On The Shoulders of Dragons

From the first time I visited the Pit I was intrigued by this 37 meter long line with its intimidating crux that glares at you as you walk past.

The crux is between 8-10m up from the bottom of the pit, but exactly at “ground” level.  It is right there, the chalkless holds… frustratingly close, though just out of reach.  It is the only line that starts right at the very bottom of the pit.

One day, a couple of years ago, I bumped into Malcolm Gowans at Truitjieskraal and asked him about the route.
He mentioned that, back when he was working it, all the moves went and a spark of hope ignited!  It was then that I knew I had to try this line.
So finally, this year on the 7th of May I jumped on the route for the first time (it was not pretty!).
On my next session Danie Moolman joined in and together we attempted to ride this beast, taming it bit by bit.  The route at times left me feeling totally frustrated, although always completely compelled.

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Jan doing the lower ‘trad’ like boulder problem move


It starts with a harder than pleasant campus-type traverse into an awkward, trad-like boulder problem ending with your entire body scooped up in a horrible corner rest.

From there you launch into the amazing but brutal crux sequence that took us no less than four sessions to unlock.

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip moving into the start of the crux.  Photo Gustav Paul

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip mid crux. Photo Gustav Paul

Danie Moolman, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Danie midway through the crux move.  Photo Gustav Paul

Danie Moolman, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Danie sticking the crux move.  Jacobus Smith


If your core can last all the way through the crux you get to (literally) sit down and have a rest, but then the mental strain really begins.
Before I get into that, let’s go back to the man who had the vision and led the mission to bolt this awe-inspiring line.

Malcolm Gowans:
For many years when we were climbing at HF (Hellfire) I sat at the pit and wanted a route to start right from the base of the pit.
After Pete Mortimer said HF didn’t have any hard lines, I was inspired to show them 🙂  The line was there and all we had to do was work out the moves and bolt it. First Greg Hart helped me first top rope, mark and bolt the lower half. Then Ross (Suter) and I did the top half so the work was very much a joint effort.
The name was Greg’s (Hart) idea.

So, to the pioneers:  the true firsts; the first to attempt this dragon; the first to try tame and ride this beast – the one living in the pit of despair, close to the fires of hell.  We found the key to riding it was to steal its “Heart”…NOT!!

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

The top section with the heart still intact.  Photo Greg Hart

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip with the dragon heart behind him!


The “Heart” was located at the very top, providing the only good handhold for pulling to the chains and/or top out.  On an epic adventure, where it luckily did not cut any ropes or crush any belayers, the “dragon’s heart” ended up at the bottom of the pit.  It left behind what can only be described as a very crappy and disappointing pinch.  We were disheartened and depressed, for the end was already an unnerving and tricky sequence.
Now it was just downright difficult!

On the send, pulling through the bottom (true) crux for the first time, I was met with wildly mixed emotions.  Elated for pulling through, but at the same time totally shaken and unsure of what lay ahead.  The easy section up to the the top of the route had never felt as desperate!
As I got higher I descended further into the pit and closer to the dragon’s lair.

My whole body was shaking as I latched the crappy pinch.  I had to dig really deep, almost missing the shitty ‘jug’ and barely holding the resulting barn-door. Fortunately the echoes of encouragement thundered down deep into the pit of my struggles just in time to carry me on for one last move.

A big thanks to Malcolm, Greg and Ross, the fathers of the crag, for pioneering this amazing route.
We feel truly blessed; riding on the shoulders of those that came before us.

About the grade:

When we started working it, I was sure that it would clock in at a hard 31 as it felt super desperate.
However as time went buy, we unlocked more and more micro beta.  In fact on the day of my send we unlocked some key beta that we could not believe we missed!  This cut out 3 hard moves just after the crux move and this is what I believe resulted in the unexpected send.

All in all it took me 8 session.  The day I sent was this past Sunday (27th of June) and it was my 2nd day on.  I was super tired, but gave it one last burn.  I sommer jumped on while it was still in the sun, so that Danie could have a proper go after me (in the shade).  I thought he had a better chance of sending.
My low expectations probably helped me through mental strain of the route.

Afterwards Danie indeed pulled through the crux move, but fell on the last hard move of the sequence.
He will probably send it this weekend, then we’ll have a proper 2nd opinion 🙂

But with all that in mind I hazard a guess that the grade is around 30.  Who knows, it might even be easier.  As always I suppose time will tell.  Its definitely a worth while route to do, so I hope more people jump on it.

Danie and I both agree that sticking the crux hold is one of the coolest moves you can do on a rope 🙂


Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip at the rail before the crux. Photo Brenda Marx

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip on the crux. Photo Brenda Marx

Phlip Olivier, Dragon Rider at Hellfire

Phlip towards the end of the crux. Photo Brenda Marx




17 Responses to On The Shoulders of Dragons

  1. Hilton Davies Jul 4, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    Damn!! Congrats Phlip!!
    Last winter Guy and I were there and he talked about getting onto it. I just thought it looked impossible and that Malcolm had bolted a sick joke!
    Very well done and thanks for the story. Go Danie!

  2. Justin Lawson Jul 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Nice one Phlip and good luck Danie !

  3. Richard Jul 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Nice one dudes! Klapit Danie!

    Some time ago myself and Joe (if memory serves correct) sat at the top of the Pit and decided that it was not worth trying since it was clearly impossible for humans, geckos maybe, if they were having a particularly sticky day.
    Just goes to show you should always try. Well done for trying, and succeeding!

  4. illona Jul 4, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    What a crazy looking line. And what an emotional journey. What’s next Phlip?

  5. mokganjetsi (Willem B) Jul 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    awesome stuff phlip! hellfire is a gem of a climbing area and it now feels “complete”. or maybe you can conceive a few more hard lines there….?

  6. Danie Jul 4, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    Lekker bra!!
    Ah man, it was a joy to be part of the journey from brush send.
    It is indeed an incredible line and was a bliksems goeie effort on the send.

  7. jacques Jul 4, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Julle rots rerig! Ekt jou gese om n Honda te besit maak alles beter…:-)

    • jacques Jul 4, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

      En blerrie goeie write up tjom!

  8. Greg Hart Jul 4, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

    Great article and awesome send Phlip!

    You ous have a quite different sequence through the crux to what worked for me, I couldn’t snatch through all the way to scoopy hold around the lip so set up differently into it and ended going through with my left hand on the crimp under the roof (surprisingly good hold), even turning the lip is f-ing hard and then just when you think its over you have to crank up and slap again, pull hard to gain vert rock and even then its totally off balance!! Its a sick line – amped to get fit enough to get back on it now!!!

    And you buggers broke off the main hold you are aiming for through the top roof!! Haha! Lots of stuff fell or got knocked off this line when Mal cleaned it – Im glad we resisted the temptation to resort to glue. Although, that said, I should probably reinforce the crappy hold on the first lip of the crux (the rock is hollow).

    Thanks Malcolm and Ross for the effort of equipping it and well done again Phlip!

  9. Greg Hart Jul 4, 2014 at 11:45 pm #

    Oh and Willem there are tons of lines left there, a few of which will also be up around the big 8 although I think Dragonrider will probably always be one the proudest at the crag.

    We are about to submit a proposed sport climbing management plan to CapeNature through the MCSA which if / when accepted will open the crag up to further legal bolting. This will really be a shot in the arm for Cape sport climbing as there are probably between 70-100 lines still waiting to be done at Hellfire

    • Mokganjetsi (Willem B) Jul 5, 2014 at 10:11 am #

      that’s awesome news Greg. even with the existing sport routes i think Hellfire is the best (and most exciting) venue for a day outing from CT. count me in when the plan is approved.

      70+ lines is a lot! does that mean you will bolt some of the existing trad lines? imho one should add some bolts to the “R”-rated trad lines, and there are a few lines opened on gear that I think will see few (if any) repeats unless bolted…. there are of course many superb trad lines that should stay just that.

  10. Greg Hart Jul 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Hey will definitely spread the word once approval goes through – Im sure MCSA will do same with circulating the management plan – don’t hold your breath though as its likely to be a long while before we get there.

    Absolutely NO trad lines will be bolted!! That goes for future possible lines as well, if its obviously a crack or has good gear it MUST be left for trad – this is to minimize our impact and the proliferation of bolts. We have explored the crag fairly thoroughly apart from the very western end so have a good idea of what is ok to bolt and what should be left for trad attempts. In fact I will be removing some of the bolts on trad/mixed routes as modern gear now makes them ok to do without those bolts, but I also want to place two more bolts on two trad lines that are otherwise safe with one hectic spot in each. The desperates like Sapphire 19 R++ will stay as is for those who like poohing their pants. One or two sport lines will get an extra bolt – again these are otherwise safe with silly dangerous spots on them – and again the desperates like Judge Dread 22 will be left as is and generally the character of the older routes will not be messed with. This approach was reached via lots of discussion with the other founders and route developers.

    However don’t despair as there are still tons of high quality lines for sport equipping as well as some proud and tall trad lines. The western most portion of crag I mentioned earlier will be a sport specific site and holds a lot of rock, it looks blocky and easy until you get on the rock and discover that there is no gear and the holds are by and large small. So still lots potential out there – the crag will probably hold about 280 – 300 routes sport and trad when finally climbed out.

    Not quite the right place for this post as I don’t want to take away from Phlips ascent – but amped to get back out there!

  11. Andy Davies Jul 7, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Nice one – looks like a great team effort. That’s what climbing is all about.

  12. Phlip Olivier Jul 7, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    I am happy to report that Danie got it yesterday. Within one week from me, almost to the minute. But really only a day apart.
    Goeie werk ou maat. Allês!!

  13. Greg Hart Jul 7, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    Awesome well done Danie!

  14. Brenda Jul 8, 2014 at 8:22 am #

    Great write-up, Phlip!
    And, once again, well done to both of you guys – it was a real team effort unlocking all that beta!

  15. Toni van Houweninge Jul 8, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    Well DONE, Phlip and Danie!!!
    What an awesome story – very inspired to get back to Hellfire!

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