Illona Pelser Interview

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona on Monkey Pump (29) at the Scoop, Montagu.  Photo by Justin Lawson

Age?  Very old at 31!

Where were you born?  Joburg… but can we rather say Durban?

Where are you living now?   Durban, I moved there when I was 9 years old

How long you been climbing?  Nearly six years

How did you start climbing?
I started at the Barn entered the NBL which got me more interested in pushing my climbing abilities.

What was the first crag you went to?  Bronkies

What did you study / what work do you do?
I work for SANCF and I am the national administrator.   I did a BSC animal science and genetics and got my Masters in Genetics (my masters was on population dynamics in the Golden Mole).

And when are you doing your PHD?
Never, although I did think it would be cool to called Dr. Ninja, but if I were to do my PHD it would be linking genetics to behaviour.
What does the SANCF do?
We grow comp climbing in SA and align south African climbing comp standards with international standards – which are set out by the IFSC.  We also organise the selection comps for the upcoming international comps and the world champs.  The SANCF was also instrumental in keeping the Chosspile accessible to climbers.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona climbing Rapture of the Steep (23) at the Wave Cave, KZN – 2008.  Photo by Justin Lawson

We last sent youth climbers to the World Champs in Austria and also sent other climbers to other comps around the world.

How did you get the nickname Ninja?  You just are a ninja 🙂

What do you want to specialise in (when you’re big)?
Kicking ass and taking names.  I’m 1.57 I’ll never be big.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven.  Photo by Kath Fourie

What routes have you opened and are you opening any new routes at present?
Nothing as far as new routes (although I do have a great list of cool names to use).   I’m hoping to open something at Umgeni soon.

Montagu Village Market

Montagu Village Market.  Photo by Illona Pelser 

You’re in Montagu right now – what is your tick list looking like?

  • Whoa she poopie (29)
  • Neanderthal  Rex (27)
  • Monkey pump (29)
  • And a bunch of other stuff

When are you getting on Cool Like That?
Tomorrow…  So how did it go?  It didn’t grab me, maybe another time, I preferred spending my time working Point Break (29).

How long have you have been in Montagu for now?  1 month (Ed:  Illona spent a total of 2 months in the Western Cape)

What do you like about Montagu?
I have a great sense of peace here, it’s a great town.  Great fruit, really nice climbing + the climbing suits my style.  And not forgetting Retard dog that followed us everywhere and entertained us at the crags.  The Montagu market was really cool, I bought tasty fresh olive bread and the best cheese I’ve ever had.
What training do you do and how often?
I usually train on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about 4 hours.  I also do lots of bouldering and finger board training with perhaps some core training.

Do you train specifically for routes?
If there is a particular move I’m struggling on then yes, I’ll set it up on the wall.  Like for Pumperama I set up traverses with a lot underclings and the big move on the end.

What other trips have you done this year?
Boven, Vietnam, Swinburne, Rocklands and Montagu earlier this year.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona Deep Water Soloing in Vietnam. Photo by Paul Bruyere

What was Vietnam like?

The people there were really friendly.  The place is also really wild, you think you know what the 3rd world is like until you’ve been there!  It was really cool, but it’s not a hardcore climbing destination, rather more of a holiday destination.   Lots easy climbing and swimming.  We mostly DWS’ed.  It’s interesting, eat interesting animals and drinking snake wine.  We watched one of the locals climb a 29 slab barefoot!  And of course don’t forget the deathly scooter rides!!  I didn’t do any driving; I just sat on the back and went to my happy place!

What other areas in the world that you would like to visit?
Spain.  I’d like to do a trip starting from China and work my way down south towards Thailand.  Mexico, Steve and Angie recommended the place for its steep and overhanging style of climbing which I love.

Have you aid climbed?  No.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona on Monkey Pump (29) at the Scoop, Montagu. Photo by Justin Lawson

What is the biggest epic that you’ve had?
Any time Candice and I go to a crag by ourselves we tend to epic.  Things like “Theres a knot and…”  Another experience that comes to mind is being accosted by muggers while in charge of a bunch of school kids.  I even managed to get my wallet back with credit cards, obviously they took the cash!

But the biggest epic was at the Canyon…  things like threading the anchors wrong, so someone has to scramble down, then the rope got caught in a tree… stupid things like that.
Usually I only epic with Candice 🙂

Who is your most favourite climbing partner in the Whole Wide World and why?

I can’t answer that, it would be too controversial!



Would you say you’re climbing the hardest ever in your life?  Oh yeah!

Do you Trad climb?  No, but I want to!   Actually I’ve done the 19 crack at Umgeni.

Do you boulder?
Yes, but only as a means to train for sport climbing!  Ed:  She commonly refers to herself as a sport climber in a  boulderer’s body.

Are you sponsored ?
Yes, I’m a North Face Athlete.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona on Monkey Pump (29) at the Scoop, Montagu. Photo by Justin Lawson

What gets you psyched?
It so hard to put in words.  Its a line that works for you.  I feed off the energy around me, its one of the reasons I enjoy working with kids too.

What projects are you working (Boulder / Sport / Trad)?
Just finished Monkey Pump at the Scoop and Point Break is next.  In kZN, Mantra (29), Paragon (30) although the Kloof is closed and so is the Wave Cave.  When I get back to Boven Raptophila and Snapdragon are on the list.

Do you have a 5 year (climbing) plan?
No, its kinda year to year.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona on Point Break (29) at Supertubes, Montagu. Photo by Justin Lawson

What are your expectations for the future of Climbing in SA?
I think we’re going to manage to get to an international standard, more facilities and dedicated coaching and become more training orientated.

Are you an MCSA member?
No, but I go to the slide shows and I have filled out form.

Do you warm up and for how long?
Yes, mood dependant

Do you follow a diet?
A steady diet of chocolate and coffee.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona onsight flashing Vision Thing (23) at Sloth, Montagu. Photo by Justin Lawson

Top 3 routes this year?

  • Monkey pump
  • Whoa she poopie (Ed:  For the record she didn’t step out left for the rest)
  • Hippy banana tree killer (26) Vietnam

 What is your Hardest onsight?  What enabled you to onsight the route (what was different about it)?
A 24 in Boven, I initially told everyone it was Big Bad Wolf (which is a hardcore route next door) to the route I did (which was Little Red Riding Hood).  My bad!

 Tea or Coffee?

Illona Pelser Interview

Anti Gravity Tea (available in Montagu). Photo by Illona Pelser

Do you do any other sports?
I used to but climbing took over.  I still do yoga and jogI played squash, touch rugby, did martial arts, snorkelling, horse riding and kick boxing.

What do you do on a rest day (besides interviews)?
SANCF work.

Do you have a nickname?

What are your top 3 favourite local climbing destinations?

  • Montagu
  • Fernkloof
  • Wavecave
Illona Pelser Interview

Illona at the 2011 Rockmaster; staying calm and raising her commitment levels! Photo by Justin Lawson

Aspirations for 2012?

  • Climb grade 31
  • Do more Onsighting
  • Go Trad climbing

Can you do a 1 arm pull up?
No, but yes if I grab my wrist

Do you have a significant other and does he climb?  No.

You climbed at the Rockmaster comp in Cape Town, how did it go?
It was very enjoyable and I was impressed by the level of the route setting.  I placed 3rd in the Lead and Bouldering events.

What is your comp climbing like (are you good at it)?
I enjoy comp climbing, I tend to stay calm and my commitment level increases.

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona climbing at the 2011 Rockmaster. Photo by Justin Lawson

  • And then we handed the ‘interview baton’ over to Candice Bagley, good friend of Illona’s to ask a couple of questions! 

Candice:  Why did you like having blue hair?
Blue is a cool colour and because purple always comes out in Pink!

Candice:  What do you see yourself in terms of climbing – life time goals?
I want to climb 32 and  I want to increase the number of girls that climb.

What do the kids call you ?  Coach

Tell us your quest list?
My one goal in life is to become a better person.  So I have a ‘quest list‘ to make me a more awesome person.   I am constantly adding to it… things like don’t laugh to loud when someone slips and falls.

Illona Pelser Interview

Micky playing with ‘Retard Dog’ (aka Pikanini). Photo Illona Pelser

Illona Pelser Interview

Montagu Donkey Cart. Photo by Illona Pelser

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven. Photo by Kath Fourie

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven. Photo by Kath Fourie

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven. Photo by Kath Fourie

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven. Photo by Kath Fourie

Illona Pelser Interview

Illona working Raptophila (32) at Boven. Photo by Kath Fourie



Illona Pelser Interview

Illona onsight flashing Vision Thing (23) at Sloth, Montagu. Photo by Justin Lawson

Illona Pelser Interview

Rock solid – Photo by Illona Pelser


, ,

9 Responses to Illona Pelser Interview

  1. Margherita Introna Jan 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Awesome, you ROCK! 🙂

  2. Brenda Jan 12, 2012 at 6:28 pm #


  3. Brendon Jan 12, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

    Great interview!

  4. Nikki Jan 12, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Wow good IView, nice pics, lots of stuff abt you I did not know. If we put more rocks @ our house will you come visit more often?

  5. Brian Weaverq Jan 13, 2012 at 8:18 am #

    Awesome interview Illona. I wish I could have been on your road trip this December. Would have been awesome.

  6. James Barnes Jan 14, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Dude the photos are too cool! i like your rock master what must i do with my hands pose 🙂

  7. Adele McCann Jan 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    Definitely inspirational

  8. Steve B Mar 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Very inspiring! We can highly recommend China too!


  1. Rock climbing at the Wave Cave, KZN Photo by Justin Lawson ( #SouthAfrica #TravelChatSA - Urban Angels - Feb 19, 2016

    […] Full Post Source: – gotravelsa // […]

Leave a Comment/Reply/Review