and Matt Bush got the hardman award for redpointing Who Needs Lucky Cows (31).
Obviously there were battles won and battles lost but two things are sure: the rock will be there the next day and the after party is worth staying up for.
All images courtesy of Brendan Salzer
Don’t forget next years Roc Rally takes place on Friday – Monday 22-24 September 2012!!
You can view more images of the Roc Rally on the following sites:
- Climb ZA Facebook page
- A dash of crushing ‘n rushing at the Boven Roc Rally 2011
- It’s a girl thing: Boven and African Rain
- Not Just Another Rally