Guidebooks are useful: they show you where not to climb
Have you ever tried to go for a walk in the fynbos with a Botanist? Not with your mate Fred, who (on a good day), can distinguish blackjacks from palm trees. I mean the bona fide, scientific-name-sprouting floral enthusiast. Crawl would be a better word.
Every few steps their nose will disappear into the undergrowth, accompanied by pointing and shrieking. This is usually aimed at some particular planty thing that, to the rest of us, would seem to blend in with all the other planty things, like a pink boa at the Pride parade or a bicycle at the naked bike ride.
Most of my walks in the fynbos are somewhat speedier, and serve the express purpose of getting myself and an exploding bag of gear to the base of a crag. However, like the keen botanist, I also have a disease than means you can’t see the forest for the trees. Specifically, you can’t see the cliff for all the potential routes. If you can’t see at all, then check your hat hasn’t slipped down over your eyes. The wilderness is no place for gangster fashion.
So while the approach walk may be swift, when the details of the rock feature come into view I can slow to a veritable toddle. Squinting, gesticulating and making wild suggestions about what looks like the next best line since Astroman is all par for the course. Fortunately, I don’t climb with any truly obsessive botanists, otherwise we would get very little done indeed.
So what is this article all about? First ascents, more or less.
New routing can actually be a fair bit of work, so why would one bother? So you can live out your childhood Star Trek Fantasy to boldly (sometimes) go where no man (woman or hermaphrodite) has gone before? The allure of the unknown? An outlet for creativity, exploration, discovery and challenge? Contributing to the sport?
Here are my reasons:
I found 5 bucks on a path the other day. Just holding out for the big time – maybe a tenner stuck in a Protea bush. I can feel I am close. Just gotta keep my eyes peeled.
You won’t believe how many hysterical girls have shouted to me from the cable car on TM. Yeah, I regularly get the “O.M.G!” while I still got my shirt on.
Recently an Aussie lass was so amazed all she could yell was “Oi, check that bloke – KEEN!”. True story.
Since I started doing FA’s, I have definitely done more Arthroguard and Panado. My local dealer (Clicks in Green Point) sometimes gives me a good deal.
My Mom’s friend in the U.K. knows about what I do. That’s not even the same continent. International baby!
Oh come on, who can resist?
Often, after another totally awesome, 17- star new route, I’ll have a few beers with some mates, talk about climbing stuff and sometimes the waiter will ask for my autograph. Usually we party hard all night, sometimes even past midnight.
Maybe I am getting old. Well, actually that’s not a maybe.
Anyway, without sounding like a jaded old bag of gas, I think there is a natural progression in climbing that leads to wanting to find and do new routes. When you start out, it’s all novel and exciting. Local crags are full of new treats, shiny gear and hopefully girls to impress with your freshly acquired jargon. Don’t get me wrong, I can still have a great day out with mates at ye olde local crag, but the urge to go and explore uncharted territory normally wins.
Its like a big treasure hunt, and you don’t have to be a pirate to appreciate that.
Not that I have anything Arrrrgainst them. However pet parrots are only welcome at crags if they find booty, or keep the starlings at bay. Native parrots are of course an exception.
Note: If Polly tries to get it on with a local bird, he either he misunderstood the rule about finding booty or you have a very startled starling. Regardless, he probably deserves a cracker. Granted, this is about as likely as a having a rodeo where all riders wield a Bazooka. Welding them would be even more impressive. Anyway, see below:
However, its not all glory, loot and babes with big bazookas. I feel I must be honest. On the odd occasion when we don’t find a masterpiece for the front cover of Bumbling Magazine or SA Hill, a rare, minor blemish may occur on the record, something like this:
(no where near France)
In an age gone by (sometime last year), a friend sent me a portrait (electronically sketched from far away) via carrier e-pigeon of a cliff he had spied. This was destined to be the “next big thing in the Western Cape”. We organised four days leave and an ox-wagon worth of gear.
We had enough to fit out an expedition to Baffin Island I dare say. I must confess that some of the aid gear I could not even name. The sun had long set when we pulled into the farmer’s property.
By dim headlamp and cheap wine we devised an elaborate strategy including phrases like: “base camp”, “fixing static”, “initial carry” and “grand central line”.
Or was the el cheapo vino on another trip? – all a bit hazzy.
At third (or maybe fourth) light, we started up the main kloof and I enquired to location of said mega cliff. “Its around the corner”. Some trudging later, a cliff does indeed come into view, high up at the top of a subsidiary kloof. “It doesn’t look as big as in the sketch does it?” I noted. ” Blah, blah don’t’ worry it will be awesome, check those cracks out!! blah blah. et Blah”. We soldiered on through dense bush, experiencing a frustrating optical event. The closer we struggled toward the cliff, the smaller it seemed to shrink. Like something out of Alice in Wonderland – just without the grinning cat and stoned caterpillar. Although there could be an argument made about there being two mad hatters.
Sweaty, covered in bushy debris and a tad deflated, we arrive and study the clifflet.
Observation 1: Its size is about an order of magnitude less than expected.
Observation 2: Rock resembles an elderly prostitute*: loose, frail and unappealing.
Observation 3: Instigator of the mission has suffered a sense of humour failure.
Observation 4: In the next valley, in the distance, there looked like a wall that may have some potential….
Once you have the disease, every cliff becomes a canvas and plotting ground. Infected individuals can’t walk past a rock face without fully sussing it out, gesticulating wildly and often taking a photo**. There is no cure, thankfully!***
* – I am taking a flyer at this, no personal experience.
** – Beware: as per Le Botch photos can be misleading, but may provide unexpected adventures.
*** – As I have recently discovered, tearing the meniscus in your knee is a temporary cure.
But that’s another story…
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