Andrew Porter is a quiet, unassuming Joburg climber who has been on a big-wall rampage for the last two years. In 2010 he did a 6 month road-trip through the US, first learning to climb cracks in Indian Creek for 7 weeks, then hitting Yosemite valley (amongst other venues) to learn about big walls.
This year he headed back to the states for another 5 months (with a 2-week “vacation” to Europe in the middle). In between he’s been ticking some local big walls, from Blouberg to Yellowwood, as well as classic trad routes from Magaliesberg to the Cedarberg. Andrew has proved that with enough psyche and an open mind, it is possible to keep the climbing rat well-fed, even while maintaining a career.
How old are you?
36 years old. In the prime of my youth, but way too young to climb hard trad in SA. I need to reach 50 for that.
How long have you been climbing?
I first climbed with a rope at an MCSA beginners meet in August 1998. Before that, I did lots of very informal bouldering as a kid, and once spent days trying to get up a boulder just outside the Mahai campsite.
Hardest onsight trad & sport, hardest redpoint trad & sport?
This is rather embarrassing, and probably means I should get off my ass and do some redpointing. It also tells me I should use my sport grades for the rock rally handicap.
Trad: I have flashed two 25’s: Pitch 22 of Half Dome and a route called Fuel Injected Hardbody at Indian Creek. Also at Indian Creek I managed to flash a 24 and two 23’s on the same day. I have redpointed Crystal Fire, and a few other 23’s. Strangely, at grade 22 and above, I think I have more onsight’s/flashes on trad than red-points.
My hardest trad onsight for a non-crack climb would be 22.
Sport: I have redpointed numerous 25’s, and my hardest onsight is Rude Bushman (24) at ‘Boven.
What type of climbing do you prefer?
Trad, especially a dihedral.
Trad involves the mind a whole lot more, and also gives you greater freedom as to the choice of route, where to climb, and takes you to more remote/wilder places. I trust a nut that I have placed myself more than I do a bolt. Most of the big falls in my life have been onto an offset mirco nut. They have all held!
In the last year you’ve climbed on some big walls at home and overseas. Tell us some of the highlights.
The regular route up the Northwest face of Half Dome in Yosemite, 3 times, all of them special:
- Aug 2010, over 3 days, which was my first proper big wall
- Sep 2011, once over 2 days, doing all moves free with Gosia
- Sep 2011, a few days later in a single day with the whole route red-pointed by Hector and myself
I have done the Nose twice, once over 5 days, and then later, in a day with Clinton and Hector.
Seconding and supporting Clinton on his free ascent of El Cap via Free Rider!
Blouberg is one of my favourite cliffs around, and a really special place. Any route there will make it into this list. I will put down Razor’s Edge for this because I did it with Hector for his birthday. We had planned to do 2 routes that day, but the second pitch took so long to get up, that we had to race really hard to end up doing only 1 pitch in the dark.
Towerkop and Tafelberg, for Easter 2011 was an absolute winner due to the company.
Red Dihedral and Positive Vibrations on the Incredible Hulk in the High Sierras. RD because Gosia and I did the 11 pitches in about 4 hours, on the day we hiked in, and PV because the first 8 pitches are really awesome climbing in a spectacular setting.
What’s the attraction of climbing big walls?
Poo bags and golden showers. Waking up in a portaledge is pretty cool, especially if you get the “air” side. It is rad to be so high up. Hauling is reason enough to encourage speed ascents.
What has been your biggest project?
Unsuccessful project: In Sept 2010, I spent in total about 20 days trying to solo aid Mescalito on El Cap. I ended up doing the second pitch 13 times, and got to a high point of near the top of pitch 6 before being forced down as I just did not have the right aid gear to get up. The route has 26 pitches, so I got nowhere close.
Successful project: That would have to be Crystal Fire in Mhlabatini Kloof, which I worked on and off for about 8 years before finally getting it.
In progress: I am trying a new line in Cedarberg Kloof, that I started way back when. Hopefully, soon I will suck it up for a lead attempt.
And your most memorable route?
Heart of China at Waterval Boven must be one of the best single pitch routes I have ever done. The Rostrum (Yosemite) is probably the best multpitch. The Harding Slot pitch on Astroman (Yosemite) must take the cake though as the most special individual pitch – the move to get through the roof and into the slot is just so weird, contorted and physical (all at once).
Rumour has it that you actually enjoy climbing off-widths. Is this true?
I would not say I enjoy them, but I am attracted to them like a moth to a flame. The end result is often the same. Somehow, because I can get up them, I end up leading those pitches, so I keep getting better due to all the practise. The Harding Slot is still one of my proudest on-sights.
How many countries have you climbed in this year? And provinces?
Four countries: South Africa, Czech republic, France, USA
Six+ Provinces: Gauteng (plastic only), North West, Limpopo, Mpumulanga, Free State, Western Cape, and a major mission to the Drakensberg that got snowed out.
How do you manage to climb so much?
I am lucky enough to work on short term projects of 6-12 months at a time. In between, instead of joining the rat-race and getting a new contract immediately, I try to take a break from the computer screen.
What type of work do you do?
I work as a software developer.
You’ve dabbled in the climber-dirtbag lifestyle. Is this a viable way to live permanently? What are the pros and cons?
There is an art to staying one step ahead of Pinky and the other rangers at camp 4. They have more practise at it than me, but I know a few climbers who have taught me most of the tricks. Bear boxes are a curse.
It is much easier at Indian Creek, and this is actually rather fun. You need to be more sneaky to avoid paying for a shower here.
Either way, I cannot keep going too long. Soft beds, regular showers and a few lights and whistles have been bred into me. It is amazing though just how well the world ticks along without newspapers and share prices.
You’ve done a fair amount of aid climbing. How do you enjoy this compared to free climbing?
Aid climbing can take you up some very impressive walls, such as the Nose, so it has a place. If you want to aid climb for its own sake though, it only really gets worth it at about C3 or so. By now, you are facing falls of over 10m, so you need a cool head. I do not intend to ever buy a hammer, so will never do an A route. Aiding though is all about building your own ladder up the wall, and brings it down to your level rather than the other way around. Aiding, especially in Yosemite is very arbitrary in the grading: one person will place a bomber bolt, another just drill a hole for a hook and another will place a copperhead. In all 3 cases, a man-made placement, but a totally different grade that could vary from completely safe to potential death. This is rather silly.
At a stage you were big into off-road endurance running. Tell us a bit about this.
I somehow have an ability to run for hours, as long as it is out in the mountains. Even if nobody is chasing me. I have run for long enough that GU, energy bars and other food, all start to taste like chicken. I briefly held the record for the fastest traverse of the Drakensberg, and still hold the record for the fastest solo traverse.
(Andrew is too modest. His glib statement hides some impressive achievements: In December 2009 he ran 210km alone and unsupported across the top of the Drakensberg, from Sentinel car park in the north to Bushman’s Nek Border Post in the south. His time was 61 hours 24 minutes 11 seconds. After some more prying Andrew also admitted to winning and setting new records for both the 2006 Skyrun – a 100km self-supported race across the high Eastern Cape mountains south of Lesotho, as well as the 2007 Mnweni Marathon – a 40km race over steep Drakensburg terrain)
Are there any overlaps between endurance running and climbing?
In both disciplines, there is a place to relax and enjoy the view, and in both, there is a place where you need to concentrate completely on your objective. Work and other issues in your life have to stay behind. If we get specific to off-width climbing, then a tolerance to pain and suffering is common.
Do you think you’ll ever get back into running again?
Certainly. I do want the ‘berg record again, and I generally enjoy running and will want a break from climbing one of these days.
What keeps you psyched?
New things. I would rather try to onsight a route than go back for a red-point. A vuvuzela blow when you are high on a wall will lift anyone’s spirits.
What do you think about sport climbing? And about bolting in general?
Over the last few years, I have made it out to Waterval Boven many times, once for 3 weekends in a row. I enjoy the climbing there, and feel that it helps my trad climbing as it teaches me how to fall. In 12 months of overseas climbing over the last 2 years, I have sport climbed only twice, so given a choice, I will certainly go the trad route. I personally think the best solution is to do trad lines as trad, and to bolt the lines in between even at the same venue. Chains at the top of a trad route are appealing as they speed things up so much.
You’ve been nick-named “The Silent One” and “The Portage”. Any ideas why?
Julia summed it up well one day at The Hole recently. She said I am so quiet that I absorb sound. Sort of like a black hole. I do tend to focus on the climbing rather than making grunting sounds, so it takes a little getting used to me to know if I am solid or about to fall off.
What are your thoughts on solo climbing, whether roped or un-roped?
I have watched Alex Honnald free solo the Rostrum and there is an appeal to the freedom of climbing without a rope.
I have only soloed a graded route unroped once. 14 of the 16 pitches for Royal Arches, Yosemite. It was the best way to do the route, although I had to lug up a rope just in case, and used it on 2 wet traverses. No plans to solo anything else soon. There is plenty of scope though, regularly, for unroped scrambles to the base of a route or after toping out.
I have tried aid rope soloing. It is rather a mind-fuck to do hard stuff alone, but I would be more likely to aid solo in future than aid with a partner. Free climbing solo with a rope is a pain.
Pirate or Ninja?
Do you have a long-term climbing game plan?
Nothing specific other than to stay around, climbing for a long time.
What are your climbing goals for the next while?
Because I am so close, I want to get to a time and place where I climb harder on trad than sport. I especially want to push my grades on non-crack trad climbs, so a trip to the Western Cape is certainly in order. I have a few routes in the kloofs to go down, such as Dogstyle and Final Cut, and would like to try get up Future Shock and the dihedral that Razors Edge misses, both at Blouberg.
- The Clusterfuk – an ascent of The Nose, El Capitan
- The Vuvuzela Has Landed
- The Nose in a Day
- Half Dome in a Day
- Chicks on the Nose