Historically, KwaZulu-Natal has been at the forefront of indoor and competition climbing in South Africa. The KZN inter-schools climbing league was the first of its kind in the country and has produced some of our best climbers, including Dave Richardson, Candice Bagley, as well as Rachelle and Benjamin De Charmoy, to name a few.
To date the University of KwaZulu-Natal has provided the only training facility open to the public. This wall has evolved from a vertical wall outside the sports hall to a steep lead wall that hosted South Africa’s first indoor Rock Master competition in 1988 and for a time this was reserved solely for the experienced and elite climbers of the day. A small bouldering wall was added and subsequent generations of students have added further panels. Recently this wall has hosted two successful national youth competitions. While the boulder area at the same location has grown from a few panels to a long and varied bouldering space, complete with interesting angles and a good social scene, as a venue it has lacked height and is particularly unsuitable for spectators. Furthermore, access to this wall is confined to a few hours on only two evenings a week and maintenance is done sporadically by volunteers operating with a limited budget.
The first commercial facility in the Durban area was operated by Nic Geere when he opened the Kloof High School wall to the public while operating the Highway Climbing Club. This venture showed that there is truly a demand for such a venue, closer to the Highway area, particularly catering for the beginner climber market. However, due to personal commitments Nic could not continue the club. Climbers in Durban grew frustrated when the UKZN wall was shut during examinations, holidays or for conferences. The only alternative was The Rock at Gateway, which is a good venue for the average tourist but leaves the diehard climber dissatisfied with its on-angle, slabby climbing. In the pub and around braai fires a number of parties expressed interest in opening a commercial climbing venue, but nobody made the idea a reality.
At the beginning of 2012 Roger Nattrass and Tristan Firman began planning Southern Rock Climbing Centre with the vision of producing a small but world-class climbing facility as a pilot project for a planned future expansion. In spite of being a pilot project in a small venue they insisted that all the components be of the highest standard. Construction began in June with the design meeting international, World Cup bouldering standards, as the bouldering area stands at over 4 metres high. Such a height required that special attention be paid to the floor. And pay we did as the wall-to-wall mats proved to be the most expensive item in the construction process. The floor is 43 cm thick and constructed of three differing densities and types of foam. In a further design innovation the floor curves to the base of the wall to maximise the available climbing surface and to allow for sit starts.
The holds have been selected from local and international (USA and Europe) manufacturers, supporting the local market while still exposing our climbers to international innovations. The three-and-a-half ton steel frame and panelling system was designed by Roger Nattrass and then installed by himself and the rest of Southern Rock’s staff: Illona Pelser and Candice Bagley, with Simon Lowe offering his rope access expertise while assembling some of the 400 kg steel beams. Michael van der Ham also helped out for the duration of his university break. Keen Durban climbers helped out late into the night every Thursday during the two-month construction phase. Fuelled by pizza and beer they drilled holes into the frame and they helped to shape panels. The final result is a free-standing structure that can be dismantled and moved to a larger venue as the company and its membership expands.
The roped ‘Tower of Power’ has been engineered to ultimately stand at twice its height – in keeping with the long-term vision of this endeavour. The concave ‘Rave Wave’ is arguably unique. Roger couldn’t find any pictures of any gym anywhere using such a curve. Nobody builds such walls as climbing holds have flat, not curved, rear surfaces – creating route-setting nightmares when bolted onto concave surfaces. This challenge was overcome using nine straight segments carefully welded into one beam to create the ‘curve’. This was difficult to fabricate as the heat of each angulated weld causes the beam to deform. The manufacturers then had to copy the fabricated curve four times to build the wave. A big up to the specialists at Cousins Steel in Pietermaritzburg!
It is a remarkable feat that in just two months we have a functional climbing gym and a gear store with a wide range of specialist climbing gear. This is not primarily an outdoor store but rather a climbers’ store. Until recently there has been nowhere to purchase climbing gear in Durban and KZN climbers have been reliant on mail order purchases. A wide range of brands and models is now locally available. In shoes alone there are currently fourteen models of climbing shoes available – with more on the way!
A climbing gym has been long awaited in Durban. We now have a great climbing and social facility that is child friendly and open seven days a week. Introductory climbing courses are on offer and we hope to grow the sport and improve everyone’s climbing.
Unit 13, Four Towers
5 Valley View Road