High Time at Yellowwood *****

One of the most striking walls in all South Africa is the flat blank appearing west face one passes when walking up Yellowwood ravine. It is visible straight ahead when driving along the N1 from the toll tunnel. It appears so blank from afar as to be non-descript as a climbing destination and brings to mind one of those dreadful bolt guns to even consider climbing it. Its west facing aspect also results in it acquiring, in places, a lovely greenish furry coat of lichen and other vegetation that suggests that any attempt to contrive a route up there would necessitate the services of “The Constant Gardiner”, my dear old friend Tini Versfeld. Over the last few years he has been gardening routes into climbing condition at the Maverick Crag and the Africa Amphitheatre face on Table Mountain. He is gotten so good at it that he contrived what is the best multi-pitch route on Table Mountain and indeed of the best in South Africa. He called it Africa Safari. His friends call it The Constant Gardiner.

High Time (5)But I digress. On Saturday 21 October 2017 I headed up to Yellowwood with my NBF Teodor Iliev. We are a on a roll having fashioned with Brent Russel two excellent new routes at Yellowwood. Crunch Time and Terrific Time over the last month or so. In 2014, with Bruce Daniel, we climbed a route called Not the Best Time to the left of this wall. This route started on the grey clean pillar buttressing the left of the High Time wall. The pitches on the pillar are of very good quality and the headed on into grotty scary rock that denied it anything more than a 2 star rating. To the left of this route is Black Waterfall Face a route of yester year. Further left of the waterfall, in places is clean looking rock that I thought might justify exploration.

High Time yellowwood

Teodor starting the first pitch. Photo C Edelstein


On reaching the base of the grey pillar I cast a jaundiced and critical eye onto the massive blank expanse above and right and though it was High Time to give it a go even though the Constant Gardiner had not been solicited.

The start of the route was up a grey pillar and onto red dodgy looking rock. At least it was clean. Hand holds and foot holds were revealed but it was steep and pumpy and required lots of careful checking for loose rocks, blocks and flakes. Crux layback moves up a short black left facing corner bothered me as I was not sure if the rock was sound. So, with a good excuse to weight the gear and de-pump I tested the pillar by reaching up high and banging it with my fist. It was good enough and launched myself up it. Some tricky climbing led me to a wet cul-de sac but a step down left and then up brought me to a hanging stance below the obvious off width crack line that I was heading for in the first place.

Teodor followed cleaning and gardening as he went. He then aided the overhanging off width crack cleaning off loose holds and the like to exit right of the tree at the top. He then went and made a hanging stance. I started off and promptly took a plummet when a lay back hold broke off. I started again and freed the pitch on top rope.

The next pitch involved a lay back move up a short right facing corner and then a step race on to the face. Tricky moves including kneeling at one stage brought to the base clean right facing corner topped with overhang. (This is where there is a bomber no 6 or 7 wild country rock makes for an abseil point.) At the overhang I moved right into a shallow recess and then continued up past a monster pyramidal block that made the next move feasible by standing on it. At last a comfy ledge up the right made for a sitting belay. Teodor followed doing a fine job of cleaning including trundling the monster rock. It made for a spectacular impact on the scree below dislodging and even larger boulder. By removing the block I wonder what grade that move is now.

Teodor set off up and left and climbed on markedly improved rock quality to a stance on steep moves. I then did the last pitch of the day that required a tricky move past a short overhang and then bombed straight up the grey wall, (avoiding the more inviting chocolate brown scoop on the right) on scary appearing but actually quite easy moves to a comfy stance on piled blocks. It was after 4 pm and it was time to bale to the bar as we were hot and dehydrated.

It seemed like we had done at least 3 rope lengths of climbing but one 50m abseil and another just over 40m got us to the ground. So far, the route has been extremely complex and engaging with no easy but also no very hard moves. There numerous climbing moves on each pitch hence the sense of the vertical height being climbed seemingly more than reality.  Classic Yellowwood.

28 October, one week later, Brian Godfrey signed up for new best friend status and after a slightly earlier start we missioned up the wall again. This time I climbed the 1st pitch free and clean and confirmed the grade 22+. I also led the next pitch combining it with the third and we agreed that in context the pitch warranted grade 21.

High Time yellowwood

Snort starting the awkward 2nd pitch 21: Photo Stewart Middlemiss


Brian then combined the next two pitches which makes for a really fine long grade 20 pitch.

High Time yellowwood

Brian Godfrey on the stellar 3rd pitch: Photo C Edelstein Oct 2017


Then the hard work started with the sun now baking us.

Pitch 4 involved climbing through a small overlap that was relatively easy but required extensive cleaning at the overlap. It then continued up a tricky shallow recess diagonally up to the right to stance just to the right of the large yellow overhang on blocks. The next pitch involved sneaking up under an overhang and cranking with difficulty through the gap at the left to attain easier ground. Problem solving moves followed and we got to the base of a short left facing corner where we called it a day and abseiled off a horn. 4 abseils of horns and threads got us down to the ground.

image006.jpgOn Thursday 9 November ,with and OBF from Salt Lake City, Stewart Middlemiss and Teodor we furtively left home with an 03h30 start. It is onerous to repeat all the first pitches in a ground up first ascent just to add 2 more pitches before fatigue, the heat, dehydration r darkness forced us down. I was bent on completing the route. Stewart led the first pitch that with gear beta he grade 5.11b R which loosely converts to 23. I then did the 2nd pitch and Teodor the 3rd. We kept alternating the lead and I then freed the “difficult-to-read” 5th pitch and found it a lot easier than the first time, and in fact as a red point barely grade 22. Climbing conditions though were nothing less than perfect and it was still shady with a breeze and clouds cooling us from time to time. Stewart did it a different way and thought it was grade 23 which is probably fair as an on-sight.

High Time yellowwood

Snort feeling the effects of the 03h30 start. Photo . Teodor Illiev


This then left the unfinished business to be done. Teodor stitched together a fantastic 19 pitch and Stewart followed this up with a stellar finish to the route that bombed straight through the overhangs above to end at a perfect abseil thread. Above was a lot of arbitrary rock cliffs and features that led to the very top about 2 or three pitches above.

As we were off the “wall” and on a vegetated “walk-off ledge” we decided that this would be a suitable point to end the route formally. It was about 5pm and any further ascent would make the route more of a mission than what it already was. Very few people have enough Yellowwood experience, or the climbing skills to complete a route of this nature on-sight in a day even in perfect conditions as we had. So, making it longer by climbing the easy piches above would be self-defeating in all sorts of ways. It would also require a more complex descent with abseils taking place over non-vertical rock with rope snags being a real possibility.

We were satisfied, and we were done.

5 clean abseils got us to the ground and we got to the car as it got dark.

A few minutes later Elias, the bar tender at Du Kloof Lodge put a cold Windhoek Lager in my hand. I don’t even have to request it anymore. He sees me coming,,,,,


Approach as for Sublime Time – about 90minutes and an early start in good coolish weather is Park at the usual spot, hike about 20 minutes, past the Pilon, the tree growing out of the rock, past the donga (gulley) and after the short scramble up the orange right facing corner head into the forest and past the tea spot where you may find running water after winter rains. Head up the stream for about 30m and then follow cairns to exit the ravine on the left. Head up to the ridge to the left of the rock rib that is followed to Sublime Time. Once on that rib go up a little way following cairns and then exit left into the gulley. Follow cairns up the gulley past low angle rock slabs that may be wet and slippery after rain. Once these peter out, exit left on to the next ridge and follow cairns to the base of the rout


This is a long route with plenty of problem solving moves and most parties, even if fairly skilled, will take 8-10 hours to complete on-sight. It will be a tough on-sight in mid-winter even in good weather but abseiling off with torches should not be problematic. September to May when the days are longer is recommended and a weather forecast of maximum temperatures of say no less than 20 degrees C or more than 30 degrees C for Worcester and preferably partly cloudy too would be ideal. Do not climb the route if there is a strong NW front with strong wind coming in as this might get your ropes stuck on the abseil.

In good conditions 1.5 litre water per person will suffice but otherwise 2 litres each.

If climbing in a party of two or even three, time and energy can be saved by hauling up water and snacks and warm jackets if needed on the pumpy first pitch as it is less than 30m long. Thereafter there is no merit in hauling gear.

As you climb, and conditions change you can leave extra water, jackets and the like at any of the stances after pitch 3 and retrieve same on the abseils.

Only pitch one is complex and pumpy to protect but it is safe enough for competent climbers.

Pitch 1: 25m 22+  Climb up the grey stacked blocks and then move left a few metres on red-brown rock to climb up below the right end of the overhang. Find a sneaky tiny cam placement in an “undercling” position to protect the move. At the overhang scuttle right 2m metres on the rail. Then straight up to the next rail. Place a high large nut and lay back up the short left facing corner to jugs. Climb up 3m to where it gets grotty and place a high cam or nut to protect the second. Step down left and then make standing stance at bomber nut 7 placement.

Pitch 2 45m 20  Climb up to the off-width crack and up it past the tree to a rail. Continue up to the next rail, move right and lay back up 2m up the short right facing corner. Then step right onto the face and head up to the large right facing corner topped by an overhang. Climb up the corner and then step right into the next recess. Continue up to the square overhang above and stance on the good sitting ledge on the right after placing a bomber small nut.

Pitch 3 50m 19  Step across the gap under the square overhang and climb past the left side of the long thin overhang above. Do tricky face moves to a good ledge. Climb up past a large scary but wedged flake and then up the intimidating grey white face to the left of dark brown recess to stance on blocks at a thread point in situ.

Pitch 4. 45m 19  Head up left and climb through the gap on good holds. Climb the right slanting recess crack to easier ground and up past the left side of a large pillar complex to stance on blocks just to the right of the large yellow overhang.

Pitch 5, 40m 22+  Climb up to the overhang and place two tiny cams in the very thin rail. Exit awkwardly out and up left (crux). Continue up tricky moves on the yellow face overhang and then step out left. Climb easily up rightwards to the left facing corner above and then on up to the next, larger left facing corner. Then, instead of climbing in the corner, make a move up to the right and finish up the arete. Stance on the large ledge.

Pitch 6, 35m 19   Avoid the smooth right facing dihedral and climb up the large lay-back flake to the right. Continue up to the bulging rib and lay back up the right side. Then step left and continue up the left side of the arete. Stance under the large overhang.

Pitch 7. 20m 19  Do a tricky move up left past the lip of the overhang. Then move right on a ledge and bomb straight through the overlap above to a thread belay.

Pitch 8 etc. 100m or so  If you feel like topping out or wish to descend via the Timerity Abseil or some other way, then pick a line on the broken up cliffs above.

High Time yellowwood route description


Descent: The descent is relatively save and uncomplicated an enjoys 5 abseils on threads or off a spike. There is a biner or mailon on each point. The route is very straight and you climb past all the threads on the ascent except the first (lowest one) one which is exactly 58m plumb-line below the 2nd point. It is very easy to find as it is in the left facing corner that is the continuation of the awkward off-width start to pitch 2.

Gear.  No special gear is needed and like Yellowwood in general, the rock eats up small cams. Only the 2nd pitch necessitates any piece larger than 2 inches and a gold Camelot fits the bill perfectly as you enter the offwidth. So, all that is needed is a standard single set of nuts 1 to 10, (no RP’s) 12-14 slings, and a double set of cams to 1.5inch, one 2inch (red Camelot), one 3 inch (yellow Camelot) and one 4 inch (blue Camelot). The climbing is very problem solving and the first pitch especially so. So to improve efficiency avoid tricky nut placements and bang in small cams in the bountiful placements.

60m ropes are needed for the abseils.

This route is straight enough to climb with a single rope but then take 2 extra slings and a tagline to abseil off.

Belays and Beta. All the belays are super safe. The first is protected by a variety of pieces but there is a bomber nut placement that fits from size 7 to 10 and a ¾ inch cam. The second stance is on a comfy ledge with small cam belay but there is a bomber nut 3 or 4 placement just as you exit right to the stance. Your leader can use this as the first anti-death runner as he/she sets off up pitch 3. Pitch 3 you can belay off the abseil anchor and same with pitch 4 and 5 but there are other easy options. Pitch six is on a ledge with lots of easy options and pitch 7 is also at the abseil point.

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