Oceans of Fear, Klein Winterhoek History
(Extract from an article that Tristan wrote about his and Stuart’s ascent of Wall of Silence. SAMM June 2006)
First off, the Frontal Route, so obviously aesthetic and ahead of its time for the 1920s was soloed in the ‘50s by Hans Graafland (to the dismay of the MCSA office -bearers) setting the tone.
The Times They Are Changing (G2/20) – appropriately named – was the first route to toy with the hugely overhanging amphitheatre, skirting it to the right but close enough to allow Greg Lacey a glimpse into the future (it later also gave Andrew de Klerk (AdK) a direct line to the summit which he would solo… with a para-glider on his back!). The future, of course, was the plumb route through the amphitheatre – and by the early 80s the race was on. Eventually it was Lacey and a 16 year old de Klerk who scooped the line ahead of, among others, the Davies brothers, taking five days to create Oceans of Fear (G2/20, A3). The route in its original state is iconic. Lacey’s vision had by now scooped a second possibility, a more direct, less obvious line through the centre.
Sadly Greg died tragically in an avalanche while descending a route in Chamonix before being able to attempt the line. Andrew went back, this time with Wayne Clausen and unlocked a little more of the puzzle, but was forced to abandon the attempt due to really bad weather. Wayne then died, equally as tragically in a caving accident.
In a grieving tribute, de Klerk returned. Alone. In 4 days, Wall of Silence (G3/21, A4) was complete – his summit book entry makes for goose-bumpy reading indeed, and upon his return Andy is rumoured to have locked himself in his room for a significant period of time.
In 1989 the two Jeremy’s (Colenso/Samson) established Children of the Sky (23, A3), bisecting Oceans at its highest traverse. Over the years Wall of Silence was repeated five times, Oceans was climbed (in its original state) in a day by Douw Steyn and Jeremy Colenso, and was then freed by ADK grade 28- with bolts added where the aid-gear was bodyweight – to become Oceans of Fun. In between, Children was attempted, unsuccessfully, a few times by the likes of Phil Lloyd (who subsequently died in Patagonia) and Charlie Standing. The new line to the right of them all was attempted by Adam Roff and Andre Vercueil but left incomplete due to the prospect of too much drilling and, Children finally saw its second ascent by Tristan Firman and Stuart Wallis. Somewhere in between ADK and Pete Zam made the first complete BASE ascent/decent of the amphitheatre, Oceans has also seen two more free ascents by Clinton Martinengo and Leo Houlding. Joe Möhle and Clinton Martinengo opened Art of Hearts (25, A3) around 2011 and a year later Hilton Davies and Guy Paterson-Jones made the first ascent of Rapture (23).
I have summited the Amphitheatre now nine times.
The first six times was all on Oceans and the first time was with Tristan in 2002. Having heard so much about the iconic route I wanted to go and see what the fuss was for myself, but no one was keen. Eventually Tristan, feeling sorry for me, said he would go as long as I promised not to free any of the crux pitches. It was my first aiding experience, but it was more the free climbing that I found hard. I could not read the rock and it was loose and intimidating. It was essentially my first big Cape country route and I was so out of my league and so broke by the time we got back to the car that I vowed never to return.
Within two weeks I had forgotten the vow and convinced myself I could free Oceans. I went up with John Terblanche and I came close to red pointing the Horror Crack and French freed the rest of the crux pitches. Truth be told I was pretty much shut down, but so began my obsession to make the second free ascent of Oceans of Fear. Shortly after that access issues developed with the farmer and I only returned in 2005 when Gosia called unexpectedly, saying she was keen to hold my ropes. We did a lot of trespassing that weekend, walking through the neighbouring farm and I got shut down on all three of the crux pitches. As we topped out onto the summit after two long days on the wall we were each handed a glass of whisky, a boerewors roll and dry socks to put on while our wet socks dried by a fire.
It was a surreal experience. It turned out to be Jan Theron (the farmer whose land we had trespassed on) and his friends who hiked to the top to celebrate his 30th birthday. Not knowing if we were in trouble we confessed to trespassing.
Gosia and I returned three more times over the next two years (each time with permission from Jan to walk through his farm) before I finally made the second free ascent of Oceans, climbing from the base to the summit in a long day. Leading all the pitches, in the same style as ADK when he first freed it some 13 years before. It was definitely my proudest achievement to date. I had to dig deep, both mentally and physically and standing on the summit with Gosia I put a five year long obsession to rest.
Three years went by before I returned in 2011, this time with Joe. We summited the amphitheatre by a new route Art of Hearts. It was all Joe’s vision. He had been up there working on freeing Oceans when he spotted a line of weakness through the biggest roof of the amphitheatre to the right of Oceans and Wall of Silence. When he first pitched the idea I was not convinced. “Just trust me.” was his comeback so I went along. We spent five days opening Art of Hearts. Joe aided through the roof and yes, it was very impressive going at a moderate A2. I led the next pitch that broke us out of the roofs and onto the head wall at A3. I took a fall and ripped a finger nail off but soldiered on. Once on the head wall we thought we would fly, but we were wrong. It’s a big, lonely and scary place with mostly loose shattered rock. It took us a whole day to find our way up to the walk off ledge. It was my seventh time on the summit (first non-Oceans). We were psyched to have our own first ascent to add to the platter of routes up there. Although I could not help but feel that it is a little under par to Oceans, Wall of Silence and Children of the Sky as it shares some of their pitches. It is not a complete independent line.
Then, from 14 to 20 March 2014 I made the sixth overall and second solo ascent of Wall of Silence. I had been toying with the idea of soloing it for a long time but I always found a reason not to commit and to leave it for another day. In the end the catalyst was an old FB post of Hilton’s that came back to life and got me thinking about it again. Foolishly I posted something on my FB page and Tristan kindly sent me his aid gear from Durban. I felt obliged and started questioning my motives. Hilton, feeling worried offered to go with me, but deep down it did not feel right. In the end it turned out that he had other commitments and I felt kinda relieved when he pulled out. I knew then that I had to solo the route. The day before I left I was asked why and the only two reasons I could think of was that I knew I was capable of doing it and wanted to prove that to myself. Secondly, it’s the way it was opened I think it deserves to be repeated in the same style.
What follows below is a long winded and badly written account of the week that followed… I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading now.
14 March 2014
Day 1: Walk in with all my gear and sleep at the base
It took me 15 hours to walk to the lower camp (still a long way from the base). My bag with all my gear and food was well over half my bodyweight and I barely managed to slog it to the top of the black wattle plantation. Once in the fynbos I battled to keep my balance as I have skinny legs and am not built to be a mule and I kept falling over. Before leaving I tried to find someone to help me carry in my gear, but to no avail. So I split the load into two bags and then essentially walked the mountain three times as I relayed the two bags past each other. It was definitely one of the toughest days of my life, but quitting was never an option.
15 March 2014
Day 2: Climb and haul all my gear to the Ledge of Forgotten Dreams (LoFD). If time permitted, start the first aid pitch.
It took me six hours and three trips to carry all my gear from lower camp up to the base. The first two trips I carried the two bags. I then filled up 21 litres of water at lower camp, as it’s the last place to get water. I started climbing at 14:45 and decided to do the original Wall of Silence (WoS) pitches up to the LoFD. I had been thinking of just doing the pitches of Oceans because I know them well and would be able to fly up them in comparison to breaking unfamiliar ground. Also the RD I had was vague. In the end I decided to do the original pitches. I was there to do Wall of Silence after all. I linked the first two pitches with an 80m lead rope. It was pretty much my first time rope soloing and I discovered that there is no rope drag. I also linked the next two pitches. I then led and cleaned the last pitch to the LoFD in the dark. Once at the ledge, I rappelled back to the base, fixing my ropes. It was 23:00 when I got to the base where I spent the night.
16 March 2014
Day 3: Do all four aid pitches fixing my 100m static rope as I go so I can retreat back to the LoFD were I will spend the night.
After a slow start I was ready to start hauling by 08:00. I did two hauls of about 50m each. The first haul was easy as the rock is steep, but the second haul did not go well. I left the haul bag hanging on a fifi hook at the top of the first haul, thinking it would unhook itself as soon as I started hauling, but it did not. I abseiled down to unhook it then jumared back up. I started hauling but the bag snagged in less than a meter. I was like a yo-yo going up and down as the bag snagged a number of times because the rock was more on angle. It was 11:00 when I finally pulled the bag onto the ledge.
I started the first aid pitch, Zig Zag into Infinity Base (45m A3) at 12:00. I was worried about hitting the ledge straight off the start, but to my relief the start was easy and soon it was so overhanging that I would have just landed in space if I’d come off. However it is always exciting to step into the top loop of your etrier that’s clipped into a Z000 Wild Country cam (Have you seen how small they are?!). The pitch was not too bad. It took me about four hours to aid and clean. Cleaning was a logistical nightmare as it zigzags a lot.
The Cloak of Black Mystery (18m A3). The start was terrifying. The first piece is a No. 2 cam in a shattered rail. I was surprised that it held my weight as I fified straight into it. The next five placements were peanuts (small wires that can only take bodyweight). I was now hooked into a peanut five meters above the belay which I would factor two (fall) if it popped. I had aided this pitch once before with Joe (as part of Art of Hearts) but this time it felt worse. Was it because I had Joe spurring me on or had I just forgotten how terrifying it really was?
The next piece is a flared but okay no. 3 cam from where it is all good gear up to the 28 year old, ¼ inch, hand drilled bolted belay. “Watch out for those bolts!” Andrew (de Klerk) said when I went to his house to borrow his haul bag the night before I left. I brought a hand bolting kit and five 10 x 75mm stainless steel bolts and hangers. I was going to replace all five bolts that ADK placed, but it took me close to two hours to drill just one bolt. My left arm cramped from all the hammering. There is a bomber nut placement just to the left of the belay so I decided that only one new bolt would be adequate. It was dark as I cleaned the pitch and descended back down to the LoFD. I did this mostly by feel as my head torch somehow switched itself on during the day and flattened the battery.
17 March 2014
Day 4: Drop the haul bag and cut loose from the LoFD. Jug the ropes and climb to the top, hoping not to have an epic on the head wall.
I was now two aid pitches behind schedule, starting at the third aid pitch Afterimages of Pain and Desire (45m A3+). From the stance there is a 2m blank section up to a leftward tending rail that I needed to get to. The only obvious placement was to hook the top of a loose flake that was about the size of a large laptop. I did not think that the flake would hold so I first tried to free up to the rail and failed miserably. At this point I decided I would try to hook the flake. I managed to get about ¾ of my bodyweight onto the etrier when the flake exploded onto my head and a few seconds later smashed into pieces as it hit the ground far below me.
My heart was pounding and adrenaline rushed through my veins. After some time I noticed a shallow downward facing slot where the rock makes a little step. I found that the tip of one of my cam hook went about 2mm into this slot. I clipped my etrier to it and then climbed it until I was standing on the top loop. I placed a small C3 blindly at full stretch and just pulled on it to grab the rail. It was a very intense start to the pitch straight of the stance. (Tip for future climbers: it would probably be better to do that move as part of the Cloak of Black Mystery (CoBM) pitch as you would have a whole rope length to fall onto should it go wrong.)
The rest of the pitch had a lot of hooking and at one point I did four hook moves in a row off a scary peg that sprayed rust at me as it flexed under my weight. Maybe I should have tied it off but I had no tape to do so. I replaced two of the three bolts. The one bolt was in such a bad state I was convinced it was not going to hold my weight and I was terrified it was going to fail on me while replacing it. The pitch ended in a vague corner under the biggest roof, a long way out and to the left of where it started.
Cleaning the pitch was a complete nightmare due to the many overhangs and traverses. I left three of the permanent points clipped – two dodgy pegs and one of the bolts – cleaning the gear on my way down. I unclipped them as I jumared up and lowered myself out with a 7mm tag line that I had threaded through the eye of the pegs or the hanger on the bolt, until hanging directly below the next clipped piece and then jugged up to it to repeat the process. On the last peg the tag line would not go through the eye of the peg with a carabiner clipped in, so I thought I could pull up onto the rock, unclip the carabiner and quickly hook my fifi straight into it. Before doing so I decided it would be safer to swap out my jumars for my grigri. Jumars have a more aggressive locking action than the grigri and I was scared of shock loading the system if I took a fall. So without thinking I took off my jumars and let the rope go. I immediately realised my mistake!
The rope swung back to the next piece about 6m away that I only left in as an afterthought to back up the 28 year old rusted and shallow peg. If it was not for that piece, the rope would have gone about 12m to the stance and I would have been stranded close to 190m above the ground, in the middle of the biggest overhangs imaginable with my cell phone on the LoFD. I was now only hanging only on the peg and had it failed I would have gone straight down to the ground. I calmly fiddled in a nut to back up the peg and after 3 attempts I managed to lasso my rope with the end of my tag line and quickly connected it to my grigri. Once I was safe I had a very stern talking to myself as I knew I had come off lightly. It took me 7 hours to lead, place two bolts by hand and clean the pitch.
The Down Bound Train (35m A3+): It took a while to settle down from my little scare and get going again. I kept checking everything over and over but I eventually found my groove. I soon got to the corner where one drops down and around. It involves some hooking and then another dodge cam hook to gain a beautiful crack that runs up to the end of the pitch and the aid climbing. I found it to be the easiest of the aid pitches and it took me 3½ hours to lead and clean. What a relief after the previous pitch! In my haste to get going that morning I forgot to bring lunch and a warm top and I was cold and hungry towards the end of the day. At least my head torch worked as I descended once more in the dark down to the LoFD.
18 March 2014
Day 5: walk out and drive back to Cape Town
I chickened out from cutting loose from the LoFD and committing myself to the top. I had found a 60m rope that Joe had stashed at his bivvy at the base on the left hand side of the amphitheatre. I brought it up with me thinking it could be useful, and decided to fix as high up the head wall as possible, using both Joe’s 60m and my 80m rope. The head wall lived up to its reputation. Half the time I had no idea where I was in relation to the RD. The whole day I was led out on loose rock and scared that I would hit something should I fall. At the same time I felt confident in my ability to climb the loose rock. And then there it was – Ecstasy Ledge!! I did not recognise it at first. I had just joined Oceans and was now on familiar ground. It was late afternoon so I descended down to the LoFD in daylight (for a change).
Back on the ledge Ant messaged to say it would be raining the next day but clear weather the day after. By the time it got dark I was surrounded by thick dark clouds.
19 March 2014
By 09:00 that morning it was raining and I knew I was going nowhere. The ledge where I slept got wet but the little step behind it stayed dry and I spent all day sitting there wishing I had a book to read. Luckily I remained dry as I had no water proof gear with me. I was trapped in a grey wet bubble unable to see out all day. At some point there was a massive rock fall that went on for ages and it sounded very close, but when the weather cleared there was no sign of it. It cleared up a little by the evening, creating some dramatic views, only to close in again shortly after. I was gatvol of sitting by that point and fortunately it had dried enough for me to lie down and go to sleep.
20 March 2014
I awoke to a perfect clear day just as Ant had predicted. I packed up everything into the haul bag and threw it off the ledge. I was horrified as I watched it bounce into the darkest, scariest gully (it’s the type of gully you expect to find a skeleton in) to the right of the amphitheatre as you look down. I cut loose from the LoFD. The only way off the wall now was up. Nervously I jumared about 140m of free hanging rope, first dropping my 100m static from its high point, then Joe’s 60m rope at its high point. I then top roped back across my 80m rope to the Ecstasy ledge, taking out the gear as I went. It was a big loose traverse and at one point I sat on a no 2 cam, my next piece of gear 10m to my left.
Without warning the cam popped and I went flying. I came to a sudden stop about 4m on and realised the rope was snagged in a V. I quickly pulled onto the rock to unweight the rope. To my relief the V was rounded, not sharp and luckily there was no damage to the rope. A little shaken up I placed a nut, lowered out and jugged up to the next piece, a bomber no 4 cam. From Ecstasy Ledge I led up to the walk off ledge then packed up and free soloed the last few pitches of the Frontal to the summit.
It was by far the best summit experience I have ever had. Being there alone and knowing I had done it 100% on my own. I was glad that no one came up to help carry my gear. It was all worth it – the struggles, worries, aches and pains, the terrifying and near death moments. It felt all the more special as I had done it in the same style as ADK when he opened it as a teenager.
After fetching my ropes at the base I spent more than 5 hours soloing in the dark on wet, mossy, smooth or loose rock trying to extract the haul bag from the gully. It was by far the most dangerous thing I did the entire week, especially since I was exhausted and feeling frustrated. When I threw the haul bag off the ledge a tube of sunscreen, condense milk and Provitas all got smashed up together and covered everything inside. What a mess!
So when I got back home I locked the haul bag in my room and avoided going into my room for a week because I could not face dealing with it.
Clinton is sponsored by:
- Klein Winterhoek – Oceans of My Life
- Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing
- Klein Winterhoek – Rainy Day Ridge
- Klein Winterhoek – African Rapture
- Klein Winterhoek – Art of Hearts
- Read more about Clinton Martinengo
Clinton Martinengo – Wall of Silence Solo