Biography of Travers Jackson by Viv Solomons

Ed’s Note:  Please note that this is a working document.  All the text has been inserted, we are still busy loading pictures.

Index

 

  1. 1. Prologue
  2. 2. The Mountain
  3. 3. Glad Confident Morning
  4. 4. Rising Star
  5. 5. At The Meridian
  6. 6. Jackson’s Climbs 1900
  7. 7. Jackson’s Country Climbs
  8. 8. Country Rock Climbing
  9. 9. Club Hut
  10. 10. Jackson’s Climbs 1905
  11. 11. After Norman
  12. 12. Rhodesia
  13. 13. Rueksac
  14. 14. Arrow Face
  15. 15. Coburn
  16. 16. Finis
  17. 17. Excursis et al

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright subsists in this material Being the intellectual property of the Late Dr V E Solomon and no part may  be published or used commercially.
Copyright belongs to the Solomon Family Trust

ANNOTATED INDEX

  1. 1. PROLOGUE                                                       COMPLETE

 

2.   THE MOUNTAIN                                              COMPLETE

 

3.   GLAD CONFIDENT MORNING                     Several inserts, photos

 

4.  RISING STAR                                                     Inserts, photos

 

5.   AT THE MERIDIAN                                        Photos, some references

 

6.   JACKSONS CLIMBS 1900

 

7.   JACKSONS COUNTRY CLIMBS                  Horologie Berg now ? otherwise complete

  1. 8. COUNTRY ROCK CLIMBING                     COMPLETE

 

9. CLUB HUT

 

10. JACKSON’S CLIMBS – 1905

 

11.  AFTER NORMAN                                           COMPLETE

 

12.   RHODESIA                                                       COMPLETE

 

13.   RUECKSAC                                                     COMPLETE

 

14.   ARROW FACE                                                            COMPLETE

 

15.   COBURN

 

16.   FINIS                                                                 COMPLETE

 

17.   EXCURSIS et al


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INCLUSIONS

 

Quotes, photos and maps (Still to be loaded at this time onto this website)

 

Chapter 2       i Roger’s two articles – (7 & 8) incl  as Annexure 1)

 

Chapter 3       Photo Left Face                                                         Page 3

Hiddingh Ravine – Amphletts Account                  Page 7

The Saddle Corner – Amphletts PHOTO               Page 7

Fountain Ravine        PHOTO                                  Page 10

Both Chignell & Guthrie are mentioned as            Page 13

Having written “sensational reminiscences”

50 years later – “to be dealt with later”

but no further mention is found – Add as Excursis?

Insert PHOTO Searle

 

Chapter 4       Studio PHOTO GTJ                                                 Page 5

Objects of the Club                                                   Page 9

Silverstream Buttress – PHOTO                              Page 11

Platteklip Buttress – PHOTO                                   Page 11

Right Face – PHOTO                                               Page 13

Finisteraar – Norman’s Acct included                      Page 14

Wormhole Ravine – PHOTO                                   Page 17

Grassy Ravine – Londt’s accounts (2)                     Page 19

Arrow Face    PHOTO                                              Page 19

Stinkwater Needle – PHOTO                                   Page 20

Fernwood Gully – Amphlett account from Journal     Page 21

Ferny Gully – Amphlett description                        Page 23

 

Chapter 5       1894 Club Annual Excursion Programme               Page3

PHOTO  TJ and others                                            Page 10

FRCC Table 1936/37  ( Fell& Rock Clib Club)     Page 18

Notes  iv Reference to Jonkershoek Twins amended

(Where is Hobbs article on the Tweeling Pieke?)   check

Some Mountain Tragedies – by G TJ incl  Annexure B

 

Chapter 6       Valken Ravine CTMC article incl                             Page 1

PHOTO –GTJ & Ms Arbuthnot                             Page 8

PHOTO (Amphlett) GTJ, Arththnott & Shackleton

Centre Left Face   West’s article –  1914 Journal?            Page 15

Centre Left Face Jurgen’s Diary incl                                    Page 15

Fountain Buttress – Londt’s article CTMC 1.4.22 Page 16 Incl

 

 

Chapter 9       MAP _ Catchment Area                                                       Page 2

MAP – Restricted Area                                                        Page 2

Short’s Reminiscences included Page 5

Club Hut -ACW Bean article                                               Page 5

Photos?

 

Chapter 10     Fernwood Gully – Hofner Account & sketch                     Page 4

Buffels Kloof – Hahn account                                             Page 9

Barrier Buttress – Norman’s account incl                            Page 13

Barrier Buttress – Jacksons acount incl                                Page 15

 

Chapter 14     Committee meetings attendance list                         Page 8

 

Chapter 17     Excursis – maps and photos public shelters etc

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

He had always been fond of the Dark Gorge, ever since that day, over 30 years ago now, when he had climbed it for the first time. It was just a small ravine, as ravines go on Table Mountain, but it captured the spirit of the Cape forest, whose remnants were still to be found on the eastern flank of the mountain. A narrow cleft leading up to the Saddle, it was rather gloomy in its lower part, where the ravine bed was hemmed in by sheer mossy rock walls, and where one threaded one’s way between ancient indigenous trees, over lichen-covered boulders and the detritus of centuries of mountain disintegration. All very different from the great northern face of the mountain, with its treeless grass-covered slopes and stupendous crags basking in the bright sun, enveloped in the soft folds of the south-easter, or lashed by the north-west wind and rain.

Traverse Jackson
Here was shade and shelter. It was gloomy at times, yes, but with a restful sense of isolation. The gorge was not a popular route. The main mountain-climbing traffic went up the easy open Newlands Ravine next door, and one might spend successive Sundays here without seeing another soul, thank goodness. And on the other side of Newlands Ravine was yet another unfrequented gorge — Els Ravine — that seldom saw either climber or tyro. Here too he would spend his Sundays, sometimes with a companion or two but quite often alone. Over the years he had built here a number of “sheltered camps”, as he liked to call them, where he would spend the day, sometimes at one and sometimes moving to others as the day wore on. The billy cooing over a lazy fire, a soothing pipe, perhaps a friend, or very occasionally a passerby, yarns and mountain gossip, a stroll on to the slopes in search of anemones or nerines, shelter when the threatening rain finally arrived, another brew-up, a leisurely descent to the Main Road, and then a tram to his lodgings in Rosebank — so the days, and the years, went by. Sometimes he would vary the programme by going up to the Saddle, and then on to the summit of Devil’s Peak or to the Fir Tree Camp, perhaps via that Chockstone Gully route he had pioneered so long ago.

But the best of his sheltered camps was here in the Dark Gorge. About half-way up, the left-hand enclosing wall is steep and undercut at its base, giving a good roof for protection. He had eventually managed to clear the floor of boulders and rubble, leaving a roomy sandy space. At the same time he had built a high wall of rocks fronting on to the ravine. So there was now a snug cave where one could spend peaceful hours away from the ever-increasing multitudes on the mountain summit, although he was scrupulous in attending the annual memorial service up at Maclear’s Beacon.

Traverse Jackson

Upper and Lower Sneeuwkpops, Wellington

It was that uneasy interlude between the two cataclysmic wars. But, although a good imperialist in the fashion of the times, he cared little for the world of politics. The driving passion of his life was the mountains. It had taken hold of him when he was a small boy, and now as he approached his fiftieth year it burned as brightly as ever. It would retain its grip on him until his death as an octogenarian. He had his other interests — Freemasonry, philately, billiards — but mountaineering far eclipsed them all.

The great crags of Table Mountain, or the massive peaks of the Hex River, no longer called him as they had once done. Long ago he had known the unique thrill of success on difficult rock routes, and of finding his way through a labyrinth of kloofs and minor peaks to the summit of a virgin peak. The “Edwardian Era” it was now being called — and how far-off it all seemed!

So much had changed. One’s clothing, for example. Sitting here in a loose-fitting shirt and comfortable shorts, he thought wryly of the knickerbockers and Norfolk jackets of his youth — even, heaven help us, of the wing-collar and tie he had sometimes put on for the occasion. And the women (he had always called them “ladies” in those days) — why, in the short gym costumes and black stockings they now wore it was not easy for a man to concentrate on the climbing! (Come to think of it, though, how had they ever managed to climb in those ankle-length skirts and leg-of-mutton sleeves?)

Change, change, change. But most of it for the better, mind you. Those wearisome train journeys one had to make if one wanted to climb in the country districts; the lumbering waggon from railhead to mountain. Now there were motor cars everywhere. He didn’t have one himself, but friends swore by them, some even spoke flippantly of “motorneering”. They could certainly save time — why, the mighty Matroosberg could now be done in one day from town!

And these aeroplanes — maybe they too could do something for mountaineering. He himself had gone up in one for the first time last year, and had thoroughly enjoyed it. And some aviator — what was his name again? Lindbergh? — had now flown right across the Atlantic. The time might come when one could get to Kilimanjaro without all that tedious travel by ship and rail. Or, for that matter, to Europe and the Alps, without wasting so much time, as he knew from experience, on the voyage itself.

Change. He had had plenty of it in his own life. That momentous year when the war had broken out had also been a watershed in his relationship with that mountain club he had joined — a stripling of 14 — way back in 1894. He had been shaped by it, and had helped shape it in turn, but things would never be the same again, after those unhappy incidents. Moreover, a thrusting new school of rock-climbers had meteorically burst on to the scene, and, while he admired their technical accomplishments, their spectacular new routes only served to emphasise the melancholy fact that his generation was over the hill.

And his domestic life — what changes there! His first wife, wasting away and dying when scarcely in her thirties, leaving four small children in his care, one of them an epileptic. His second wife — with whom, he reflected, he had so often sat in this very cave in those hopeful days before their marriage — packing up and leaving him, bearing the daughter-to-be that he now hardly knew. Also his woman friend who had rambled these gorges with him for years but had now broken off serious relations. As the Prayer Book so aptly put it: The changes and chances of this mortal life.

He seldom saw his old climbing friends now, although most of them were still around. He had made a few new acquaintances, but they could never fill the place of those with whom he had done some of his great climbs. His most constant companion on the mountain, now, was his son.

Well, he had had a good mountaineering innings, and his life was far from over. What was it that chap Winthrop Young had written? He’d lost a leg on the Italian front, but had had an artificial one fitted and was still doing serious climbing in the Alps. Three verses, and the last one ending with something like

I may not grudge the little left undone;

I hold the heights, I keep the dreams I won.

The little left undone…

He contemplated the mountain, the climbs he had opened. What with the new school of climbing and their sensational exploits on the north face and the western flank, he was bound to admit that there were some climbs that would now forever remain undone by him. He could never match the tally there. But here, on the mountain’s sylvan eastern flank, it was another matter. He had, long since, climbed every prominent physical feature in that long stretch from Constantia Nek to Devil’s Peak.

Except one.

And here it was, right now, facing him in his cave in the Dark Gorge. It separated the Gorge from an unattractive, slimy gully to its north: a miniature buttress that led up to the well-known Pulpit Rock on the Saddle. Small, certainly, but rearing a narrow and sheer frontal edge. It would be no pushover. He had looked at it, in a desultory way, more than once in the past, but somehow matters had been left to drift — for seven years, to be precise.

He was now 48, and had last opened a route many years ago. But he would give it a go, with his son as second man. He had procrastinated long enough.

***

They did it on 20 May 1928, and named it the Pulpit Buttress. It was the last route he would ever pioneer on Table Mountain.

***

Uncharacteristically for him, he wrote it up in some detail in his diary. Still more out of character he sent an account of the climb to the Cape Times, for publication in its mountaineering column.

The column’s editor was moved by this resurrection of a prominent climber of his own generation. He let his mind linger fondly on earlier times. Here was one of the giants from those spacious Edwardian days, still able after all these years to open a route of respectable standard. Proof, if any were ever needed, that mountaineering held within it the elixir of youth! New routes on Table Mountain, to be sure, were now two a penny, but one with this provenance cried out for publication and for a decent editorial introduction that would place it in its proper context.

He took up his pen:

New climbs on Table Mountain — and elsewhere — continue to be recorded, one after another, with unfailing regularity, and one has been inclined to lay stress on the initiative and ingenuity displayed by what may be called the younger generation of climbers in discovering such routes. So much is this the case that the achievements in the past by earlier mountaineers (one hesitates to term them “older”) are apt to be overlooked. The pioneers on Table Mountain had a wonderfully rich field for their sport; first ascents were there almost for the asking, but apart from a select few of the climbers, no one displayed the enterprise necessary for discovery.

The few who did, however, fairly revelled in new routes; and, even though it may not have been obligatory to search for these in relatively obscure corners of the mountain, many of them were remarkably fine accomplishments. Of the most favoured climbs today, how many are of recent discovery? Little observation is required to show that a very large proportion of the now popular routes were first ascended 20 or 25 years ago. This seems to be sufficient proof of the value of the work done in those days.

Of the men (women were few and far between then) who were in the forefront as climbers at that time, one stood out head and shoulders above the rest. His list of first ascents on Table Mountain, even today, far exceeds that of any other mountaineer, and there seems to be little prospect of it ever being surpassed. It is easy to talk nowadays of the present high standard of climbing; it is high, undoubtedly, but it should not be forgotten that many splendid ascents were made before a large proportion of today’s frequenters of the Mountain were born, and that one, at least, of the veterans is still climbing regularly and is still able to make “first ascents”.

One is referring, of course, to Mr G F Travers-Jackson.

THE MOUNTAIN

It was the first part of South Africa to meet the expectant gaze of the traveller: a faint smudge on the south-eastern horizon, which gradually took shape as a great wall of rock, as the mail steamer ended its 17-day voyage from England, skirting Robben Island and entering Table Bay.

The scene was world-famous already in these 1880s: the towering flat-topped mountain, flanked by the sharp-summited Devil’s Peak on the left and the small conical Lion’s Head on the right, the three forming a huge amphitheatre.

Table Mountain: the symbolic sentinel of South Africa.

It dominated the small town that had grown up beneath it since the time of Van Riebeeck. Its famous northern aspect, now confronting the disembarking passengers, consisted of a long and high wall of grey sandstone. In the noonday glare it seemed to be one long, unbroken sheet of precipitous rock, but the morning or afternoon sun would pick out ridges and buttresses and disclose ravines and gullies otherwise unsuspected. The eastern extremity was somewhat irregular, but as one’s eyes moved westwards, the mountain took on its celebrated table-like form, the flat skyline continuing for a good distance until brought to an abrupt end by the sheer cliffs facing the western ocean.

It could well have come as a surprise to the visitor to learn that the mountain didn’t simply end immediately behind this skyline, but continued for a considerable distance to the south, albeit at a gradually decreasing altitude. Seen on a map, it took the shape of an irregular horseshoe, the eastern, and shorter, arm running down towards the vale of Constantia, and the western arm towards the fishing hamlet of Hout Bay.

Exposed for most of the day to the southern sun, the great face overlooking the town was barren and harsh. It had grandeur, certainly, but was overpowering rather than graceful. The western arm, too, was largely barren of trees, but it reared a long line of small but formidable buttresses towards the sea. These were the Gevelbergen (the Gable Mountains) of the Dutch period at the Cape, which in a misguided moment had been dubbed The Twelve Apostles by a romantic British governor. Whatever their name, the array of sharp buttresses was an artist’s delight.

But above all, it was the eastern arm of the horseshoe that was calculated to arouse Romantic feelings and awaken poetic thoughts. Viewed from the sylvan villages of Rondebosch and Claremont, Cape Town’s neighbours to the south-east, the mountain rose sheer from out of the extensive tracts of forest hugging its base, its gaunt ramparts fluted by verdant gullies and great ravines, all thrown into sharp relief by the morning sun or by the clouds that frequently enveloped them. In contrast to the northern and western flanks, this was a land of deep, tree-choked clefts, of shade and running water.

“   On the eastern side the kloofs are more retired, and awake a different order of feeling. They symbolise the best and deepest joys of solitude. The leaping of the waterfall from crag to crag, the gentle waving of the tree fern, casting its fretted shadow on the waterworn rock, the dark mosses with their mimicry of summer life, the brilliant lights above contrasting with the half tones of colour and not unpleasant gloom below, the deep and hollow reverberations of every sound, the footsteps or voice of the climber, the breaking of a stray branch or the sound of falling water, – all these things leave their own peculiar impression, and awake chords not touched by the broad, open landscape outside.”

In the southward march of this eastern arm the great bastion gradually dwindled to gentle open slopes, to tail off at Constantia Nek. Given the impact of the south-east wind and its cloud – the famous “tablecloth” – the vegetation was lush by comparison with the other flanks: indigenous forest and thick fynbos.

The horseshoe enclosed a mountain wonderland. To the far south lay the primeval forests of Orange Kloof, a wilderness area (as it would be called today) copiously watered by the considerable run-off from the mountain highlands. It was, and still is, a botanist’s and a nature-lover’s paradise. This wild bit of country was bounded on its north by a large plateau, known as the Lower Plateau in contradistinction to the flat summit of the Table – or, by the same token, the Back Table. The passage from the lower to the upper plateau involved a long pull through a series of foothills intersected by valleys and ridges with fantastic rock sculpture, and plentifully supplied with wood and water for the rambler, far from the madding crowd.

***

Table Mountain was hardly terra incognita in these closing decades of the nineteenth century. An ascent of the mountain was a staple item on the overseas visitor’s menu, and was also high on the new settler’s agenda. As for the locals, it had long been their playground. Photographs from the early 1880s show masses of graffiti at a popular picnic spot on the summit, the dates going back for some years, and there are several published nineteenth century accounts of “excursions” by modestly clad ladies and their gentlemen companions.

There were four main routes. Pride of place went to Platteklip Gorge, the great gash in the frontal precipice. The popularity of this route, however, stemmed more from its direct line and its accessibility from the town than from any attractions as a climbing proposition: it was long, steep, and dry. It lacked shade for the greater part of the day, and it was notorious for loose stones, the result of heavy traffic over a lengthy period. Little could be done about the stones, but the heat of the day could be avoided by starting in the early hours of the morning, so as to be well up (or, ideally, on the summit) before being caught by the sun. Its greatest boon was that it brought the tired climber to the summit once and for all, without another bout of wearisome uphill toiling, as was the case with the other three routes. Not only that, just a few minutes away was a never-failing spring of water, known as “The Fountain”, emerging from under an upturned rock in a secluded valley admirably suited to picnics.

The mountaineer would follow the time-honoured route that started above Buitenkant Street, went past the homesteads of Nooitgedacht and Rheezicht, and continued to the upper slopes via the old slave-walk, alongside the Platteklip stream. Keeping to the west bank of the stream he would eventually arrive at the great sheet of granite, worn smooth by the water of aeons, from which the Gorge took its name.

“After creeping and groping our way in the shade of the bushes and rocks, upon turning an angle formed by a dark projecting rock, our eyes were struck by a beautiful sight. The rock rose pretty steep before us, and being the course the water takes in coming down from the hill, was washed perfectly bare. Over this smooth story surface, which from the bottom to the summit is nearly fifty feet in length, the rivulet spread itself into a broad thin sheet of water, which shone like silver under the moonlight, and descended with a gurgling noise into a deep hole at the bottom. Its uniform half-melancholy sound; its perpetual and rapid gliding, true image of life, together with the solemnity and silence of every object around us, tempted us to halt a few moments, and drink of the cold and limpid water.”

Beyond the Platteklip the way became steeper, and before long the climber was at the foot of the great ravine that provided the only way up the north front of mountain. Then – a never-ending grind up the steep and treacherous path of loose stones …

This was the way made famous in Cape history from the long line of distinguished visitors and birds-of-passage who had followed it in their day: De la Caille, astronomer; Thunberg, botanist; Le Vaillant, explorer and bon vivant; Lady Anne Barnard; John Barrow; William Burchell; Sir John Herschel; other notabilities and a host of lesser folk. With all its drawbacks it was still, as the nineteenth century drew to its close, the via normale.

The other three routes were easier on gradient, but much longer in the distance they covered. They climbed to the lower plateau a good way to the south, and then continued to the Table by what a latter-day climber would call “hikes” or even “walks”, but which to their contemporaries were stern climbs.

On the western or Camps Bay side there was Kasteels Poort, an obvious break in the long line of the Apostles, which led by easy stages to the lower plateau. The actual climbing was short, and an early start secured a gratifying measure of shade on the ascent. But the approach was long, either from Kloof Nek, following a path skirting the Apostles at a level a little below today’s Pipe Track, or from Camps Bay itself. Either way involved a tedious tramp to begin with, as against the short approach to Platteklip Gorge, but the route would naturally appeal to those who were not aiming at the Table but only the picnic spots of the lower plateau.

On the eastern (or, as it was then known, the Suburban) side of the mountain there were three routes, but for our purposes we shall treat them as one: the “suburban route”. Two of these followed easy ravines, Skeleton and (the later) Nursery; the third, still more to the south, went straight up easy open slopes, and was known as the Protea Path. In later years it was called the Diamond Spring Path, and, still later, the Trolley Track.

Access to the “suburban route” was easy, and the routes were short; but in the nature of things it would appeal primarily to residents of the southern suburbs rather than those living in Cape Town itself. The Cape Town of those days in fact ended at Observatory Road (today’s suburb Observatory). Beyond this lay the independent municipalities of Mowbray, Rondebosch, Claremont and Wynberg. There was a strong local patriotism among these elite southern suburbs, who tended to look on their big neighbour with a wary eye – an attitude that would have an impact even on mountaineering.

For the sake of completeness we may also mention the Bridle Path running up to the lower plateau from Constantia Nek. It was favoured by the upper echelons of Cape society inasmuch as it could be followed by horses, but it was discouragingly far from the Table itself, or even from the lower plateau.

In these days an early start was the normal thing. We have many accounts of pre-dawn ascents of Platteklip Gorge, so as to be on top for the sunrise. Repetition was also the order of the day. There were then few possibilities other than the long-established routes, and the keen mountaineer had little option but to repeat them ad nauseam.

One of the regular ramblers in the early 1890s was Henry Lewis Harris, who would become Honorary Secretary of the Mountain Club in 1894. His diary, which happily is in the Club’s archives, sheds valuable light on those days. His very first ascent of Table Mountain took place in January 1891. It was up Platteklip Gorge, and he started out at 2 am. A few weeks later he went up Kasteels Poort, and even for that easy route he left town at 2.30 am. These trips set a pattern that was to last until he left Cape Town at the end of 1896: up the Gorge and down the Poort, or vice versa, or sometimes the round trip by the same route. When he had notched up one hundred trips in two years he tabulated the results:

Ascents          Descents

Platteklip Gorge                               27                    21

Kasteels Poort                                  49                    63

Slangolie                                           12                   7

Blinkwater                                         3                  –

Newlands Ravine                            3                       5

Bridle Path                                        2                       3

Boomsluit (Wood Rav)                    1                       –

Skeleton                                            1                       1

Orange Kloof                                    1                       –

Saddle (Ledges)                               1                       –

Some of his mountain days would make a modern climber blanche – or blush. On one occasion he took a party of twelve, including three women, up and down Platteklip Gorge. They started at three o’clock in the morning, and were back six hours later. Once he led a party of fourteen, including seven women, up the Gorge and down Kasteels Poort. They started at midnight, reached the top at four and were home by seven. Our latter-day hikers should remember that there was then no public transport to the mountain, that the path from Platteklip to Kasteels Poort was not today’s broad track, and that the women were encumbered by heavy clothing, unsuitable footwear, and ankle-length skirts.

Not all climbers aimed for “the real top”, but were quite happy to spend a leisurely day on the lower plateau, which was a mountain in its own right. Since the Back Table will figure in our story from time to time, a brief description will not be out of place here.

Emerging from the rugged but open gorge of Kasteels Poort, our climber would find himself, or herself, for there were many “lady” climbers then, approaching an extensive area of level country stretching away to the east, where it was capped by two small peaks later to be known as Cleft Peak and Reserve Peak. To his immediate right, or south, was the remaining section of the Apostles. The plateau in front of him was bounded on its south by the great basin of Orange Kloof, and on its north by the first of the foothills extending up to the Table.

These foothills were the source of the considerable volume of water that flowed southwards into Orange Kloof and eventually to Hout Bay. The main channel followed by this water crossed the lower plateau quite close to the summit of Kasteels Poort. It was here known as the Disa Stream, and the few accounts that we have speak of this stretch of the stream as an idyllic spot. There was ample wood, shade, deep pools for bathing, and – perhaps the greatest attraction – a magnificent display of the ”Pride of Table Mountain”(the Red Disa, Disa uniflora) in its season of January to March. As recalled many years later by a veteran,

‘The stream cascaded over a ledge on to a wide platform of rock; next to the cascade was a mossy shelf of rock shaded by a bottle-brush tree. At this lovely picnic spot one dumped one’s impedimenta and roamed where one listed. From the edge of the platform of rock the stream leapt in a series of small cascades into a great pool where one could dive and swim and be thoroughly exhilarated. Disas grew around the edge of the pool, and were there for the gathering, to be added to one’s other floral delights. (This spot) was one of the most beautiful on the mountain; if ever anyone felt a heartache at the destruction of a place of great natural charm, I did when (the) workmen laid their despoiling hands on that area (during the construction of the reservoirs)”.

Apart from its rugged beauty and its attractions as a picnic area, however, the Disa Stream was destined to play a prominent role in the development history of the mountain, and it therefore warrants some further attention here.

Some twenty or so minutes’ walking from the top of Platteklip Gorge is a deep valley to the south, running roughly parallel to the Table: the Echo Valley of today. It drains the extensive krantzes and slopes above it, to descend finally into a wild amphitheatre to the east, where it is joined by a strong flow of water coming from the south-eastern slopes. The combined stream then plunges to the Back Table through a narrow and steep ravine between Junction Peak and St Michael’s Mount. This stream is the mountain’s main run-off to the south, and in earlier days was referred to as the Backwater Stream, and the small ravine as the Backwater Gorge. Where the stream, now known as the Disa Stream, eventually left the plateau it plunged down the romantic Disa Gorge into Orange Kloof.

The main path from the top of Kasteels Poort to the Table lay through the Backwater Gorge, after which it bore north-east to link up with the path carrying the traffic from the “suburban route”, and so up to Maclear’s Beacon – the great pile of stones marking the Table’s highest point.

By comparison with the lower plateau and the intervening foothills the front Table was bleak and uninviting, save always for its spectacular views of not only town and harbour at its feet but also the inland ranges to the north and the long Peninsula to the south. There were, to be sure, two fine picnic spots: at The Fountain, as we have seen, and at the eastern extremity of the Table, where a stream drained the marshy basin to the north of Maclear’s Beacon and passed through a small amphitheatre before plunging precipitously into the Newlands forests. Here was “the Fir Tree camp”, which was very popular. Still, the summit plateau had little else to offer the picnicker as opposed to the mountaineer. The former would therefore more often than not be found on the Back Table, and even the mountaineer, for whom at that time there was no route other than Platteklip down the mountain’s front, would frequently choose one of the southern routes for a descent.

That descent might well be left for the morrow. Although the great majority of trippers were probably only too glad to stagger home at the end of the day, hot and tired and aching but proudly clutching a huge haul of flowers, the mountain had its small band of true devotees, who as the sun began to sink made for a favourite sheltered camp, lit their fire and settled in for another good night. A simple meal; a pipe; yarns and memories; the bright-pointed southern constellations above; the dying coals of the fire; the enveloping silence, broken only by the croak of frogs or the far-off cry of a jackal – the sheer joy of it all. A brief escape from the daily grind down below.

“Those nights on Table Mountain – who could ever forget them?  I would lie for hours on the very edge of the sheer western bluff, gazing spellbound from that majestic crown on the wonders around and beneath me … Silence, exquisite in its completeness, reigned on those rare occasions when the wind sank to sleep.

What a fairyland the mountain itself was! What joy it brought to discover some still, dreaming tarn ringed with great red Disa orchids, lolling, Narcissus-like, as though to kiss the loveliness of their own reflection. What a wealth of vivid colour, of rarest scent, of grace in form, was here broadcast. How the scarlet Crassulas blazed in the rock clefts; how the many-hued lilies and the sky-blue foamed-lipped orchids glanced shyly from the moist peat-beds in which the wine-coloured rivulets were born. What a thrill it gave one to find on some ledge, fenced off by dangerous obstacles from less active searchers, rare flowers scarcely represented in the great herbaria of the world.

Not the least of the joys connected with the mountain was to lie snug in some cave, on a bed of springy ferns, smoking the pipe of contentment and listening to the howling tempest that reigned outside, or occasionally to stand at the cave’s mouth and gaze on the Brocken-spectre of one’s shadow flung by the camp fire on the dense, hurtling masses of vapour.”

 

***

Change was coming to the lower plateau in the 1880s. The Cape government laid out plantations there of oak, pine, larch, beech, elm and other exotics, and then, with a view to the prevention of plantation and veld fires, appointed a Ranger in 1884. A cottage was built for him at the head of the shallow valley leading down to Skeleton Gorge, and it quickly became a focal point for mountaineering regulars and others, the more so in wet weather as it was the only building on the lonely mountain top. The Ranger welcomed this company, and in time provided a Visitors’ Book for them to sign. It gives a valuable insight into the composition of the mountain parties of that time. What is notable is the large number of birds-of-passage through Cape Town, many of them of high status, who evidently regarded an ascent of the renowned mountain as de rigueur.

There was another important development, albeit not on the lower plateau, as the 1880s drew to a close. Reviving a long-dormant scheme for tapping the water running waste to the sea at Hout Bay, the town council of Cape Town impounded it at the point where it debouched from Disa Gorge into Orange Kloof and took it via a tunnel through the Apostles into Slangolie Gorge and thence by a pipeline to Kloof Nek.

The work was completed in 1891. For its day it was a grand feat of engineering, but more to our immediate purpose is the unplanned spin-off for the mountaineering community in the shape of a new contour path – the Pipe Track – that now gave easy access both to Kasteels Poort and to other parts of the Apostles that had been little visited in the past because of their tiring approach. Slangolie Ravine, certainly, boomed by virtue of the “through route” it now offered: the Woodhead Tunnel, which might be used by the public under certain conditions, and which brought the climber relatively effortlessly over the hump of the Apostles in record time. A new and easy path then took him up Disa Gorge to the lower plateau, in scenes of wild and sylvan beauty. A vast new section of the mountain, hitherto off any beaten track, had been opened by the Pipe Track, to veterans and novices alike.

***

When the Pipe Track was finally completed in 1888 it was hailed in Cape Town as “the promenade of the future”. In a town so abundantly endowed with natural beauty and sea and woodland “haunts” aplenty, that was surely too tall an order. But the new and easy path along the Apostles must certainly have attracted many whose interest in rambling or mountaineering had been peripheral. From 1889 onwards there was a move towards forming a mountaineering club, and in 1891 a body with the simple name “The Mountain Club” came into being. It was only the second such body in the British overseas empire, having been pipped at the post by a kindred club in New Zealand.

From that time onwards the history of mountaineering in South Africa is largely, but not entirely, the history of what in 1910 would become “The Mountain Club of South Africa”. That history has been adequately documented elsewhere, and we need not traverse the same ground again. Our purpose, rather, is to consider the impact of the fledgling club on the progress of mountaineering, and of rock-climbing in particular.

The Table Mountain routes we have already described were all simple walks. They might be long and arduous to the tyro, but they entailed nothing more than what in the language of the time was known as “pedestrianism”. The same applies to a new route we must now record, which was ascended for the first time some months before the Mountain Club’s formation. This was what its pioneer climber, H Lewis Harris, described as “Boomsluit Ravine” in his diary for 25 April 1891. It lies to the south of Kasteels Poort, just before Slangolie Gorge, and is easily accessible from the Pipe Track. Today it is known as Wood Ravine, and it was a very popular route before the indigenous forest that provided a pleasantly-shaded line of ascent was ravaged by fire. Even now, however, it is much patronised by mountain newcomers.

So there were several routes open to the “pedestrian”. But the members of the new club were soon to learn that there were rock routes too.

Ten days after the inaugural meeting a series of articles began to appear in the Cape Times under the rubric “How to Climb the Mountain”. The evidence points to the author as being one  A S Rogers, a member of the editorial staff and who had actively canvassed the formation of the Club. He was, also, one of its founder members. It is a reasonable inference that he was asked, or took it upon himself, to prepare the series, with a view to giving his fellow members a conspectus of what was available to them by way of routes. There were eight articles. The first five described what they called the “ordinary routes”: Platteklip Gorge, Kasteels Poort, Slangolie Gorge, the Protea Path, and the Mule (or Bridle) Path from Constantia Nek. (Strangely enough, there was no direct reference to Skeleton Gorge, only a passing allusion to it – unnamed – as a pleasant shady way up.) The sixth article dealt with Stinkwater (or Blinkwater) Ravine, a pathless way that evidently did not qualify as yet as “ordinary”.  But of most interest to us are the seventh and eighth articles, for they are the first known references to rock climbs on Table Mountain.[i]

To start with there was the “Second North Front Gorge”, today’s Silverstream Ravine. It runs up the front of the Table, starting near the entrance to Platteklip Gorge but going in the opposite direction. A difficult waterfall at the bottom has to be outflanked on the open slope to the west, but otherwise the route requires no more than “pedestrianism” until near the top, where the ravine narrows and is closed in by impressive cliffs. A way does exist, but it demands some simple rock-climbing, straightforward enough but requiring care on account of exposure. This section, combined perhaps with the ravine’s terminal position far distant from the cableway, has ensured the route’s comparative isolation from the tripper traffic. It is graded “C” in difficulty.[ii]

The second of the rock routes was the “Kloof Nek Corner”, today’s Kloof Corner. It follows the jagged western ridge leading up to the Table from Kloof Nek and petering out against the main face of the mountain below the upper cableway station, from which point the route skirts the terminal cliffs by a traverse to the south via the Fountain Ledge and reaches the summit from behind. By contrast with Silverstream Ravine this route consists mostly of a climb along a narrow ridge of rock, with sheer drops on both sides. It too is graded “C”.

The student of Cape mountaineering might suppose that the formation of a mountaineering club would spawn a rash of new routes, as the members vied with one another in friendly competition to discover new ways up the mountain. But this was not to be. In the first year of the Club’s existence only two (or maybe 21/2 ) new climbs fall to be recorded.

Window Gorge lies to the immediate north of the long-trodden Skeleton. Its first known ascent was on 21 March 1892 by two Club members who regularly climbed together, H Bishop and S B Morgenrood. However, given its extensive displays of the Red Disa and the Drip Disa (Disa longicornu), it is probable that the ravine had long been known, in its lower sections at any rate. While technically straightforward (C+), the route involves several narrow earthy traverses, some of them of doubtful stability, and should not be attempted by an unguided novice. To the experienced climber, though, it is a ravine of singular charm and great sylvan beauty.

The second of the new routes to be recorded, although there is a strong presumption that it had been done before, was the “Devil’s Gorge”, today’s Ascension Ravine, between Window Gorge and the Saddle. Viewed from the suburbs it appears as a long but broad ravine, the “obvious” way up this section of the mountain, albeit guarded by a waterfall at the bottom, which makes a grand sight after heavy rains. This was the ravine climbed, although evidently not in its entirety, by Morgenrood alone, on 8 April 1892, and his brief record of it is worth quoting:

“Up gorges on Rondebosch side of Newlands Ravine[iii] terminating near Maclear’s Beacon. Moonlight obscured by clouds. Called Devil’s Gorge by Ranger. Camped half-way up precipice.”

The name “Ascension Ravine” was bestowed on it by a party that climbed it on Ascension Day of 1896, and possibly in ignorance of Morgenrood’s climb.

In the early years the complete ravine was seldom if ever done. The usual way was to traverse along a broad terrace from the Saddle, reaching the ravine bed high up. (Hence the allusion to half a route.) As a complete route from the bottom Ascension Ravine is graded “C”, but cumbersome access, and a thousand feet of hard slogging after the waterfall has been passed, have prevented the route from becoming popular, and the “old” route, involving the long traverse from the Saddle, is now once more the via normale.

This roundabout but convenient approach includes one or two easy rock pitches at the breakout from the ravine. The ravine as a complete route is graded “C”, on account of the waterfall section.

The third of the new routes was of little immediate consequence for the climbing community, inasmuch as its written record was confined to the diary of the pioneer – H L Harris, whom we have already met. It was, in all probability, not a rock route but simply a stiff pull up grassy slopes.[iv] When many years later, it appeared in our mountain literature, it was given the name Nursery Buttress, being situated between the ravine of that name and Skeleton Gorge. Today’s route follows an interesting ridge on the lower part of the buttress, and is very popular. It is graded “B”.

This then was the crop of climbs for the Club’s first year: a wooded gorge, perhaps already sporting a flower-pickers’ path; a meandering way up a broad, open ravine; and an unexciting slog up a grassy slope. Not much rockwork here. And all three on one flank of the mountain only. Hardly very venturesome.[v]

But happily, the Club had barely passed its first birthday when a rock route would be opened that was destined to become one of the most popular of its class on the entire mountain.

***

When viewing the massive north wall of Table Mountain from the city, even a layman in rock-climbing will notice that the eastern extremity suggests the possibility of a route. Easy slopes and broad horizontal terraces extend far up the mountain at that point, and the rock itself begins only a short distance from the summit skyline. So the problematical portion involves only two or three hundred feet at most.

After Platteklip Gorge, this section seems to offer the most “obvious” way up the mountain’s front and it comes as no great surprise to read that attempts to find a route here go back far beyond our period: right to the early days of the Dutch settlement at the Cape. In 1679, thus, three Dutch seamen tried to get up “By the valley between the Table Mountain and the Devil’s Peak, (but) were never seen again, and were undoubtedly devoured by the wild beasts.”

Some seventy years later there is reference to a route “at the back of the Devil’s Hill”, where “a much more convenient path (i.e. to Platteklip) was (said) to be found”. But a party that tried this as a way down turned back in terror, we are told, at the fearsome clefts and drops that confronted them.

Although there is no documentary evidence of a climb by this route prior to the one to be related in a moment, the route as it is known today lends credence to the 18th century account, those fearsome precipices notwithstanding. Runaway slaves made for the wilds of the mountain in those days, and one presumes that they would in time have discovered its weaknesses. On the suburban side, certainly, with the lower flanks of mountain being swathed in indigenous forest, this would have provided a safe way to the mountain highlands. Be all that as it may, the fact is that the pioneers to whom we shall now turn encountered a large cairn at the crux pitch of their climb.

It was on 4 December 1892 – a date that deserves to be remembered. A month before, the indefatigable H(enry) Lewis Harris, looking out for still another pioneer ascent, tried to get up from the Saddle, but, as he laconically confessed to his diary, “Failed”. He now returned to the attack, this time supported by three other Club members: Maynard Nash, Honorary Secretary of the Club, A.S. Rogers, whom we have already met, and Walter Rolls. Rogers as usual contributed an account to the Cape Times, and in view of the climb’s importance his article may fittingly be reproduced here in large part:

“The corner of the mountain to be negotiated consisted, roughly, of three great steps, the first and second on to broad, sloping grassy ledges, and the third on to the plateau above. By following a zig-zag course the first step was climbed with little difficulty. The second one was too perpendicular for some distance to be accessible, except to winged creatures, but towards the Mowbray side it had broken and crumbled, and from this spot the second ledge was gained. The climbing so far had been of a most interesting and not very difficult character. Caves and deep crevices were repeatedly discovered and explored with interest, and the picturesque and rugged outlines of the rocks, a striking feature in this part of the mountain, were much admired. The second ledge was followed round some distance further to the left, no feasible way of climbing the last step to the summit being apparent. At length, immediately past a massive overhanging rock, which projected beyond the ledge and had to be crawled under, two beacons of piled stones were seen, the sight of which removed all thought of failure from the minds of the party. A little distance beyond them the ledge entered a narrow ravine of great depth, which, however, appears a mere crack when viewed from the Flats below. Along the ravine the ledge greatly narrowed, proceeded with a sharp upward slope to the top of the mountain, a practicable route, but exceedingly dangerous, as a false step meant a fall of hundreds of feet. The majority of the party preferred to retrace their steps and seek a less dangerous way, which fortunately they found between the beacons and the ravine, and a few minutes afterwards they were all standing on the isolated north-east corner of the mountain top, with Maclear’s Beacon in sight – about ten minutes’ walk off.”

Jubilant, the foursome made their way through the marshy basin to the Beacon, and then down the familiar path through the Backwater Gorge to the Ranger’s cottage. Here they entered their names, as usual, in the Visitors’ Book, adding the remark “Up over the Saddle”. The phrase marked an epoch in rock-climbing on Table Mountain. For the first time on record the mountain’s classic northern skyline had been breached by a “face” climb, without any assistance from a ravine.

In the wake of these pioneers a legion of climbers would use and enjoy what would become the Ledges Route. A brief description of it may not be out of place here.

From the Saddle a well-marked path leads up to the so-called Knife Edge (actually the summit ridge of Els Buttress), traverses it to the mainland, and then overcomes the formidable first band of rock by means of a long sloping boulder, which leads to a narrow ledge that takes the climber left again and eventually to a broad grassy terrace, after some pleasant scrambling. The second rock band, a little distance above, bars easy access to the final terrace just below the summit, and so a long traverse is made to the left. The most interesting – and, to a novice, exciting – part of the route now begins. A small pitch leads into a rock tunnel, which is followed to the right, ending below an easy-to-miss wormhole, coloured red-brown from the passage of innumerable nailed boots over a long span of years. Emerging from this wormhole the climber continues to the left, where easy and pleasant scrambling leads to the rocky terrace above. Beyond the “massive overhanging rock” of Rogers’s account is the crux of the climb: a twelve-foot open crack followed at once by a sloping rock traverse to easier ground on the left. This traverse needs care, as it has been worn smooth over many years, while the small “climbers’ friends” bush (Cliffortia ruscifolia) that for generations offered a comforting handhold no longer exists. After one more, nondescript, pitch (but a dangerous one in view of the drop into the ravine below) the top is reached at the Fir Tree Camp.

It was said above that this corner of the mountain, viewed from afar, seems to promise a way up. But when on the spot – say, on the Saddle Knife Edge – things look rather different. On this closer inspection, these formidable cliffs give little hope of straightforward access to the summit. And therefore it is precisely in the ingeniousness of the route, in finding a remarkably easy way through these perceived obstacles, that the great attraction of Ledges lies. Add to this the fact that it is the only route in that long stretch of mountain from the Platteklip area to Ascension Ravine or even Skeleton that is suitable for beginners (and all the more so as a way down), and its continuing popularity will be readily understood.

With the possible exception of Rogers, none of the pioneering party are on record as having been rock-climbers. They clearly were not up to either finding or climbing the relatively easy pitch through the penultimate rock-band leading directly to the upper ledge and then on to the summit by the long but easy staircase-like final section of today’s Saddle Face, but instead had to travel a long way to the east, so that the route they evolved finished “around the corner” and thus, strictly speaking, not on the northern front of the mountain. While the route itself, easy enough in all conscience today (it is graded “C”) was found by one at least of them to be “Very hard work”. That in these circumstances they succeeded as they did is praiseworthy, and so it comes as something of a surprise and a disappointment that for over a century the Club has failed to honour them for their achievement, the Route List having shown a sad “Unknown” for both the opening party and the date of first recorded ascent. It is not certain, moreover, when or by whom the route was given its name: the first reference to the name “Ledges” occurs only in 1912.

Breakthrough though it was, however, the new rock-climb seems to have unleashed no flurry of climbing activity. A whole year, 1893, went by without a single addition to the meagre list of ways up the mountain. Climbing by the recognised routes no doubt continued, and presumably there were those Club members who followed in the pioneers’ footsteps and savoured the new routes, but that was all. The Club’s brave rock-climbing voyage had soon reached the doldrums.

But a freshening breeze was beginning to stir.


[i] In view of their intrinsic interest as historical mountaineering documents, Rogers’s two articles are reproduced in Appendix A.

[ii] The grading of rock climbs is discussed in Excursus 1.

[iii] The easy route to the Saddle from the suburban side.

[iv] His diary for 30 December 1891 has him going up “over the bluff … behind the Ranger’s cottage. Hard climb.”

[v] We should be sparing with such ungenerous strictures. There is naturally no certainty that a first-recorded ascent was in fact the first in actuality. The route in question, or a variation of it, may well have been climbed before, but noted (if at all) only in the diary of the pioneer. And very few diaries, alas, have come down to us. So to imagine that such obvious and attractive routes as India Waterfall, Blind Gully and (especially) Wood Buttress were left untouched until the time of their first publicly recorded ascents – in 1904, 1914 and 1901 respectively – is to delude ourselves. (for the first two of these, certainly, there is early mention of at least partial exploration – vide Cape Times, 26.4.1894 and 11.1.1893.)

ANNEXURE I

How to Climb the Mountain

No 7 – Second North Front Gorge

(By a Member of the Mountain Club)

An interesting but rather awkward ascent direct to the Table may be made by the gorge which cuts the north face on the left at a similar angle to that of the Platteklip on the right.  Only those who enjoy rough climbing should ever attempt this way, and it should nver be done alone.  The stream which descends this gorge joins the Platteklip stream in the woods near the highest dam.  The best way to reach the ravine is to ascend by the ordinary path as far as the waterfall, and then to debouch almost directly to the left over the swell which separates the Platteklip from its twin ravine.  Arrived in the gorge a waterfall parallel to the one just quitted will be seen, but much larger and bolder, and impossible to scale with unassisted hands and feet.  It may, however, be easily negotiated by making a detour round the krantzes to the right.  Then the bed of the stream can be followed to within a few hundred feet of the top.  The gorge is a magnificent one, not at first distinctly defined, but a medley of mighty mountains of rock. Terrace above terrace towers on the right to the Table far above, and the huge boulders in the bed of the stream hinder a long tantalising vista, such as is seen in the Platteklip Gorge.  Vegetation is plentiful, and in forcing one’s self through it on a  cloudy day the clothing becomes as completely saturated as though a stream had been forded.  Sometimes the climber has to creep under the boulders, sometimes he has to use legs and arms vigorously to scale them, and occasionally the rocky bed for a few yards is a succession of moss-carpeted steps, up which one can skip nimbly.  By-and-bye the ascent becomes steeper, the ravine narrows, and at last the path of the climber is suddenly barred by a frowning overhanging cliff between two and three hundred feet in height, and which seems to say “Thus far shalt thou come and no further.”

AN IMPOSING SPECTACLE

Yesterday, in the dense mist, this portion of the mountain was peculiarly grand and impressive.  The spot resembled a vast pit, inaccessibly walled in on all sides, save towards the town, and the wind blowing from the sea, mildly in other parts of the mountain, imprisoned here whistled and shrieked and beat round and round to find an exit, which it finally effected upwards.  Viewed from above, the dense vapours could be seen churned and agitated as if it had been steam issuing from a huge boiling cauldron.

If the climber does not attempt to scale this precipice, he can easily, by retracing his steps a short distance, pass through an opening in the side of the gorge and reach the Saddle.  By certain ledges and crannies on the left, however, it is possible to attain a grassy platform some forty or fifty feet above the bed of the gorge.  Following this platform twenty yards to the left, a crevice about two feet wide will be seen cleaving perpendicularly the remainder of the precipice.  The crevice is hidden at the foot by a large bush and by insinuating one’s self behind the bush and wriggling and climbing up the crevice, it is possible to reach the top of the mountain a short distance from Maclear’s beacon.

Cape Times 7/12/1891

HOW TO CLIMB THE MOUNTAIN

No 8 – Kloof Ned Corner

By a Member of the Mountain Club

The prominent corner of the mountain which inclines from the plateau to the Kloof-Nek, and which, with its clear-cut, geometrical outline projected against the western sky, strikingly resembles an inverted section of a plain but bold cornice, would appear at first sight an inaccessible route to the mountain top, but nevertheless repeated ascents have been made partly by this way.  Two members of the club, one morning a few weeks ago, ascended the slope from the block-house on the Kloof Nek to the foot of the lowest krantses.  Here some fifty or sixty feet of almost perpendicular climbing was successfuly accomplished, and then the long, comparatively smooth slope near the corner, and visible from the town, was traversed to a rift in the rocks far above. “Dassies” swarm by thousands in this part of the mountain, and have made for themselves tracks which almost appear to have been worn by human feet.  Curiously enough, in a place so difficult of access as this, a small cave was discovered, the mouth of which had been neatly barricaded by a low wall of stones.  Perhaps some Diogenes dwelt in it after hope and energy had been expended in his fruitless search!  Arrived at the rift, the climbers ensconced themselves in a natural embrasured window, through which the wind charged like a battering-ram, and enjoyed for a brief time the unique prospects of Table Valley on the left and the Atlantic-washed Twelve Apostles on the right.  What charming hues the ocean assumes near this coast on a cloudy day!  Ultramarine is put to shame, and a painter might strive a lifetime to imitate the purples before he could cry “Eureka!”  From the rift it was easy to clamber over the now rugged edge of the “cornice” until the last three hundred feet was gained, which the Architect had squared off right into the blue. This portion was enshrouded in mist at the time, and no way was apparent, so the inclined grassy ledge immediately at its foot was followed to the right for about twenty minutes, when it terminated in the gorge close by the well-known “kitchen” spring, to which a path leads from the top of Platteklip Gorge.  The only ledge which continues so far round is the highest one of all, and on another occasion the writer fell into difficulties through taking by mistake one a hundred feet lower.  This one, after narrowing until it was only safe to crawl along it, at last ended completely and abruptly, and it was only after two ineffectual attempts, occupying over half an hour, that the writer managed to climb to the ledge above, where it was plain sailing. As this part of the mountain has precipices fully if not more extensive than any other portion, the utmost caution is required.

No date

GLAD CONFIDENT MORNING

The route list issued by the Mountain Club shows the first recorded ascent of Table Mountain as having taken place in 1503: Antonio da Saldanha’s reputed ascent by way of Platteklip Gorge, undertaken to ascertain his position in relation to the newly-discovered Cape of Good Hope. Then there is silence for the space of nearly four centuries – until 1894, when a series of new routes suddenly appears in the records. They are all credited to “J Searle and party”.

Strange how a simple phrase like that can fix indelibly in one’s mind a whole era. To some of us who joined the Mountain Club in the 1940s and eagerly scanned the route list, looking for new mountain worlds to conquer, “1894”conjured up a time in the long-distant past, a period in which stern bearded men in knickerbockers and heavy nailed boots grappled desperately with rock and bush and grass and slime as they valiantly found or forced fearsome new ways up the forbidding cliffs and ravines of the brooding mountain.

“J Searle and party”….

Who was this Searle? – James Searle, to echo a character famous in latter-day fiction. We know all too little about him in some respects, but, alas, all too much in others.

James Searle was a member of the well-known Cape family bearing that name, and he had worked his way up to a position of some prominence in the small society of Cape Town.

He had progressed through several branches of the post office structure to end up, at this time, as Controller of the Post Office Savings Bank – an institution much more important in the financial sphere then than now, given the fact that in the 1890s only the upper strata of society had or wanted access to the commercial banks. The hoi polloi were dependent on the Post Office for facilities for their savings. He was also a zealous part-time soldier in the Colony’s volunteer regiments: “the peacock soldiers”, as they were called in good humoured affection by the public, with reference to their gorgeous colours. Following a spell with the Cape Field Artillery, which he seems to have left in high dudgeon after a squabble over mess bills, he joined the Cape Town Highlanders, where he rose to the rank of captain. The one or two extant photographs of him suggest a forceful personality, with a strong hint of swagger. On the mountaineering side, the first reference to him appears to be an entry in the Visitors’ Book kept by the Ranger on 21 January 1892 – that is, soon after the formation of the Mountain Club, but, for whatever reason, he waited another two years before applying for membership, in the interim, as we shall see, forming a climbing club of his own.

Window Gorge, Ascension Ravine, Silverstream Ravine and Kloof Corner are all credited to him in the route list, but, as already shown, all these were climbed by earlier parties. So the first route we can formally ascribe to him is the epoch-making one he led on 11 March 1894, in the company of T W Chignell and A S Rogers.

The Left Face

By 1894 the classic front of Table Mountain could be climbed by four routes: Ledges, Silverstream Ravine, Platteklip Gorge and Kloof Corner. Yet none of these could be regarded by the aspirant cragsmen of Cape Town as a full-fledged “face” climb. The Ledges route was at the extreme eastern end of the Table, and – in strict accuracy – it finished not on the northern skyline but on the south-eastern. Silverstream Ravine, to be sure, did reach the northern skyline fairly and squarely, but it too was somewhat to the side, and – more importantly – it was a deep ravine, not a face climb. The latter consideration, of course, applied even more to Platteklip Gorge. And as for Kloof Corner, one could argue that it was hardly a climb up the front of the mountain, since it ended way behind the northern edge, it might even be viewed as a route on the Camps Bay side. What was still lacking, without any dispute, was a route that quite unequivocally went straight up the northern face.

And, ideally, near the centre of that face.

It was with this goal before them that Searle’s party set out. To attempt such a route to the northern skyline was at that time regarded as “madcap and foolhardy”, but, in fact, when viewed even from the town the feat looks by no means impossible. Our hypothetical layman, once again, will trace a succession of broad open slopes leading most of the way up the frontal wall, treading north-west (as in a map) until only a few hundred feet below the skyline. Who knew but that those last few hundred feet would yield a route?

But when the Searle party eventually reached this final wall of rock they found it to be “hopelessly steep”.

We made one attempt not far from the eastern extremity, and climbed up about 120 feet with considerable difficulty, the rocks being damp and slippery from a thick mist … which made the utmost precaution necessary. We divested ourselves of our boots in order to obtain a better hold on the rocks, and hauled up the boots and other baggage stage by stage with a light rope. At last we found that further progress was impossible, and … had to face … returning by the way we had come, a much more difficult and dangerous feat. Finally, however, with the aid of the rope, which was about 30 feet long, … we stood once more on the (broad) ledge, having advanced no nearer to the goal by our fatiguing labours.

 

Balked at the eastern end of the high grassy terrace running for a considerable distance across the mountain’s face, they moved slowly westwards in search of a break in the towering cliffs. The centre too proved intractable, but, continuing, they eventually reached the end of the terrace, where it petered out against a somewhat ill-defined buttress. Skirting a deep crack capped by a massive overhang, they arrived at the corner of the buttress. Here the cliffs were more broken, and they saw at once that upward progress was at last possible once more. A few cracks and traverses, the magical skyline drew steadily nearer, and they were soon on a bushy terrace beneath a great square “nose” of rock, immediately below the summit. Then some pleasant faces, swathed in thorn bush, to the left of the nose … and they were UP! Jubilant at having succeeded, they gave three lusty cheers – which, they were sure, “were heard in the valley below”.

Triumph! Nothing less than a route straight up the classic northern face of the world-famous mountain! The sceptics had been roundly trounced: there was a way up after all, and moreover it had turned out to be no life-and-death struggle but a route suited to “any fair climber with a cool head and able to use his arms”. Table Mountain was being stripped of its mystery and its terror.

Subsequently straightened out by starting at the foot of the buttress and keeping to a fairly direct line, their “left face” was to become one of the most popular of the early rock routes. It was also the first route to achieve “D” status, albeit one of the easier climbs in that class. A popular but long and rather tedious variation can be used to skirt all its main problems, thereby reducing the grade to “B”, but this is better regarded as an entirely different route.

(BOX : LEFT FACE)

The Right Face

Spurred by its great success and by the knowledge that supposed difficulties had a habit of evaporating on closer inspection, the Searle party cast a keen eye on the right-hand side of the Table. They had, certainly, solved the problem of whether the north front of the mountain could be climbed at all, but, in comparison with the great brooding face of the western Table situated between Platteklip and the Kloof Corner, their “left face” began to seem a rather tame affair. The right face, by contrast, promised to be the piece de resistance.

So, a fortnight later, and now reinforced by a fourth member (whose identity is unfortunately not known but who may well have been Alfred Bolus), the party made for the magnificent crags of the western Table. Here too they followed the “obvious” way: get as high as is feasible by way of the slope leading to the “north-west corner”(as in a map), to the point where the crowning band of rock is at its minimum extent. Just a couple of hundred feet of rock work … that’s all.

And so indeed it turned out to be. As the party’s scribe would tell it, the rock work that could not be by-passed was

Situated in that part of the face which lies somewhat back between the projection (Platteklip Buttress) near Platteklip Gorge and the central buttress between that gorge and the Kloof Nek corner. Up to (this point) there was sufficiency of hold for hand and foot to enable the party to continue upwards … Each removed his boots to ensure a firm hold with his feet, … as all the rocks were wet, and many slippery. Proceeding slowly and cautiously, now crawling under an overhanging rock, at another time working up a fissure by using shoulder, hand, knee and foot, and then climbing straight up or working diagonally across a rough rock face with a misty abyss below, the party gained the summit without mishap (or) any excessive difficulty.

(emphasis added)

 

The “right face” too had been climbed!

It must at once be said, however, that their new-found route was not the Right Face of today (and of which more below). The account quoted, particularly in the light of the portions emphasised, makes it plain that the line they followed was over or in the vicinity of today’s Union Route – which, in its upper portions, is the perfectly obvious route for a pioneer. Their description, furthermore, tallies much more closely with the Union Route than with Right Face, where the climbing is overwhelmingly by way of open face work. Those familiar with the Union Route will in fact at once recognise the accuracy of Rogers’s account. But, if further argument is needed, that account (in a part not quoted here) states that the summit was reached about a hundred yards to the west of Platteklip Gorge: a distance much less, of course, than that to the final beacon of today’s Right Face.

But if the sceptics are still unconvinced, here is Alfred Bolus’s short description of the climb, from his route list published in the Club’s Annual for 1896:

Face, between Platteklip Gorge and Kloof Corner

From the Platteklip, keep on right side of stream and make for the Central Buttress; climb up by (in modern parlance, “alongside”) this till within 1000 feet of summit, and then gradually work up to the left. (Emphasis added)

 

Searle’s “right face”- the pioneer frontal climb on the western Table – takes the line of least resistance up slope and outcrops of rock until the Yellow Patch section of Right Face is reached, when it veers to the left and makes for the recessed cliffs behind.

Sheerness Face. It starts with a strenuous crack, which is followed by a traverse that leads to a broad ledge above. This is followed to the right, where a gully leads to the final ledge, just below a long and gloomy recessed corner. This is avoided by a sketchy and far from obvious pitch to its right, which in turn is followed by an easy crack that leads to the summit. As with the Union Route, it is graded “D”, and it fully warrants this classification.

But it was destined soon to fade from memory. It was quickly overtaken and overshadowed by the spectacular Right Face, which gave the cragsman a much more thrilling climb, with face after face endowed with good holds, and with sweeping mountain vistas on each side of the buttress, as opposed to the claustrophobia and general scrappiness of Searle’s route. When, seventeen years later, the Union Route was opened and named, it was claimed as a first ascent, in apparent ignorance of its history. (The Union Route itself was never to become popular: on the contrary, it seems to have been regarded once as the least popular route on the front of the mountain, and was “much maligned”.)[i]

Both the left and the right face of the mountain had now been climbed by these pioneers. What was the next challenge to be?

At that time Table Mountain offered a vast range of possibilities in the way of new lines of ascent, particularly on its two southern flanks. But the primary goal of any cragsman would be the great northern massif rather than the “lowlands” south of Window Gorge or Stinkwater Ravine. And so we find our party turning its attention to the mountain’s highest and seemingly most “inaccessible” flanks.

Hiddingh’s Ravine[ii]

Viewed from the suburbs below, that portion of the eastern face of the mountain lying between Fernwood Buttress and Ascension Ravine comes across as both gloomy and formidable. It is marked by three prominent ravines: Ascension itself, which is more a long tongue of open slope, rather than a deep indentation; Fernwood Gully, a dark and repellent slash through the solid rock; and Hiddingh’s Ravine the central one of the three and seeming, from a distance, to offer a good prospect of a route: a deep but wideish gorge not unlike Platteklip but much steeper. It was to this that our party – Searle, Bolus, Chignell and Rogers – turned on 5 May 1894.

They made good progress up the bed of the ravine – an archetypal eastern kloof, with sheer mossy towering walls, venerable indigenous trees, boulders, rubble and running water – until brought up abruptly by a great and obviously “hopeless” waterfall. Thwarted here, they

began to scale the terraces on the left, with the object of gaining the bed of the stream above the precipitous portion. After some time had been spent unsuccessfully endeavouring to do this … the idea was abandoned, and the adjoining gorge on the left reached by passing round the grassy slope of one of the terraces. The angle of this slope was very acute inside the neighbouring gorge and a slip might project any unfortunate mountaineer into space at the lower edge. Great caution was therefore exercised, and the rocks along the upper edge closely hugged. On reaching the gorge a somewhat awkward fall of about twenty feet had to be climbed, and a short rope proved an invaluable aid to the least expert of the party.

 

And finally the mountaineers reached the extremity of the gorge, only to find it blocked up above with huge rocks, which overhung and converted the end of the ravine into a short tunnel. As climbing in the position of a fly on a ceiling was decidedly objectionable, the mountaineers looked around for some other means of completing the remaining thirty or forty feet of the ascent, which they eventually easily accomplished on the left side of the gorge. Practically therefore the eastern face of Table Mountain had been climbed up the centre, for the detour to the left which had been found necessary did not make a deviation of more than thirty or forty yards.

Ironically enough, the promising Hiddingh’s Ravine had been a dead-end, while the unattractive and apparently difficult gully to its left (soon to be known as Wormhole Ravine) had come to the rescue of the pioneering party and handed them the key to this formidable bastion of the mountain’s eastern face. Known today as the Hiddingh-Wormhole combination route, it has always been popular. It carries a “D+” grading, but its crux pitch, a steep waterfall in Wormhole Ravine, is an awkward and far from pleasant piece of climbing, and is best avoided by doing one or two pitches of Protea Buttress on the left and then climbing down into the ravine again. This variation is no easier technically, but the climbing is on sound dry rock rather than on what a recent writer has dubbed the “frog-infested pitch” of the original route.

Strangely enough, in the face of this clear reference to the route they followed, the climb has long been attributed to another party and at a later date. Although the Cape Times account gives no names, referring merely to “four members of the Mountain Club”, we have some contemporary evidence pointing to the Searle party: H Lewis Harris records a meeting with “Bolus, Searle and Chignell” on the day in question, adding that they “had climbed the Newlands face”. And from the long and characteristic newspaper article we may safely conclude that the fourth climber was A S Rogers.

(BOX : AMPHLETT”S ACCOUNT)

The Saddle Corner

The Searle party had now climbed the left, the right and the eastern faces of the Table Mountain massif. The logical choice, no doubt, for their next venture would be that impressive portion of its western flank, between Kloof Corner and Stinkwater Ravine. For some reason – perhaps the approach of winter – or maybe for no reason at all, this was left untouched for the time being, until October. But in the interim they turned their attention to the Saddle area: perhaps wanting to do Harris and party’s route, perhaps – in ignorance, even, of that route’s existence – seeking a way straight up to the eastern Table.

Instead of following the rambling Ledges route, they struck at once for the skyline from the Saddle Knife edge. They were probably given a moment’s pause by the penultimate rock-band that had baffled the Harris party, but were soon through it by means of a steep but pleasant forty foot face with excellent holds. Arriving on the final rocky ledge, they found a good drip of water beneath a small overhang. Refreshed, they traversed off to the west, where a great square face of rock, plentifully endowed with ledges and forming a natural staircase, led easily to the summit. Their new climb being directly over the Saddle, they named it “the Saddle Corner”, but in a few years this would be changed to “Saddle Face”. Its smooth rock today, worn and rust-brown from the passage of a multitude of nailed boots, bears eloquent testimony to its great popularity in bygone days. It was originally graded “B”, but was elevated to a “C” in 1914, chiefly on account of the ”polished rock” section.[iii] It provides a fast route up or down, but cannot be recommended to an inexperienced party – who might well have some difficulty in finding it.

(BOX : AMPHLETT)

Fountain Ravine

With the coming of the spring of 1894, the Searle party took upon itself the task of making “a systematic exploration of the ravines and krantzes with which the mountain is encircled”. Having already climbed the north faces, the north-eastern corner and the suburban flank, it was perhaps only natural that it should now turn its attention to the western or Apostles side. Nor, given the party’s evident predilection for spectacular lines of ascent, is it surprising that their target now was the great ravine

worn into the mountainside by the waters from the perpetual spring, well known to visitors, which is situated a few minutes’ walk towards the right from the summit of Platteklip Gorge. It is the first ravine of consequence from the Stinkwater (Ravine) towards Cape Town, and in its upper part (it) resembles a huge, dark, vertical cleft.

Later to become known as Fountain Ravine, from the “Kitchen Spring” at its head, this is the only ravine on the Camps Bay side that can rival the great gorges of the suburban flank. It may not appear particularly attractive when viewed from the Pipe Track, but it holds a good deal of interest and charm by way of sylvan beauty and – especially in its upper portion – spectacular rock scenery. In winter it carries a substantial volume of water, and its waterfalls are then reminiscent of those plunging into the Newlands forest down Grassy and Fir Tree Ravines.

Although credited by the Club’s various route lists to “J Searle and party”, there is evidence that the ravine had been climbed almost three years before – and alone. The identity of the enterprising climber is not given in the brief newspaper account, but from internal evidence it seems probable that it was A S Rogers. He apparently climbed no higher, however, than to a cave some little way below the level of the later Grotto-Fountain-Cairn Traverse, and then returned down the ravine. We are, perhaps, justified then in crediting the route to Searle’s party, who went on to the top of the mountain, however unsatisfactorily from the point of view of route definition.

Anyhow, his party tackled it on 7 October 1894. The ravine is nothing so much as a succession of waterfalls, steep and slippery and often of doubtful stability, but for the most part endowed with good waterworn holds or capable of being outflanked.

The gorge is fairly well wooded, and the waterway is green with moss. The whole ravine is of quite a different character from the majority of the mountain ravines. There are no long beds of loose stones, nor heaps of fantastically shaped boulders. All is waterworn and smooth. (On the day of the climb) it was wet also, not with the full, rushing, irresistible stream of the winter months, but with a universal drip, drip, drip. Every ledge contained pools of the purest, coolest water that ever quenched a climber’s thirst, every tassel and fringe of moss was prolonged with tiny jets of water, looking like icicles … No word-picture could adequately portray the beauty of these mountain waterfalls, or the impressive effect of the mountain silence, broken only by the music of the falling water.

They eventually broke into the open ground at the top of the first section of the climb. Nearby was the “Bushman cave” that Rogers had found close on three years before. Mist had now reduced visibility sharply. They made for the cave, and spent some time there examining a strange assortment of artefacts, ”buried deep beneath a layer of rock-rabbit deposits and that fine, dry, soft dust, which is found everywhere in the haunts of the dassie”. Among the rubble was an old-fashioned bottle, a decayed skin pouch, a brass tinderbox, and the bowl of an old-time clay pipe – “from which, however, all the scent of the soothing weed had long since vanished”. Shaking their heads, they moved on up the ravine. Only some sixty years later would these items be identified as having belonged to one Joshua Penny, a press-ganged American seaman who had jumped ship in Table Bay in 1799 and spent fourteen months in hiding on Table Mountain (vide W H Crump, “A Cavern which secured me from Storms” in MCSA Annual 1958). The relics are now in the possession of the Mountain Club of South Africa.

Proceeding up the ravine, our party finally arrived at the place where its containing walls close in suddenly, forming a narrow perpendicular gully:

a most formidable looking place, and calculated, at any rate when its natural gloom is enhanced by a depressing mist, to send a chill into the bosom of the boldest climber. The two waterfalls together are perhaps a hundred and fifty feet high, and the rocky walls, which enclose them, are slimy and perpendicular. The place is awe-inspiring, and standing at the bottom looking inwards, one feels as if imprisoned in a terrible well, from which escape is impossible.

Balked by this formidable waterfall, and baffled by the mist, they found a way of escape along a narrow ledge to the north (part of today’s Grotto-Fountain-Cairn Traverse), which eventually led to familiar ground at the top of the Kloof Corner ridge. So their climb scarcely qualified as a route by the accepted standard. But at some time, fairly soon but now unknown, they or others must have returned to the ravine and followed the Traverse in the opposite direction. And now they quickly found what they were seeking: a way of outflanking the great barrier in the upper part of the gorge. Here a chimney-like cleft in the containing buttress (later to become known as Fountain Peak Buttress) gave access to a narrow ledge on the southern side, which led back to the crest of the cleft and then via a straightforward but excitingly-exposed pitch to easier ground, from which a choice of ways to the summit was open.

Like Hiddingh-Wormhole, this “Fountain Ravine” was a combination route, since it failed to finish the ravine direct and had to make use of another mountain feature to reach the top. Its first appearance in the Club’s literature is in Alfred Bolus’s route list in the Annual for 1896, where it is ranked among those routes to be tackled only by “experienced mountaineers”. In the early years of the twentieth century it was apparently popular.  Every enterprising climber had it in his sights, as it was regarded as being one of the mountain’s most difficult routes. Perhaps it was the eventual “complete” ascent in 1914 that led to a change of feeling, for the old route then fell into disuse. But its rock scenery is among the grandest on the mountain, the ravine is in complete shade on a summer’s day and usually has some water, and the escape through the huge white cliff above the Grotto-Fountain Traverse via the cleft-and ledge is a masterpiece. The route is graded “D”.

Searle’s Corner

The forbidding eastern and western flanks of the mountain had now been cleverly penetrated, and the party was free to return to its first love, the “Face”.

If the left-hand or eastern bastion of the Table is viewed from the city, a distinct vertical “crease” can be seen on its face, extending from the open slopes above the Saddle right up to the highest point on the skyline. This steep ridge forms a corner, where the north front of the mountain changes direction from north-east to south-east. The ridge is capped by an impressive flat face about 150 feet high, similar to the rock face immediately below the upper cableway station.

Shortly after the Fountain Ravine venture the Searle party made its way up this part of the mountain. The ridge itself was made up of a series of short pitches either on it or just alongside, and provided “some very good climbing, requiring the exercise of all the mountaineers activity, coolness and skill”. The steep slab-like face that tops the ridge was too forbidding for these pioneers, however, and they finished the climb by the more broken recessed corner lying to its immediate right. This section, although graded only “D” today, was a breakthrough in rock-climbing. Unlike the crux pitches of Searle’s other routes, this was pure open face work, without sheltering walls of rock but with appreciable exposure.

The first thirty feet were easy, for another thirty a little more care was necessary, and the remainder of the ascent had to be made up a corner crevice so steep that when the cap of one of the members of the party was accidentally dislodged by another who was standing on his shoulders, and fell about twenty-five feet in the track of the ascent, it was decided to allow it to remain where it fell.

 

This final section, furthermore, offers little in the way of anchors, apart from “climbers’ friend” bushes. Fifteen years later the climb as a whole was described by the then President of the Club (but admittedly no cragsman) as “a most difficult ascent”.[iv]

The route became known as “Searle’s Corner”, but within a few years, and perhaps for reasons unconnected with mountaineering, this was changed to Saddle Corner, while the earlier route bearing that name was rechristened Saddle Face. It is a pleasant “D” route deserving of more attention, suitable for large parties.[v]

Fir Tree Ravine

This is the last of the routes attributed to Searle in the Club’s route lists. It first appears in Bolus’s 1896 list, but this is the solitary reference to it (as a presumed Searle climb) in the early records. We are listing it last, since the route lists from 1926 onwards give the date of first ascent as 1895, but in view of the frequent errors in those lists involving Searle’s climbs (and indeed others), we cannot be sure that it was not earlier. Nor can we be sure of the composition of the party, or even if Searle himself was among them.

As to the route itself, “ravine” is a misnomer, and “discontinuous gully” might be a better description. The 1952 route list uses the term “watercourse”- the only such appellation in its pages. The “ravine” is in fact not much more than an indentation in the imposing south-east flank of the mountain, above Newlands. It drains the run-off of the eastern Table, and carries a tremendous volume of water after heavy rain, when “the silver shafts of water cascading down … are a fine sight from the suburbs below”. It derives its name from the Fir Tree Camp at its head.

Today’s route is grade “F”: which, one must say, immediately raises suspicions as to whether it is the route to which Bolus refers, since a sudden jump from “D” to “F” in this way seems inherently unlikely in these pioneering circumstances. Let us look at Bolus’s description:

Fir Tree Ravine …along Newlands Avenue and up … at back of Ohlsson’s brewery, where path emerges from this keep to the left crossing a stream, and then straight up the Krantzes, keeping on left of stream till nearly at top, then cross and keep on right hand side. (Very difficult to describe this route on paper.)  (Emphasis added)

 

From this it is clear that, whatever else the pioneering party may have done and whatever the name bestowed on the climb, the watercourse was not followed throughout. It would have been the easiest thing in the world simply to say, Follow the watercourse where feasible, but Bolus doesn’t say even this, and has to confess that the route is difficult to describe. And we may reasonably conclude that the pioneers worked their way, as described, up the slope and broken rock flanking the stream bed to the final and more pronounced section starting on a level with the Saddle knife edge. This section can be easily reached from the knife edge via a broad terrace, and in the early years of the twentieth century it enjoyed some popularity as a route in its own right, being described as “fairly easy”.[vi] The full route of the Bolus list would probably rank as a good “D”.

The whole subject is treated in more detail under Excursus. But we may conclude with the remark that the route of the Bolus list, and still more the “Fir Tree Watercourse” of today, seems out of character with Searle’s other climbs, which with one exception were attractive routes that were to become classics in their day. (The exception is the “right face”, but, as we have seen, there were good reasons for its neglect.) By contrast, Fir Tree Ravine – apart from its upper section – remained virtually unknown. Ten years after its first ascent it had still been done only by “very few climbers”.

***

It is time to take stock.

Jim Searle and his party had opened the door in the Cape Colony (and, for that matter, in South Africa) to rock-climbing as an integral but distinct part of the mountaineering experience. His “hurricane campaign” of 1894/5 had unveiled several parts of the mountain previously terra incognita, and had added no less than seven new routes of hitherto unheard of difficulty to the minuscule number of rock routes already existing. No longer need an ascent of Table Mountain be confined to the tired old routes that had been standard since time out of mind: as much and more interest and enjoyment awaited the climber on the crags. This breakthrough, to be sure, only reflected what was already happening in the home country, where climbers such as Owen Glynne Jones were forcefully demonstrating on British hills that rock-climbing could be a pursuit in its own right, not merely an adjunct of Alpine craft, but to Searle and his party must belong the credit of transplanting this idea to the local “hill” in far-off Cape Town.

His party’s final tally is as follows, arranged in chronological order as far as this can be established, and using today’s names for the climbs:

  • Left Face                         11 March 1894
  • (Union Route) + ? March 1894
  • Hiddingh – Wormhole   5 May 1894
  • Saddle Face       ?          30 September 1894
  • Fountain Ravine                           7 October 1984
  • Saddle Corner                   ? October 1894
  • (Fir Tree Ravine)+              ? Pre- 1896

The bracketed routes are the modern-day approximations to Searle’s route.

So much for the climbs. What of the climbers?

Jim Searle has already been dealt with briefly, but we shall be returning to him soon. A S Rogers we first met as one of the pioneers of Ledges in 1892. He was definitely with Searle on Hiddingh’s Ravine and the left and right faces and the long account of Fountain Ravine in his newspaper is characteristic of his style, as too is the short account of Searle’s Corner, so that we may reasonably infer that he was on those climbs. But despite his climbing ability and his enthusiasm for the mountain he was not to occupy any position in the Club: he ran for the committee in 1892, but was defeated. Nor was his membership of the Club of long duration, for he migrated to the Transvaal in 1896. Alfred Bolus was a member of the well-known “botanical” family. He can be positively identified as having been with Searle on Hiddingh’s Ravine, and may well have been the additional member of the party recruited for the fight face. Given the fact that he produced the first list of Table Mountain routes (in the Annual for 1896), we may take it that he was acquainted with all or most of them – in which case he may have been on some others of Searle’s “firsts”. T W Chignell was with Searle on Hiddingh’s Ravine and the left and right faces, apart from this we can say nothing on him with any certainty. His name too disappears from the Club’s roll after 1896, but some fifty years later he resurfaced with a sensational reminiscence of these early days, which we shall deal with in its proper place.

One or two other climbers of this period may be mentioned. There is no evidence of their having ever been in Searle’s party, but given the small number of active rock-climbers at that time their orbits may well have intersected now and then. Gother Mann, whose valuable diary of the mid-1890s came to rest in the Club’s archives after various vicissitudes, was a prodigious “country peaker” who was awarded the Gold Badge in 1896 for “his great zeal in climbing the various peaks of the Western Province”. He was also the first to climb the Cedarberg Tafelberg – by taking, one fears, a rather unsporting advantage over the others in his party. He climbed at times with Bolus, and also with Frank Guthrie. It was with the latter that he made the first ascent of French Hoek Peak, which had hitherto – mirabile dictu – been regarded as unclimbable. Guthrie too we shall meet again, fifty years on, with a sensational reminiscence of the early days. And lastly George Thomas Amphlett, who (like Mann) had overseas climbing experience to his credit, and who would play a leading role in establishing the Mountain Club on lasting foundations. We shall be meeting him frequently in our story.

So much for the men. Can we say anything useful on their equipment and methods?

As to equipment: the few extant photographs suggest that there was nothing specialised in use, and that our climbers had not progressed beyond everyday clothing and boots. On at least two occasions, as we have seen, they removed their boots on account of damp rock, suggesting that the boots were unnailed. This is hardly surprising, even in England rock-climbing was still in its infancy, and it was only some years later that “nails” became accepted at the Cape. There is no indication, furthermore, of the knickerbockers that would later become de rigueur on Table Mountain – instead, ordinary long trousers, coat and hat of some kind. If a rope was carried at all, it was for hauling baggage or for a descent. There is no indication, in the few accounts we have, of its being used for protecting the leader or bringing up the others.

As to method: while in the nature of things we can scarcely expect documentation on the subject, it would be safe to assume that our climbers relied on muscular strength rather than balance and finesse – or, as it would later be described in England, “Push and Pull”. The hands did all the work: feet were of minor importance. But we shall be returning to this subject.

The routes themselves bear the imprint of their time: they followed slopes, or ravine beds, as far as practical, and took to the rocks only when these could not be turned. The pitches themselves were short, connecting comfortable ledges, and consisted for the most part of chimneys or cracks. Only towards the end of the period, with Searle’s Corner, would a steep exposed face and a long movement be attempted.

***

The record of Searle’s pioneering activity ends abruptly, with Fir Tree Ravine, and the question that immediately poses itself to the historian of Table Mountain is, Why? Seven new routes in a year or so, to be sure, was a gratifying record for anyone, especially when their technical standard was borne in mind, but it seems strange that at a time when the mountain offered a glorious field for new routes, and when Searle’s party had taken upon itself its “systematic exploration”, these pioneers’ names should so suddenly disappear from our climbing annals.

It was not that the party had reached its technical ceiling. To confine ourselves to the “real” Table Mountain, ignoring the lower regions along its flanks, there were a number of physical features quite within the party’s capabilities, of which we may single out Ascension Buttress, Silverstream Buttress, Platteklip Buttress and Arrow Face in its original version.

Perhaps we have to do with a defective record. The Searle party may in fact have continued their work, but not published the results.

It is, certainly, strange that Searle himself wrote nothing, in the Club’s Annual or elsewhere, on the great advances he had brought about in mountaineering at the Cape. Had it not been for the fact that in Arthur Rogers he had a brilliant scribe to record these feats, they may well have been lost to posterity, but, by the same token, Rogers’s departure for the north in 1895 may have meant that later routes did not reach the printed record. How else to explain Searle’s apparent neglect of the straightforward, “obvious” routes we have mentioned?

No doubt it is idle, now, to speculate. But a factor that may well be relevant to the question of the recording of new routes is what appears to have been a certain tension between Searle and the Mountain Club.

We know that Searle was climbing from January 1892 at the latest, yet he joined the Club only in May 1894 – after having pioneered the left face. Strange, on the face of it, that delay. And, having become a Club member and being in the forefront of pioneering on Table Mountain, he was elected to the committee only in October 1896 – while in the interim some relative nonentities served on it. It may all mean nothing at all, but it is hardly suggestive of a warm rapport.

 

There is a curious document pasted into Gother Mann’s diary: a “Guide’s Certificate”, issued by “THE TABLE MOUNTAIN CLIMBING CLUB (INAUGURATED 1893)”. It certifies that Mann, “having successfully served the prescribed probationary period of twelve months”, is now “a careful, competent and reliable guide”. It is dated 1 February 1896, and is signed by Searle as President and Bolus as Secretary.

What are we to make of this pointer to a rival climbing club? Half a century later, it is true, Chignell dismissed the whole thing as having been just “an elaborate joke”, but it seems too elaborate by half for a mere joke, and by grown men at that, and one is therefore inclined to accept the “guide’s certificate” at face value, especially in view of Chignell’s doubtful explanation of yet another “joke” dating from those times. Was the TMCC in fact a synonym for “Jim Searle and Party”- a riposte, perhaps, to a perceived lack of commitment by the fledgling Mountain Club to serious rock-climbing? As we have seen, there was precious little pioneering work by the Club in 1892, and none at all in 1893. Did Searle therefore decide to go it alone, rather than look to this do-nothing crowd?

Contemporaneous developments in the Club itself might be invoked as lending support to this view. At the annual general meeting towards the end of 1896 Amphlett moved for the formation of a “Climbing Branch”, so that climbing activities could be “organised and systematised, and properly recorded”. Reading between the lines, one gets the impression that mountaineering and rock-climbing had been taking a back seat to the ‘picnic’ of the Club’s annual excursion (of which more below), and that there were those members who were determined to “remember the object” for which the Club had been established in the first place. Although the motion was carried, the new branch never got off the ground, perhaps because of a queer provision that its executive might not include members of the general committee. However, it is interesting to note that Bolus and Mann – both, as we have seen, belonging to the TMCC – were among its first office-bearers. (Searle himself had recently been elected to the general committee, and was therefore not eligible.)

Was the TMCC set up as a serious climbing club, in opposition to the lacklustre Mountain Club? And did Amphlett seek to recover the “lost sheep” by his Climbing Branch? We shall never know. But one fact stands out clearly: Searle’s pioneering climbs, so far as they were recorded, ended soon after they began. His name crops up in the Club’s records once or twice still, but in the context of rock-climbing the rest is silence.

What manner of man was he? We shall be seeing the darker side of his character in a moment. At this stage, and apropos of his climbing career, it may be pointed out that, for whatever reason, he was never in a rush to report his newly-opened routes. To be sure, he already had an admirable scribe in Rogers, whose articles in the Cape Times are a gem of vivid and accurate reporting, but, apart from a reprint of the article on Left Face in the 1895 issue, and a fleeting editorial reference to Saddle Face in the same number, there are no accounts by himself in the Annual. Indeed, when the Club approached him for an article on “Ascents of Table Mountain”, for publication in the 1896 issue, he was modest enough (or indolent, or indifferent) to hand the job over to Bolus.[vii]

Whatever his differences with the Mountain Club, they were over by late 1896, when he was elected to the committee. Six months later he was toasted at the annual dinner, and Gother Mann eulogised him as having done more for mountain climbing than any other of the Club’s members. Had fate not intervened he may well have gone on and reached still greater heights.

It was not to be. After his golden period of pioneer rock-climbing his name becomes increasingly infrequent in the Visitors’ Book on the lower plateau, and there is no record of any further climbing. One of his last appearances on the mountain top is in December 1896.  H Lewis Harris was leaving Cape Town for the Eastern Cape, and some twenty of his climbing friends gathered at the Ranger’s cottage to bid him adieu. It was a wet day, and they arrived at the cottage drenched. Both for their comfort and for respectability’s sake while their clothing was drying before the fire, they were given access to the Ranger’s wardrobe – and indeed his wife’s too. The party, some of them still strangely garbed, gathered outside when the rain was over, and today they peer at us out of a faded photograph, some of the leading climbers of the day: Jim Searle, in his trade-mark bowler hat; Alfred Bolus, proudly erect and with a rope coiled over his shoulder; Gother Mann, resplendent in white suit; Dr Marloth, clutching a botanical specimen; George Amphlett, bearded as always and with the usual cap; Lewis Harris, contemplating perhaps this ending to so many happy days on the mountain. Standing among these giants of our early mountain history is a youngster of 14, in cap and overlength jacket and holding some flowers. This is Brice Jackson and, at the back of the group, arms akimbo, bareheaded and in shirt sleeves, his slightly older brother George smiles self-assuredly at the camera.

For Jim Searle it must have been a fugitive return to those great days of 1894. The clouds had lifted, and the air was fresh with the scent of wet earth. It was good to be here.

But, far away to the north, other clouds were beginning to bank up on his life’s horizon.

SEARLE : CONCLUSION

The year 1896 was a time of troubles for Southern Africa: the Jameson Raid, the Mashona uprising across the Limpopo, and an outbreak of rinderpest that ravaged the country’s cattle population.

In a pre-emptive strike to stem the spread of the disease the Cape authorities seized and slaughtered all stock within the designated areas. Compensation was supposed to be paid to the owners, but communication between the parties seems to have lagged, and in the arid north west region of the Colony there were incidents of resistance to the measure. This was the spark that ignited the so-called “Langeberg Rebellion” there at the end of the year.

Counter-action by the authorities, which began as a simple police operation, soon exploded under the pressure of events into a full-blown military campaign. With little in the way of a standing army, the Colony called out its volunteer regiments, and the lonely region around Kuruman was soon echoing to the tramp of an expeditionary force comprising an array of regiments: the Cape Mounted Rifles (with artillery and two maxims), the Cape Mounted Police, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Rifles, Prince Alfred’s Guard, the Cape Town Highlanders, the Grahamstown Volunteers and the Kaffrarian Rifles, along with the Cape Field Artillery, the Diamond Fields Artillery, and commandos from Vryburg, Geluk and Gordonia.

After a long and far from brilliant campaign the uprising was crushed. The Bechuanaland Field Force was disbanded, and the “peacock soldiers” returned to their home towns and to a heroes’ welcome.

But in the Colony’s capital a strange and ugly rumour soon began to do the rounds. Someone, so the rumour ran, had brought back in his knapsack – not the marshal’s baton of Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, but something much more sinister – the head of a rebel leader.

So strong was the rumour and the speculation to which it gave rise that the Cape government moved quickly to defuse the issue. A board of enquiry was appointed to go into the matter and report back with speed. Its report, in the event, was never made public,[viii] but any need for this was in fact dispelled when the officer involved took it upon himself to make a clean breast of the affair.

A bizarre tale now unfolded. The second-in-command of the “rebels” had been killed fighting bravely against overwhelming colonial forces, and had been buried where he fell. But soon afterwards an officer had offered 5 pounds to any trooper who would bring him the man’s head. There was no lack of takers: the corpse was exhumed, and although the decapitation proved somewhat intractable it was eventually effected, whereupon the head was boiled with a view to preserving it. The officer brought it back with him to Cape Town – where, he now averred, he had intended to present it to the South African Museum for the purpose of scientific examination.

Such was the conduct of Captain James Searle.

People as a whole were less squeamish then than now, but an atrocity of this kind was beyond the pale. There was a public outcry orchestrated by the Cape Times, the upshot of which was that Searle was immediately cashiered. Coming after his 33 years in volunteer regiments, and involving the loss of all outstanding pay, this was public disgrace of a high order.[ix] His comrades in arms bade a sad farewell to “a brave and efficient officer”, who had distinguished himself in the field and had been mentioned in the campaign’s dispatches, but it is not difficult to picture his shame in the small Cape Town society of the time. The Mountain Club, where he was a member of the committee, did not join in the hue-and-cry, and in fact left him to chair a couple of the committee’s meetings, but when (in what one can only assume was an attempt to brazen things out) he ran for re-election, he was rebuked by the insignificant number of votes he polled. His name soon disappears from the membership roll – but not only, if indeed at all, on account of this martial aberration.

A man should be given the chance to redeem his errors. He had done a grievous thing, possibly in the heat of battle or its aftermath, but must he be forever ostracised? It is in fact quite possible that the rank and file of Cape Town citizens, as opposed to the establishment, were not especially upset by the affair, and were in any event prepared to accept him back into society after a decent interval, if not indeed at once.

But more was to come.

Being cashiered was a mortifying experience, but, after all, the peacock soldiers were just a part-time activity. He still had his high position in the Colony’s Post office – Controller of the Savings Bank.

But here, in fact, lay the seeds of his final downfall. Less than a year after the Bechuanaland affair. “In a weak moment”- so the trustees of his insolvent estate would put it – he “yielded to temptation” and took advantage of his position by diverting depositors’ money to his own account. He was tried on 13 counts involving forgery, uttering and theft, and convicted on two. The jury recommended leniency in view of “his previous good record of public service “, but the presiding judge was unmoved, and handed down the harsh sentence of three years’ hard labour. Searle, now hopelessly insolvent, would also have the humiliation of seeing his worldly goods attached by his angry creditors, and his family left destitute.[x]

After serving his sentence he left Cape Town for the Rand, where he lived with his son. But he was a broken man. The last sight we have of him, many years later, is as a commissionaire at the Michaelis Gallery in Greenmarket Square, “old and bowed”.

***

Did he think, as he paused for a moment when crossing the compound of the Roeland Street Goal and gazed up at the mountain towering above him, of those great pioneering days on the left and right faces, the Saddle corner, and the prominent ridge that now bore his own name? Did he again, but now in bittersweet memory only, stride carefree down the marshy path from Maclear’s Beacon, through the steep Backwater Gorge and on to the ever-welcome Ranger’s Cottage with its cluster of old friends, and then rattle down Kasteels Poort home? Did he feel once more the sense of triumph as his hand clutched a sharp hold and he hauled himself up the last pitch of a new route, to his companions’ crashing “Bravo!”

Captain James Searle. Brave but foolish soldier.

James Samuel Searle. Bearer of a proud name. An industrious and capable public servant, but dazzled by the accessibility of other men’s money.

But also Jim Searle, lover of Table Mountain, the pioneer of its sterner crags.

And the friend and mentor of the young George Jackson.


[i] The Union Route’s unpopularity may, however, have stemmed more from its lower sections, not done by Searle: a long chimney-gully, often wet, which raises the grade to “E”, and a couple of unpleasant cracks to the “north-west” on the way to the final section.

[ii] Its name is derived from the eccentric Michael Hiddingh, who lived close by in Newlands and who was well-disposed to the Club. It was previously known as Cannon Gorge.

[iii] Searle’s pitch through the penultimate rock-band was later allocated to Chockstone Gully, after an alternative pitch had been opened for Saddle Face. The name “polished rock” refers, not to any smoothness because of wear, but to a small section of quartzitic rock on the pitch.

[iv] A contemporary cragsman would have scoffed at this description. It is quoted to show how rock routes were perceived by others – even Presidents of the Club.

[v] It provides the most unhappy example of route naming in Table Mountain history. The first face that crowns the “corner” was climbed in 1899, making a “direct” route, while in 1905 a route was opened on a subsidiary and ill-defined buttress to the west, which however finished via the original recessed corner at the top. This latter route was given the lamentably unimaginative name of Saddle Corner A. In the Club’s 1931 route list, thus, three “Saddle Corner” routes were shown: Saddle Corner (direct route), Saddle Corner A, and Saddle Corner-Saddle A (combination route). In this way Searle’s Corner was downgraded, quite unjustifiably one could argue, to a mere composite route – whereas, following precedent (e.g. Platteklip Buttress, Right Face and Venster Buttress), the “direct” section could have been left as an optional extra to the lower-graded route. The appalling “Saddle Corner-Saddle Corner A” nomenclature, it is true, did not resurface in the 1952 route list, where Searle’s Corner is now shown as a “sub-route” and named Saddle Corner (Original Route). To avoid the confusion and sloppiness that reigns here the old name Searle’s Corner could well be revived.

[vi] For a modern description see Stanley Rose’s article in the MCSA Journal for 1950. He grades it “B”, but this is to underrate its difficulties.

– Left face                                             11 March 1894

– (Union Route)†                                    ?  March 1894

– Hiddingh – Wormhole              5 May 1894

– Saddle Face                                       ? 30 September 1894

– Fountain Ravine                                  7 October 1894

– Saddle Corner                         ? October 1894

– (Fir Tree Ravine)†                               ? Pre-1896

†The bracketed routes are the modern-day approximations to Searle’s route

[vii] Clearly not in the same class as the recent cartoon climber who is shown typing away on a barely distinguishable stance, while his partner mutters, “Can’t you wait until we get to the top before you write your article?”

[viii] Its progression has been traced in the Cape Archives, but it is missing from its proper file.

[ix] The very next year Kitchener overthrew the Mahdist state in Sudan. He had the Mahdi’s tomb blown up and his remains scattered over the Nile. One of his officers brought him the skull, which Kitchener thought of keeping as a memento. Queen Victoria was not amused; but Kitchener went on to high military academic, aristocratic and financial honours. As the jurists say, circumstances alter cases.

[x] It is a sad moment for the researcher, well familiar with the bold signature “J Searle” from the Table Mountain Visitors’ Book and the Mountain Club minutes, when he comes across it for the last time – at the bottom of the inventory of the goods to be attached by the Sheriff.

RISING STAR 1894 – 1899

Among the many exports from England to her Indian dependency in the early nineteenth century were several members of the Jackson family of Devon.

Their forebears were of old Saxon yeoman stock who had come to Devon towards the end of the sixth century and settled in the rich agricultural lands around Exeter, Crediton and Barnstaple, and in course of time built up a flourishing trade in wool and cloth, becoming merchant princes and graduating into gentry. But the English industrial revolution shifted this trade to Lancashire, and the prosperity of Devon declined.

In the manner of the time, younger sons of the gentry would gravitate into the Army, or sometimes the Church. The elite regiments with their aristocratic connections and the high premiums to be paid for the purchase of commissions, were normally out of the reach of minor landed families, who for fame and fortune were thus thrown back on the Honourable East India Company Service. So it was with the Jackson’s.

We may begin our family tree with  George Jackson, who was born in 1782 and rose to the rank of general in the army in India. He died at a good age, in 1866. Of his children, the four sons all went into the Indian army, and the three daughters all married into the military.

It is his third son, James Jackson, who provides the next link in our chain. Born c.1814, he attained the rank of colonel. His regiment was evidently stationed in the southern Indian province of Mysore, and about 1840 he married Mary, the daughter of John Bernard Travers, Chief Justice of Madras. It was evidently a step up in the social scale for James. Not only was his father-in-law a distinguished civil figure, but his mother-in-law was the daughter of a colonel – but this time a colonel of Hussars. And so it was that, according to his descendants today, he was obliged as a condition of the marriage to add his wife-to-be’s surname to any issue.

There were three children, a daughter and two sons. The one son died young, and it is with the second that we are now concerned.

George Francis Travers Jackson was born at Seringapatam c.1835. He would follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and join the Indian army, where he rose to the rank of captain and adjutant of his regiment.

But something put paid to his military career, for in the early 1870s he left India for the Cape Colony. It may have been the shake-up in things military following the so-called Indian Mutiny in the late 1850s, it may have been the lure of the newly discovered diamonds in South Africa. For whatever reason, he left his calling and his country of birth.

Cape Town at that time was a popular furlough stopover for the Anglo-Indian establishment, with Wynberg as their favourite haunt. It saved the expense and the time of the voyage back to England. So it is quite possible that Colonel James Jackson had spent some time there and knew something of South Africa. In the 1860s, furthermore there was a General Sir James Jackson who was commander-in-chief of the British forces there, and who seems to have been a relative – although at a higher social level, since he was a knight and had been colonel of the 6th Iniskillings Dragoons. However all that may be, George Francis now moved to the Cape.

It is difficult to trace his movements there. But by 1872 whatever dreams he may have had of making his fortune in the colony had apparently evaporated, for in that year he joined the Public Works Department in the lowly capacity of temporary draughtsman. On the face of it, rather a come-down for an officer and gentleman. One likes to think, however, that another dream had come true, and that his recourse to the PWD was in order to ensure that dream’s survival – for he had met and married Sarah Janet Graham, a young widow of 1820 Settler stock, who was also connected, through her sister’s marriage, with the prominent Heatlie family of the Worcester district in the Colony.

Three daughters were soon born to them. Perhaps too quickly, for the household was battling financially. For some reason now unknown, George Francis was never to be appointed to the permanent staff of the PWD, and had to make do with the wages of a temporary employee. There was also the extra expense attendant on transfers to Simon’s Town and Mossel Bay. The burden at length became insupportable, and in 1878 he was insolvent, with assets of 8 pounds to meet liabilities 326 pounds.

There was no maudlin sentiment regarding human dignity in those days, and an insolvent’s goods were likely to be attached down to the last farthing. The file dealing with this particular case contains a note by George Francis to his creditors, which after the passage of 120 years can still grip one with its pathos:

I take the liberty of requesting that you will be pleased to allow me to retain my bedroom furniture … for the use of my wife and family, viz.

 

1 bed and bedding

4 children’s cots and bedding

2 chests drawers

1 washstand and set

1 dressing table

1 looking glass

3 chairs

1 side table

1 commode

1 towel horse

 

To this cri de coeur the creditors’ reply is swift and brutal: scribbled on a scrap of paper, it tells him that they will allow nothing to be held back except the bedding.

Presumably, as an insolvent, he would have lost his post in the PWD. After 1877 his name disappears from the civil service directory published in the annual Cape Almanac, but it reappears in the 1880 edition, where he is now described as “Landing & Shipping Agent”- the last refuge, one imagines, of the genteel unemployed. But agents of this kind were then legion, and it could not have been an easy matter for a new man to establish himself in the field, especially when lacking (as far as we know) any special qualifications for the work. The very next issue of the Almanac shows his occupation as being simply “Clerk”.

It was in the midst of these domestic upheavals that his first son was born, on 5 May 1880, and christened George Francis Travers

 

The elder Jackson is a shadowy figure, but he seems to have been fond of the outdoors, not only for physical exercise but also for the purpose of sketching.[i] And so it was that, before his natal year was out, George filis was taken on a ramble up Table Mountain. It was not a great expedition, merely to Breakfast Rock at the entrance to Platteklip Gorge, but we may presume that it was just the first of many such outings, and the start of a mountaineering career that would span eight decades.

Much of that career would involve spectacular solo achievements, and in the light of this it is interesting to find him making his first solo ascent of Table Mountain at the early age of seven. It was, for someone of that age, a respectable achievement: up Slangolie Ravine and down Platteklip, especially when it is borne in mind that no Pipe Track as we now know it then existed. By the early 1890s, one may assume, he had climbed all the standard, easy routes of the time. The press-cutting book he kept in his youth contains the series “How to climb Table Mountain” from the Cape Times of late 1891, and he evidently had some contact with the new Mountain Club formed just then, for the book also contains its first circulars. His home in upper Hope Street in the Gardens district of Cape Town was well-sited for rambling on the northern slopes of the mountain and for quick access to the new Pipe Track and thus to the Apostles. It was, one imagines, his knowledge of Table Mountain, and his “long” climbing experience, that won him election to the Club in September 1894, at the young age of fourteen.

There is a tradition in the Club that it was Jim Searle who introduced him to rock-climbing. It may be so, although the scanty documentation does not provide evidence of this. That they knew each other is borne out by entries in the Ranger’s Visitors’ Book, but, as we have seen, he cannot be identified as one of the Searle party, at any rate on its pioneering climbs, with the one exception of Fountain Ravine. But as casting some doubt on the closeness of their relationship is the fact that it was not Searle who supported his application for membership – an omission, one is tempted

to say, reminiscent of the curious nocturnal behaviour of the dog in Sherlock Holmes’s “Silver Blaize” case. Instead, his sponsor was one W G Glennie, a founding member of the Club but one who does not seem ever to have risen to any prominence in it. His only known run for office, in 1895, secured him a derisory single vote. But a Mrs Glennie is shown as sharing the tenancy of the Jackson’s house in the later 1880s, and it may be that it was as a former neighbour that Glennie sponsored him, in which case he deserves to be remembered for his kind action for a youngster who was soon to loom large in Cape mountaineering.[ii]

Unfortunately we know little of that youngster’s infancy and early youth. Compulsory, and therefore free, school attendance was instituted in the Cape Colony in 1905 only, and, given his father’s shaky financial position, no doubt intensified in 1882 by the birth of a fifth child, again a son, the young George’s schooling is likely to have been brief. Not only would there have been little available for school – or tuition fees, but another source of income was urgently needed. In any case, only a handful of children in those days went as far even as Standard VIII, let alone Matriculation. Be that as it may, when he joined the Mountain Club at the age of a little more than fourteen he seems to have been employed by two or even three firms already. It may also be indicative of the family fortunes that he joined the Cape Garrison Artillery as a trumpeter in 1893 and remained there until shortly before the cut-off age of seventeen. These part-time soldiers received 10 pounds per year flat and 5/- per day for attendance at the two annual camps. It may simply have been a boy’s love of adventure, but, given the other factors we have mentioned, one suspects that the humble earnings played a part too. And, finally, from the fact that he did not follow his father into the civil service, to say nothing of a profession, we may take it that his educational attainments were modest – in line, let it once more be said, with those of the great majority of his peers.

He seems to have been an enthusiastic “collector”. By 1895 he had a case of insect specimens, which in that year he presented to the Club for use by its Natural History Section. Among his albums is a small one devoted to photographs of the Cape flora, and, as we have seen, from his pre-teen years he kept a press-cutting book of mountaineering items. But this is about all we can say of him at this stage of his life.

There are a few photographs in the Mountain Club archives that may include him, but the first indisputable one appears in the photograph album his father began for him in 1896. It was taken at Brandvlei near Worcester in 1896. He is dressed, perhaps, too formally for a climbing expedition, and one also imagines that it was taken by his father, who has written the caption. It shows a typically garbed late Victorian mid-teenager: knickerbockers, belted jacket, and cap. He stands on the bank of the hot spring lake, in a contemplative attitude.

In stature he would remain stocky, “like his Devonshire forebears”, but with a powerful physique. His eyes were sky-blue, and photographs suggest that this gaze was penetrating. By all accounts – Club documentation and family memories – he was always an early riser, and in the fashion of the times he was fond of a pipe.

We have a splendid studio picture of him, reproduced here. It was obviously presented to someone, and is dated in 1900, but the probabilities are that it was taken a few years earlier. If it says nothing else, it tells us that here is a young man fully caught up in the romantic view of mountaineering, and especially of cragsmanship.

It was a view that would clothe his long life.

***

His name surfaces in the Visitors’ Book on 18 September 1892, when he was 12. There is, unfortunately, no reference to the route he had followed. There is then a long period – over a year – in which he does not appear. Then, from Christmas 1893 onwards, it appears fairly frequently, alongside other early climbers’ names such as Austin, Hoal, Payne and Searle.

Absence of an entry in the Visitors’ Book does not of course mean that he was not active on the mountain, but, given the special position at this time of the Ranger’s Cottage as a general place of meeting, the long gap between his first and second entries – September 1892 to December 1893 – suggests that his rock-climbing adventures had not yet begun.

When they did begin it was with a memorable feat.

As we have seen, he was not with the Searle party in its groundbreaking opening of the left face in March 1894. But he was clearly in touch with some of them, for he immediately heard of their exploit. Piqued, perhaps, at having been left out in the cold, he promptly went off the very next weekend and did it for himself – not, it may be, the exact (and for that matter very indirect) line followed by Searle the week before, but certainly substantially the same. This time there was no ringing cheer of triumph when the flat summit was reached – just the bark of a solitary baboon, who quickly moved off at the sudden appearance of this boy of thirteen.

By definition it was not a first ascent of the route, but in the circumstances it could lay claim to being a very creditable second.

The sequel confirms our guess that he and Searle were in regular contact, for the latter, no doubt taken aback by this brash youngster’s offhand repeat performance, was not inclined to accept the story without more ado. He insisted that it be done yet again, and this time with himself as witness. And so, for the third weekend running, the left face was climbed – and Searle’s doubts were laid to rest.

A new star was rising in the Table Mountain firmament.

***

“We shape our buildings”, Winston Churchill once said in a speech on architecture,  “and then they shape us.” The maxim may be extended to institutions, and there can be little doubt that the young Jackson (as he would always be known to his fellow-members) was powerfully influenced by the ethos of the new Mountain Club. We should therefore pause for a moment to consider this body.

What sort of society was it? Largely, it would seem, a typical late-Victorian social association of the “improving” kind. Mountaineering and allied activities were naturally its driving force, but, in its approach to this form of activity, the Club in its primal guise displayed a strong seam of moral earnestness. Mountaineering was perceived as not simply another sport but as being a recreational activity imbued with seriousness and a high moral purpose. It was, certainly, a sport – (indeed, “the noblest of sports, and the most health-giving form of bodily exercise discovered yet by man”), but it went much further than that. It had aesthetic, moral and even spiritual overtones. A few quotations from Club speeches in those days may usefully be cited here.

At a dinner in 1894 William Philip Schreiner, brother of famed novelist and feminist Olive Schreiner and later to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, discoursed on the “ethical aspect” of the Club – which was, in his view, the vital one. Mountaineering

taught men hardihood, it taught them self-restraint, it taught them endurance, it taught them high ambition. It had always a lofty aim. There was nothing small about mountaineering. A man could not be a good mountaineer unless he was prepared to face difficulties, perhaps actual risk and danger, and to maintain temperance and moderation in his daily habits. (Mountaineering was also good) in that it counteracted the tendency to be satisfied with the average and the mediocre, rather than that which was excellent and lofty.

George Thomas Amphlett was the one par excellence to echo this theme. The mountaineer’s pleasures, he asserted, were largely of a moral and intellectual nature: high aspirations, mutual trust, unselfishness, and these in turn inspired poetry, imagination and reverence. Indeed, the mountaineer had the high privilege of entering Nature’s most sacred places, and he did so in reverence and in harmony with “the great spirit” that pervaded “the eternal hills”.

One of his fellow-mountaineers moved mightily by the poetry was a Rev A Vine Hall, who over many years would deliver a great volume of verse, including a whole book with Table Mountain as its subject, beautifully illustrated with early colour reproductions of floral art. Speaking at a Club dinner in 1905, at which time he was President of the short-lived Suburban Mountain Club, he extolled mountaineering for its aesthetic by-products. There were, he averred, many things that currently vulgarised life, and to these there was no better antidote than the mountains. A mountain was itself a poem, indeed, a sacred poem, nay, a temple of God.[iii]

These effusions were not mere unbuttoned post-prandial oratory in the manner of the time, but the deeply-held convictions of men with a high profile in public life. Nor were they the passe mouthings of parochial colonials, a similar underlying philosophy of the mountains could be found back “Home” in England. Thus Geoffrey Winthrop Young, great English Mountaineer and doyen of mountain writer, could say – as late as 1914 – that mountaineering was

no simple outlet for an athletic impulse, and no selfish indulgence in a game which has the demerit of risking lives, (but) an education alike in self-development and in self-subordination; a discipline of character, of infinite variety in its demands and in its reactions upon strength, endurance, nerve, will, and temper…; a test of personality for which no preparation may be considered excessive, and a science for whose mastery the study of all our active years is barely sufficient.

Moral and religious sentiment, and certainly a nature-mysticism, were nothing out of the ordinary in the Victorian and even Edwardian era, and it would be easy to multiply such examples of a baring of the soul. In later and more blasé times a reaction would take root in British mountaineering circles against what flippantly or contemptuously was dubbed “the cult of Alpine Uplift”, but to the men we have quoted there was no embarrassment or self-consciousness in speaking of the things of the spirit, or alluding to the Architect of the Hills. The Mountain Club, indeed, was simply reflecting the broader society, in which it lived and moved and had its being. A homely instance will bear this out: at the official opening of the Woodhead Reservoir on Table Mountain’s lower plateau in 1897 there was a military band in full-uniformed attendance, the Union Jack was raised, the Archdeacon of Cape Town conducted prayers, Sir John Woodhead descanted on “this noble work” and invoked the divine blessing on it, and the meagre audience sang the national anthem and the Doxology. All this for a small storage dam tucked away out of sight up the mountain.

Mountaineering, in short, was a lofty pursuit. Its beneficial influence was exerted in two ways: as an activity for the individual it was a school for the development of character, and in its corporate form it was a wellspring of service to the community, above all in its search-and-rescue operations. In the officers it elected the Club would be careful to ensure that this chord would continue to be struck.

And what of its membership? Mountaineering, as it had developed back “Home” by the late nineteenth century, was pre-eminently a sport for the gentleman. That fixed sun in the heavens of organised mountain climbing, the Alpine Club in London, was notorious for its attitude to those handicapped by an inadequate social background. This was, perhaps, understandable when the Alpine climbing of the day presupposed both means and leisure, since those lacking these were scarcely likely to be welcomed into, or to feel at home in, that club’s august ranks of patricians, dons, scientists, clergymen  et hoc genus omne. This class dimension emerges with engaging frankness at an 1898 address by a veteran alpinist and sometime President of the Alpine Club, who saw mountaineering as

a sport that from some mysterious cause appeals mainly to the cultivated intellect. ’Arry and ‘Arriet will never climb a hill.

The Club in Cape Town, however, had no pretensions or prejudices of this sort. It was a body analogous not to the Alpine Club but to the growing number of English and Scottish climbing clubs founded in the 1890s, whose membership for the most part consisted of young people who climbed not by “season” but in their spare time, and moreover close to home. To the great bulk of them the Alps were another world. So too at the Cape. The “mountain” in the Club’s name meant for all practical purposes Table Mountain, with one or two other Peninsula peaks as camp followers. There might well be the occasional trip to the Boland peaks, probably as guests of the appropriate country section of the Club, and there were even one or two members who had climbed overseas, but to the rank and file the “Grand Old Mountain” (an echo of W G Gladstone, the “Grand Old Man” of the Victorian political arena) was their alpha and omega. Neither means nor leisure was a prerequisite, and the Club was thus never plagued with a consequential probing of its members’ classifications on the social scale. In any event, colonial society was mercifully free of the preoccupation with class that dominated social relations in the Mother Country. With Cape Town as the Colony’s capital, it is not surprising that civil servants were well represented in the Club’s ranks, and there was a good sprinkling of mercantile and professional men but an analysis of the early membership rolls, which often give the member’s business address, indicates many from humble backgrounds.

Membership would have had a wide appeal, as it offered recreational, athletic, scientific and social opportunities. The Club’s long list of worthy objectives could provide something for a range of individual tastes and interests, in addition of course to mountain climbing itself. The “Objects” of the Club, indeed, stamped it as not just another sports body but one that had taken up several self-imposed tasks in the broad public interest:

(BOX: OBJECTS OF THE CLUB)

Any club or kindred body emerging in the late Victorian era would have been conscious of the need for an imprimatur that would endow it with respectability and make it acceptable to the conservative echelons of its public. Its principal officers, certainly, would have to be pillars of the community. If they were also active mountaineers, so much the better, but the overriding desideratum was a good public profile. And so it was that for several years the top posts would be held by men who, while they might enjoy an occasional outing up Table Mountain or do a bit of amateur botanising, could hardly be regarded as mountaineers in the sense in which that, admittedly somewhat imprecise, term is normally used.

The Club’s constitution provided for a President of the Club as a whole, while each Section could elect up to three Vice-Presidents. It will be instructive to look at the earliest incumbents of these posts.

The first President, elected soon after the Club’s formation, was Sir James Sivewright, the Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works. His name does not appear in the list of those who attended the Club’s launch, and it is a fair presumption that – quite apart from question of ability or personality – he was invited in as President with an eye to problems of mountain access, which were already casting their shadow. An expert in the field of telegraphy, he had been knighted for his services in that sphere during the Zulu War of 1879. He was a man of considerable financial means, and owner of the well-known Lourensford Estate at Somerset West. He was also a keen “sportsman” as that term was then understood. He proved to be an admirable choice for the post, and occupied it for several years, despite his involvement in certain political transactions that raised a (partisan) question mark over his integrity. His presidency he ranked as the most gratifying of the various honorary posts that had come his way, and he was always the Club’s ardent advocate. By his own admission, however, he was scarcely a mountaineer.

Turning briefly to the three Vice-Presidents, whom one might have expected to be active rather than ornamental figures, we begin with Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Fuller. He was born in 1831, and was thus a man of ripe years on his election in 1891. Ordained as a Baptist minister, he had soon forsaken that calling and entered secular life. He edited the Cape Argus in the 1860s, and in the 1870s was the Cape Colony’s emigration commissioner in London. Returning to Cape Town, he became chief agent there for the Union Steam Ship Company, which in later years merged with the rival Castle Line to become Union-Castle. He would go on to become a director of De Beers. He also served on the Cape Town Council, the Table Bay Harbour Board, and the council of the South African College, forerunner of the University of Cape Town. His biography of Rhodes (“Cecil Rhodes: a Monograph and a Reminiscence”, London, 1910) was published posthumously. He contributed an evocative article on Table Mountain to R W Noble’s “the Cape and its People”, published in Cape Town in 1869, and extract from which is quoted in our first chapter above.

Lachlan Maclean arrived in South Africa in 1877, to act for Donald Currie’s recently formed Castle Line of mail steamers. When the two lines merged in 1900 he became chief agent in South Africa for the combined enterprise. He was active in various spheres of public life, and was an early and enthusiastic protagonist of wild life conservation, at a time when such things were of scant concern to ”sportsmen” after a bag. He was also a tireless promoter of trout at the Cape, and did much to introduce the fish to local rivers. It was through his efforts that trout flourished for a brief period in the Woodhead and Hely-Hutchinson dams on Table Mountain just prior to the First World War. All in all he was a popular and influential figure in the Cape community.

We unfortunately know little of Leo Marquard, the third of the three Vice-Presidents, but he held the important post of Surveyor-General of the Colony – a useful man, obviously, to help head the Club. He was an avid collector of ferns.

These four men of standing, then, constituted the Club’s primary public profile. There were other officials, such as the Honorary Secretary, who were also of importance in this regard, but the point need not be laboured. With men such as these, the new body was soon established as a worthy Cape Town institution.

It was from this base that the young George Jackson would launch his spectacular climbing career.

***

We may assume that Jackson, now a member of the Club would soon catch up on any of the routes up Table Mountain he may have missed. But he was soon to branch out on his own.

Table Mountain at that time offered a wonderful field for exploration and pioneering. The Camps Bay side, in particular, with its many sharp buttresses, would have been a cragsman’s paradise. His first essays in new routes would however take place on the northern front.

The earliest one we can assign to him was Silverstream Buttress (with Harold Austin, 20.7.1895). The route follows the easy continuing ridge of Silverstream Ravine, but permits of considerable latitude. Only on the steep final cliff is there no way of outflanking the rock. In earlier days the route is shown as having two approaches: the one that is usual today, hugging the crest of the buttress all the way from the bottom, and another that joins the crest about half way up, having started in the neighbourhood of the lower sections (the gully) of today’s Silverstream Face, However, with the opening of new routes in that area this alternative approach to the Buttress fell away. The route is graded “D”, but is one of the easiest of that class on the mountain.

(BOX : SILVERSTREAM BUTTRESS)

Next came Chockstone Gully (with Harold Payne, 17.11.1895). This short route overlooks the Saddle, and is easily located by the massive chockstone from which it takes its name. In the Club’s earlier days it was regarded as a variation of Saddle Face, or at best one of a group of four routes sharing the same origin: Ledges, Chockstone Gully, Springs, and Saddle Face proper. The negotiation of the chockstone is tricky and can be amusing to a watcher, but, like its three partners, the route is on excellent rock with sharp holds. It was initially graded ”C”, but has long been ranked with the (easy) “Ds”.

Both these routes involve only a relatively short section of rockwork. But Jackson was now to open the first of four long and difficult rock routes on the north front that would become instant “classics”. And open it, moreover, alone.

Platteklip Buttress (1895, exact date unknown) follows the imposing western containing wall of Platteklip Gorge. On the first ascent Jackson finished the climb to the right of the great “nose” that dominates the final section. On a later occasion he finished this section by a wormhole on the Gorge side, which is now the standard way. The route is a good “D”.

(BOX : PLATTEKLIP BUTTRESS)

So much for his first year of pioneering, 1895. It was an impressive opening score: three new rock routes of a good standard, all of them to become very popular – as attested to by the nail-marks they still carry. And done by a youngster of fifteen. And the most serious of them done solo. His ascent of the left face the year before, which Searle had found so hard to swallow, had been no fluke.

The year 1896 would also see him produce three new routes, but this time a rather mixed bag. Two were straightforward easy ravines, suitable for ramblers; the third would become the most popular open-face climb on Table Mountain.

Rooikat Ravine (with Payne, precise date unknown) lies between Kirstenbosch and Constantia Nek, and is the deepest ravine on that part of the mountain. For some unaccountable reason the name was changed in the 1930s to “Cecilia Gorge”. It is clothed in indigenous forest, and has an attractive waterfall about half way up, which is covered in red disas from late January to early March. If, as is usual, the waterfall is outflanked, the grade is “A”.

Porcupine Ravine (with Searle, exact date unknown) is very different in character: a wide, stony ravine on the hot western flank of the mountain, just south of Blinkwater, and without a single tree. It was not particularly well patronised in its early years, but the growing popularity of the “Slanting Route”(today’s “Diagonal”), with which it shares the same start, began a process of erosion in its lower section, which is now dangerously loose in places. It is graded “A”, although the small rock pitch at its head seems to warrant a “B”. There is a magnificent viewsite at the top, overlooking Blinkwater Needle and Blind Gully, after which the path takes one into the picturesque but curiously named Ark Valley.

In marked contrast to these two ravine rambles on the lower reaches of the mountain was the third of the 1896 routes: a long and difficult open-face climb on the towering northern front.

Right Face (with Austin, 22.11.1896) follows the prominent “bulge” running up the centre of the western Table and earlier referred to as “the central buttress” on that part of the mountain. If this buttress is strictly adhered to, as was done on this first ascent, it ranks as a good “E”, by virtue of its middle section, known as the “Yellow Patch”. This section can however easily be outflanked to the left, and the buttress regained after a stretch of slope. This is the via normale, and it reduces the grade to “D”- but a good one.[iv]

Here, and quite unequivocally, was climbing of a standard that would later be designated ”Severe”. In both its technical demands and its physical character – a long, steep and exposed pitch – the Yellow Patch section was far beyond anything of Searle’s. But even apart from its solid technical achievement Jackson’s Right Face route marks a milestone in Table Mountain cragsmanship. As a later climber would remark, this central buttress seemed “the most inaccessible route on the mountain”,

the summit of our mountaineering ambitions from the first time we toiled up Platteklip Gorge. At one time I had no more hope of climbing the Right Face than I had of flying to the moon.

Here was a route that in its upper sections promised no easy escape line. To the right lay the fearsome gulf of the Africa amphitheatre, and to the left the great undercut cliffs sealing off the slopes of (the later) Union Ravine. Nor did the route, when viewed from afar, suggest much in the way of the cracks and gullies with which the Left Face was so well endowed. Once begun on this upper section the climber would be confronted by one steep face after the other, and would have to surmount them all.

But, as is so often the case, when once on the spot the perceived difficulties begin to disappear. Face work it certainly is, but the faces are so weathered that even the longest stretches can be climbed with confidence by a guided beginner. The route has, indeed, a magnetic attraction for the rock-climbing tyro, as a way straight up the formidable front face of the mountain, with – literally – a final step from its crags to the summit plateau. A frontal route par excellence.

A popular classic today, it was a quantum leap in cragsmanship in 1896, especially when the rudimentary technique and primitive equipment of the time are borne in mind. It was on this first ascent, Jackson would recall, that

I saved Austin from a certain death. On the last open face he suddenly slipped and caught hold of my foot. At the same moment I made a grab at his shoulder, and steadied him until we reached a small ledge a few feet higher.

This place – we do not know where it was – would always be referred to as “Austin’s Rock”. If the account suggests that the two were climbing unroped, and on an unknown route at that, we can only say that this seems to have been the normal, or close to normal, practice. But we shall examine the whole question later.

(BOX : RIGHT FACE)

That then the score for 1896: three. The next year would produce no less than twelve, covering all three sides of the mountain. We shall deal with them not chronologically but topographically, in what is now the accepted convention of an anti-clockwise movement starting at Constantia Nek.

Finsteraar Crack (with G Hoal, precise date unknown) is the prominent deep cleft on the southern flank of Fernwood Buttress, overlooking Window Gorge. It is technically easy (“B+”), but abounds in objective dangers such as dampness, earth, loose stones and rotten rock. These dangers, coupled with the steep and bush-choked slope after the Crack ends, have ensured that it has never been popular. But it is an interesting example, of which there are few on Table Mountain, of a route that follows a distinct fault line. Its name is said to come from its gloomy interior.

(BOX : NORMAN’S ACCOUNT – February 17th 1907)

…. we looked around for fresh worlds to conquer on the Suburban side.  The Finsteraar Crack at once arrested our attention; very few climbers appear to have done it, and there is an air of romantic adventure about the name itself – Finsteraar, darkness, gloom – which seems to give the climb some faint relationship with the giant of the Bernese Oberland, the towering Finsteraarhorn itself.

… We had to find the crack, for we had never seen it before and knew nothing about it save Jackson’s slight description of it in the list of Table Mountain ascents.

A stream by the wayside tempted us almost at once, and, after a half or perhaps an hour’s duration, we tried another path, which ended in a wire fence and a private garden.  So we found our way back to the road and tramped briskly along until we came to the gate at Bishopscourt.

Passing the Mountain Club notice board pointing out the way to the Skeleton Gorge, we left “Kirstenbosch”, a dismal ruin where once stood one of the prettiest little farmsteads in the Peninsula, behind and followed various more or less well-marked paths under the trees, until we came to a stream.  A short halt here and we pushed on again, struggling through the thick prickly bush that abounds on these slopes.  In these struggles I lost my cap; this was unfortunate, as the fierce sun of a South African summer is not to be trifled with. However I made a cap out of a pocket handkerchief, and this proved a very efficient substitute.  Our route to the final waterfall in Window Gorge was the same as last Sunday, and we arrived at our former halting place at about the same time.

While we sat on the big polished rocks ….. a picnic party arrived and effectively drove away the peace and quietness of the spot.

What with the shouts of the disa-pickers on the ledge above and the strident blasts of a bugle blown by some vandal further down the ravine, we were not sorry to pack up our traps and set off in search of the crack “of darkness named”.

The first ledge we got to ended in a sheer drop, and the second merged with the cliff after a short distance.  There is no mistaking the dangerous nature of the Suburban slopes.  The precipices are so masked by luxuriant vegetation that the utmost care is needed. The first ledge we tried was covered with wild blackberry, and yet it overhung as nasty a drop as one could wish for.  However we took no risks, and, after retracing our steps three times, we struck the right path and came in sight of the Crack.

It looked very fine from below, a perfect little gorge between two imposing buttresses, the tints of the crags from grey to reddish brown contrasting beautifully with the green vegetation.

We scrambled up the bed of the crack until we came to a convenient resting place.  Here we halted ….., speculating on the difficulties that were before us.

At first there was nothing very much in the climb, though hands and feet were both needed in the ascent of some eight feet of wet rock, and we early became acquainted with the loose nature of the rock on this route.  A short trudge up the scree of the crack and the serious climbing began.

A small greasy crack on the right had to be negotiated and there, for the first time, we took off our rucksacks.  Nunn led up the crack and I soon followed, stepping across to the left on to some small grassy ledges.  Scott tried the left side of the lower pitch but found it too difficult and had to follow our route up the crack.  Above, the pitch continued very steeply, and Nunn fumbled about for some minutes without making headway.  At last he took off his bag, and I handed him the rope, after which he tried again and this time was successful.  Our rucksacks were hauled up and I followed.  The holds were small and awkward, and the left wall of the pitch bulged out so as to force the body into a most uncomfortable position.  After a little examination however holds were found and I climbed over the top, landing on a small platform with more difficulties looming up ahead.  While awaiting Scott’s ascent we had plenty of time to admire the scenery, which was really fine.  The crack was certainly not dark in the sense that we expected, though the contrast between its cool depths and the blazing sunlight outside was sufficiently striking.  From our ledge we could see down to the bed of the bushy gully below, and on either hand the square massive walls of the crack framed the view.

The angle of the crack continued very steep but the climbing slackened for a bit, until we came to the next pitch.

A stiff little pull up10 feet of vertical rock on the left caused us some trouble, and we arrived at the foot of a chimney. Nunn slowly forced his way up this, sending down showers of dirt.  At last the rope stopped moving, and I fastened on the bags and up they went. The stones in this chimney were appallingly loose, and each man had to wait until the one in motion had climbed right out of the crack, before starting his ascent.  I worked up slowly, and when I was nearly up I heard an ominous rattle above.  A warning shout from Nunn and the noise ceased.  Neither Scott or (sic) I could hope to escape falling stones in that narrow chimney, and for a few seconds the situation was distinctly exciting.  At last I reached good standing ground on the trunk of a tree within five feet of the top of the chimney.  This last bit was covered with loose stones of all sizes, ready to fall on the slightest provocation.

I called to Scott to come up, and, when he reached my level, I drew myself out of the crack with the greatest care, avoiding the loose stones like the plague.  Scott came up easily, and we had safely negotiated a very ticklish piece of climbing.

Now came one of those delightful bits of work that abound on this Suburban side, a struggle up a steep earthy pitch, covered with grass, decaying vegetation and moss, with nothing reliable to hang on to.  This bit accomplished we arrived at the last obstacle, which proved to be the stiffest of all so far as we were concerned.

This was a chimney some eighteen feet high.  The start off was very smooth indeed, and Nunn had a hard job to get up it.  He traversed to the left and so up to the top, Scott following straight up the chimney, which necessitated some severe squeezing on his part.  I came last, and my first attempt failed, owing to a handhold giving way at a critical moment.  There was no foothold to start with and the handholds were high above my head; these were knife edges of rock, not too secure and very sore on the fingers.  A stiff pull up enabled me to get my back against the narrower middle part of the chimney.  A moment’s suspense and I gained a decent foothold and stepped round on to the small ledge which Nunn had utilised, climbing over some earthy ledges to the top.  No more difficulties remained, and we sat down in a shady nook and divided a “spaanspec” between us feeling well satisfied with our climb …

Wormhole Ravine (with H Payne, exact date unknown). This is the  narrow ravine – more a gully in places – separating Protea Buttress from Wormhole Buttress. We have already encountered its upper section, as part of the Hiddingh-Wormhole combination route. It has always been regarded as a particularly unattractive proposition, consisting as it does of unpleasant waterfalls (where these are climbable at all), with roots, bush and grass as the main holds. It is rated “E”.

(BOX : WORMHOLE RAVINE)

Grassy Ravine (with H W Wright, exact date unknown), is similar to the last route but is less enclosed. It runs more or less parallel to Fir Tree Ravine, and likewise finishes at Fir Tree. The silver torrents rushing down these two watercourses after heavy rain are a familiar and impressive sight, but as climbs there is little to recommend them. But since virtually nothing appears on them in the Mountain Club literature, two graphic accounts by George Londt are here reproduced at some length:

(BOX : LONDT’S ACCOUNTS)

Els Ravine (with G Hoal, exact date unknown) is the southernmost of the three ravines leading to the Saddle, it is an easy “C”, well wooded in its lower half. Thick undergrowth in its upper sections, however, has militated against any great popularity, and a recent landslip there has made the route dangerous. It is noted for the splendid caves in the red shale of its southern containing wall.

Dark Gorge (with S H Hoal, November), is the small but deep ravine that divides Table Mountain from Devil’s Peak (although the Mountain Club convention is to make Dark Gully to the north the boundary).

A popular route, graded “B”, it has shade, water for most of the year, sylvan beauty, and some impressive rock scenery at its head. There was once a good, protected cave about half way up, it was built by Jackson, but it is now in ruins.

Arrow Face (27.6.1897, alone). Of all the routes pioneered by Jackson, this is the one most indelibly associated with his name. He was to do more difficult climbs, alone or with others, but none had so dramatic an impact as this.

Our mountain-contemplating layman down in the city, whom we last met in the Searle period, will now return, have his say, and take his last bow.

You ask me which is the most impressive part of the Mountain? Why, that’s easy! Run your eye along its whole great length, from east to west: and there it is! Look – where the long stretch of the table comes to a sudden shuddering stop and brushes against space – where the whole mountain narrows and finishes as a great promontory looking out to sea. That squared-off corner – one big slab of vertical rock – no one’ll ever get up that!

And if he for once in his life quit his theorising, abandoned his comfortable street and actually climbed the mountain (say by Kloof Corner, and certainly with a guide), he would find his selection confirmed in his mind as he stood under the great slab itself. Today the cable station perched atop it, and the cables stretched overhead, have gone far to rob it of the sense of awe that gripped the early climbers as they stopped here and gazed upwards, but even now it retains something of its primal wonder.[v]

Of course, this magnificent slab would itself have acted as a challenge to the bolder spirits in the Club, and it comes as no great surprise to learn that Searle had had it in his sights. But he had never come to grips with it, and so, for a generation and more, the honour of having been the first man up would go to Jackson.

We shall return, towards the end of our narrative, to some important issues regarding this route. Our concern now is to seek to untangle a problem associated with the evolution of its precise line.

The final slab is the last of the three sections constituting the route. The lowest section is a particularly impressive buttress with two wings, sheer and capped in places by ugly overhangs. The great slab is only the final section of a three-part route. Above this section a band of slope, actually the shoulder between the Africa and India ravines, leads to a second but much narrower buttress, divided by a prominent fissure. The route here lies up the left side, where a large painted arrowhead will be found – the last of the several “signposts”, painted there in the 1890s, from which the route takes its name.

For many years the route known by the Mountain Club as Arrow Face consisted of these two sections only. It finished where Kloof Corner does, and Fountain Ledge was then followed to the summit. The very name “Arrow Face” was slow to make its appearance.  In the first few references to it in the extant Jackson diaries, the route is simply “the face above the Molteno reservoir”. The first mention of “Arrow Face” is in the diary for 23 December 1900.

What’s in a name? But more than names are at issue in our attempt to reconstruct the original route up this part of the mountain. Early Club literature indicates a long ledge traverse from left to right on the eastern wing of the lowest buttress, ending near the centre of the buttress, from which the route continues via a clearly visible chimney. This section was, however, straightened out in 1914, from which time the official route omits the traverse, raising the grade from ”D” to “E” in the process.

But did Jackson’s original route in fact include the traverse? There is some doubt, for in 1902, five years after the pioneer ascent as we have it, he records that

Wright and myself ascended Arrow Face. We continued up the wall above the Molteno reservoir, at the end of which we turned along for about two hundred yards to our left and climbed the buttress from that point, and then followed our ordinary route to the Fountain Rock.

And the next year he writes that he

Took Cook and Gordon up Arrow Face including the lower portion, they being the third and fourth (climbers) to do this bit.

By 1905 this ledge traverse had become established. But where, if anywhere, did the route originally lie up this lower buttress? The material available does not give any clue.

The two lower buttresses provide enjoyable climbing, but the romance of the route as finally evolved lies in the final section. Jackson himself repeated that section a few times, always alone, and including a descent. But the latter he swore never to repeat, for he felt that his last day had come. It was left alone by everyone else for some thirteen years, and when it was again climbed the party involved had recourse to combined tactics. Thereafter there was a flurry of ascents, and the daunting reputation of the route vanished for ever. “Ladies” were taken up it, and moonlight climbs became the in thing. It is graded “E”.

(BOX : ARROW FACE)

India Face (with Harold Austin, 24.9.1897) lies up the rocks at the head of India Ravine and ends at the 11-inch Crack. The climb was not recorded by Jackson, and so has always been credited to Fraser and party, who made what they took to be the first ascent in 1917. Although the two routes are perhaps not identical, their grade is probably the same – “D”. Apart from the fact that it provides a “finish” to India Ravine the route is rather featureless, and hardly worth the long slog from the waterfall at its base. Its neighbour Venster Buttress is a much better proposition as a way to the Kloof Corner ridge.

Grotto Ravine (with H Austin and H W Wright, exact date unknown). This is the long ravine to the immediate north of Blinkwater Ravine. Neglected today, it was once very popular as an easy direct way to the top of Platteklip. It lies more on the buttress to the south (Grotto Buttress) than in the ravine itself, but nonetheless enjoys shade for a long time. The rock scenery of the left hand containing wall is among the best on the mountain, and from where the path finally reaches the crest of Grotto Buttress there are sweeping views to the south, over the gulf of Blinkwater Ravine. It ranks as an easy “B” because of an initial pitch on Fountain Peak Buttress, which outflanks a waterfall in the ravine proper.

Stinkwater Needle (with H Payne, precise date unknown).[vi] An excellent “D” climb, and probably the finest arête on the mountain. An outstanding feature is the rock formation known as the Indian Gates – one of the few gendarmes we have. The ridge is meant to be kept to throughout, although most of the obstacles – including the Gates – can be walked around. Just below the summit of the Needle is a recessed crack of about 35 feet, which is not regarded as part of the route but which provided an exciting finish, raising the grade to “E”. It was first climbed by Jackson,  alone, on 27 May 1906. Sadly, it was to be the scene of the first fatal accident to a Club member, and a faint inscription can still be traced in the rock face, marking the spot.

(BOX : STINKWATER NEEDLE)

Jubilee Ravine (with H W Wright, 13.6.1897) A narrow ravine separating Jubilee – from Barrier Buttress. The cave waterfall at the bottom must obviously be outflanked. The route then follows the bed of the ravine, including several waterfalls of varying difficulty, until the big waterfall at the top is reached, where the usual route veers off on to Barrier Buttress, and inclusion of the fall raises it to “E”. This section was first climbed by J W Fraser, on 10 January 1915. The name is derived from Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, 1897. The route is virtually never climbed today.

Barrier Ravine (1897, exact date unknown, alone). A wide, open ravine on the south of Barrier Buttress unobstructed except for a narrow band of rock near the bottom. Although short, some 60 feet, this is the formidable obstacle from which the ravine takes its name. It ranks as “D+”, and is much in use today as a quick abseil descent. The route itself, which is otherwise a straight walk up steep slope, is probably never intentionally climbed.

Slangolie Buttress (with H W Wright, precise date in 1897 unknown) was long held in awe as the masterpiece of exposed climbing on Table Mountain. It rears its massive bulk on the southside of the ravine of the same name, presenting a sharp crest to the sea, that narrows towards the top into a sensational knife-edge. Jackson’s route makes use of a shallow gully to the left of this crest, before moving on to the crest itself. The route was straightened out in 1911 so as to follow the crest throughout, but both ways are ranked “E”. A classic frontal route on sound rock.

So much for 1897 and its twelve new routes, two of which – Arrow Face and Stinkwater Needle – would become classics.

In contrast to these attractive and popular routes, two of those he tackled in 1898 may easily rank as among the most repulsive on the mountain.

Kloof Buttress (with Hal Wright, 12.6.1896) runs up the sheer triangular wall of rock that lies below the western termination of the Kloof Corner ridge. The major section of the route is a long chimney-gully, clearly visible from Camps Bay, which ends on a grassy ledge high up. The route then veers to the right, to finish between the enormous overhanging boulders at the apex of the triangle.

It has always had a somewhat evil reputation. Its technical difficulties are open to debate[vii] (although it is graded “F”), but there is agreement on the unreliability of the rock. It has never been popular.

Completely different to Kloof Buttress in character is Fernwood Gully on the eastern side of the mountain – an ugly-looking rock corridor that slices Protea Buttress clean away from Fernwood Buttress. From the southern suburbs it appears anything but inviting, but no cragsman will be content with a distant view, and so it was that in December 1898 a party of four made for the forbidding cleft. The de jure leader was probably Amphlett, but Jackson was put in front. Amphlett’s vivid account is worth quoting in full (box).

(BOX : AMPHLETT’S ARTICLE FROM ANNUAL)

This account, and perhaps still more the photo accompanying it, was enough to deter any other attempts for some seven years.

It was Jackson’s first defeat.

Two uninviting routes. But 1898 also produced another north front classic.

Let us indulge in whimsy for a moment and think that it was with the repellent Kloof Buttress fresh in mind that Jackson turned back to the scene of his happier exploits – the western Table. He had since done the three prominent buttresses there: the eastern one (Platteklip Buttress), the central (Right Face) and the western (Arrow Face). In that sense this part of the mountain was “finished”. But, at the level of the present-day Contour Path, there is a fourth prominent buttress, wide at its base but narrowing higher up so as to pinch out about half-way up the great northern face. To a tidy mind, we may suppose, this buttress would naturally beckon, even if it didn’t seem to promise a “distinct route” in the sense then current.

He climbed it, alone, on 3 July 1898, and named it Platteklip Face.

The route on the “buttress” section is easy and obvious enough, but the upper sections, where the buttress peters out and one has to take to the face to the immediate right of Platteklip Buttress, is such as to puzzle the climber coming to it for the first time. Certainly there are accounts, dating from the early part of the twentieth century, that suggest that the route was by no means obvious, and as late as 1922 J W Fraser took it upon himself to sort out the confusion. Variations do exist on this upper portion, but they do not materially affect its “E” grading. It is a grand climb on sound rock.

One other route dates from 1898: a gentle scramble, in complete contrast to the three we have just described. Cairn Face (with Harold Austin, 13.11.1898), nowadays known as Cairn Ravine, lies chiefly up the first ravine to the south of the Kloof Corner ridge. The ravine portion peters out high up, but the route then cleverly penetrates the cliffs above to reach Fountain Ledge. It is ranked ”B+”. The name is derived from a cairn built on one of the higher ledges in 1900 to mark the spot where the skeleton was found of a rambler missing since 1897. Although not popular today because of the long and bushy approach from the Pipe Track, it is a pleasant and interesting route, replete with shade and water.

***

We may pause here to remark that it was his north front climbs that firmly established Jackson’s reputation as a cragsman. Even today the names of his routes are redolent with romance, Table Mountain and mystique: Platteklip Buttress, Platteklip Face, Right Face, Right Face Direct and Arrow Face. By his own account, although it must be admitted that on a balance of probabilities the claim seems doubtful, the first three of them were not repeated by a non-Jackson party for several years – which, one is tempted to say, is scarcely a compliment to the energy or ability of his contemporaries.

What are we to make of his claim that these fine climbs were left alone for so long? It would be insulting to suggest that a fellow cragsman such as Hal Wright was incapable of Platteklip Buttress, and yet, if Jackson’s claim it to be accepted, it was not until 1905 – some nine years after the pioneer ascent – that it was done by a Jacksonless party – including, indeed, Hal Wright.

Incredible as this may sound to modern ears, the reason for the neglect may simply be that these routes were not known to exist. One would like to think that reports of these major climbs were spread by word of mouth, but the fact is, we don’t know. It must be remembered that in the 1890s there were no Club meets other than the Annual Excursion, that evening meetings were few and poorly attended, and that the rock-climbing component was very small. Certain it is, at any rate, that Jackson was extremely tardy in going public in print. But we shall return to the whole subject in another place.

***

The year 1899 was to yield only a small – and, from the rock-climbing perspective, relatively unimportant – harvest of new routes, the only notable piece of cragwork being Saddle Corner Direct (with H W Wright, 24.9.1899). This was a straightening-out of the old Searle’s Corner, by keeping to the “natural” finish (the steep slab just below the skyline) instead of the more broken recessed corner to the right. The final, “Arrow Face”- type slab is one of the best on the mountain, but it seems likely that the pioneers kept more to the left than to the right hand edge followed today. The holds were “mainly grass and three bushes”, and Jackson foresaw a rise in difficulty as these disappeared in the course  of time. He was right, by 1923 the slab was regarded as being “very difficult, owing to (the) shrubs being now all gone”. Today it ranks as a good “E”.

The other two of the 1899 crop were climbs completely opposed in character, but they would join the select group of classic Table Mountain routes.

Ferny Gully (with G T Amphlett, 1899, precise date unknown) may be regarded as an analogue to Hiddingh-Wormhole. The route begins in Hiddingh’s Ravine, but then leaves it for a traverse to the north, around the south side of Hiddingh’s Buttress, until a gully and slope enable one to outflank the imposing spine of that buttress and gain easier ground above. It is then possible to traverse into Ascension Ravine, but the Ferny Gully route proper continues up the south side of the buttress, emerges behind the Ascension Platform, now known as The Pulpit, and works its way up the broken top portion of Hiddingh’s Buttress. Today, however, it is more usual to finish the climb via the top pitches of Ascension Ravine. Rated “B+”, it was a very popular route until a landslip in the early 1990s left the lower gully in an unstable and dangerous condition.

(BOX : AMPHLETT’S DESCRIPTION)

Venster Buttress (with Harold Austin, 27.8.1899 – not 1898 as in the route list) is a delightful rock climb on the buttress and indefinite ridge to the west of India Ravine. It was the last of the prominent lower buttresses of the western Table to be climbed. But Jackson seems to have regarded it initially as no more than a variation of Kloof Corner. It permits of much variation. The line usually followed is graded “C”, but the inclusion of the face directly above the “window” raises this to “D”. Much of its attraction derives from the variety of pitches it offers, among them a deep chimney calling for back-and-foot tactics, the “donkey ride” of the chockstone capping the window, some awkward open-books, a strenuous albeit optional crack, and the arm-pull that begins the final section. It ranks high among the “C” routes in popularity.

The year 1899, finally, must always be memorable for the discovery of what is surely a unique lateral movement on Table Mountain: the wonderful Right Face to Arrow Face Traverse (with Hal Wright, 5.11.1899). Clearly visible from the city as a thin line of green leading across the great amphitheatre crowning Africa Ravine, it includes a remarkable series of tunnels formed by gigantic boulders poised on the edge of the abyss but providing a safe passage behind them. It is graded “B”. Although not strictly a route in the accepted sense – it merely links two major climbs – it is extremely popular by virtue of its dramatic quality.

***

The youngster of fourteen admitted to the Club in 1894 had gone on to achieve great success as a cragsman in these five years. When he had joined there were only ten rock routes on the mountain (for our purposes, “C” grade and higher). Now there were 27, and all the additions were his, with a number of them reaching a standard unknown to his predecessors. Here is the complete list, using today’s grades:

A         Rooikat Ravine

Porcupine Ravine

B         Finsteraar Crack

Ferny Gully

Dark Gorge

Cairn Ravine

Grotto Ravine

C         Els Ravine

Venster Buttress

D         Chockstone Gully

Silverstream Buttress

Platteklip Buttress

India Face

Blinkwater Needle

Barrier Ravine

E         Wormhole Ravine

Grassy Ravine

Saddle Corner direct

Platteklip Face

Right Face direct

Arrow Face

Kloof Buttress (“F”)

Jubilee Ravine

Slangolie Buttress

It is also noteworthy that there was never a “Jackson party” in the Searle sense, or as there would again be in the post-Jackson era. Some of the best of these climbs he had done alone, and as to the others we may safely accept that, whoever his companions may have been, the leadership was his. Those companions varied, now one, now another – Amphlett, Austin, Hoal, Payne and Wright were prominent among them, but there was constant rotation. It would be going too far to say of him, as was said of his great counterpart Owen Glynne Jones in England, that he climbed largely with chance acquaintances, but we cannot speak of a Jackson party without doing violence to the facts.

Five years. Long enough to chalk up an impressive record.

And to open the way to yet another summit: the Secretaryship of the Mountain Club.

 


[i] ”He made Cape sketches of interest during the late 1870s.” – A Gordon-Brown Pictorial Africana (Cape Town, 1975) p.180. There is a surviving specimen in the William Fehr Collection in Cape Town, with a copy in the Cape Archives (Morrison photograph collection, M786).

[ii] His tender age has always been regarded as indicating his mountain prowess, and no doubt quite rightly. It needs to be recorded, however, that in 1900 a boy of nine was accepted as a Club member, but we may safely write this off as a pulling of strings by his father, a foundation member. The child is not heard of again.

[iii] Here he curiously foreshadowed General Smut’s great speech at the dedication of the Club’s war memorial at Maclear’s Beacon in 1923: “Table Mountain was their cathedral, where they heard a subtler music and saw wider visions and were inspired with a loftier spirit”. (MCSA Annual, 1923, p.3) Even Cecil Rhodes, not normally given to maudlin sentiment, regarded the mountain as his “church”- vide….

[iv] In earlier days the D route followed a long recessed corner to the left of the Yellow Patch section. This is now omitted in favour of the path leading to the Right Face-Arrow Face Traverse. See Cape Times mountaineering column 2.11.1912, and 1911 Annual, p.102.

[v] I may be permitted a personal reminiscence. When still in my teens, and not yet a member of the Club, I led a party down the Right Face-Arrow Face Traverse. My knowledge of Table Mountain climbs was sketchy, and, when one of my school companions asked me if people climbed “that bit”(Arrow Final), I answered doubtfully, “Er – no, not there, you, er, go up those big cracks on the left”! – VS

[vi] Jackson’s diary for 19.9.1915 states that the first ascent was “some 16 years previous”. There is no reference to this in the diary for 1899, but the entry for 18.11.1900 may well be of significance, as pointing to the pioneer climb:

Hobbs, Wright and myself ascended the Stinkwater Needle. We called it such from the sharp appearance it has from the pipe track. When we reached the summit of the Needle we branched off to our right and climbed a crack about 250 feet high, which brought us out on the to of the mountain near the summit of Porcupine Ravine.

[vii] ”Opinions regarding the difficulty of this climb vary considerably. Some climbers have described it as the “most difficult climb on Table Mountain”, whilst others say that the climbing is by no means excessively severe. All, however, agree upon one point, that the rottenness of the rock … make the route extremely dangerous.” Cape Times Mountaineering Column, 27.6.1914.

AT THE MERIDIAN

 

TRAVERS-JACKSON : 1899 – 1907

The post of honorary secretary to a mountain club calls for something more than agility on the rocks. While the president of the club should, and may well, be the person who helps create and project its public profile, the smooth administration of its day-to-day affairs ranks as of equal importance, and demands an array of inter-personal and other skills. Not a job intended for lightweights or social misfits.

At the time of Jackson’s election to the secretaryship of the Mountain Club in late 1899, the post could look back on a chequered history. Its first incumbent had been Major Sydney Cowper, a high-ranking civil servant and a patron of the arts. It was he who drew up the Club’s constitution, which was to serve it well for many years. But the demands of his daily work militated against his retaining the secretaryship for long, and within a few months he made way for Maynard Nash. Nash was energetic and popular, but he was also active in several other public spheres, with the result that he too soon stood down. This was to become a pattern: a series of incumbents, capable for the most part, who would for perfectly valid reasons vacate the post after perhaps a year or two, perhaps less. By 1899 no fewer than five people had held it during the eight years of the Club’s existence. In that year, matters came to a head with the lackadaisical approach of the latest incumbent. The annual general meeting was impending, and to ensure that the necessary formalities were properly handled, and in particular that the annual report be drawn up, the general committee roped in Jackson as assistant Honorary Secretary. When the annual meeting took place he was elected to the full post – the sitting incumbent having severed connection with the Club.

Those with experience of club affairs may wag their heads knowingly when a new hand is elected to an executive office – “We’ve seen ‘em come and we’ve seen ‘em go!”. If there were such doubters at the time of Jackson’s election they were to be confounded and their cynicism dealt a sharp reproof, for the new hand went on to a record eleven years in the post, finally vacating it only because of his departure from Cape Town. Year after year he would be re-elected with acclaim. As late as 1910 the formal annual announcement that the Club must appoint a secretary was received with ironical laughter, and he was unanimously re-elected amidst hearty applause.

Although now only nineteen, Jackson was obviously not lacking in social aplomb, for by that time he was already proposing or responding to toasts, no light matter in those times, and serving on the Club’s committee responsible for arranging the annual dinner. In the relatively small circle of active mountaineers he would of course have been well known, since he had been a dedicated climber for years, not only on Table Mountain but also on country excursions.

It says much for his ability and acceptability that, at a time when long experience of affairs, and a due measure of gravitas counted for much in polite society, he should have been elected to so responsible a post while still in his teens. He would have to work with men far ahead of him in age and social status. As we have seen, the President and the three Vice-Presidents were chosen for their positions with one eye to their public standing. In 1899 the President was, once again, Sir James Sivewright, and the Vice-Presidents Dr Marloth (eminent botanist and founder member of the Club), the Rev Dr – later Monsignor – Kolbe (pillar of the Roman Catholic establishment), and W P Schreiner, Prime Minister of Cape Colony and now grappling with the political fall-out of the new Anglo-Boer war. It must have been a difficult leap for so young a man, and one moreover with a modest educational background and occupying only a lowly position in the commercial world.[i]

But he brought to the office of secretary those qualities of ability, energy, enthusiasm and determination that had already marked him out on the crags of Table Mountain. The post was no sinecure. The day-to-day administrative work may have been straightforward enough, but it had to be done in one’s spare time and from casual office premises. Only in later years did the Club acquire rented premises of its own. Today’s labour saving equipment did not exist. The Secretary was responsible for sending out the circulars, and this meant (perhaps with paid assistance or some welcome help from other members) addressing and despatching some hundreds of envelopes. The whole task of executing the general committee’s decisions, and of running the Club’s official activities, fell squarely on his shoulders – not only the office work per se, but also such things as fixing signposts on the mountain, calling out volunteers to fight fires, and keeping the Club Hut on Table Mountain (of which more below) shipshape. Above all, and certainly his main function from the public’s perspective, he was always on call for search-and-rescue work for those unfortunate people who found themselves in trouble on the mountain, or who had disappeared there.

The secretary’s major standing task, however, was the Club’s Annual Excursion. This was the highlight of the year, indeed, for many years it would be the Club’s solitary “meet”. It took place over the Wiener’s Day long weekend, the first in October, but, with hindsight, this seems to have been a poor choice, for more often than not the weather was poor. But then, the cynic might say, what was a little rain to those “mountaineers” ensconced in the oak-panelled luxury of a coach of the Cape Government Railways?

First held in 1893, the Annual Excursion quickly established itself as trumps in the Club’s pack. But whether it served greatly to advance the cause of mountaineering may be doubted. As an irate Club member would phrase it in later years, it was simply “an exaggerated picnic”. A train would be chartered, complete with sleeper coaches, dining saloon and stewards. It left Cape Town on the Saturday afternoon, arriving some hours later at the railhead closest to the peak chosen for the “official” climb. Here it was shunted on to a siding, where it would double as the base camp. Meals and refreshments were on tap in the saloon for those who preferred this form of catering, and morning coffee was served in the compartments. The weekend might start with religious observance, Catholic or Protestant, and would end with a convivial dinner at a local hotel, followed sometimes by a dance but always with a musical programme and the usual toasts and thanks, whereafter the train would depart for Cape Town, reaching there in the early hours of the Tuesday, in time for work. The programme for the 1894 excursion gives something of the flavour of the Smoking Concert held on that occasion (Box).

Social programme at Mostertshoek excursion 1894

Mr Nash presided, and Mr Barrow-Dowling accompanied the singers on the piano.  The successes of the evening were the songs by Dr Kolbe, Mr Ray Woods, and Mr Gargon, the guard of the train.

Kolbe:  The Noble Duke of York

Ray Woods: own special song

Mr Heath : Tommy Atkins

The Minstrel Boy: Dr Kolbe

Mr Luders: song

Mr Nettleship:  ‘E dunno where ‘e are

Mr Matthews:  I really am so sleepy

Mr Fraser:  violin solo

Mr Holmes:  They all love Jack

Mr Wilkinson:  Queen of my heart

Master Fisher:  piano solo

Mr Heath:  comic song

Mr Lear:  recitation, Rabbit Pie

Mr Wilkinson:  song, In old Madrid

Mr Luders:  piano solo

Heath & Wilkinson:  duet, Larboard Watch

Mr Nettleship:  song, The Coffin Shop

Sivewright unable to be present, but sends case of champagne.

“God Save the King” and “Auld Lang Syne”.

So much for the social side of the outing. The mountain in prospect did not, of course, always lie conveniently adjacent to the railway, and to reach it wagons and carts would be hired from local farmers, or provided free of charge as a gesture of hospitality. Some climbers would walk, out of choice or from necessity. Several miles might have to be covered to the foot of the mountain, and the party would therefore set out well before dawn, having been roused by the leader at about four o’clock.

Modern eyebrows would certainly be raised at the way in which some of these early “country climbs” were organised. The locus classicus is the 1894 excursion to Mostertshoek Twins in Michell Pass. It is fully reported in the 1895 MCSA Annual, and it will therefore be sufficient to give a short quotation from that article, without further comment:

No one of the party had previously been on this mountain, and in view of eventualities on the morrow, Dr Marloth with a few companions walked over to the entrance of the Pass, in the hope of getting a guide, or at least accurate climbing directions. Enquiries at the Waverley Mills and at Retief’s Farm failed to elicit the desired information, and no guide could be obtained, for the simple reason that no one then in the vicinity had been up before. There was thus a delightful element of uncertainty, which so far from damping ardour added a tinge of the romantic thereto, and the attractiveness which usually accompanies the unknown.

 

On this occasion the climbing party consisted of 14, of whom only six reached the higher of the twin peaks. But the total number on the excursion was 101! True, the weather was atrocious, but the sad fact is that on these excursions the mountaineers were invariably greatly outnumbered by the train-lovers.

Here are some interesting figures.

Year                Venue                                                No on train                No on climb

1893               Matroosberg                                      80                                53

1894               Mostertshoek Twins                        101                             14

1895               (Worcester)                                        98                                (1)

No official climb

1896               Klein Winterhoek                             92                                2

1897               Somerset Sneeukop                       82                                10

1898               Audensberg                                      136                             12

1899               Matroosberg                                      95                                29

1900               Mostertshoek Twins                        97                                4

1901               (No outing – wartime)                      –                                  –

1902               Matroosberg                                      113                             43

1903               Waterhoek (Ashton)                        121                             14

1904               French Hoek Pass                           166                             15

1905               Klein Winterhoek                             153                             34

1906               Keeromsberg                                    166                             19

1907               Kogelberg                                          137                             27

1908               Matroosberg                                      97                                46

1909               Groot Drakenstein                           90                                41

1910               Audensberg                                      69                                27

1911               Simonsberg                                      101                             54

1912               Kogelberg                                          120                             60

1913               Chavonnesberg                               103                             48

1914               Neethlingsberg                                40                                25

Not unnaturally, the fact that so many went along for the ride incensed those who had the direction of the Club’s affairs. Various proposals were made with a view to stopping the rot, such as raising the annual subscription, placing restrictions on last-gasp applications for membership, or clamping down on the girl friends, but, as the schedule shows, the picnicking went on merrily. Attempts were also made to arrange outings to the nearer mountains beyond Cape Town, which would dispense with the excursion train, but these were poorly supported and were soon dropped.

Glorified picnic though it might be, the Annual Excursion meant a considerable volume of organisational work for the secretary, particularly when the relatively primitive means of communication are borne in mind. Bookings by members had to be called for and processed, payments collected, the train chartered, timetables drawn up, arrangements made for wagons to meet the party at the railhead, hotel dinners booked, a social programme for the weekend prepared, a brochure printed giving details of the district to be visited, and so on. These would necessitate not merely a few simple phone calls but a good deal of correspondence and also personal contact with several of the instances involved.

And all this, of course, was merely the preparatory spadework. Relative to the excursion as a whole, Jackson might act as Supreme Commander, but once the train had been shunted into its siding and the locomotive steamed off for other duties, he was Commandant of the base camp, responsible for the smooth working of things over the next three days. But he had still another cap to wear: that of General of the Club party (small as it might be) tackling the peak that formed the objective of the outing, for almost invariably he would be the leader. He would also, but now in his private capacity, usually take a companion and climb one of the other peaks in the vicinity as well.

There is no lack of accounts, in the Club’s Annuals, of these rail excursions, to which the interested reader may refer. We shall however reproduce one of Jackson’s diary entries, so as to capture something of the immediacy of the occasion.

Saturday September 30th (1905) Fine

Left town in charge of Mountain Club special train for Tulbagh Road at 4.25 p.m., arriving at our destination at 8 p.m. Next morning, Sunday, Blackburn and myself left the train at 6.45 am, crossed the river and walked along the slopes of the Roodezand Range as far as Van Niekerk’s farm, then pushed on to a waterfall some distance to our left, climbed up the side of the fall (and then continued up the slopes of the peak, reaching the beacon at 12.45 p.m.) The view was indeed grand, the whole of the Tulbagh valley lay below us; behind us stretched the cultivated lands of the Piquetberg District, with the villages of Gouda and Saron in view; to our left  and not far distant were the Great and Little Winterhoeks, and the Witzenberg Range, (while) in the distance loomed up Matroosberg. After spending a pleasant time of (sic) the top we reluctantly had to make tracks on the return journey; we were (soon) on the nek again and descended the slopes, bearing away to our right (and) then down to Van Niekerk’s farm, we (sic) I left Blackburn and started to walk back to the train, but darkness soon overtook me and the path came to an end, so rather than have another 7 miles of slope and bush work I retreated to a coloured man’s house (where he) was good enough to inspan his cart and drive me to the station, where I arrived at 8.30 p.m. and then had to see about the final arrangements for the morrow.

Next morning Monday October 2nd (fine) three wagon loads of Mountain Club left Tulbagh Rd at 5.30 am. There were 54 in number, including ladies. The wagons walked all the way to the farm and then took us to Viljoen’s instead of Theron’s farm. We left at 9.15, and in one long line the 54 began their climb up the first slopes on the way to Klein Poort. Several dropped off before the plateau was reached. I worked around further to the right with (F C) Barwick, then ascended to the plateau and found a large party who did not know where they were nor the peak, it being misty. However, we were soon on the right track, and one by one they followed on. Certain members were the first to reach the beacon, at 12.35, and I joined them three minutes after, and by 2.50 some 34 people were on the top, this number including Amphlett, Wright (et al), who had come up by way of Sneeugat route. Several photos were taken by members.

At 3.15 we all left the beacon, after having deposited our names in a bottle I had brought up for that purpose, and now began the descent to the farm. One wagon left at 5.30 p.m., another at 6.20, and the third waited for those behind. On the way home the two first wagons stopped at the Drostdy, where Dr Beck gave us refreshments, after which we gave three cheers for Dr Beck and went on our way. Shortly afterwards we passed through the village (and) then on to the station, reaching there at 8.30. A good many went to the dinner, which had been prepared outside the hotel, and this passed off very pleasantly. Soon after this the third wagon arrived, and one by one the members went off to their bunks and slept the sleep of the just. The train started back in the early hours of Tuesday and arrived back in town at 7 am, after having spent a glorious holiday.

The excursion was a recurring annual event on a fixed date, and could be suitably fitted into the secretary’s work programme. By contrast, his other main out-of-doors activity could not be scheduled but must be grappled with quickly whenever the occasion arose.

Search-and-rescue operations were an integral part of the Club’s work. It was, in fact, precisely a rescue operation of sorts that acted as the catalyst for the Club’s founding in 1891. The function was explicitly recognised in the Constitution, and to this end a stretcher and medical supplies were kept by the Club at the Ranger’s Cottage on the lower plateau of Table Mountain. Overall control of this function was vested in the secretary, who when notified of missing people would knock up two or three climbing companions and between them devise a rough plan of campaign in the light of such information as was forthcoming from the distraught family or friends. Club members were usually prompt in responding to the call for a search party, but if there were none to help him the secretary must simply do the job himself.

In the absence of still-to-come technology, and with little in the way of experience to guide them, the searchers simply took themselves off to the mountain and hunted around for some sign of the missing party. But it was not quite a case of needles and haystacks. Those novices unfamiliar with the mountain could at least be presumed to have followed the main paths, and there were certain long-known danger spots where they might have run into trouble. One of the most notorious of these was the Second Waterfall Ravine on Devil’s Peak, which even today claims its victims; another was the great waterfall barring the top section of Fountain Ravine, which turns an innocent-looking line of descent into a death trap. Places such as these would be high on the programme of any search party, but, failing any traces of the missing people here, the searchers would follow all the major paths up the mountain and on its summit plateaux. Given the small number of searchers that would normally turn out, this could mean that an extensive area of mountain was assigned to each individual. A benighted party, or the body of a fallen climber, would usually be found sooner or later. But not infrequently the search would prove fruitless, or be aborted, because the “lost” people had blithely returned home, or indeed had never been lost in the first place – such as the youngster who was “found” only several weeks later, when his distressed father received a contrite letter from England. But whether the alarms were genuine or false, or the weather agreeable or atrocious, a small band of searchers would dutifully set out. No call would go unheeded, whatever one’s other exigencies might be. Jackson once spent a long and arduous day in an abortive search, to be greeted on his return home by the cries of his first child, who had been born while he was away.

To provide some flavour of what this work involved we may quote a passage from his diary

Saturday February 24 (1906)

Went up Kasteels Poort then over to Lovers Leap then across the slopes towards path leading to Wynberg Caves, here I met Mr Clarke, Mr Brown and friend; we then went across the wall to the Club hut where the night was spent. Next morning Blackburn arrived, and he, Clarke and myself went along the Apostles to Slangolie, then down to the tunnel and followed down the Orange Kloof as far as Hell’s Gate, but found no Disas. I climbed the waterfall of the Gate. After spending some time here we cut up the slopes on our right and followed them across to the Disa Stream over Wynberg way, and Disas were picked and on the slopes several Agapanthus and Harvia (sic).

At 9pm Brice had not returned from the mountain, nor at 10 or 11 p.m. Soon after this hour Mr Gately came to the house and said that Brice wanted me to come up at once with brandy and food as he was with a man who had hurt himself near Slangolie; so within five minutes I changed and was off up the Poort again. The wind there was terrible, and gaining the top I made along the Apostles, and when near Slangolie Ravine I saw the lights where the injured man was, so blew my whistle several times. On reaching them I found they had the man on the stretcher and that the police were there as well. No time was lost in making a move for the Club hut, and what with the dense bush and rocks, wind and cold we had a hard task getting to the hut, which place was reached at 6 am Monday; I made a fire and (gave) them all coffee and what bread I had, and before long they were all asleep. I left the hut at 7.30, got home at 8.45 and was in office at 9.45. After lunch they told me I had better go home and rest, having had 39 ½ hours on the mountain.

They brought the injured man down Kasteels Poort, reaching town at 5.45 p.m.

 

Search-and-rescue was not a job for the squeamish. A body might lie undiscovered for weeks, months or even years, and what then remained of it might be fit only for a sack. On one occasion the man had fallen several hundred feet, in the course of which both legs had been severed completely from the torso. Two weeks went by before he was found, and ”more senses than one were shocked during the task of getting (the remains) into the sack”. On another occasion, when bringing a body down from the notorious waterfall in Fountain Ravine, “a somewhat weird effect resulted from a threepenny and sixpenny piece having in some way got into the skull, so that with every movement in the descent these could be heard jingling”.

Jackson would always regard search-and-rescue as holding the premier position among the Club’s activities. And to round off this section we may take a brief look at one of the secretary’s more pleasant duties. In company with the president he would go down to the docks to meet mountaineering figures from overseas, who might be visiting South Africa or passing through on their way to other mountaineering destinations. Two such were Clinton Dent and Douglas Freshfield, leading lights in the Alpine Club, and this fleeting contact with them would stand him in good stead. There would also – in this heyday of empire – be visiting naval squadrons, whose officers would welcome an opportunity to stretch their legs on a mountain climb, while overseas football teams would similarly employ themselves. The grandest of these excursions, in terms of the importance of the people in the party, was in 1908, when the founding fathers of the Union of South Africa, gathered at Cape Town for their National Convention, found the time to climb the mountain. The bulk of them were escorted by Jackson from Constantia Nek to the lower plateau: names redolent of South African history, such as Percy Fitzpatrick and John X Merriman. But perhaps the highlight of these mandatory excursions was the one in 1905, involving the prestigious British Association for the Advancement of Science. Its programme for Cape Town included an ascent of the mountain via either the Bridle Path or Kasteels Poort, with Jackson in charge of the latter party. The two groups combined at the old workmen’s cottages on the lower plateau, where the Town Council entertained them at lunch, among the firs fringing the new reservoir. They then proceeded, 86 all told, to the western Table, some then going down Platteklip and the others all the way back to Constantia Nek. The well-known photographer Arthur Elliott was evidently in the party, for a photograph taken then was recently unearthed in the Elliott Collection in the Cape Archives, and is now published for the first time. It shows the scene at the top of Platteklip Gorge. Here are assorted scientists and friends, one a venerable patriarch, all respectably attired as becomes men of stature visiting a colony, and next to them is their colonial mountain guide, his lower limbs indeed proclaiming his special status among his flock but his upper half outshining them in sartorial splendour.

PHOTO

***

Following close on Jackson’s election to the secretaryship was a change in his surname.

The hyphenated “Travers-Jackson” was slow in appearing. His entries in the Visitors’ Book are uniformly “G Jackson”; the Club’s minute books, even when the entries are in his own handwriting, have “G Jackson” or “G F T Jackson” to begin with; his first signature as secretary is “G F T Jackson”. But in 1900 “G F Travers Jackson” (unhyphenated) starts to crop up, and then there are some appearances with the hyphen and some without. In the Annual for 1900 he is shown as “G F T Jackson”, while the next issue he is “G F Travers-Jackson”; his article on Toverkop in the Cape Times for 26.1.1901 is over the name “G F T Jackson”, but when reprinted in the 1901/2 Annual the author is “G F Travers-Jackson”.

The “Travers”, as we have seen, became a first (”Christian”) name in the family following the marriage of Colonel James Jackson to Mary Travers. Jackson’s father was christened George Francis Travers, and Jackson filis was given the same names. The use of a surname as a first name is nothing very unusual, and the name may be passed from generation to generation without acquiring a hyphen, although for all practical purposes the surname has become double-barrelled.

Jackson peres died in May 1900, and it may have been the change in the family set-up that prompted his son’s change of surname. Perhaps it was the simple matter of wishing to stand out in some way from the not uncommon name Jackson. Here too he resembles the great Owen Glynne Jones, who (it may be remembered) jokingly but perhaps a shade wistfully sought to separate himself from his massive tribe by the tag “The only genuine Jones”.

Whatever the precise reasons for the change, it would henceforth mark him out as an individual. In the Cape Town of the first half of the twentieth century, to go no further, the name” Travers-Jackson” [ii] was a household one, and was synonymous with mountaineering. If he indeed had been seeking to create a distinctive persona, he succeeded admirably.

And, certainly, our mountain history would have been the poorer had our classic routes been attributed to the plain “G F T Jackson” rather than the euphonious “G F Travers-Jackson”.

***

Jackson’s election to the secretaryship in October 1899 coincided with the outbreak of the second Anglo-Boer War. There is however no indication that the war had the slightest impact on mountaineering. It was far off, on the northern frontiers of the Colony or in Natal, and after the initial British reverses of the Black Week the tide set in irreversibly against the Boer republics, so that the final outcome was never in doubt. The people of Cape Town were unaffected, except insofar as business boomed consequent upon the feeding and transportation of the mass of khaki flooding into the country. This was virtually unmentioned in Jackson’s diary or in the Annual. Only in 1901 would it directly impinge on the Club, when the Annual Excursion had to be cancelled owing to the exigencies of martial law.

Coming as he did from a long line of soldiers who had served on the outpost of Empire, it is not surprising that Jackson was a staunch believer in things imperial. But we are unaware of anything that would place him in the ultra-jingoistic circles that were active in Cape Town throughout the war. His diary shows that he attended a church service of thanksgiving for the relief of Mafeking early in 1900, and he has a special entry to record the death of Cecil John Rhodes two years later, but otherwise the upheaval left him unmoved.

And it is good to place on record here the fact that in those days the Mountain Club was just that – a mountain club. Religious and political differences among the members no doubt existed, but they were never permitted to intrude on the bond that held them together, a love of the mountains. F C Kolbe and J H Meiring Beck, to take one example, were outspoken “Pro-Boers”, when this was highly politically incorrect, but they remained honoured members. Kolbe indeed was a vice-president during and immediately after the war, and was elected president in 1907.

We shall look in vain, then, for any noticeable impact of the war on the Club as a body. Individuals, of course, were free to follow their own bent and in the first half of 1901, after the second Boer invasion of the Colony, we find a number of prominent members serving in the Town Guard – Amphlett, for example, commanded the Standard Bank Company, holding the rank of captain.

There is, however, one curious relic of these troubled times, tucked away in our mountaineering history.

In November 1899 Jackson and Amphlett set off to tackle a prominent virgin peak in the Hex River mountains. (By “virgin” in this context is to be understood a peak of which there was no record of a previous ascent.) It was the highest of the Zanddrift Peaks, and promised – from the southern side – a long and arduous approach through rugged country. Early in the afternoon of their first day Amphlett had had enough, and returned to Brodie’s farm, taking one of their porters back with him and leaving Jackson with the other. They set out early the next morning, but the porter was soon found inadequate in this wild terrain, so Jackson left him and pushed on alone. He reached the barren summit at 12.30, and, tired and anxious to get back, which in his exhausted state he imagined would take even longer than the up trip, he immediately started down. For hours he had to do without a drop of water, and it was only at 7.40 that evening that he and the porter reached the farm. Then the long train journey, reaching Cape Town in the early hours of the Monday morning.

Latter-day climbers acquainted with the mountains in this region will be able to assess this solo ascent of an unknown but massive peak at its true value. Jackson himself felt that it was “a four days’ trip instead of two, four peaks having to be crossed, the first one being rather difficult”. With the consent of the Governor of Cape Colony, Sir Alfred (later Lord) Milner, he named it Milner Peak.

Milner. A name prominent in South African history, and still execrated in certain quarters. As the man who unleashed or even engineered the Boer War in 1899. But forgotten today, except by the historian.

Yet in the fastnesses of the wild Hex River mountains his name survives.

PUBLIC RELATIONS

Another aspect of the Club’s life that would naturally fall to the Hon Secretary’s lot was what in today’s parlance would be called ”public relations”- or, less pejoratively, “Communication”. Contact with the members was maintained by means of a circular, press notices, and of course the Annual. In those early telephone days, the fastest means of reaching them was by a notice in the local newspaper, and even volunteers for fire-fighting were reached in this fashion. As far as the general public was concerned, there seems to have been very little attempt to reach them, but this was scarcely necessary, as the Club’s doings were usually reported at some length in the local newspapers, especially the Cape Times, which, as we have seen, was in some measure the Club’s sire and which had enthusiastic Club members on its staff. Be that as it may, the fact is that the Club did not venture into public print, other than with the Annual. It did, however, co-operate closely with other parties seeking to publish something on local mountaineering, and in this regard the following items are worthy of note:

  • A article, “Cape Colony for the Mountaineer”, by G T Amphlett, in Cape colony; the land of sunshine and health. This was a brochure issued by the Cape Government Railways in 1909, as part of its campaign to boost tourism in the Colony. The article, which is well illustrated, deals mainly with the country peaks, and contains “Hints as to clothing” for the overseas visitor and even a glossary of Dutch words bearing on mountain features.
  • A chapter on Table Mountain in the Cape Town City Council’s official handbook published in 1909. It was written by the Rev W M Forbes, at that time vice-president of the Club. It offered the first list, other than those appearing in the Annual, of routes up the mountain, including rock routes up to “D” standard. However, what is remarkable is  that the list is identical, apart from slight stylistic changes, with the one by Alfred Bolus in the 1896 Annual – notwithstanding the lapse of time and the publication in 1905 of Jackson’s “Fifty ways up Table Mountain”, (as against the mere twenty of Forbes’s article!). Even the nomenclature is unaltered from 1896: Nursery Ravine is “Hot Gorge”, and Saddle Corner is “Searle’s Corner”. But with all its faults it was for the man in the street the first easily-accessible guide to ways up Table Mountain.
  • An article by G T Amphlett in the “Union Number” of the Cape Times Annual for 1910. A comprehensive review of the walks and easier rock routes on Table Mountain, it was illustrated with a selection of excellent views from his own photographic collection. It was the first publication to contain detailed descriptions – not mere bald references – of some of the best routes. It later appeared as a chapter, under the title “The Glamour of Table Mountain: ways of ascent” in the Cape Times official handbook for 1911. Amphlett was possessed by the beauties of Table Mountain, and this emerges in his style of which the following may serve as an example:

A combination of the Hiddingh’s and Ascension routes is possible, involving a minimum of climbing and disclosing great scenic beauties, which remain otherwise hidden. At a point between the lower and upper waterfalls in Hiddingh’s a ledge leads round to the north at the foot of a buttress, up which a path diverges taking one along further ledges high above the watercourse, from which the full grandeur of the ravine, its majestic rock walls and overhanging portions, are seen to great advantage. Further on the ledge enters a narrow gully running longitudinally with the main ravine, the upper portions containing a mass of tree ferns. This is known as Ferny Gully, and is one of the gems of the mountain. It is to be hoped that vandals will long allow it to remain so. At the top of this gully the climber is on a level with the Ascension Platform (today’s “Pulpit”).

  • Something of a breakthrough was achieved in 1912, with a weekly column in the Cape Times under the title “Mountaineering”. This was in fact in reaction to a recently begun column in the rival South African News under the title “Mountain Notes”, written under the pseudonym “Ruecksack” and critical of certain aspects of the Club, its activities and some of its members. The Club’s column was written by W C West until he left for Kilimanjaro in 1914, and were then continued, except for the war years, by Ken Cameron well into the 1920s. The articles dealt with general mountaineering issues, such as equipment and roping technique, and with the Club’s current activities, but their great value lies in their in-depth discussions of Table Mountain routes, including such classics as Right Face, Arrow Face, and even Centre Left Face. For those not acquainted with these routes, and no doubt even for many who were, these articles must have been an eye-opener and would have popularised rock climbing for a new generation.
  • In 1914 the Cape Peninsula Publicity Association issued a small pamphlet under the title “Table Mountain some easy ways to the summit.  It was based on the 1896-cum-Forbes route list, but for the first time in a brochure, it included a map of the mountain to show the location of the routes concerned.  Although there is no evidence bearing on the point, it is reasonable to assume that the Mountain Club was involved in the production.
  • Also in 1914 there appeared the first publication on mountaineering in South Africa as a whole – “Mountaineering in South Africa”, published by the South African Railways as part of its tourism promoting effort.  It was published “in co-operation with the members of the Mountain Club of South Africa”, and acknowledgement is made to W C West, .Ken Cameron and others – but with no reference to Jackson, no doubt because of his absence from Cape Town from 1910 to 1912. It reproduced several of West’s Cape Times articles, but also dealt with the country districts of the Cape and at some length with Natal.
  • Brydone’s Tourist handbook. No 4 : Table Mountain

(no information)

These then were the Club’s “public relations” efforts in print. What their overall impact was on the general public we have no definite means of knowing, but it is safe to assume that some of their readers must have been encouraged to go and see for themselves. “Ruecksack” was one of them. Amphlett’s article in the Cape Times Annual of 1910, he was happy to admit,

has been of great assistance to me, as it must have been to other beginners, in supplying not only the spark of enthusiasm, but the fuel of useful guidance for the exploration of (Table) Mountain.

While Jackson may well have been involved in these productions, it is somewhat strange that his name does not appear in connection with any of them. Indeed, it has to be confessed that his list of (non-Annual) publications is surprisingly meagre. He seems to have preferred speaking to writing; at any rate, he was active in lecturing, giving the following lectures in the period of this study:

  • “Table Mountain at Trinity Congregational Church, 16.7.1902
  • “Table Mountain”, at Ottery Road School Room, 27.6.1906
  • “Table Mountain to Toverkop”, at St Barnabas Church, 19.10.1908
  • “       ?           “, at Observatory Congregational Church, 19.8.1909

 

In addition to the foregoing examples of “public relations” activities, the newspapers of the day were always quick to report any accidents on the mountain, and the Club’s search-and-rescue operations, in which as we have seen Jackson was prominent, were thus continually before the public’s eye. Of special interest in this regard is the two-part article in the Cape Times of 17 and 18 February 1905, which featured an interview with the Hon Secretary in which the whole matter of mountain rescue work was dealt with at length, replete with gruesome details of the more sensational accidents.

From the above list of publications it will be evident that the Club itself did not issue guidebooks or suchlike matter aimed at the non-member. Cost may well have been the determining criterion here, but perhaps it was the Club’s unhappy experience with the publication of a map of Table Mountain that soured any venture into (unsubsidised) publications for the general public. Early in the Club’s existence it had been argued that such a map would fill a long-felt need and would make the mountain safer, and in 1901 a sub-committee was created to go into the matter, comprising Dr Marloth, H W Wright, E B de Beer and Jackson (minutes, 13.12.1901). But it progressed at a snail’s pace, and it was only in 1908 that the map at last saw the light of day. For its time, certainly, it was a distinct advance in Table Mountain cartography, especially of course for the layman, but the market for it seems to have been badly over-estimated, and the run was so large that the stock took several years to sell. 400 copies were offered to Darter & Co., a leading Cape Town bookseller, at £25, which was refused. The other main bookseller, Maskew Miller, offered £6.6.0 so the Club undertook the marketing itself, at 2/- for members and 3/- for others, but not until 1914 was the “Map Account” finally closed, and then only via a transfer of the remaining deficit to the General Account (1914 Annual).

Not only was the map a commercial non-starter, it also swarmed with errors. Strange, when it is considered that it was based on a map from the Surveyor-General’s office and that it presumably embodied, or certainly should have embodied, the collective experience of the Club, or at any rate that of its compilers. It was publicly savaged by “Ruecksack” in 1912, who concluded his detailed and just criticism with the derisive remark that

The poor old map does teach a novice that when he wants to get to Maclear’s Beacon, he will not be wise if he looks for it at Hout Bay. Likewise, it distinguishes clearly between Platteklip and Skeleton. Therefore, it has its uses …(South African News, 1.8.1912)

 

Today it’s a collector’s item commanding a high price. But at the time it must have been something of an embarrassment to the Club, with a strong smell of burnt fingers.

WILD FLOWER PROTECTION

Another subject that fell under the Club’s umbrella of activities and which would thus call for the secretary’s attention, was the protection of the indigenous flora. It must be said that, to judge from the written record, Jackson does not seem to have been particularly closely involved in this issue – perhaps, one is tempted to say, because of his own “in-the-field” operations in flower-picking.  The leading spirit in the Club’s ranks on the score of protection was Handel Hamer, and Dr Marloth would of course, as a botanist of note, have played a prominent role too, but Jackson did at least serve on the sub-committee established on Dr Marloth’s prompting in 1907 to review the working of the Cape Colony’s Wild Flower Protection Act of 1905.

Writing in 1909, Harry Bolus – an early member of the Club, and an amateur authority on orchids (he had published “The Orchids of the Cape Peninsula” in 1888) – looked back on the 1870s,

when I first became acquainted with Table Mountain, (and) it was much more richly clothed with these natural beauties (wild flowers). Now, alas! the younger folk, both European and Coloured, go up in the early dawn, some even sleeping in the open air, that they may be the first to gather (them). One may often meet them returning, not content with a single moderate bouquet but loaded with huge bundles, a sort of rivalry having sprung up as to who should obtain the largest quantity. Of course the natural result is that the mountain is becoming bare. (“The Native Flora of South Africa”, in The State, July 1909, p.105)

The Cape Colony legislation, in other words, wasn’t working, and the Club applied its mind to possible improvements. Of particular concern to it at this stage was the precarious position of the more popular species of orchid, the disas for which Table Mountain was famous. Following upon the sub-committee’s recommendations, then, the Colony promulgated regulations whereby a closed season was established for the species concerned, namely

Disa uniflora (“red disa”)                 15 February to 15 December

Disa graminifolia (“blue disa”)       15 March to 15 January

Disa ferruginea (“cluster disa”)      15 January to 1 December

Disa harveiama (“mauve disa”)     15 January to 1 December

(now Draconis)

Disa longicornu (“drip disa”)           15 January to 1 December

 

But this legislation too did little to stem the tide of despoliation. As Bolus sadly recorded,

it is almost openly defied, or at least largely evaded. And in this case the prohibition is the more difficult to deal with, inasmuch as the orchids are mostly gathered by private persons, not for sale but nevertheless in very large quantities. (op. cit., p.107)

In very large quantities indeed – and not least by members of the Mountain Club themselves! The scale of their depredations is such as to stagger a modern observer, schooled by generations of “conservation” consciousness. A few examples will suffice, culled from diaries of the period. On one occasion two members between them gathered 500 drip disas in Window Gorge, and on another occasion 250 red disas in Myburgh’s Ravine.  A solitary member plucked 350 drip disas at “the Stinkwater drips”, and one proud member, balking at the quantity of wild flowers he had picked, engaged a “nigger” (sic) to carry them down for him. “Ruecksack”, that perceptive critic of the Club, put it very neatly when he remarked that

its leading members are very severe on a layman picking a stray disa a day after the season closes, but I saw a big party of ladies in excellent climbers’ company just two days before it closed this year, and they had hundreds of disas. Keeping the letter of the law and breaking the spirit seems to be hardly the correct way to set an example. (South African News, 24.6.1912)

 

The subject need not be pursued here. Enough to say that at the Club’s urgings a more comprehensive ordinance was passed in 1912, which abolished the close season and totally prohibited the picking of specified species of wild flowers.

EQUIPMENT AND TECHNIQUE

Rock-climbing of the standard now attained by Jackson was something completely new at the Cape. For that matter it was something of very recent origin back home in Britain. The Cape climbers, good colonials that they were, would naturally have looked there for guidance, and perhaps we too can understand the Cape scene better by considering developments overseas.

Authoritative sources have put the start of rock-climbing in Britain in the 1880s, and the received version of British cragsmanship postulates a number of so-called epochs or stages through which it is supposed to have passed. A comparatively early systematisation of this process appears in the Annual of the Fell and Rock-climbing Club for 1936/7, and may usefully be reproduced here:

(BOX : FRCC TABLE)

We may pass over the long “Easy Way” period (if so inclined, one may regard it as analogous to our “Morgenrood and Bishop” period) and move straight on to the “Gully and Chimney” stage.

The British climbing literature is replete with references to this as the initial stage in the development of rock-climbing. It is argued that the great rifts or gullies in the cliff faces would have been the natural and obvious lines that the embryonic cragsmen would head for, since

the shelter of their enclosing walls promised a comfortable reassurance to nerve, and even more to the eye, as yet … unaccustomed … to the direct view into empty space – above, below and on either side.

The argument continues to the effect that two factors operated, in course of time, to force the early cragsmen out of their gully wombs. The one was the fact that the number of gullies was both finite and, relative to the expanse of the containing crags, small. The other, that gullies contain many objective dangers: loose stones, waterfalls, moss and slime. Sooner or later the climbers were compelled to venture outside.

To start with, they tackled the more prominent ridges, which were comparatively weathered and broken and would thus provide frequent stances and anchors for belaying the rope.[iii] Gaining experience on exposed situations, the climbers in time graduated to slab-climbing, with still less in the way of comforting stances, and, finally, to sheer walls. Thus the “Ridge and Arete” and “Slab and Wall” stages.

The escape from the gully’s gloom, it has been argued, began with

a few individuals whose exceptional physical advantages led to their discovery that they could trust to their fingers as securely as to the full tread of their feet or the jam of their bodies. The discovery enabled them to attempt places where there were no containing walls to be relied upon as support for the body if the feet failed – problems such as wide-angled corners and even … slab climbs. Finger and handholds in their turn became everything; footwork was neglected. To some exponents the feet were useful only as auxiliaries, scraped downward indiscriminately upon the rocks to give some extra propulsion. It was the era of “grip” climbing.

 

Or, as Clark and Pyatt put it in their magisterial history of climbing in Britain, the era of “Push-and-pull”.

The leading figure then was Owen Glynne Jones – “the Only Genuine Jones”, as he would banteringly describe himself. He may reasonably be taken as one of the pioneers who ventured outside the comforting gullies and chimneys, and we may note that, by all accounts, his spectacular rock-climbing feats were achieved through sheer muscular strength. And that strength was acquired through an early form of “training”- with dumb-bells. He was, moreover, without scruples on the use of combined tactics, or, for that matter, artificial aids – such as an ice axe used to secure an out-of-reach hold. All in all he may be taken as a good exemplar of the “grip” era. Balance climbing still lay in the future.

How stood rock-climbing at the Cape relative to these developments at “Home”?

As to the “epochs”, there was a broadly similar course of progress. The sedimentary rock of the Table Mountain Series, it is true, does not lend itself to gullies in the classic British sense, but there are narrow ravines that are somewhat analogous to the latter, such as Fernwood Gully, Wormhole Ravine, Fountain Ravine and Jubilee Ravine. These, as we have seen, had all been climbed (one incompletely) within a half-dozen years of the Mountain Club’s birth in 1891.

So, if there was indeed a “gully” epoch here, it was of very short duration, and it was quickly overtaken by the “ridge” era, embracing such obviously weathered ridges or buttresses as Searle’s Corner, Silverstream Buttress, Platteklip Buttress, Platteklip Face, and Right Face. And the final “epoch” followed at once, or indeed overlapped with this era: the “slab and wall” stage, involving difficult climbing over considerable exposure: Saddle Corner direct, Arrow Face (final section) and Slangolie Buttress, with Centre Left Face and Fountain Buttress soon to come.

One should not press the periodisation issue too far. Like all classifications, it has its uses as a broad guide but on closer analysis is subject to various qualifications and exceptions with respect to both the precise parameters of the so-called epochs and the particular climbs assigned to them. And then, as has already been suggested, the underlying geological structure of one climbing-ground will militate against any facile application of its rock-climbing development to another’s. But, for what it is worth, the statement may be made that within barely more than a decade of the first tentative rock-climbing efforts at the Cape such exposed and technically-difficult routes as those mentioned a moment ago had been opened, whereas by contrast the “Time Chart” quoted sees the Cumberland “slab and wall” period as beginning with Botterill’s Slab on Scafell in 1903, some 21 years after the start of serious rock-climbing there. And when it is considered that the Table Mountain routes referred to were essentially the work of one man, and sometimes solo at that, then this rapid development of climbing at the Cape vis-à-vis in Britain is particularly striking, particularly when the much larger number of climbers active in Britain is borne in mind.

So much – and somewhat whimsically – for the periodisation of our Cape climbing. Can we usefully say anything on our climbers’ techniques?

A century hence, no doubt, it will be an easy matter to evaluate today’s techniques: the researcher will have a plethora of data, not only written but also photographic at his disposal. But for us, now, to go back in time a century and more is another matter altogether. To form a considered judgement on the style and technique of the Victorian and Edwardian climber must surely give the historian pause. But there are a few scraps of material that may act as a pointer.

It would probably be correct to say that in the 1890s the “Bible” of mountaineering in the English-speaking world was the 400-page “Mountaineering”, a volume in the well-known “Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes”. It was edited by Clinton Dent, a past president of the Alpine Club, and included contributions by several other eminent Victorian mountaineers such as Martin Conway, Douglas Freshfield and Charles Mathews. Many years later Geoffrey Winthrop Young, himself a mountaineer and rock-climber of great distinction, and doyen of mountain writers in the earlier part of the twentieth century, would speak glowingly of the book as the “first formulation of known technique” and as having had a “unique importance” for its day. It was, in fact, one of the first two books acquired by the fledgling Mountain Club in Cape Town, and it was stocked by the local booksellers. The very first issue of the Club’s Annual (1894) carried a review, which stated that “much may be learnt by our mountaineers from the chapters on ‘The Principles of Mountaineering’ and ‘Rock Climbing’”. So it is not unreasonable to assume that the more committed of the Club’s members had read it and digested its advice.

Here are some of its prescriptions:

  • Handhold is more valuable than foothold
  • When climbing up a (steep) rock face, the hands do the greater part of the work.
  • Do not climb with a spring or a jerk … The slow, dragging motion is the true and the right method.

 

The emphasis, it will be apparent, was squarely on the hands as the prime means of propulsion. It was, after all, the era of “grip” climbing!

Unfortunately for the historian trying to reconstruct the style and technique of the 1890s, however, the second of the two books acquired by the Club spoke with another voice. This was “Mountaineering” by Dr Claude Wilson, also of the Alpine Club. In contrast to Dent he stresses the use of the feet, and emphasises the importance of balance. An extensive review appeared in the Annual for 1896.

To anticipate the outcome of this debate we may say that, quite predictably, the ”push–and-pull”school would soon be pushed aside. The winning view, as formulated by the well-known Keswick climber G D Abraham in 1907, was that

The handhold should be only used as anchors, and the upward progress made by simply stepping upwards on (the) available ledges.

 

“Simply” stepping upwards – how easy it all sounds. It was an approach well suited, no doubt, to the technical standards of his day, but, with the increasing severity of new climbs, it would give way to less dogmatic approaches.

But we must return to the Cape in the 1890s and ask who won the ”Battle of the books”- Dent with his handholds or Wilson with his balance? Rock climbing, to be sure, is learned by doing and not by reading, but the experts’ manuals could not have been without their impact on the far-off climbers in Cape Colony, only too anxious to acquit themselves and tread in the steps of their much more experienced metropolitan mentors.

Perhaps the Dent volume, being the more comprehensive of the two, and no doubt drawing lustre from its panel of distinguished contributors (and perhaps its upmarket price – 10/6 as against Wilson’s 2/-) had the determining influence. The early rock routes offered a plenitude of good handholds, and it would not have been until later that a technique demanding more in the way of balance would have been necessary. Jackson, by all accounts, was possessed of great strength,[iv] and we may readily accept that in his early days he resembled Owen Glynne Jones in his use of raw muscle. But by 1906, if not earlier, he had moved beyond the simple “grip” technique. In a public address that year (and in what is his sole known utterance on this subject) he advised his lay audience to

move up the face of rock or (the) crack with a slow and gradual movement distributing your weight over several points of support; and never jerk or jump at any hold by means of raw strength instead of skill.

 

Still, this was in 1906, at a time when he had reached the pinnacle of his rock-climbing career, and when he would naturally have perfected his technique through long and varied experience. In his early days brute strength may well have predominated. As late as 1918, in an obituary for an early climbing partner, he summed him up as having had “a cool, steady nerve, and a grip of iron”.

What else of value can we say on the score of technique?

There were no purist qualms as to what was “sporting” in overcoming an intractable pitch. It will, perhaps, always be a nice question  as to whether vegetation is permissible as a hold, but, whatever may be the modern approach, the climbers of our period were not averse to a good stout bush or a big handful of grass. We have already noticed Jackson’s reference to the “climbers’ friend” bushes (suggestive name!) on Saddle Corner Direct, and it would seem that in former days there was an abundance of strong reedlike grass on the exposed crux pitch of Fountain Buttress. Bushes, indeed, might serve not merely as handholds or footholds when conveniently to hand, but also as “targets” to be secured by some skilful rope-throwing, as we shall see.

Vegetation, however, may be a borderline case. It is, after all, part of the mountain, so why not use it? But what are we to say of climbing methods that smack unambiguously of artificial aid?

Here too, happily, there was Dent as a reliable guide. He devotes a longish section to the means that can be employed to get up an otherwise unyielding pitch. It is simple enough, he points out, for the leader to stand on the second man’s shoulder and so reach a high hold, but a still better plan is for the second man

to grasp the leader’s foot well in both hands and raise him up, as in assisting a lady to mount her horse.

 

Methods of this sort – known in mountain literature as “combined tactics”- may also fall into a somewhat grey area. Is a climber never to be permitted, say, to give his second a helping handclasp, or to have his own foot steadied by the man below? It is only, perhaps, when we come to the use of some or other instrument that we can properly speak of “artificial aid”.

What can Dent tell us on that score? For one thing, the ice axe could be of good use. It could be held against the rock, head up, and this would give a small but “not very trustworthy” foothold.[v] A better plan involved

pressing the point of the axe well into a cranny and raising the stick above a horizontal level.

Failing victory by these methods there were still some “rather hazardous” options open to the nonplussed climber: parties have been able

to make their way up such difficult passages by throwing up a rope after the fashion of a lasso, and endeavouring to make the loop catch in some projection above. The performance requires the skill of the Mexican cowboy, and is a most dangerous expedient.

 

So much for Dent. If the Cape climber was still somewhat dubious, however, one could always invoke the great Edward Whymper of the Matterhorn.

He had no inhibitions about what would now be called “mechanical aids”, looked on the use of metal pitons as the most natural thing in the world, and even devised a special “claw”, as he called it. This was a double-pronged affair, and was attached to a length of rope through a hole where the two prongs met. On the mountain it could be pulled from the rucksack at the foot of what might have been an impassable stretch of rock and hurled up until the claw eventually caught on a rock; then the rope could be used over an otherwise holdless stretch.

 

How far were stratagems of this kind present to the minds of the Victorian and Edwardian climbers at the Cape? There are no relevant allusions in Jackson’s diary – but then that diary is laconic in the extreme. We do, however, know of one or two occasions when he evidently did not despise combined tactics. One, as we have seen, was during the first attempt on Fernwood Gully. Another was during the first “face” ascent of the Jonkershoek Twins, where he climbed up over the body of a spread-eagled companion. The latter occasion is also useful as giving a graphic and revealing description of the use of “artificial aids” for those below the leader”:

Then, having worked gradually up and round to a point above the others with the 60-foot rope slung over his shoulder, (Jackson) unwound the coils and let it down. One of the others then, climbing up hand over hand, endeavoured to get to the same place, but found the overhanging rock insurmountable, so a new expedient had to be devise. The rope was shifted overhead, caught hold of by those below, and jerked by them until it hung down from the mouth of a convenient notch, not directly above but some six feet or so to one side. Then, individually, those below, with one twist around and gripping with both hands, sprang off. The first swing carried each above and beyond the sloping rock on which foothold might be obtained. Pendulum-like movements then necessitated a swing outwards around the face of the precipice, and a swing back again over the rock, which could be reached only by slipping down the rope before the next swing became due. This being done, a little battering of heels enabled each to steady himself and secure a stand-ground (sic), though with burning hands which cool moist stones attracted like magnets. Jackson went through rather an unpleasant experience whilst this was going on, as the great strain caused the rope, which was out at full length, to slip from his shoulder on to his neck.

 

[Soon after this], one succeeded in winning his way upwards, and the others, having with much difficulty obtained foothold that would sustain body weight, managed, after many attempts, to sling the rope to him, and clambered up with its aid.

 

We are probably safe in saying that Jackson in his heyday, with impressive solo performances to his credit such as Platteklip Face, Arrow Face Complete, and Fountain Crack stood in no need of combined tactics. In this, as in other ways, he was well ahead of his contemporaries – some of whom, by their own account, seem to have been addicted to such tactics as a first rather than a last resort, and on just those climbs that Jackson had pioneered alone. Here is a vivid account of a party on Platteklip Face in 1910:

I climbed up as far as to where the bulge commenced. Cameron came up and stood on Forbes’s shoulders, then by my getting on to C’s shoulders I was able to get a good handhold up above and climb on the ledge above. The rope was sent down and C came up and the bags next, and then Forbes – he however had put his shoulder out, and had great difficulty in coming up, even with the help of the rope.

(A)  few short faces and chimneys and we came to the key of the climb: a sheer face with a tidy drop beneath. Climbing up about half way I found that my hobnails were no good further up, the hand  and foot-holds being too small for the nails to grip. C, who had a pair of rubber shoes, climbed on to my shoulders and managed to get to the top in safety. We must have taken some time climbing this portion, as when we called to Forbes to tie the bags on the rope we found that he was asleep.

 

So much for human ladders. When we turn to unequivocal artificial aid, we may note that our climbers were obviously a disadvantaged community insofar as ice axes were not in use locally. As for the rope itself, while there may be legitimate difference of opinion on the use of the climbing rope to help those behind the leader (or perhaps even the leader himself), a fixed rope from above, meant as a handhold, must surely be regarded as an artificial aid. But we shall be examining this issue in more detail in a moment.

Having disposed of ice axes and ropes, what remains by way of contrivance? Whymper’s grapnel? There is, indeed, a fleeting reference to Jackson’s very early days, when, we are told.

he used often to wander alone, throwing his hooked rope over trees and shrubs that might help him up otherwise inaccessible places.

This is the only allusion we have to any such thing. It comes from a hagiographic article by Jackson’s great admirer Sydney Yorke Ford, who would presumably have had it from Jackson himself and who obviously saw nothing discreditable in this reference to his friend and hero. Quite possibly he did use an aid of this sort in his fledgling days. After all, he had his Dent and Whymper to call as witnesses. But, with growing confidence in his own powers, he would soon have put away such childish things.

***

One day in December 1899 Jackson took a party of eight up Silverstream Ravine. It included a man by the name of Millar, from Johannesburg – possibly a “Rand Refugee” consequent upon the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. They were on the long angle-piece that completes the route, and almost up, when a slip occurred. The incident is best told in Jackson’s own words:

Mr Millar, who was some eight feet from the summit, somehow missed his hand hold and fell backwards, pulling me down with him. He reached the ledge below first and I nearly on top of him, and (I) caught hold of his shoulders just in time to (prevent) him slipping further down, which would have meant certain death. He sat on a ledge a foot further up for 3 ½ hours, while (some of the others) went to the reservoir works for ropes and assistance.

The arrival of the men with the necessary ropes was a happy time for Mr Millar, who stated to pat himself all over to get some warmth into his body … After having hauled (him) safely to the top we gave him another hour’s rest, and then commenced the real work of carrying him to the (reservoir) works, as we had no stretcher.

What immediately strikes one about this episode is that a climbing party including the Secretary of the Mountain Club, and its leading cragsman at that, should not only have left a visitor to Cape Town unroped on what may be a technically easy but nonetheless very exposed piece of rockwork, but also have carried no rope at all!

Virtually none of the very early accounts of climbing on Table Mountain allude to the use of a rope. Where they do, they make it clear that the rope, such as it was, was being employed as an artificial aid, rather than to protect the leader or even his companions. In Roger’s account of Hiddingh-Wormhole, thus, “a short rope” gave “invaluable aid to the least expert member of the party” at the waterfall pitch, and, on a climb up Silverstream Ravine later that year, a party was equipped with ropes, “which help ladies over bad places”. We read in other accounts, and photographs confirm, that the leader would climb to a comfortable stance with the rope still coiled around him, and then let it down if required to the other members of the party. (For the men, that is: “ladies” were roped as a matter of course, and sometimes given a second rope as a handhold.)

In Britain, by contrast, the whole party would be roped together on the climb. This method of roping-up stemmed from the traditional Alpine practice, which was carried over to the British crags in the 1890s, where rock-climbing was then emerging as a sport in its own right and not merely as a precursor to “the real thing” across the Channel. On easy or moderate rocks the rope moved together. When the climbing became more difficult the party would move one at a time from stance to stance, the man above holding the rope between himself and the next man so as to protect the latter in the event of a slip.

Never having had to contend with snow and ice, the Cape climbers evolved a rope technique of their own. On the Table Mountain of their day the pitches between comfortable ledges were seldom more than 60 feet, while the rock sections were themselves often separated by longer or shorter stretches of slope or boulders. That being so, it would have been ludicrous for the party to have been on one rope in the approved Alpine fashion. Much better to move unencumbered and quickly over the slope and scattered rock, using the rope only for a serious climbing pitch, whereafter it could be coiled and carried over the shoulder for the next obstacle. To have remained roped for the entire length of, say, Venster Buttress (and, a fortiori, Left Face) would have been plain silly. To be sure, there were one or two routes where the British method may have had its advantages, one thinks of Slangolie Buttress, but these were exceptional, and in any case the local method proved perfectly satisfactory.[vi]

The rope’s purpose is of course to protect the party against a slip. In the primal days of climbing this protection was simple and direct. If one of the party fell (or plunged into a crevasse) the others would, it was hoped, be able to hold him. All very well if it’s the second man who falls, or maybe even the third, but what if it’s the leader, and moreover some twenty or thirty feet above his second? In all likelihood the entire party would be torn from its holds.

It was vital, then, that some means of protection be devised for the leader. In due time, many years on, there would be slings, karabiners, pitons, nuts, “friends” and – sotto voce – bolts, but, back in our 1890s, the only expedient was for the leader to try to slip the rope behind a rock spike, a boulder or a tree as he advanced up the pitch. Primitive though it was, it could add decisively to the leader’s confidence, and could save both him and his party if he fell. The Abraham brothers of Keswick, who were prominent among the small band of British cragsmen in this decade, added a refinement in the form of threading the leader’s rope behind chockstones, but this was not always possible. In the final analysis, “the leader must not fall”.

The early manuals of mountaineering had little to say on the subject of belaying on rock climbs. Perhaps the first book to give it more than a passing glance was George Abraham’s “The Complete Mountaineer”, published in 1907. He stresses the need for “belaying pins”, and on how the leader may protect the second  and subsequent members of the party as they climb to his stance. As far as one can make out, his counsel was that the leading climber, arrived at a secure stance, should simply stand erect and take in the rope as the next man comes up, bracing himself against a fall by the latter. The photos accompanying his text bear this out. We are shown climbers bringing up those below them, but without being anchored to the mountain in any way.

In a later work, ”First steps to Climbing”, published in 1923, Abraham has progressed a bit. He tells us that, once the leaders is on a good stance, “he would if possible make use of some projecting rock or belay round which the rope can be passed, before the next man advances. This is termed ‘belaying’”. But he adds that

In normal situations of no great steepness or difficulty this extra security may not be necessary, for it should be noted that the friction of the rope over the rocks as it passes down to the next climber is very considerable. A heavy weight coming upon it in case of a slip is usually easy to hold. In fact, it may often scarcely be felt even if the second man swings off in mid-air from an overhang. Yet in such contingencies a “belay” is strictly advisable.

But this was in 1923, and in the meantime the approach to protecting the lower members of the party had taken great strides.

The Abraham method was that of the direct belay: the strain from beneath, in the event of a fall, comes on the rock, whether in the form of the spike or the rock surface between the two climbers. But already in 1909 an influential voice was being raised for an indirect belay: one where the stain falls on the belayer’s body. In that year Claude Benson published his “British Mountaineering”, in which he has a playful passage on belaying as it then existed:

Half way up “Two” makes anxious inquiries as to his security, to which “One” replies reassuringly: “Oh, you’re all right. I’ve got you belayed”.

So he has, true enough. There is a convenient spike of rock, the size of a soda-water tumbler; and, having hitched the rope over this, he has taken it in round and behind it. Now this method not only does not improve the rope, but has other disadvantages, one of which is that it is difficult to ”feel” your man in this way …

Ordinarily speaking, the correct procedure, when a suitable belay is available, is for the leader to belay (i.e., anchor) himself to the rock, so as to leave a clear rope between himself and the man following.[vii]

I have [insisted here] on this method, not only because it is the best, but because … it is so seldom practised that I cannot help thinking that it is not generally known. [Emphasis in original]

By 1914 Benson’s doctrine would find a powerful and influential supporter in Geoffrey Winthrop Young, a foremost climber of the pre-and post-World War I period and in due time to become president of the Alpine Club. His magisterial “Mountain Craft” published in 1920 but completed in 1914, comes out unequivocally for the indirect as opposed to the direct belay:

In one-at-a-time climbing it should rarely be necessary to take a direct belay to protect the man following. It is our business not to use a stance unless we can render its belay in some way indirect …(D)irect belays are more often used in laziness or ignorance than from any dire climbing necessity.

The direct belay doctrine died hard. The authoritative “Mountaineering in Britain” by Clark and Pyatt, published in 1957, claims that

Until shortly before 1914 the use of anchors of any sort appears to have been rare, the leading climber merely standing at his stance and drawing in his second’s rope through his hands. … When the rope was belayed it was almost always taken direct across a rock anchor … It is possible that the indirect shoulder belay was advocated by a number of climbers, but there is no evidence that … it was either generally taught or generally practised. Such safeguards as were practised appear, from our present-day point of view, to have been almost entirely illusory.

So much for the position in Britain. How did this compare at the Cape?

The first, and for many years the only, reference in the Club’s Annual to roping is in the issue for 1909/10, where in an article on “Equipment” we are told that if rock-climbing is in prospect “an Alpine rope should be taken as a matter of course”. But our expectation of some counsel on its use is immediately dashed:

Even if the climbers scorn to use it, which is, after all, very foolish, it will prove invaluable for hoisting rucksacks up awkward chimneys, and, of course, in the remote event of an accident it would be a veritable godsend.

Still, one should perhaps not look for a discussion of roping technique in an article on equipment. So it is only in 1912 that we first find something solid on belaying, and this not in the Annual but in the recently-begun mountaineering column in the Cape Times. It will be best to quote this at some length:

On every climb negotiated there are platforms where the leading (and best) climber may safely stand and assist the remaining climbers to ascend to his level. When this cannot be done, the climb borders on the foolhardy. It is the duty of the second climber carefully to pay out and control the rope whilst the leader is ascending. He will see that, if possible, it is paid out behind a projecting rock, if such be available, on which the rope could hook if the leader slipped. The leader himself, as he proceeds, and if he is able to, will place the rope close to him round these outstanding knobs, with a view to ensuring his own safety.

Having safely arrived at his platform, the leader should as far as practicable manipulate the rope from a point immediately above the climber who is following. … A belaying rock should be tested before being trusted. An apparently splendid belaying rock on the first serious pitch on the Stinkwater Needle route recently became detached when (fortunately) being tested, whilst the writer was giving a practical demonstration of the advisability of doing this. He was climbing with two friends, and, after belaying the rope on this projecting rock at the head of the pitch, invited his two companions to try to pull the rock down from their safe ledge below. They succeeded completely, and the stone, of about 18 inches cubical contents, rattled down the face exactly where they were about to climb up

As far as can be made out from this, the shoulder belay was not used, neither was the leader anchored. As late as 1925 the Mountain Club still adhered to the view that

Whenever possible a natural belay, i.e. rock or suitable tree, should be used in preference to having the rope wound round one’s body, thus avoiding undue strain on (the leader) should (the second man) slip.

From the same source it appears that when the leader did use the shoulder belay he was not anchored but simply standing foursquare on his stance. Corroborative evidence of this is to be found in a lengthy article on “The ethics of the rope” in the Club’s Journal for 1932, which tells us that the body belay (vis-à-vis the direct belay) should be used only in exceptional circumstances, while the accompanying photograph shows an unanchored leader bringing up his second in the approved Abraham style, the active rope merely running over the top of a boulder.

Like patterns for boot-nailing, roping techniques at the Cape no doubt differed between climbing parties, and we may hope that there were those climbers who ignored their Club’s prescriptions and went for the indirect belay. But that is to go far beyond the Jackson era: for the pre-1914 period we are probably safe in concluding that, given their haphazard roping techniques, the Cape climbers were lucky that they for so long escaped the grim test of a crisis.

***

Finally, and more light-heartedly, a look at our climbers’ personal accoutrement.

As late as 1914 it could be asserted, in a booklet aimed at the visitor from overseas, that the clothing needed for mountaineering in South Africa was the same as that for England – and that the local summer was merely “rather” hotter! Advertisements in the early issues of the Club’s Annual reinforce this approach. We see Burberry-coated climbers (“gentlemen”, from the look of them) complete with breeches, cap, and even collar and tie. The chief difference vis-à-vis today’s attire, however, and one that is the first to strike the modern climber, is the absence of shorts. Knickerbockers were de rigueur. Shorts raised their head, so to speak, now and then in climbing circles, but it would be a long time before knickerbockers retreated. As late as the early 1920s the pros and cons of the two were still being argued. Why the adoption, and unyielding defence of, an article of clothing so evidently ill-suited to the demands of the climate of the south-western Cape Colony?

It may, of course, have been simply a case of “colony see, colony do”. At “Home” the climbers wore knickerbockers, and that was that. Every photograph reaching Cape Town showing British and Continental mountaineers in action could have doubled as an advertisement for knickerbockers or even breeches, and the Cape Colonists – now starting out on their own mountaineering era – were hardly likely to break with the traditional and conventional. There may even have been an element of snobbery. When the artist who drew the cover illustration for a 1906 publication was so bold as to put his triumphant, earnest mountaineer in shorts, he was rebuked by the editor and told to get his hero out of “football garb”. But there may have been less frivolous reasons for the long sway of knickerbockers and the avoidance of shorts – however bizarre those reasons may appear to us now. The locus classicus on the subject is a 1921 article by Ken Cameron, which it will be best to quote at some length:

Local climbers are now almost universally agreed that “shorts” are far superior to other forms of trousers, and the advantages derived from using these certainly seem to outweigh the disadvantages. First, they are the acme of comfort, and permit of unrestricted movement of the legs. … Some years ago one was apt to be somewhat conspicuous when passing through town with bare knees, but in these post-war (World War I) days people are used to such sights, and even little country villages one can now go about in mountain “togs” almost unnoticed.

The only fault that can be found with “shorts” is that one’s knees are apt to suffer, though even this can be remedied by systematic hardening and practice, and it is surprising how tough the skin can become. Let us drop a word of warning to the novice: do not, without preliminary hardening, expose bare knees to the South African sun in the summer. We have seen victims of sunburn almost unable to walk for a week after a hot day.

Critics state that for winter wear “shorts” are not warm enough; but experience has shown that to a large extent the process of hardening the knees against sun and rocks also protects them from cold. Legs of old (mountain) stockings with the feet cut off make fairly effective coverings for cold weather or for rock climbing. They should be sufficiently long to enable the lower ends of the legs of the “shorts” to be tucked in.

So much for shorts – but this was long after our period, in which knickerbockers were the order of the day. And as to the remainder of his outfit, our climber might on occasion even don collar and tie.

And what of the women? There were women climbers in the Club’s infant days, as we shall see, and for them there were ankle-length skirts, long-sleeved shirts or blouses, and hats such as boaters. Not, one would think, the most suitable attire, however dainty and decorous. But towards the end of our period there was some relaxation in the attitude towards women’s “proper” attire, so that by 1911,

After we got into town we prepared for action by leaving all unnecessary skirts at an office, and proceeded on our way in “gym” costumes, mountaineering boots, and Noah’s Ark hats. We tramped brazenly through the streets and exchanged a frigid stare with an “Adderley-Street-Saturday-morning” man and woman.

Those not bold enough to don gym costumes, however, continued to climb in slightly-shortened long skirts. “We never went without stockings, and invariably wore hats, (and) we just hitched up our skirts.

On the score of footwear, however, there was little scope for variation. Synthetic materials were still far in the future, it was a case of leather or nothing. But no boot then being made locally came up to the requirements of the serious mountaineer, and it was necessary to import so-called Alpine boots from England. (For many years the Annual  carried an illustrated advertisement for “J S Carter’s of London, “nailed” boots, which gave a better grip on rock than leather. Hobnails were fixed to the flat of the sole, and clinkers around the edge. There was no standard pattern for the arrangement of the nails. Climbers would swear by their particular likes, and the permutations were legion. The local market for nails was of course minuscule, and the Club therefore imported them and maintained a stock for sale to the members. Boots were treated with dubbin for flexibility and waterproofing.

Lastly, the carrying equipment – since even the most innocent ramble up the mountain demanded some kind of container, for provisions and spare clothing. In the very early days this might take the form of a rectangular wicker basket, but these, as Jackson would dryly remark many years later, “were dangerous to climb with (there is a surviving specimen in the Club’s archives.) There was also the military-type knapsack, but this was open to complaint. It sat squarely below the shoulders, so that the weight was carried high up on the back, without support from the waist, and it also interfered with the balance. It might do for a tramping trip, albeit uncomfortably, but hardly for proper mountaineering. Moreover its straps, being stitched to the main fabric, tended in time to work loose under the strain placed on the join.

The answer to these problems was the rucksack. This form of backpack was essentially a simple bag, drawn closed at the top by a drawstring. It hung much lower on the climber’s back, and in the hollow, which gave it more support, while the strap problem was overcome by hanging them from the drawcord rather than stitching them on to the pack itself. And, since it was round or oval rather than square, the rucksack was more suited to the addition of outside pockets.

The small size of the climbing community at the Cape meant that rucksacks too would have to be imported. But Jackson set about designing one suited to South African needs. A local firm of canvas workers made it up to order, and it was soon widely adopted by the Club.

It was clothed, shod and equipped in this way that our Victorian climbers approached their playground.


[i] He was then a shipping clerk at Weiner & Company, a prominent firm of merchants in Cape Town.

[ii] I may be permitted another recollection. In my youth there was a well-known Cape Town eccentric called ”Knickerbockers” from his adhesion to that form of dress. He was a tall, cadaverous, grizzled man, usually carrying brown-paper bags, whom one would frequently encounter hurrying down a street. In my ignorance I took him for “Mr Travers-Jackson, the mountaineer”. It was quite a come-down (from this flight of fancy) to meet the real man. – VS

[iii] ”Belaying”, in this context, is to be understood as simply hitching the rope around a suitable spike or boulder.

[iv] cf. The account of Jonkershoek Twins is discussed in Chapter 8 below

[v] It was a tactic of this kind that led to Owen Glynne Jones’s death on the Dent Blanche in 1899.

[vi] Many years later a visiting English climber mused on this technique, which he found so unlike “the English – nay, the world – method”. He argued that the South African system, when analysed “in its psychological aspect” carried with it a peculiar danger: in a party of novices there would be some who were sufficiently self-confident to dispense with the rope, and so others, less capable, might then be elbowed or shamed into a similar refusal, with possible disastrous results. Taken up Spring Buttress Stepover, he noted that the rope was used on a few pitches only whereas in England “every member of the party would (have been) religiously roped throughout.”

[vii] Although Benson does not make the point, in the indirect belay the active rope is taken in by the belayer under one arm and over the opposite shoulder. Hence the synonym “shoulder belay”. Alternatively he may sit down and pass the rope around his waist.

Annexure B Some Mountain Tragedies – Annexure B – drawn up by George Travers-Jackson

JACKSON’S COUNTRY CLIMBS

The increasing demands of the secretaryship did nothing to constrain Jackson’s involvement in active mountaineering. And, expert cragsman though he was, his passion for the mountains went beyond rock-climbing. By the time he accepted the post he had already notched up what by the standards of the time was a respectable tally of mountain summits: Horologie Berg (now                   ); Brandwacht; Simonsberg; the Somerset Sneeukop; the two Wellington Sneeukops; Du Toit’s Peak and the Goudini Sneeukop; Audensberg; Riebeeck Kasteel; and the Great and Little Winterhoeks. The mountains of the Boland, indeed, were to take up more of his time in the years to come than did new rock routes on Table Mountain, with the Hex River area as his favourite stamping ground.

Details of these early country climbs are scanty. Some, certainly, were done in the course of the annual excursions or on a rare “occasional” club outing, but others – notably Du Toit’s Peak and the Goudini Sneeukop – were done “unofficially”. Prudence dictated, of course, that a venture into these mountain fastnesses called for a party of two or three members; but there might be occasions when circumstances led to a solo ascent. One that stands out was the ascent of the highest of the Outer Zanddrift Peaks in the Hex River mountains when Jackson and Amphlett set out to tackle this peak together. It would be tedious, however, to tick off Jackson’s country climbs one by one. Most of them will seem innocent enough now, but in their day they were major undertakings: not only in the sense that they penetrated terra incognita, but also in the light of time constraints, which in turn were a function of the means of transport then at the climbers’ disposal.

The official transport infrastructure of the Colony was rudimentary. By the beginning of the twentieth century, most of the small towns of the Boland that promised good mountaineering in their vicinity could be reached by rail. Failing this, those seeking to climb a specific peak were thrown back on the slow horse-drawn vehicles of the time. Lacking access to a private vehicle, the would-be adventurer afield could turn in the last resort to the postcart, which accepted passengers. But this meant frequent stops and slow progress towards the destination: the 15 miles from Paarl to Fransch Hoek, thus took 3 ½ hours, Ashton to Montagu one hour, and a whopping 14 hours from Laingsburg to Ladismith.

If only for reasons of time, then mountaineering trips to the Boland tended to cluster around those peaks that could be reached comparatively quickly from the railhead, even if several miles of footslogging was involved. Favourites were Somerset West – for Helderberg, Steenbras, Kogelberg, and the Somerset Sneeukop; Stellenbosch, for the Jonkershoek mountains; Fransch Hoek, for the peak of that name, the Wemmershoek area and the Groot Drakenstein; Wellington, for the Witte River valley and the Slanghoek mountains; Ceres Road (now Wolseley) for the Mostertshoek and De Doorns, for the mighty Matroosberg.

There was an element of romance to these forays into the country districts. They took him into that part of the Colony that Lawrence Green would later immortalise as “The Land of Afternoon”, to villages or hamlets that time seemed to have passed by, and which in culture and atmosphere were far removed from the bustling life of Cape Town: where the inhabitants, like Gray’s yeomen, continued to keep the even tenor of their way. Here is a vivid description from Alys Fane Trotter, that indefatigable student of the old houses of the Cape and the style of life to which they gave rise:

If you arrive at Stellenbosch at two or three o’clock of a summer afternoon, an extraordinary stillness reigns. The whole town is asleep; shutters are closed, hardly a dog barks, the rustle of the heavy leaved branches and the tinkle of streamlets are the only audible sounds.

It is said that a Stellenbosch burgher consulted his doctor for insomnia, and on being asked at what hour of the night he most suffered, exclaimed: “It is not at night that I suffer; I sleep well at night. But nowadays I cannot get to sleep in the afternoon.” As afternoon wears on, the sleepers awake. Day cools to the fresh South African evening, coffee and pipes appear on the stoep, and through flickering tree shadows the sunshine of the afternoon slants low. Alas for the time when the old-world life shall have disappeared with the gable and the stoep of the old-world builder! For they are disappearing. Never again will you find a better impression of the past, a quaint everyday past, forgotten of history and laid aside by the trend of modern thought, as in these little townships built by a northern race, developed under a southern sun apart from fashion and jostle, without the great ambitions which for the most part make for misery. So that for a brief time the new-comer feels as one “carried away by the fairies into some pleasant place.”

 

An evening in Stellenbosch might be spent in a boarding house, of which there were several, catering to the demand for student accommodation. In less-favoured hamlets such as Fransch Hoek, the climbers might knock up a friendly farmer. But favourite jumping-off places were Sandhills and Ceres Road stations. At Sandhills the climber might count on hospitality from the Brodies on their farm, where Club members were always welcome, and Philip Brodie would in fact become and honorary member in recognition of this. Ceres Road offered no such comforts, those planning to climb the Mostertshoek Twins had to hump their loads some five miles to Michell’s Pass, where they would spend the night alongside the river. They would leave their train at about eleven o’clock on the Saturday night, walk to the Pass, cook a fast meal and bed down. On Sunday the Twins would be climbed, and then came the trek back to the station to catch the train at 3 am on the Monday morning. A quick wash and shave at home, and then a race to be at work on time.

Here is a sample of what a long weekend might entail. It covers Jackson and Amphlett’s trip to Matroosberg in May 1899:

  • Leave Cape Town on 2100 train Saturday
  • Reach De Doorns 0340 Sunday
  • Sleep at Smeeton’s Hotel
  • Leave by cart for Viljoen’s farm 0720 Sunday
  • Depart farm 0820
  • Reach Lakelet on Matroosberg 12 noon; camp there for night
  • Leave Lakelet 0745 Monday
  • Reach summit of Matroosberg 1100
  • Leave 1140 for Roode Els Berg; return 1400 (Jackson alone)
  • Reach Loubser’s farm 1730
  • Leave farm by cart 1800
  • Reach Smeeton’s Hotel 1830; good wash
  • Leave De Doorns on 2330 train Monday
  • Arrive Cape Town 0624 Tuesday

Matroosberg, it may be added, was a peak that could not be fitted into an ordinary weekend in those days, when one worked on the Saturday morning or perhaps even the whole day. Compare today’s one-day dash!

Climbing in the Boland was not for the faint-hearted. Time constraints being what they were, and knowledge of alternative routes being sketchy, the “obvious” but wearisome way up open slope was perforce the via normale.

Classic examples are the interminable slopes of the Mostertshoek Twins from Michell’s Pass. Slanghoek Peak from the Witte River valley, and Matroosberg from De Doorns.

The tyro in initiated into the sacred craft along these ways. If he survives this baptism of slog and sweat, he really loves mountains.

There was, however, in those days a means – now long vanished – whereby the privations of country peaking might be mitigated: the employment of porters. Invariably on “unofficial” country trips, and even sometimes on Table Mountain, youths would be engaged to carry the baggage, prepare the coffee, collect firewood, fetch water, and in general make life easier for their tired employers. “Casual” labour would often be engaged there and then at the jumping-off station, but many of these casuals would in course of time graduate into regulars, in which case they would be booked by letter, routed through a local farmer or other contact. There were also some climbers (Amphlett was one) who would take along the family “boy” to serve in this capacity. The need for porters on Table Mountain was obviously much less, but in the early days of the Club there was some demand for guides by visitors to Cape Town, and for these there was a fixed tariff: 10/- to15/- per day, including 25 pounds of baggage, with 2d per pound thereafter. But with the ongoing opening-up of Table Mountain and the growth in the Club’s membership the need for such guides gradually fell away.

To judge from the fragmentary material bearing on the subject, the “casuals” on country trips took the weight off the climber’s shoulders but no always off his mind. Their inexperience or fear might necessitate bushwhacking and other detours to avoid an exposed bit of climbing. They might muddle the directions for meeting their masters when the latter returned from their peak, and have to be ”rescued” by their irate employers; or they might decide the work was not to their liking after all, and simply take off home. But their help – or, in the best cases, their active support – was well-nigh indispensable in the days of heavy and awkward mountaineering gear and inconvenient clothing. They deserve a place in our annals.

COUNTRY ROCK CLIMBING

The closing years of the century also saw an extension of the rock-climbing learned on Table Mountain to the mountains of the Boland.

Up to this time the only ways followed up these peaks had been the obvious, easy ones. Although there are no records as to when or by whom the more prominent peaks were first climbed, it can reasonably be assumed that farmers or the young men of the contiguous country villages had climbed the easily-accessible mountains such as Riebeek Kasteel, Brandwacht, the Wellington Sneeukops, Helderberg, the Jonkershoek and Mostertshoek Twins, Slanghoek Peak and Matroosberg. Some peaks, too, were climbed by surveyors’ parties in the course of their work. When the Mountain Club began operations there were a number of easy peaks, lying close to the railway, that would soon be visited as part of the Annual Excursion, or by small private parties of enthusiasts. But what had not been attempted by club members during the first few years of its existence were “wrong” ways up a country peak: rock routes deliberately sought out in preference to the interminable grind up the obvious slopes.

A promising candidate for this treatment lay close at hand in the Jonkershoek Valley at Stellenbosch. Here the impressive Tweelingpieke, or Jonkershoek Twins, rose steeply from the upper slopes, forming two striking spires reaching to above the height of Table Mountain and presenting long stretches of apparently impregnable cliff. The peak could be easily climbed, either from the west – along the crest of the range, from the Stellenbosch side – or from the east, via the straightforward but long Langrivierskloof, which was the via normale. Access was not difficult. One could catch the Saturday evening train to Stellenbosch, tramp the few miles to the valley, sleep at Watermeyer’s farm (near the present-day trout hatchery), and have ample time on the Sunday to do the peak and return to town.

This was the programme followed by Jackson, Austin and Hobbs in late 1900. They made for the face of the eastern, or higher, Twin, where an inspection had revealed a series of cracks and gullies that seemed to promise a route. After some seven hours’ climbing they stood alongside the beacon. It was the first “country” rock climb, and, when an account of it quickly appeared in the Cape Times, it caused a stir in climbing circles as “perhaps the most sensational mountaineering feat ever performed in this Colony”.

Looking at the peak today, and trying to puzzle out the precise route they followed, one is somewhat bemused by the reaction in 1900. Hobbs’s article makes it perfectly clear that they had aimed at the long gully beginning at the right-hand extremity of the grassy terrace that leads out of and up from the great Central Ravine between the Twins. This gully leads eventually and easily (“B”) to the summit nek and is a much-used route now, suitable for large parties. At that time, certainly, it would have been accepted and admired by the climbing community as a “face” ascent and a welcome alternative to the Langrivierskloof. But somehow or other Jackson’s party seems to have missed this easy way, to end up on some difficult rock in an exposed position. What happened then is no doubt what caused the “sensation” back in Cape Town. (Hobbs’s vivid account would certainly have set some spines deliciously a-tingle. It has been quoted in large part above).

Well, whether by accident or design an unambiguous rock route had been accomplished on a country peak. Strangely enough, though, it was the only such route he opened in the Jonkershoek Valley, which offers a plenitude of fine climbs, both on the Twins and on the imposing Ridge Peaks. For that matter, he was to show – with two spectacular exceptions – no interest in rock climbs up any other country peaks. Dare one suggest that George Travers-Jackson was not especially interested in rock climbing?

The great majority of the Western Province peaks lend themselves to easy routes. There was, however, at this stage one peak that had acquired a reputation for being ”unclimbable”. This, mirabile dictu, was French Hoek Peak. Straightforward enough today, in all conscience, to anyone claiming to be a mountaineer, but which apparently needed “persistent observation and effort extending over some years” before a route was evolved. For once, Jackson was not first in the field. It was climbed by two other club members, Guthrie and Mann, who casually tackled it while holidaying at French Hoek, in 1900. They followed what to a climber is the obvious way up the western ramparts of the peak, from the wide saddle in the Berg River Kloof. It is a climb of easy “D” at most, but when the pair returned to the farm boarding house below

we were quietly but firmly told that we had not been to the top, and that we mustn’t imagine that because we came from Cape Town we could succeed in taking in innocent country people with foolish yarns about what they knew was impossible.

Balked of a first ascent, Jackson retorted with a second, albeit with a considerable delay: in November 1902 he and R Hahn of French Hoek climbed the peak from the eastern side (the “back”).

Concerned as we are, first and foremost, with Jackson as the cragsman, there are only two other peaks that can claim our interest: the Buffels Dome in the Hex River mountains and the Toverkop at Ladismith. Both were regarded then, and are still regarded, as spectacular and difficult mountains. But we shall retain our chronological order, and leave these peaks to the future as we return to the Table Mountain of 1904.

JACKSON’S CLIMBS – 1900

The last year of the nineteenth century – 1900 – would produce but a lean crop of new routes on Table Mountain. According to the Route List, only two new climbs were done that year, but in reality there were three, and we shall quickly dispose of the unrecorded one before going on to deal with the other two, both of which pose problems for the historian.

Valken Ravine (with Bertie Searle, 2.12.1900, descent) lies to the immediate left (north) of Kasteels Poort, to which it offers a fast and shady alternative. It surmounts the first rock barrier by a traverse from left to right, and then zig-zags up the ravine by pleasant short pitches towards a prominent rock needle on the right. It is graded ”B+”. Today, two routes are recognised, the other one starting with an awkward crack on the right, but this distinction seems rather contrived. The route was to become one of Jackson’s favourites.

(BOX : CAPE TIMES ARTICLE)

A splendid alternative climb for those desirous of going to the lower plateau from the Camps Bay side can be found in Valken Ravine.

One emerges from its top in quite close proximity to the head of Kasteel’s Poort, and an ascent or descent by this route provides a welcome and interesting relief from the monotony – if we may be permitted the use of the word – of frequent usage of the Kasteel’s Poort path.  Valken Ravine is the first ravine on the Cape Town side of Kasteel’s Poort and separates Traverse Buttress from Kasteel’s Buttress, and although it must not be assumed that because it is quoted here as a ready alternative route, it is anything like so simple or easy as Kasteel’s Poort, yet it is not beyond the resources of the average, moderately skilled climber. There are practically no really awkward pitches on it, and one can commend it to climbers without any but the ordinary reservations.  The ravine itself crosses the Kasteel’s Poort path at a point something more than halfway between the Pipe Track and the prominent aerial tramway standard, and easy, though steep, slopes lead one to the first pitch of rock in the somewhat narrow ravine, which section embraces, roughly, its whole width.  This pitch of some 20 to 30 feet, may be turned either in its right hand angle or by a movement on the opposite left hand side.  Well marked tracks head to either. If the right hand side is accepted, a movement of progressive awkwardness will be encountered, with the worse piece coming last, though the whole thing is tolerably easy.  If the left hand side is preferred, a scramble over rocks brings one to the level of a narrow traverse, which is followed right across the face, until a point is reached near the finish of the first-mentioned movement.  Easily gaining the next ledge (the whole movement is a series of alternating ledges and faces), which is quite close to hand, another traverse is made to the left, and the higher ledge reached via the gully on the extreme left.  Or if one prefers a slightly more exposed route, this ledge may be gained in more direct fashion by a way which will be apparent, because of well-trodden marks.  Again a similar procedure is repeated, on this occasion a large boulder standing on the ledge providing a way to the right through a passage between it and the main mass.  The traverse to the right is continued from the top of this boulder, and a pull up by means of a firm rock which can be fully trusted, helps one on to the next ledge.  Still one more pitch has to be surmounted before the ravine falls back sufficiently for one to regard the actual climbing as finished, and the head gained by easy scrambling.  But a most interesting variation can be made from the ledge mentioned, a few lines back on to which one arrives after the hand pull up.  During the climb, a towering rock will have been observed on the right high up, standing out like an isolated tower.  From the point mentioned, the right wall of the ravine is traversed outwards, ledge by ledge, in a direction gradually rising until a point immediately under this outstanding knob is reached.  Thence upwards until a shelf of rock about from 18 inches to two feet wide is seen on the mass itself, terracing round away from the ravine one has just ascended.  This little traverse, which must be performed on the hands and knees, because of the projecting rock about two feet above, provides the tit-bit of the whole ascent or descent, as the case may be.  It is about from 12 to15 feet in length, though, being on a curved mass, the opposite end is not in sight.  The movement is quite an easy, though a temporarily sensational, one.

Rucksacks should be pushed in front of one along the ledge, and if a rope is demanded, it should be strongly held at both ends.  Following this, an interesting chimney is easily gained, is deep, and the rocks possess plenty of excrescenses and cup holds.  Emerging at the top, an easy scramble brings one to a slope from which the head of the ravine proper may be comfortably gained.  The ravine is classified as a second-class route, and just qualifies for its place above the thirds.

Fountain Crack (given as 27.5.1900, alone) is the deep chimney-gully in the centre of the great west-facing terminal cliffs of the western Table. It starts on Fountain ledge and ends behind the upper cableway station. It ranks as an “E”, but is no longer climbed, being a mass of rubble from the cableway tippings of a past day. But in its time it was treated with great respect as one of the mountain’s most formidable pieces of rockwork.

It is the “obvious” way through the imposing crags that surround it. Its difficulties are concentrated in its lower portion, after which it becomes a straightforward gully. To someone of Jackson’s temperament it would have acted as a magnet and an assault by him would have been perfectly predictable. But there is uncertainty on when.

When Ken Cameron was compiling a chronology of Table Mountain climbs he gave the date as 1907. This was wide of the mark, and Jackson wrote to him to set the record straight, giving the date as 27.5.1900. But this is not substantiated by his dairy. The entry for the date in question has no reference to any such climb. Nor does the Crack figure (as a first Ascent) elsewhere in the diary. So the conclusion must be that he omitted to record the climb (there are a few blank days here and there) or that he climbed it before 1899 – where the extant diary commences.

The first allusion to it that we have is in Miss Russell’s account of a descent of Kloof Corner, in the Annual or 1903. As they moved along Fountain Ledge, they looked with awe to the

Perpendicular crack, which one of our guides [Amphlett?] recently attempted unsuccessfully to scale. Although several times attempted it has, it appears, only been climbed by one especially expert cragsman.

The first “official” appearance in the Club’s annals is in Jackson’s “Fifty ways up Table Mountain”, in the Annual for 1904/5. But here it makes its entry, so to speak, by a side door. It is not shown as being part of a route, still less as a route in its own right, but is mentioned simply by way of a footnote and a caption to a photo of the part of the mountain in question – both of which, it seems reasonable to suggest, are editorial additions to the manuscript submitted by Jackson.

The editor at that time of the Annual was Sydney Yorke Ford, a talented journalist and one of Jackson’s fervent admirers. In all likelihood he added the reference to the Crack (which is nowhere named as such) so as to bring this “unrecorded” but impressive climb to the notice of a wider public, Club- and non-Club alike. He would, of course, have obtained details from Jackson himself, but the latter, it seems, was diffident as to the inclusion of the climb in his list. He had, if our presumption is correct, not included it there to start with. Indeed, his view of “routes” comes out clearly in the article itself, for he ends it with the remark that

to nearly all these routes there are variations, which I do not count as separate ascents.

At that time somewhat rigid views were held on what in fact constituted a “route” up Table Mountain.  It would never have occurred to Jackson and his peers to claim Fountain Crack as a separate line of ascent, it was a good titbit of rock-climbing, but nothing more. It is revealing in this regard that in giving press interviews, in 1904 and again in 1905, he singled out Platteklip Buttress, Platteklip Face, Traverse (= Valken) Buttress and Apostle (= Spring) Buttress as routes that had been climbed by one Club member only, himself, of course, although this was not stated, there was no mention of either Arrow Face Final or Fountain Crack.

The historian must lament the absence of any fuller reference to the pioneering ascent. But as solace of a sort, and also valuable in giving some flavour of the climb and of early climbing techniques, there is W C West’s gripping account of what was taken to be the second ascent. It appeared in the Annual for 1911. We shall supplement it here by a hitherto-unpublished extract from the diary of A A Jurgens:

Sunday 13th November 1910

Ascent of the Crack, which forms the final portion of the Fountain Buttress – Table Mountain …

To the right of the [Crack] we climbed the face for some 20 feet, then a traverse to the left along a ledge brought us into the crack.

We ascended the first 30 feet of the chimney, and then got to the first difficulty – these follow one after the other and consist of three problems.

Problem No 1 is the traverse. This lies on the left of the chimney, and consists of two waterworn channels in the sandstone sloping towards the crack. Above this there is a ledge which is on the outside, about two feet broad, but where it takes a turn inwards towards the chimney it breaks away, and a slab of rock projecting for about 18 inches takes its place. The top of this projection forms the handhold, if it can be so called: it is covered with mud about 2 inches deep and as smooth as glass. The difficulty is not the getting on to the traverse, but the getting on to the ledge from the traverse. The projection pushes the climber out, and with absolutely no handholds and a good drop below [it] makes the climbing rather awkward.

We had two ropes with us – a thick one and a thin one.[i] West anchored himself in the chimney as far back as possible, holding on to the thick rope, [while] Cameron and Forbes were anchored on the opposite ledge and as near as possible opposite West – the idea being that in case I slipped, the two ropes if held taut would prevent me from dashing against the opposite side of the chimney.

Fastening both ropes round my waist, I climbed as far as the projection, but having started wrongly I had to work back into the chimney. At the second attempt I passed the traverse and gained the ledge on the other side.

Forbes and Cameron climbed into the chimney where West was and anchored themselves; the thick rope was then pulled taut over the mud-covered slab and held taut by me, the thin rope being secured round my body and belayed around a rock on a level with my left knee; the other end of the thin rope was held by Cameron. The rope above was then used as a handhold and West came across, then Cameron and the bags followed, [then] Forbes, who was secured by both ropes and held taut by the three of us on the ledge – he had no top rope to act as a handhold – but by the aid of the rope he managed to balance himself while he rounded the projection, this finishing problem no I. No II was just above us.

Standing on Forbes’s shoulder I was able to reach a tuft of grass about 8 ft above – this brought me on to a grassy ledge. Forbes followed on the rope, and the grass we were standing on seemed to give under the double weight – no time could be lost – so standing on his shoulders again the face above was scaled; two stout young trees were found [and] round this the rope was hitched, Forbes, West, Cameron and the bags following, and problem no II was finished. The third difficulty consists of a smooth slab of rock in the centre of the chimney – the slab is slightly to the left and the right is overhanging – grass being the only thing that offers any handhold, [and] this cannot be relied upon. About 4 ft up on the right there is a little knob, and here it was that Forbes’s shoulders were once more required in order to reach it – the right leg is then put up as far as possible, the right hand on the knob used as a balance, and with a final push from below a tuft of grass is reached above, and a slow pull up lands you on the top of the slab.

We now got to a narrow chimney about 40 ft high in the main crack, up this we climbed about halfway, when a traverse was made to the right out of the chimney and up the face. A wormhole was also encountered, and this we included in the climb.

A short climb up an easy face, and we arrived at the beacon which marks the summit of two of the most difficult climbs on the mountain – the top portion of Arrow Face and the final crack of the Fountain Buttress.

At the time, and in fact for many years afterwards, they believed that theirs was the second ascent. As we shall see, however, it had been climbed by Jackson and two others some years before this.

Postern Buttress (with H W Wright, 16.12.1900), it the impressive square-capped buttress to the immediate right (or south) of Kasteels Poort.[ii] This route too is something of a puzzle. It will be best to begin with Jackson’s diary entry:

Wright and myself ascended Kasteels Poort to the 12th standard (today’s “Bandstand”), then crossed over to the buttress on the other side of the ravine; this we ascended.

As far so good, although it will be seen that they omitted the lower sections of the buttress. However, what is surprising and suggestive is that no record of their climb appeared in the Club’s annals for a whole twelve years.

The first published reference to the route is in the Annual for 1912. Yet in the interim two route lists had appeared: Jackson’s comprehensive list in the Annual for 1904/5, and his ”Some new ways up Table Mountain”, in the issue for 1907. It is also noteworthy that when Jurgens drew up his private list in 1911 he made no illusion to any “Postern Buttress”: his Kasteels Poort is followed by Postern Ravine. And when that first published reference did appear, in 1912, it was in an article that from internal and other evidence points to Ken Cameron and not Jackson as the compiler.

Let us try to straighten out the evolution of today’s “Postern Buttress”.

From Cameron’s 1912 account it is evident that his party started at the bottom of the buttress. They did the long, steep face on the lower section. On the formidable upper section, they reached the “dassie traverse” that girdles this section, but only after “exceptionally awkward” climbing. They then followed this ledge to the south and finished their climb on the corner, just short of Postern Ravine.

He seems to have been not altogether satisfied with his route, perhaps because of the failure to penetrate the top section of the upper buttress. (This was first done in 1918, via “Fraser’s Frontal”.) At any rate he returned to the buttress in 1923 and sought to make an honest route out of the disappointing original. Firstly, he avoided the big step on the lower section, by climbing a pitch from the same level but more to the right, virtually in Postern Ravine itself. And secondly, he avoided the difficult initial pitches of the upper portion of his original route by climbing to the dassie ledge much nearer the right-hand corner. He then classified the routes on the buttress as follows:

Postern Buttress (northern Route) (E). The route followed on the earlier ascents (i.e. his and Frasers) (Fraser’s Frontal), lying principally to the left (north) of the centre of the buttress.

Postern Buttress (southern route) (D). The line of ascent followed on the recent occasion, and which is situated on the southern corner of the buttress overlooking Postern Ravine.

 

But a few years later, when he drew up the first list giving the opening parties and dates of first ascent of Table Mountain routes, Cameron conflated Jackson’s and his routes, in the following way:

Postern Buttress (Southern Route), G F T Jackson and H W Wright, 16.12.1900

This was not the “D” route of today: as we have seen, it forced a contrived way through the lower buttress (and with a top rope at that), in order to avoid the steep but pleasant – and obvious – pitch on the buttress crest. Today’s popular “Postern D”- of which however the bottom section is seldom done – is in reality an amalgam of Cameron’s first and second routes up the buttress.

What then of Jackson’s route? His continued silence regarding it (in print at any rate) perhaps means that he did not regard his ascent as a route, if only because it left out the lower sections. And it is safe to assume that if he and Wright attempted the top section they too would have been forced to traverse towards Postern Ravine and finish where today’s “D” route does. Whatever their precise route, it has no claim (and Jackson made no claim for it) as the pioneer route up the buttress. It is now no more than an historical curiosity.

WOMEN CLIMBERS

A few words on some of the women with whom Jackson climbed at this stage are appropriate here.

Although the new Mountain Club initially admitted women as honorary members only, this quickly gave away to full membership, and, despite grumblings by a few die-hard misogynists, they were soon playing an active role in mountaineering.  Prominent among them at the turn of the century were Annie Wilson (a governess from Ladysmith), Miss E Russell and Elizabeth Arbuthnot, the latter a relative of Arnold Spilhaus of the well-known Cape family, who was himself a founding member of the Club. She hailed from England, and was evidently spending a holiday in Cape Town at the time. Climbing however apparently worked wonders for her, and she scored many “female firsts” on Table Mountain, in the company of Amphlett and Jackson. She was the heroine of some dramatic photographs of “ladies at rockwork”, first published in the Annual and subsequently reproduced elsewhere. She appears as a neatly turned out Edwardian young woman, in long sleeves with the cuffs buttoned, a closed-neck blouse and the full-length skirt of the times. With either Amphlett or Jackson, and often with both, she notched up Saddle Face, Hiddingh-Wormhole, Silverstream Buttress, Saddle Corner, Stinkwater Needle, Sea Point Gully on Lion’s Head, and the (later), Outlook Ridge on Elsie’s Peak at Fish Hoek. Stinkwater Needle ranked among her “firsts”, and there is a splendid photograph, hitherto unpublished, of her and Jackson at the final beacon, which brilliantly captures the spirit of contemporary mountaineering: Jackson, in heroic pose, scans the forbidding cliffs beneath the summit skyline, considering the further route, while she, demurely seated behind and below him, follows his gaze and contemplated the challenges still to come.

One other photograph by Amphlett is published here for the first time, not merely because of its period atmosphere – although it is wonderfully evocative of the era – but more because it marks an important landmark in Jackson’s life. Two women climbers are ostensibly holding a rock in position on the Kloof Corner ridge: the upper one is Miss Arbuthnot, and the lower “Miss Alice Shackleton”, as Jackson’s diary puts it.[iii] It is the first time she appears, and the “Miss Shackleton” would soon give way to “Alice”. He had climbed before with Tom Shackleton, who perhaps brought his sister into the Club’s orbit, and the siblings would soon appear on the membership roll. It was the start of a relationship that would end in marriage two years later.

 

Women might be full members of the Club and capable climbers too, but the ethos of the times was such that they were still treated as being in a state of tutelage to their male counterparts. Even after the First World War, with all its socially disruptive but also liberating spin-offs, there are still traces of this spirit: as late as 1926 two women members could pen the following effusion:

Though mountaineering is essentially a man’s sport, women may also revel it its glories … The woman who has learnt in all circumstance to be a reliable and helpful companion, can share with the men the greatest thrills which mountaineers may enjoy. She may be their companion in the penetration of wild, unknown kloofs, and in the conquest of thrilling rock climbs and of untrodden peaks; she may battle with winter gales and bask in the summer sun, and generally feel that many of the great needs of her earthly being have been satisfied.

 

Nowhere was this “tutelage” more evident that in the matter of dress. Although male climbers were hampered by the knickerbockers and jackets of the pre-1914 era, they were nonetheless free to climb in shirtsleeves and even the long “shorts” affected by a few of the bolder spirits. Women however had little option but to appear in a costume not greatly different from their streetwear. For her day Miss Arbuthnot was in fact rather “freely” dressed – a fact that is at once apparent from Amphlett’s photograph of her and Annie Wilson on Kloof Corner in October 1901.

The modern climber is left bemused by two things: one, that the conventions of the time were such that women should venture up Table Mountain, and in summer at that, swathed in these garments; the other, that they managed to climb rocks at all, in those ankle-length skirts.[iv] Little wonder that these “goddesses” evoked at least one contemporary’s “devout adoration”!

We need not, however, suppose that strict decorum always prevailed on the mountain, or for that matter within the Club itself. As was perhaps only fitting in the era of good King Edward of the roving eye, some of the naughtiness of the Nineties was still around. Two examples, one certainly and the other probably from the pen of Sydney Yorke Ford in the Annual for 1903, will suffice to make the point:

Mountain beauties

(quoted in The Examiner, now defunct)

“How the sun delights

To glance and shift about their slippery sides,

And rosy knees and supple roundedness,

And budded bosom peaks!”

Editorial Note

[The editor] regrets that feminine modesty has thrown

the veil of anonymity over all his lady contributors,

but he will welcome their further favours, signed or

otherwise.

***

The first year of the new century (1901) produced five new routes on Table Mountain, four of them in close proximity and destined to become highly popular.

Kasteels Buttress (alone, 17.3.1901) This route, graded “B+”, is the “obvious” route up this small buttress between Valken Ravine and Kasteels Poort. Starting to the left of the impressive western face, it traverses to a recessed tongue of slope and broken rock above that face, goes up for some distance and then traverses to reach the crest of the buttress, which is then followed to the top. Although an interesting route it is seldom done today, having been eclipsed by a composite route that begins in Valken Ravine, follows Kasteels Gully for its greater part and then escapes via a broad ledge leading to the crest of the buttress, where it joins the original route.

Although credited to Jackson, the buttress seems to have been climbed earlier.  H Lewis Harris’s diary for 30 May 1891 tells us that he

Tried 3 ascents before Kasteels Poort. Succeeded in last, over spur above Kasteels Poort.

 

In the absence of any further details, however, one is inclined to leave the route to Jackson. But this has complications of its own. It will be best simply to quote from Jackson’s diary and leave the matter there:

17th March 1901 I ascended Buttress this side of Kasteels Poort. Named it Kasteels Buttress; nice short climb.

10th June 1906  Took Barwick up the buttress on the left of Kasteels Poort. It being a first ascent we named it Kasteels Buttress.

 

We are not yet finished with this minor buttress. It is one of the best examples on Table Mountain of “name piracy”, or the theft by one mountain feature of a name rightfully belonging to another. “Kasteels Poort” is one of the oldest routes we have, and it is perfectly clear that its name derives from the castle-like buttress to its immediate south (today’s Postern Buttress): this was then known as the “Kasteelberg”. There are references to it from as early as 1869, and Kasteels Poort itself was sometimes referred to as the Kasteels Berg gorge. Add to this the fact that there is a Postern Ravine to its immediate south, and the whole thing comes neatly together. We have the Castle, with its main gate to the left (the Poort) and the postern gate to its right – or “behind” it.[v] The buttress itself should therefore rightfully be “Castle Buttress” or something of that kind. Instead, this name was applied by Jackson to the insignificant buttress on the other side of the Poort, and in course of time the noble buttress opposite was somehow (we lack documentation) given the entirely inappropriate name “Postern”. Perhaps he was merely trying to be consistent: from Porcupine Buttress southwards to Spring Buttress the buttress name is always followed by that of its companion ravine and if this pattern were to be maintained his little buttress would obviously require “Kasteels”. But consistency is surely not all-important, and certainly not so vital as to break down a splendid piece of mountain metaphor. In any event, the continuance of the pattern is short-lived: it ends at Slangolie, where the relationship becomes reversed.

Whether the symbolism of the Castle and its Gate was appreciated by Jackson may be doubted, so it is not easy to indict him on a charge of name piracy or even recklessness. And he himself did not always stick to the name he had bestowed: on one occasion he calls it “Kasteels Poort Buttress”!

Wood Buttress (with Brice, Travers-Jackson and “the Galvins”, 30.6.1901) This is the low but long buttress – more a ridge – just past Postern Ravine. According to the diary,

The four of us ascended that small ravine just before getting the 11th [sic] Apostle Ravine [Seventh Apostle Ravine = Wood Ravine]. On reaching the top of this ravine, which is blocked up with a large boulder, we turned to our right and got on to the ridge, which we continued along to the top.

 

From this it is apparent that the bottom section, or left wing, of Wood Buttress as done today was omitted. With that section included (it is the best part of the whole route), today’s Wood Buttress climb is probably the best-loved “B” route on Table Mountain. The gully that by the pioneers was followed (now Wood Gully, (”B+”), is not attractive, and is very seldom done.

Neither of these two small buttresses is mentioned in Jackson’s route lists in the Annuals for 1904/5 and 1907. Not until Cameron’s 1912 list does “Wood Buttress” appear, and here it is obviously regarded as a new ascent. Whatever else may be said of Jackson, he was no route-collector.

Traverse Buttress (15.9.1901, alone) So far in 1901 Jackson’s new routes had been enjoyable scrambles up small, broken buttresses. The third and last of the year’s buttress crop was something quite different: “the 2nd buttress Cape Town side of Kasteels Poort”. This in its lower section forms a great square face of rock, undercut for the most part, but with a steep wall on the right, which leads to a prominent bush-filled gully slanting up to the left and giving easy access to the brow of the cliff. A pronounced ridge then leads to the upper sections of the buttress.

Jackson named it “Traverse Buttress”, and warned that

the face climbing below this (bush-filled) crack needs great care, as there are several awkward traverses to be made.

 

Chief, no doubt, of these is the so-called “piano traverse”, involving a movement from a comfortable stance up and out to the left. The full drop of the buttress is below, and the climber makes use of a narrow slit above him, in which the hands are spread out piano-fashion. It can be a disconcerting move for the inexperienced. Bert Berrisford tells of a climber who actually fainted as he looked below.

In its early days the climb had “a somewhat notorious reputation for awkwardness and exposed situations”, but in course of time it came to be considered nothing out of the ordinary. This downgrading stems from the evolution of an easier line of ascent, starting at the left-hand side of the lower face and working over to the right, instead of a vertical take-off pitch nearer the centre. Today’s “Valken ‘D’” is a perennially popular route. The name was changed in 1914 to avoid confusion with the Traverse Face route near the Saddle. Its lower sections are exciting for the average climber, and the upper ridge provides enjoyable scrambling that culminates in the so-called “canopy” pitch, again calling for a climbing traverse from right to left, this time on small holds and from beneath a large overhang.

We shall again quote from Jurgens, whose account gives a vivid insight into the climbing methods of the time. This ascent, in 1909, was possibly the first time it was done independently of Jackson.

This buttress we had always looked upon with some respect. This mighty slab of rock, rising up sheer from the foot and to the left of Valken Ravine, seems to defy man to scale its face. However, that it was possible we were quite aware of, as it had already been ascended by Jackson. …

The first portion offered no difficulty, but the further we got up the more difficult became the climbing.

We found ourselves on a ledge no more than 12 inches wide. This ran to a point against a sixty foot face on either side, and in the centre of this face was a narrow corner or side-rock, slightly overhanging and thickly overgrown at the top with thorn and Bubon bush [Pseydonum galbanum, formerly Bubon galbanum – the ”blister bush”].

C [Ken Cameron] climbed on to W’s [WC West’s] shoulders, while I played [sic] out the rope with the one hand and (held) W in position with the other to prevent a slip backwards. Standing on W’s shoulders, C was able to clear away some of the bush and then climb through himself. Rucksacks were sent up, W and I following.

I took the lead now. The traverse was somewhere here, but we could not find the ledge along which it had to be made, so we decided to go straight on.

About 30 feet up an overhanging portion is reached; so, bearing slightly to the left, I got on to the open face again. Another 20 feet higher up I found it was necessary for Cameron to come up to where I was, so that I could get on to his shoulders, the handholds here being somewhat out of reach. We were now practically speaking on virgin ground (as before mentioned, this portion of the buttress had not yet being [sic] climbed).

The ledge I was on was no more than 4 inches [wide], and this sloped outwards and seemed to be polished.

C climbed up until he was below me, then taking hold of my leg he managed to get up level with me. The two of us were now on the same ledge, which was only 4 inches wide. West remained behind with the bags – we could not see him, but we occasionally heard him shout whether all was well.

C proposed that I should work myself up the face of the rock until level with him, so as to get on to his shoulders; but this I refused to do, considering the narrowness of the ledge he was standing on, and as a slip here, with about 300 feet below, could hardly have been prevented had we carried his proposal into effect.

C and I remained in this position for about 20 minutes; then C, getting a bit further round on my left, he secured a good grip for his left hand while he held me against the face with his right, so that I could pull up the rope – our intention being to throw [it] over a nitch [sic] in the rock about 4 feet above us. The first cast got the nitch alright, but when the loose end fell down the other side towards W he shouted that it was too short. C, who had the second rope round his waist, then joined the two together, but with the double weight it was not an easy matter to get it over the nitch again – and when I did get it over, as soon as W pulled [it] taut it slipped off. Again it was tried and this time it went right home.

West now held the one end taut, and with a push from C from below I was able to get hold of the handhold above my head, and from there on to a broad ledge, where I anchored myself. …

“Crossing the slabs”, as we termed it, calls for great caution, this being the portion that had been avoided on the first ascent by Jackson. The rock was very loose, and as we climbed over it we could feel them moving.

Having climbed this bit, we were now on the ledge which runs at an angle of about 45 degrees to the left up the face of the buttress, and leading to a sort of gully. The gully itself offers no difficulty, only it is thickly overgrown with bush, which in order to avoid we climbed up the face on the left. This face overhangs a precipice of between 300 to 400 feet, but fortunately the hand and footholds are excellent.

 

One other route fails to be recorded for 1901: Saddle Ravine (with H W Wright, 5.4.1901, descent). This is the small but deep ravine on the Cape Town front, dividing Table Mountain from Devil’s Peak. It is a pleasant shaded scramble: a narrow rock corridor reminiscent of the Orange Kloof ravines, with small but sheer containing walls, the drip of water, comfortable stopping-places replete with lush grass, and – something virtually unique on the town side of the mountain – a profusion of indigenous trees. It ranks as a “B” on account of a waterfall pitch at the top. This is mossy and exposed, and cannot exactly be recommended for beginners, but it is easily outflanked by a ledge traverse to the left. The route brings one out at the well-known Saddle Rock.

It was apparently popular in the earlier part of the twentieth century, and one can understand why. It provided a pleasant alternative to the tedious Saddle Path and the Old Deer Path of former times. But with the laying out of the pine plantations and the clearing of the adjoining slopes, the ravine became a chute for rubble, with the consequent

Wholesale destruction of the fine indigenous trees and other flora, their place being taken by an almost impenetrable tangle of dead bush and boulders.

 

What’s new, today’s cynic may ask. But the healing hand of time has restored this gem of the north front of the mountain, and it again provides a delightful route to the Saddle.

The years 1902 and 1903 were to be short on the number but long on the quality of Jackson’s new routes on Table Mountain. Only three routes were to be opened by him, but in two of them he reached his zenith as a cragsman.

The minor one can be quickly disposed of. Postern Ravine (with H W Wright, 14.9.1902) is a shallow ravine separating Postern Buttress from Wood Buttress. A simple “A” walk, it should have made a good candidate for a popular, fast route to the lower plateau, but a waterfall near the bottom has to be outflanked by a long traverse out on to Postern Buttress and then back again, increasing the time significantly and making the route unattractive as a climbing proposition. Today it is heavily swathed in bush, and is virtually never climbed direct.

Centre Left Face (with H W Wright, 27.7.1902) has always been highly rated among cragsmen as an attractive and difficult climb. It lies about equidistant between Silverstream Ravine and Platteklip Gorge. It is easily picked out from below, as it follows a narrow but prominent rib of rock. Something of its character may be gleaned from the fact that Jackson toyed with the idea of naming his route “Wall Buttress” before christening it with the more euphonious “Centre Left Face”- a name that has drawn criticism on the score of originality, but which is music to the ears of the older generation. It is graded “E”, but warrants an “F” – perhaps a question once again of bush holds in an earlier era?

Until overtaken by the great climbs of the immediate post-Jackson school it was spoken of as the most difficult climb on the mountain (or, at any rate, on the northern front). Its main features are the difficult “overhanging crack” and the final pitch. These are graphically described in West’s 1914 article (see box), but – as showing the lengths to which combined tactics were then taken – the following extract from Jurgens’s diary is of great value.

(BOX : WEST’S ARTICLE) Query ? Is this 1914 Journal?

(QUOTATION : JURGENS DIARY)

……a start on the left hand side (of the first portion) and a swing around to the right gives place to a very difficult stretch of open face work …. here one goes with great caution, as both hand and footholds are very small, and the “drops” below enough to cause unpleasant feelings.

At the top of the face a traverse to the left is made for a few yards, an upward climb of about thirty feet and a traverse brings the climber directly above the starting place.  The precipice is now calculated in hundreds of feet, which increases steadily as the climb progresses.

A slight traverse to the left and back again on a higher ledge to the right is again made.  This ledge is followed to the right as far as one can go; further progress is now barred, but by the first man standing on the shoulders of the second, the second walks with his face to the rock inch by inch on a 4-inch ledge for another 4 or 5 feet, then while the second man is balanced by the third, who has followed him on to the ledge, the first man by standing on the head of the second is only just able to reach a dry thorn-bush on the face above – (a piece of wire was tied round this tree – if the thorn-bush goes the climb goes, as without its assistance this portion of the route would be impossible, and nowhere else can a favourable line of ascent be traced).

The first man anchors himself – the rest follow on the rope – the most difficult part is over … A most difficult route accomplished.

Akin to Centre Left Face in technical difficulty was Fountain Buttress (with E H Cooke, 19.7.1903) Long and strenuous, it was also a long time in being tackled: Jackson, in 1899, went to look at “the new climb I have wanted to do for some time”, but four years went by before he tackled it.

The severity of the climb – it is graded “F” today – is prominent in such early accounts as have come down to us. Cobern in 1914 found it “an ideal rock climb” taken as a whole, but the long final section on the great corner leading to Fountain Ledge was “extremely difficult and dangerous”- an opinion echoed by Londt a few years later (box).

(BOX : CTMC 1.4.1922)

On Friday night (10th inst,) Berrisford and I slept at the foot of Blinkwater Ravine, and next morning, travelling light (with one 80 feet rope, some sandwiches and a water-bottle), we left camp at 7.45 am. We struck up the slopes on the left side of Blinkwater Ravine to the rocks at the bottom of Fountain Buttress.  Without hurrying, we soon got over the first sections of the route, which were not difficult.  The first awkward place was a face which commenced next to a small overhang about 15 feet up.  A narrow crack had to be climbed, where it required a very long reach to grasp a ledge above. From the top of this crack a small ledge led to a corner on the left, up which the route continued until a large beacon on a wider ledge was reached.

The next section just above the beacon was over hanging, but good holds made it comparatively simple.  This section was about 30 feet high.  A move was then made to the right, along a narrow ledge which terminated at a corner, and the climb was continued up this for about 12 feet.  A gully on the right, with some trees growing in it, was then reached and this followed by a traverse and further climbing on the face on the left took us to the top of the section.

The Crux of the Climb

 

Crossing a short grassy slope we found ourselves below a pinnacle above 50 feet high, and the route lay up a narrow gully behind this to a tiny saddle connecting the pinnacle with the main face above.

Looking over the other side of the saddle one sees a sheer drop, the walls of rock above are quite unclimbable, and the only ledge is about 30 feet below. This is the crux of the climb, and several parties have had to turn back at this point owing to their inability to find a way down to the ledge below.  The secret of this section is fairly simple: at the top of the gully and slightly to the left, some loose boulders are situated and through these boulders a small opening will be found, just wide enough to let one through into another gully from which the ledge can be gained.

The next section, consisting of two cracks, was extremely difficult, and great care was necessary.  The first crack, about 40 feet, had for hand-and-foot holds narrow slabs of rock that were insecure.  The second crack, just above, was the worst bit of the lot, and was really very awkward, the hand holds, such as they were, being all on one side (right).  After this the climbing was done up a steep grassy watercourse, where, in some places, one felt most insecure.  In winter this section must be almost impossible to climb.

We reached the Fountain Ledge just above this (11 am) and continuing straight up we soon found a beacon at the back of a pinnacle, almost in a direct line from where we had come up.

This beacon denotes the commencement of the recently discovered Staircase Route.  Up this we continued, and the climbing, though sensational was not extremely difficult. One section near the top of a crack, not far below the summit, was somewhat awkward to get over, though the hand holds were good.  We reached the top of the mountain at mid day.

Almost immediately we started down the Staircase Route again, and Fountain Ledge was reached at 12.30 pm.  Here we went round to Fountain Rock, where we met and had lunch with other members of the club.  At1.45 we were back on Fountain Buttress and continued the descent. The grassy watercourse was found to be very awkward in getting down, the rope being used freely.

The remainder of the descent of the buttress was comparatively uneventful, and we arrived back on the Pipe Track at 5.45 pm.

In view of these evaluations by the leading climbers of their day, it is somewhat strange to read Jackson’s statement that he had found the climbing ”fairly difficult but not up to my expectations”. It may be, once again, that vegetation made the difference.

Jackson’s brief account in the Annual for 1904/5 has the route ending on Fountain Ledge. It may at first sight seem strange that he did not annexe Fountain Crack as the natural final section leading to the western Table, and it is perhaps significant that he and Cooke did indeed try the Crack on their pioneering ascent of the Buttress but were beaten by the cold. When, four years later, Jackson’s party did complete the Buttress via the Crack, he described it as the “first complete ascent”. Was it his view that a route had to be done at one go in order to qualify?

However that may be, the Club was for some years evidently unable to make up its mind on precisely what was to be understood by “Fountain Buttress”: did the route end on Fountain Ledge or not? Until 1914 Fountain Crack was regarded, and named, as “Final crack, Fountain Buttress”, but in that year Cobern and Stanford climbed the deeply-cut, gloomy chimney on the south-western corner of the western Table (it would be named “Fountain Chimney”) and proposed that it replace Fountain Crack as the natural finish of Fountain Buttress. The Crack, it was suggested, would then become the final section of Cairn Face – converting a “B” climb to an “E”, and completely changing its character. This bizarre proposal, fortunately, was quickly overtaken by the opening of Cairn Buttress, a climb that on the grounds of both proximity and standard had a much greater claim to the Crack as its final section. And Cobblestone Face and the Staircase, in time, made confusion worse confounded. So Fountain Ledge would eventually be regarded as a “special Case”, where routes were accepted as ending short of the mountain summit. And where the routes above it had no connection with those below.

Lastly, in this review of 1902 and 1903, we may turn to Devil’s Peak.

Looked at from the city, the Peak is framed by two prominent skyline ridges. On the left or north-east is the Mowbray Ridge, and on the right or south-west the Oppel’s Kop Ridge. About midway between them is a third ridge, flattened near the bottom but gradually taking a more distinct form and ending in the Minor Peak. The first recorded ascent of this was made by Jackson and Wright on 24 August 1902. They did not then name it, but some years later Jackson would refer to it as the “Norman ridge”, after a climbing companion. It is known today as the Blockhouse Ridge – rather confusingly, since its blockhouse is the obscure Queen’s Blockhouse (directly below it, now a ruin), and not the well-known King’s Blockhouse just below the Mowbray Ridge. It provides some interesting scrambling of “B” grade, although the difficulty can be increased by sticking sportingly to the crest of the ridge in its upper sections. It finishes with a splendid knife-edge that terminates in the Minor Peak. Although needing care in places on account of rotten rock, the route deserves more attention than it seems to get.

The year of Fountain Buttress, 1903, also marked a milestone in Jackson’s personal life, with his marriage to Alice Shackleton of Sea Point. The Shackleton family were active climbers on Table Mountain in the early years of the century, and Jackson met his future wife on a trip up Silverstream ravine in November 1901. The “Miss Shackleton” in the diary soon becomes “Alice”. They did many easy climbs together, and in October 1903 they were married. They would have four children, three sons and a daughter. They seem to have lived at Mount Ebford for a few months after the wedding, then moving to Sophia Street nearby.

The year 1904 would be almost barren in the rock-climbing field but would nonetheless occupy an important place in the Clubs annals. And since Jackson was closely involved in the events concerned we shall examine them in a little detail. But this may be a suitable point at which to turn to rock-climbing on the country peaks.


[i] As Jurgens later explained, “when two ropes are used and the one kept slightly longer than the other, in the event of a slip the shorter rope would take up the jerk and probably snap, but by that time the strain of the fall and jerk has been stopped and the second rope will prevent the climber from falling to the bottom”.

[ii] It is in fact the “castle” from which the Poort takes its name; through some misadventure it became the “postern” instead. See further under “Kasteels Buttress” below.

[iii] She also appears in the much-reproduced photo of the final portion of Saddle Face, where she stands at the bottom. A careful reading of Jackson’s diary indicates that the party had already descended this part but then arranged themselves in dynamic climbing postures for Amphlett’s camera. See frontispiece to 1901/2 Annual.

[iv] I cannot forbear to relate one of Jackson’s anecdotes to me in the 1940s. He told how he had taken a party up Hiddingh-Wormhole, and how one of the ladies had literally become stuck in the wormhole itself. There were frantic cries of “Pull George, pull!”. He exerted all his strength, and she shot through like a cork from a bottle. But not all of her: her skirt wafted down the crags like a parachute, and Jackson had to climb down for it, while she sat “shivering in her pinkies”. – VS

[v] ”Postern” (Oxford Concise Dictionary)

CLUB HUT

The Table Mountain of 1904 – or at any rate the lower plateau – was a very different proposition to the one that had existed at the time of the Mountain Club’s birth in 1891.

Jackson’s natal year, 1880, had been an exceptionally dry one by Cape Town standards, and this fact, coupled with the steadily-growing population of the Colony’s capital, revived interest in long-dormant plans for the capture of the water running to waste down the back slopes of Table Mountain to Hout Bay. The Colony’s hydraulic engineer duly considered the matter and submitted two alternative proposals. One would tap the water flowing through Orange Kloof, and convey it to the city via Constantia nek and Mowbray. The other would involve capturing it before the main south-flowing stream debouched into Orange Kloof, and taking it to the city via a tunnel through the Apostles and a pipeline to Kloof Nek. After various delays and shilly-shallyings the Town Council adopted the second of the two schemes, and the upshot was the Woodhead Tunnel and its allied Pipe Track, which were completed in 1891.

It was clear, however, that to conserve the supply of water a storage dam would be needed on the summit itself, so that the flow of water to the tunnel could be properly regulated. Accordingly, work was begun in 1892 on such a dam, and, named after Sir John Woodhead, Mayor of Cape Town and an energetic ”water” man, this was opened five years later. In this same period two dams – Alexandra and Victoria – were built for the Wynberg Municipality, tapping the waters of the then Disa Stream, as opposed to the Backwater Stream running down today’s Disa Gorge. And barely was the Woodhead dam completed than work was begun on another, upstream, which would bear the name of the Colony’s Governor, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson.

The age-old peace of the lower plateau was shattered. A village of mostly prefabricated houses, barracks, storerooms and a shop sprang up, an aerial ropeway carried heavy equipment and stores from Camps Bay via Kasteels Poort, from whence it was ferried to the construction works by a small steam locomotive. When the second dam was completed, in 1904, the face of the lower plateau had changed for ever, the plantations had gone, and the old Ranger’s Cottage had disappeared and was replaced by the present one, at the top of the Bridle Path. Saddest of all for the mountaineering fraternity, the idyllic camping spots along the Backwater Stream lay beneath the water.

In time, solitude would return, along with extensive pine forests planted, in accordance with the beliefs of the time, to conserve water. The permanent loss of the former picnic sites was of course a matter for regret, but no reasonable person could object to this when it was viewed against the backdrop of the public interest. The Mountain Club’s Annual of those years, certainly, glows with pride in what has been achieved on the mountain top. But there was another aspect of the change that mountaineers would be bound to find much less congenial.

Linked to the storage dams was a defined catchment area – and this covered virtually the entire summit plateaux of the mountain- see map. In 1899, invoking the need to prevent pollution of the mountain water, the Town Council had published draft regulations governing this catchment area, the effect of which would be to close this extensive part of the mountain top to the public. An emphatic public protest had then stayed the Council’s hand, but in 1904, once the second dam had been completed, the subject was again raised.

Two of the proposed restrictions were particularly objectionable. The one stated bluntly that no one might “bivouac (!), cook food, light a fire, camp out or picnic” within the defined catchment area. The other decreed that no one might enter the area without a permit from the Town Clerk, except on “such paths as exist at present”, or that might be recognised as such in the future.

There was an outcry at this prospect of the loss of the immemorial right of free movement on the mountain top. A great public meeting was held, and a deputation waited on the Mayor. Among them were several prominent members of the Mountain Club, including Jackson and Sydney Yorke Ford, who acted as the deputation’s secretary. The upshot was a compromise solution. The Council was adamant that pollution of the streams feeding the dams was an ever-present danger, and that unrestricted movement in their vicinity could therefore no longer be tolerated, it was willing to confine the proposed restrictions to the most sensitive part of the dams’ headwaters: namely, the Backwater stream and gorge. This area, relatively small, viz the defined catchment area, would be sealed off by a fence, and entry would be allowed by permit only.

In this way the “Restricted Area”, which would be a distinctive feature of the Back Table for the best part of a century came into being  – see map. It included some of the favourite paths and camps then in use – the main highway through the Backwater Gorge, the Kitchen, and Orion’s Cave. This was a hard bullet to chew, but it was the lesser evil by far, since the rest of the catchment area would now remain open.

Hammered out in the discussion with the mayor was a quid pro quo for the loss of the rights involved. On the one hand, the Council agreed to build new paths in place of those surrendered. Access to Echo Valley and ultimately to Maclear’s Beacon or the western Table would now be via two paths, one hugging the western side of the Restricted Area’s fence “the fence path”, and the other, more to the west, taking a completely new line through what would later become known as the Valley of Isolation. On the other hand, the Council agreed – in compensation for the loss of picnic sites but certainly also as a means of keeping away from the Restricted Area – to provide “public shelters” on the mountain top. There were eventually two of these: one at the top of Kasteels Poort, alongside the old railway track, and the other, a much cruder affair, in the valley above Window Gorge.

To facilitate the implementation of this agreement, the Club’s president (Dr Marloth) and Jackson met the Waterworks Engineer, Wynne Roberts, in situ to point out the best line for the new paths and to discuss the public shelters. But, as it turned out, this meeting on 13 November 1904 was to be a milestone in the Club’s history, for, once the business in hand had been satisfactorily disposed of, the talk turned to a subject very dear to the mountaineering fraternity – the acquisition of a “Club House” on the mountain.

The Club had set its sights on a “House” of this kind virtually from its inception. It had come close to success in 1894, when it had mooted a wood-and-iron structure in the shallow valley above Skeleton Gorge, near the Ranger’s Cottage. The colonial authorities were sympathetic (the Club’s president, Sir James Sivewright, was Commissioner of Crown Lands and Public Works), but in view of the fact that the land in question was earmarked for eventual transfer to the Town Council, the matter was referred to that body. It gave a firm thumbs-down. The congregation of mountaineers, it argued, would lead to the pollution of the water supply.

So this first move towards the acquisition of a “House” on the mountain was stillborn. Other possibilities were then investigated – a hut near Maclear’s Beacon, which fell outside the catchment area, or a separate room in the Ranger’s Cottage – but came to nothing. The years went by, but the goal remained elusive. There is, in fact, some small evidence that the top structure of the Club was not of one mind on the desirability of such a hut, and it may be that with these divided counsels the matter was left to drift.

Now, in their discussions with Wynne Roberts, Marloth and Jackson laid hands on the prize. Roberts was well-disposed to their request, and reacted promptly by inviting them to choose one of the huts used during the building of the dams, now derelict and facing demolition. They opted for the one that had been shared by the timekeeper and the storekeeper of the construction works.

It was a wood-and-iron structure with end walls of stone. It consisted of four rooms in line, with a small storeroom built out at the rear and a lean-to galley at one end, which communicated with the main building by means of a serving hatch. The rooms were interleading, but each had its own outside door. Set on slightly rising ground beneath a long krantz, it faced south and gave a wide view across the valley above Kasteels Poort, towards the Postern and Kasteels Buttresses on the west and Constantiaberg on the south-east. The Town Council would fence the property and also lay on water from the spring in the valley lying behind Valken Buttress (later to be christened The Valley of the Red Gods), while the Club for its part must keep the building and the grounds in proper shape. The Club’s tenure would be at the Council’s pleasure.

Sad to report – such is the fractiousness of humankind – there was some opposition within the Club’s committee to this breakthrough, on the grounds that the negotiations by Marloth and Jackson with Roberts had been kept secret until the acquisition of the hut was a fait accompli. But such dissent was quickly silenced by the tart retort that the objectors were welcome to do the job themselves if they thought they could do it better. The Club then officially approached the Council to conclude the formalities.

At last there would be a “Club House” on the mountain! And, better still, one that needed neither capital outlay nor construction. There it stood, awaiting its excited new tenants. But – patience! The building was scarcely in a shape ready for occupation. It had been empty for some time, and now called for a thorough cleaning, and suitable furniture and equipment, before being able to rise to its new status. The Town Council agreed to undertake certain structural alterations – removing the partition between the two eastern rooms, and building a veranda – at the Club’s expense, but the overall refurbishment of the interior would fall squarely on a small band of enthusiasts, under the overall direction of the Secretary.

So we soon find Jackson and his workmates toiling up Kasteels Poort with heavy loads. Rejoicing as we do today in vehicular access from Constantia Nek, or a helicopter lift in extreme need, we should salute these stalwarts. An extract from Jackson’s diary gives a short but vivid account of one such trip:

Took the rugs and enamelware out by the Camps Bay tram as far as the hauling gear engine house (for the defunct aerial ropeway), where I met [EH] Short. The coloured boys who were to have helped to carry the goods up Kasteels Poort to the Hut never turned up, so I had to carry the lot myself (shared with Short) – something between 60 and 70 lbs, the heaviest load I have ever carried up any mountain.

This, apparently, was the first “night visit”, and many years later it was still fresh in Short’s memory:

(SHORT’S REMINISCENCES)

… I was on the Committee of the Mountain Club for many years.

It was Jackson and I and three others who opened up the Mountain Club Hut on the top of Table Mountain – and this was a most interesting and delightful Sunday when we turned to and cleaned up the hut and left behind a few items for those who afterwards used the Hut- But that night what a surprise –  The hut was built when the reservour (sic) was built and was used by the builders to live in – well it was a long time empty and when we arrived it was night time of a Saturday evening – Two natives which we had arranged to meet us at Camps Bay never turned up and so we two had a big bundle of luggage to take with us from the tram – We did our best but it was heavy work.  We got about 2/3rd up the Gorge and then decided that to carry further such a big load was too much of a strain – we left about half and decided that the three others on the top should lend a hand.  They were waiting for us at the top of the gorge and we shouted to them to come down and they did and so at least we landed safely with the whole bag of tricks – blankets – pots and pans, brooms and brushes and lots of other useful stuff – We all enjoyed a good heavy tea in the HUT and then after a smoke we turned in to sleep – We found the blankets insufficient and so added newspapers to keep us warm – But we were not long before being disturbed – something was biting us – when we lit our candles the sight was too terrible – we found the walls smothered with BUGS – We set fire to as many as we could find which took up a lot of time and at last we fell asleep – We fitted a Good Lock on the door and I still have the Key – and in many ways made the place habitable.   AND THAT was the start of the Mountain Club Hut.

As it turned out, the renovation of the Hut was a slow job. In June 1905 the newly-erected veranda roof was blown down in a violent storm. The Club wrote it off, but had to remove its supports. Weekend of work followed weekend. But finally the great day arrived – the official opening, on 16 December. Jackson and his wife spent the previous night there, with a few others, and attended a lunch hosted by Dr Marloth the President. This was followed at four o’clock in the afternoon by the opening ceremony, performed by Mrs Marloth. In his address the President spoke of this fulfilment of a long-cherished ideal of a club house on the mountain – which would, as he put it, serve three main purposes: as a meeting place for mountaineers, as a refuge in bad weather, and as an overnight shelter that would unlock “the beauties of evening and morning”.

It has met Marloth’s expectations times without number in the succeeding years, and is an integral and much-loved part of the life of the Club. Its flavour has, perhaps, best been captured  by an article in an early issue of the Annual:

(BOX : A C W BEAN’S ARTICLE)

For the Secretary, who had not only been the driving force behind the Hut’s acquisition but also borne the burden and heat of the day in transforming it from its run-down state into a mountain lodge that has remained essentially unchanged ever since, 16 December 1905 was a proud day. And it meant that he was now free to do more in the line of mountaineering itself …

JACKSON’S CLIMBS – 1905

Before proceeding to Jackson’s annus mirabilis, 1906, we must tick-off his few – and unspectacular – pioneering ascents in 1905.

Vaalkat Ravine (with A A Blackburn, 4.2.1905) lies to the immediate south of Nursery. Apart from the small waterfall a little way above the Contour Path, which turns it into a “B”, it is a straightforward walk, under trees for the most part, that ends at the small dam from which a furrow runs down to the Disa Stream, near the present-day ranger’s cottage. The valley above this dam was known in Jackson’s time as ”Boys’ quarters valley”. It housed, higher up, the workers building the Victoria and Alexandra reservoirs for the Wynberg municipality.

Saddle Corner A (with A A Blackburn, 16.4.1905). The “corner” from which Searle’s Corner (later Saddle Corner) takes its name is divided into two wings at the base. The left-hand wing is the one normally taken by the Corner route, but the other is more pronounced, and provides some pleasant climbing. Where the two wings merge the climber can move a short distance to the right (west) and follow a line up an indistinct “buttress” running parallel to the Corner. On reaching the final terrace it moves on to the concluding section of Searle’s Corner. It ranks a good “D”. Jackson described it as “a splendid variation”, but it has little to commend it vis-à-vis its older neighbour, and one is rather surprised that, with his views on variations, he saw fit to list it separately. Its only claim to notice today is perhaps its appalling name.

Pine Buttress (with W Robertson, 14.5.1905) is the flattish buttress to the right of Saddle Ravine. It has some interesting minor pieces of rockwork (easy “B”) on its lower sections, and gives views out of the usual run for that part of the mountain, but the rock is friable and calls for care – the result, no doubt, of the long years in which the buttress was swathed in densely-packed cluster pine.

***

The Christmas and New Year weekends following the opening of the hut gave a welcome opportunity for a return to other country mountains. Over Christmas Jackson and Hofner climbed “Stettinsberg” (now Stettynsberg), a multi-summited peak in the Villiersdorp district, starting from the French Hoek Pass. It was a first ascent by Club members, and it involved no more than wearisome slogging over rugged country.

In stark contrast to this was the peak Jackson was to climb a week later.

On a trip to the Buffelshoek Peak and its neighbouring Twins in 1903, he had been struck by the sight of a pronounced “dome” to the north. This had made a lasting impression on him,

which I am certain it will do with anyone beholding it for the first time: for it rises sheer up into the sky, and is separated (from the surrounding peaks) on all sides but at the back, and there only connected by a narrow ridge with the main range. Of course, my desire was at once kindled to gain the summit of this unclimbed peak.

 

There was no time to tackle it on that occasion, but he returned a year later, along with Blackburn and S G Hobbs. The latter, who was on holiday from Johannesburg, was eager to try what he called ”The Dome of Dreams”. The peak seems to have been in others’ minds as well, for Jackson’s party encountered Amphlett and party high up in Buffelshoek Kloof. Amphlett had had a long look at it through binoculars, but seems to have accepted that it was inaccessible, at any rate from the Kloof itself. But Jackson was undeterred and his party set out to give it a try. They got some way up, but eventually had to retreat rather than run dangers that were “not justified” as long as the possible route from the back was still unexplored. Jackson and Blackburn then returned to town, but Hobbs, with more time on his hands, decided he would take a closer look at this back door to the peak. Taking one of their carriers, he worked his way up to the shale band above the first Milner Ridge Peak. Traversing along this broad slope, he was soon at his goal,  the narrow ridge connecting the Dome with the mainland. And here, “for the first time in my life, I felt something akin to awe”.

The portion of the peak in front of me consisted of a shale slab, perfectly smooth, with rectangular edges. Most of the lower part of this slab had already slid down the underlying rock until, at perhaps 400 feet below the top of the slab, it had dropped over the precipice to my right. Beyond the space was another precipice – a straight wall of rock below the big ledge lying under the summit of the peak between the second Milner Ridge Peak and that known to the mountain Club as Buffels Hoek. It was this precipice which astounded me. The altitude of the top is nearly 6,000 feet, and the ravine at the bottom not much, if anything, over 3,000 feet, and on that tremendous perpendicular wall, my eye saw no excresences. My boy (the carrier), who had previously set his teeth, looked palpably scared now, and seemed to fear the nek might start sliding to the abyss. However, he set himself anxiously to watch me examine the remaining 200 feet of mountain. Hand or foot hold does not exist for some distance, save where ice has split an occasional piece of the slab edge and made it loosely project. To trust one’s weight to these projections means a choice between a (drop) to left of perhaps a quarter, and to the right of half, a mile.

Some may be amused by this statement, but let them see, as I have done, a precipice in Norway catalogued as 2,000 feet, and then see the precipices here.

My attempts to scale this mountain were now ended.

 

Hobbs was doubtful that the peak could be climbed via this knife-edge.  The best prospect, he thought, would be the right-hand side of the frontal face. When the peak was eventually climbed, this he felt would be “the most noteworthy event” in mountaineering history in South Africa up to that time.

And so it was. Jackson returned to the area in the last week of 1905, accompanied this time by Hugo Lambrechts – a Club member since 1900, but one who does not seem to have done anything of particular note up to this time. They followed Hobbs’s counsel and made for the south-eastern side of the Dome, climbing the slopes to the right of Dome Kloof for several hours and eventually crossing the deep ravine to their left. They ascended a shoulder until they could traverse left into a prominent gully running up the Dome’s front. It was steep and bushy but otherwise easy, and they were soon shaking hands and building their beacon. The route had not been spectacularly difficult after all – perhaps an easy “E” grade, and consisting largely of small cracks and traverses, but with some difficult sections of doubtful rock and soil.

There remained the crossing, if possible, to the mainland – across the fearsome knife-edge that had so impressed Hobbs. It turned out to be sensational indeed, but with only one serious part, a 40 foot face of “E” difficulty. It would become famous as the classic knife-edge crossing in the Cape mountains.

The Buffels Dome had proved to be a straightforward climbing proposition, its aura of invincibility was dispelled. But Jackson’s route was seldom to be repeated:[i] the back-door entrance via the knife-edge became the via normale. In the 1920s and 1930s sensational and difficult routes were opened on the great southern face itself, and Jackson’s route would become an historical curiosity. But the Dome of Dreams will always be associated with his name.

***

The climbing of the Dome was the first of three thunderclaps that would burst over the Cape climbing community in the short space of four months.

Perhaps it was his triumph, at the second attempt, in the Hex River mountains that now turned Jackson’s thoughts towards his one public defeat on Table Mountain: Fernwood Gully.

Much had happened since that far-off summer’s day in 1898. Climbs of a severity then unknown had been accomplished, there was a galaxy of routes up the mountain, and the unknown youngster had become a household name in Cape Town. Of the other four who had been in the Gully then, only Amphlett was still in the Club, but he was now well into his fifties, and hardly a candidate for another attempt on so formidable a climbing problem. Nonetheless, Jackson’s choice of a party for this second attempt on an old foe seems rather odd. By 1906 he had long been climbing with several cragsmen who were prominent in the Club, yet he now chose a solitary companion in the shape of Johan Hofner – whose previous rock climbs with him had been two only, Stinkwater Needle and Silverstream Buttress, neither of which was in the front rank of Table Mountain routes. Hardly, one would imagine, an adequate preparation for the “unclimbable” Fernwood Gully.

For it was indeed viewed as unclimbable in the normal sense. How else to explain Jackson’s action, two weeks before the attempt itself, in descending the top part of the Gully down to the pitch that had repulsed him in 1898, and there fixing a 105 foot rope that would serve as an artificial aid? Two tried climbing partners, Barwick and Lambrechts, in fact helped him to do so, and this perhaps suggests that it was they whom he had in mind for his party. It does seem strange that it was neither of these helpers (or, a fortiori, Hal Wright or Lynn Cooke) that would be with him on the day. Is it too far-fetched to suggest that it was the sight of the rope dangling over the stupendous precipice, and moreover attached not to some firm rock bollard but merely to “some long grass”, that deterred them?

Johan Hofner seems to have been one of those Club members (they have always existed, and they are legion) who shun the limelight but are ready to tackle something when the need arises. His membership was of short duration (1905-1908), but in that time he secured the distinction of being one of the only two men to have climbed the redoubtable Fernwood Gully throughout, and he left – literally – his imprint in the rock on Blinkwater Needle, as we shall see. But his greatest claim on our gratitude lay in his descriptive gifts: for, in his solitary contribution to mountaineering literature, he has given us a thrilling – perhaps horrifying – account of the climb, with an immediacy and vividness that Jackson would never reach. It is a classic of early South African mountain writing, and fully warrants reproduction here in full, blood-curdling sketch and all (see box).

(BOX : HOFNER)

One or two comments are in order.

First, the attitude at that time to artificial aid. Although Hofner’s somewhat cryptic final remark throws doubt on the legitimacy of their climb, the Club itself seems to have had no qualms about including it in the Route List, albeit with the statement that it had yet to be climbed without a rope from above. As we have seen, on other occasions the climbing rope itself was happily used as a handhold for those following the leader, and indeed sometimes by the leader himself if he was lucky enough to get it over a projection or bush above. The subsequent ascent of the Gully, in 1914, also made use of a fixed rope. Shortly after that, it is true, it was climbed with no more than the moral support of a top rope, but the first completely “orthodox” ascent had to wait until the latter part of the century.

Second, the breathtaking casualness of the whole affair. Not only were there only two in the party (not enough, one would have thought, given the Gully’s reputation), but the second man must be regarded, in the light of such knowledge as we have, as an unknown quantity. Most incredible of all, there was no one up top, keeping a watchful eye on that grass as it strained under the pull from below, or ready in an instant to come to the support of the climbers. This absence of back-up is all the more puzzling when we learn that there were Club members who were aware of what Jackson was up to.

And finally, but – it must be stressed – not flippantly: this is the only known occasion on which Jackson removed his boots to tackle a pitch. It was a significant compliment to the severity of the climb.

***

Another route in this vicinity, and first recorded at about this time, deserves a brief look.

It may seem strange that so imposing a bastion of Table Mountain as Ascension Buttress should apparently have remained unclimbed as late as 1906. Its middle and upper sections stand out grandly from the surrounding mountain wall and would make an immediate appeal to the cragsman, and, for what the record is worth, the buttress finishes at a higher point than any other route. Now, in March 1906, Jackson, Cooke, De Beer and Moore set out to climb it. They did the lower section, and got as far as the formidable middle section before drenching rain and numbing cold forced a retreat to the Saddle.

On 27 May De Beer and Moore returned to it and completed the climb, but omitted the sheer section in the middle, which had all the appearance of “Impossible”. Rated a “D” today,[ii] and with its crux pitch right at the start, it is one of the very few serious routes of the Jackson era not listed under his name. How so, given the obvious attractions of the buttress? The answer may lie in the old hut register. De Beer and Moore called at the hut after their climb and entered it there, with the remark “First ascent”, but Jackson, who was also there that day, added the words, one presumes with the other climbers’ concurrence, “from base”- which implies that the upper and more interesting section of the route had been done before. He may well have climbed it much earlier, coming to it from Ascension Ravine or from the broad terrace leading to the Saddle. This “incomplete” ascent may well have disqualified it in his mind from inclusion in his “Fifty ways …”of 1905, all the more so in the light of the as yet unclimbed, and clearly “unclimbable”, middle section.[iii] So the omission of his name in the route list may be doing Jackson something of an injustice. The buttress, in both its original and ”direct” versions, is seldom done today, but the upper section – Jackson’s – is a pleasant if rather grassy piece of climbing with spectacular views, hardly above “C” standard.

There was still another piece of unfinished business beckoning Jackson: not on Table Mountain this time, but far away in the Klein Zwartberg.

All histories of mountaineering in South Africa have a section on the romantic story of Toverkop. A prominent peak in the Swartberg range, near Ladismith, it is crowned by a striking isolated turret some 350 feet high, which is split by a deep fissure into two pinnacles. The easternmost of these, while not easy, is straightforward as a rock-climbing proposition, but the romance attached to the mountain stems from the western, and slightly higher one, which is a more serious affair altogether. It was climbed solo in 1885 by a local man, Gustav Nedft, in what ranks as the most spectacular piece of amateur climbing ever done in the Cape, but it then resisted the professionals for many years. Amphlett, Mann and Bolus tried it in 1898. They failed on Nedft’s route, where his rope was still hanging from one of the upper ledges. However, “their admiration for the man who fixed that rope scarcely knew bounds”, and in 1901 Jackson, accompanied by a local man, made a somewhat desultory attempt but was forced to abandon it on account of having hurt both knees on the eastern pinnacle. He does not seem, however, to have been unduly impressed by his view of Nefdt’s route.

Jackson contemplated returning the next year with a strong party from Cape Town, but nothing came of this, possibly because of the state of the Colony at this period of the Anglo-Boer war.

Now, in 1906, there was this old account to settle. But Toverkop was a long way away. The railway did not extend to Ladismith, nor does it today, and access would have to be by train to Laingsburg, and then a dusty and tiring journey by postcart – fourteen hours to cover 60 miles.

This uncomfortable and excruciatingly slow mode of travel, one may suppose, gave ample time for reflection. Jackson was not, so far as we today can judge, of either a philosophical or artistic turn of mind.   His written remains are singularly bald, and usually brief to the point sometimes of being virtually valueless as records. It is quite exceptional to find even a promising glimpse of descriptive power. But it is hard to imagine that on this interminable journey across the veld, with a mountain chain looming above the wagon track, his mind was dwelling entirely on mundane matters. So a little speculation as to his thoughts on that trip may not be out of place.

He had established himself as the Cape Colony’s (indeed, South Africa’s) leading cragsman. He had climbed all the rock routes that had been opened on Table Mountain – and they were virtually all of his own making. West would later put it, he had done for local climbing what Owen Glynne Jones had done for rock-climbing in Britain. But was there not another famous British climber with whom he might be compared? Edward Whymper’s name was forever linked with the Matterhorn, the mountain he had kept steadfastly in his sights when other men had faltered, and where he would ultimately succeed where others had failed. The Buffels Dome, perhaps, was not too good an analogy, since it had succumbed to the first serious attack, but what of Toverkop? Surely it had parallels with the great Alpine peak?

Jackson was not an ambitious man in the normal sense of hankering after money or position and power. But now already, in his mid-twenties, mountaineering was “the grand passion of his life”: he had, one might say, given a literal twist to the scriptural injunction to set one’s mind on things above. Worldly success, as commonly understood, meant little to him. But he was still a young man, with his life before him, and he would have been less than human not to be excited at the prospect of winning through, in mountain craft, where others had been defeated. If to his already impressive list of climbing achievements he could add the legendary Toverkop, this would surely testify to his “pre-eminence as a cragsman”. But more: might it not open the door into a wider mountaineering establishment? ….

The long journey ended just after midnight, at the farm of Arnold Boothman, his companion on the 1901 attempt. He was warmly welcomed but with what seems to have been some surprise – from which we may perhaps conclude that Boothman was unaware of the impending visit. He was glad, however, to be able to have another shot at the peak, and at noon they set off, accompanied by a carrier. They made for their camp of five years back, and here Jackson at any rate spent a comfortable night, as he had brought a sleeping bag. Early the next morning they set out across a valley white with frost, and in due course reached the final massive pinnacles.

They went and looked at Nefdt’s route, but it was covered with a thin layer of ice and resisted their attempts, so they made their way through the dividing cleft and emerged on the warm north side of the peak. They traversed westwards, but the first route they contemplated was ”somewhat overhanging” so they moved on again, to reach a narrow ledge. Here there seemed a good prospect of success, so Boothman removed his boots, the two roped, and Jackson started up the rocks.

First up a 50 foot face with few holds on to a narrow shoulder of rock, from which a traverse to our left across the open face brought us to one side of those places where both hand and foot holds are all on the one side, and these far apart. This 27 feet climbed, we were landed in a crack, which led upwards to a small triangular ledge, and from this ledge another crack brought us to a chimney some 85 feet in height. This we climbed with the aid of our backs to near the top, which we found tapered away to a few inches in width, so an awkward traverse out of the chimney was made on to the face, and up to a ledge above. I being safely anchored, the rope was held taut, and my companion, who had been patiently waiting below, began the ascent. On his safe arrival a further traverse was made to the left, through a fissure in the rocks, which led us to a small crack on our right. Soon up this, we were on another small ledge, from which we had to climb down on the other side for a distance of ten feet into a corner. From this we went round a narrow ledge to our right across the face, with care. We were now confronted with a rock gully, which did not offer any special difficulty, as the holds were fairly good, and it seemed to extend to the very summit. Our surmise was correct, we felt that the day was ours … I shouted out that Gustaf Nefdt’s beacon was twenty yards away, and before long we both stood alongside it.

The time was now 1.30 p.m. Boothman began flashing to the village with a pocket mirror, and in a very short time the dorp seemed to be one blaze of flashes.

 

They had done it! After 21 years Toverkop had again been climbed, and moreover by an entirely new route. Another five years would go by before the peak was climbed again.

***

In rock-climbing Jackson rounded off with what would turn out to be the last serious climb he would pioneer alone. This new route ran up the portion of the north face of Table Mountain situated between Saddle Face and Saddle Corner. He climbed it on 5 August 1906, and it would become one of his favourites. At first he was in some doubt as to what to call it, but a little later decided on Traverse Face, alluding to the long and narrow traverse with which the route ends. In a sense it was a contrived route. Here was a traverse long known and popular as a piece of climbing in its own right, starting with the much-photographed “Jaws”, a narrow horizontal crack next to the final section of Saddle Face, which was now to be annexed to a rather indistinct line of approach from the slopes above the Saddle and thus transformed from a doubtful ”variation” into a proper “route”.  With today’s much more flexible definition of a “climb” vis-à-vis a “route”, and considering moreover the fact that the Traverse Face route does not follow a pronounced physical feature of the mountain and can be abandoned at almost any point, it has no particular attraction apart from its eponymous traverse – which can be reached easily enough from Saddle Face. The line usually taken for Traverse Face today is graded “D”, but Jackson’s original route lay more to the west and is of “E” standard. Much variation is possible, and there is firm, clean rock throughout. It provides a pleasant alternative way up from the Saddle.

***

The annus mirabilis, 1906, would end for Jackson as it had begun, in the fastnesses of the Buffelshoek Kloof. At the head of the kloof stands the massive Buffelshoek Peak, the giant of the district at 6761 feet, and to the immediate south of it is another major peak some six hundred feet lower. This was the target of Jackson and Hahn at the New Year. Some extracts from Hahn’s account will serve to capture the atmosphere of country expeditions in those days:

(BOX : HAHN)

They reached their peak in due course. Finding no beacon, they built one and left their cards in it in the usual way. They named it “The Sentinel”, and it has since been known as Sentinel Peak. Their visit also produced two scientific finds: a cave of rock crystal, and a hitherto unknown species of Erica: “dark red in colour, large, and resembling the globe of an electric light”. This would provide them with a bittersweet lesson in a basic rule of the botanical nomenclature game: Get in first! They failed to report their discovery in the proper quarters, and seven years later, when Ken Cameron found what seems to have been the same species on nearby Fonteintjesberg, the name Erica cameronii was bestowed on it.

They were back in camp in the early evening of New Year’s night, and, tired with the exertions of the long day, were soon asleep.

A few hours later they were awoken by rain. It was 1907.

***

All Jackson’s pioneering efforts in the new year were to lie on the Camps Bay side of the mountain. The first was Porcupine Buttress (alone, 3.2.1907). It is a rather nondescript route, for it avoids the front edge of the buttress and simply takes the line of least resistance up the northern flank, following slope and a few pieces of scrambling. Graded “C” today, it makes a pleasant alternative to slogging up the lower sections of Porcupine Ravine, but there is a fair amount of bush, and in several places the rock is rotten. Strictly speaking, one should then follow the crest until the summit of the mountain is reached, doing a few easy pitches near the top, but in practice the temptation to move on to the Porcupine Ravine path is hard to resist.

Later in the year, and now with Arnold Boothman, he returned to the area and climbed the prominent gully that descends from the upper reaches of Porcupine Ravine into Blind Gully. The “series of waterfalls” they climbed would eventually be regarded as a distinct route: Porcupine Gully (with Arnold Boothman, l27.10.1907). Graded from “C” to “E” depending on the precise line followed, it is virtually never done today.[iv]

The buttress to the immediate south of Porcupine is a much more imposing affair altogether, yet for some strange reason it too had been neglected until now, although both its flanking ravines – Porcupine and Jubilee – had long since been climbed. Its turn had now come: on 21 April 1907, in company with F C Barwick, Jackson made the pioneering ascent of Jubilee Buttress. The route consists of two main sections. On the lower one it follows some faces of black rock, and on the upper and more impressive section a prominent open gully running up the face. The exit from this gully, over a sobering drop, looked uninviting to the pioneers, as a strong wind was blowing, so they avoided it by an awkward traverse to the left. This final bit was straightened out by Jurgens and party in 1909. Just falling into the “E” class, the route has always been a popular one, and its lower section (“C”) has sometimes been used in conjunction with the top section of its neighbour Barrier Buttress to form a combination route suitable for large parties.

One other route done by Jackson in this first half of 1907 needs to be recorded, although it was a second and not a first ascent. Fernwood Buttress on the eastern side of Table Mountain is one of the mountain’s most impressive bastions, especially when viewed, as it frequently is in tourist publications, from the vicinity of Kirstenbosch. For sheer length and verticality it surpasses even the classic northern face of the mountain. So it comes as something of a surprise that Jackson had neglected it for so long. Can it be – a long shot – that he regarded it as having already been climbed, via Finsteraar Crack? In the sense that this obscure route does enable one to get up the mountain between the flanking ravines of Window Gorge and Fernwood Gully, such an argument is not altogether far-fetched, particularly if “route” is defined as “the easiest way up a distinct physical feature of the mountain”- such as a clearly-delineated buttress. But, whatever the reason, the fact is that for the first time in his climbing career someone else had beaten him to a first class route on Table Mountain. Moreover, that someone was not one of his old climbing companions or even a cragsman of note, but two shooting stars in the Cape climbing firmament: Harriman and Pawsey, who are on record for only one other mountain exploit, and that a country climb – Zonklip Peak, next to Matroosberg. What a debut for them in Fernwood Buttress!  At one time described in the Route List as “one of the longest and most difficult routes on Table Mountain”, even today it is graded ”F”. Unfortunately for us, however, they left no written record of their climb, and so it was left to Jackson to write it up briefly for the 1907 Annual, where he describes it as consisting throughout

of fine cracks and traverses, the edge of the buttress being followed as much as possible. The party should be experienced and every precaution taken, as the falls are large, from the top portion of the climb there must be a fall of some 1500 feet. Hand and foot holds are fairly good, though in some places they are scarce.

 

His diary adds nothing to this. As to the pioneer ascent, the only reference is in the various official and unofficial route lists from 1914 onwards, so that we have no primary material for the date, party, and route followed. But assuming the secondary material to be correct, Harriman and Pawsey must be congratulated on a great achievement.  They had joined the Club only in 1905 and 1906 respectively, and the solitary occasion when they climbed with Jackson seems to have been on Silverstream Buttress, yet by early 1907 they rocketed to pioneering one of the few “F” routes of their day.

A period of concentrated climbing activity opened up for Jackson in June, with the arrival in Cape Town of Arnold Boothman, who had turned his back on farming and would eventually go on to King William’s Town to join the Cape Mounted Rifles. They spent pleasant months doing most of the old classics and going for some new ones.

One of the latter was an obscure and hardly “legitimate” route that would later be christened Kloof Face by Cameron. Even today there is uncertainty as to the precise line followed, and it will therefore be best to quote Jackson’s diary for 14 July 1907:

We decided to have a shot at the middle of the (Kloof) buttress instead of up the long crack on the right. We climbed a long way up, then the crags began to overhang, so we traversed along to our left and went up the edge of the gully facing Kloof Nek, then on to Kloof Corner. (Emphasis added)

 

In writing to Ken Cameron twenty years later, however, he recalled this as the first ascent of “the deep gully or crack on the left side of Kloof Buttress, from the base”(emphasis added). This complicates matters, and, in the absence of any further evidence, it must be assumed that they climbed the fairly broken face well to the north of the usual Kloof Buttress route, until the prominent horizontal ledge slicing this part of the triangular buttress, and then traversed off to the left and up either in or on the containing walls of the gullies to the right of the Kloof Corner (Pinnacle) route. As it stands it can hardly be regarded as a “route” in the normal sense of the term, and, to do Jackson justice, he never claimed it as such.

A last “first” for 1907 involved the straightening-out of Plattekliip Buttress by climbing the prominent recessed crack to the immediate left of the great “nose” that dominates the last section of the route. This they did on 4 August 1907, since when it has been known as “Jackson’s Chimney”. It raises the grade to “E”, but is regarded as an extra. Here is his account:

We made the ascent of Platteklip Buttress, including the long fissure near the top, this being the first ascent of the crack. We climbed up it two-thirds of the way, then traversed out to the right, up a small crack to an upper ledge, then back into the original crack. On the traverse we had to dislodge a large rock which was in the way.

 

Their remaining pioneering attempts were aimed at two prominent and formidable buttresses of the Apostles. Neither attempt succeeded.

Corridor Buttress Is the imposing and (when viewed from the north) apparently sharp-crested buttress just beyond Slangolie. Rearing themselves majestically above the slopes above the marine drive, these two shout for the cragsman’s attention. Slangolie, as we have seen, was climbed in 1897, and even today is one of the most exhilarating ”frontals” on the mountain. Jackson and Wright had gone to look at Corridor in 1902, but had been forced to retreat on account of “the very smooth rock, which has a downward grade. Boothman’s availability prompted another attempt, which was made on 11 August 1907, but

We got a long distance up, but then found that the cliffs were overhanging. We tried several other points, but ultimately we had to traverse a long distance to the left and up the crags, working our way into Corridor [Ravine].

 

It is not clear just where they went “up the crags”, but possibly it was on or near the sharp left-hand edge of the buttress – a route later to be known as Corridor Corner. In the hut register for the day Jackson described it as a “partial ascent”, but never claimed it as a new route. It was his first unequivocal repulse, and it would not be climbed until, seven years later, Cobern’s new school of cragsmanship was in full cry. And even they would have no hesitation in judging it to be the mountain’s most difficult route up to that time.

The second thwarted attempt was that on Barrier Buttress. This lies between Jubilee and Barier Ravines, and although it is not much in terms of simple height, a bare glance at it from below or either side would have been enough to convince an Edwardian climber of its “inaccessibility”: a narrow, vertical wall of smooth rock without the slightest sign of any weakness. Jackson and Wright had apparently had a look at it once, but the first record we have of a serious attempt on it involves that on 29 September 1907 by Jackson, Boothman and Alfred Norman.

Apart from its place in the climbing history of Table Mountain, this attempt is of great interest to any biographer of Jackson – since it is the only case we have where two different accounts exist of the same event, so that we are able to compare his method of narration with that of someone else. So we shall now quote both his and Norman’s diary entries for this day, beginning with Norman’s: which, although long, is typical of his entries and resonant with a sense of immediacy:

(BOX : NORMAN)

Barrier Buttress (First ascent) September 29th 1907

The imposing buttress between Jubilee and Barrier Ravine – which towers grandly in great overhanging blocks – is one of the few cliffs on the Camps Bay side that have never been seriously tackled until our attempt on the above date.  Messrs Travers-Jackson and Wright “took a look” at it one day some years ago, but the weather was too bad on that occasion to try the climb.  Since that time the Buttress seems to have been left alone.  Accordingly I was very glad to receive an invitation to join Jackson and Boothman in an attempt to find a route as straight up the face of this “virgin” cliff as possible.

I spent the night at Mr Jackson’s hospitable house in the Gardens, and we started off at 6.30 am. The morning air was delightful and the distant ranges looked very beautiful.  Small patches of white cloud showed where Tulbagh Valley and Wemmer’s Hoek lay, showing out well against the dark blue background.

In due course we reached the Pipe Track and could get a good view of our proposed climb.  No wonder the Buttress has been left alone, for its appearance is not such as to encourage a closer acquaintance even of the most devout and enthusiastic oromaniac

The bottom portion looked fairly easy but, from a broad ledge perhaps half way up, the top portion of the Buttress sprang up in tier after tier of overhanging blocks.  The rock was of that white clean variety that nearly always betokens smooth surfaces and lack of suitable holds, and there was no continuous line of ledges or cracks that would lead us to hope for success in a direct ascent.

After studying the face a bit we left the Pipe Track and picked our way up the slope, struggling with the thick, thorny bush that seems to be increasing so rapidly lately all over the lower slopes of the mountain.

A few earthy, rotten little outcrops of rock at the very foot of the buttress were soon climbed, enabling us to loosen our muscles a little.  Then came the first difficulty, where the rock rose vertically upwards from a broad ledge.  We were first of the opinion that this bit of the climb would prove easy, but we were soon undeceived.  Three places in succession were tried, but each time we were turned back by overhanging rock, while holds were very rotten and treacherous.  Traversing to the right we hit on a likely place and started climbing again.  Less than twenty feet up we were stopped by an awkward corner, very smooth and holdless.  The only alternative to this was a nasty stride over a gap in the ledge, with no good holds.  Boothman eventually solved the problem by climbing the corner in brilliant style. I came next and soon recognised the difficulty of the place.  The ledge from which one had to start off was all right but the rock above bulged out, so that one had to hang on tight to preserve ones footing.  Not wishing to waste much time on this lower portion we slung the rope up to Boothman, he held it fast, and I hauled myself up to his level, Jackson following in the same fashion.  We then strolled up the slope to the next bit – really the foot of the climb.

The rock now began to look sheer, and our hopes gradually sank.  A little crack slanting to the left, seemed to suggest a way up, and we found it comparatively easy to climb on to a fair sized platform. The rock in front of us was almost perpendicular, and at only one place was an ascent possible.  This was a very thin crack which ran straight up the almost vertical wall.  Boothman tackled it straight away, gripping the sharp edge of the crack with both hands. For the first six feet there were no footholds whatever, and the strain on Boothman’s arms must have been very severe.  Once over this stretch he found one or two indifferent holds and gained the ledge above, after a very fine piece of climbing.  For some time we remained on our platform looking for possible ways up and anxiously awaiting Boothman’s opinion of the outlook.  At last, very reluctantly, he appeared once more and said that the rocks overhung everywhere as far as he could see. We threw the rope up as a safeguard and, tying on, he descended the face safely though not without some difficulty.

There was no alternative left to us but to traverse to the left, so we left our “platform”, scrambled down an easy chimney and kept traversing along a narrow ledge over a very sheer fall, scanning the rock above carefully as we moved along. Here again we made two attempts to move upwards, but to no avail, the same overhanging formation of the rock continuing right round the Buttress.

The ledge along which we were traversing was quite narrow, with a very sheer drop below.  At one point we had to take to a horizontal cleft in the rock, a “stomach traverse”, and then came a narrow corner which called for caution.  It seemed now as if we were properly stuck, for our ledge ran out to nothing and it was impossible to climb straight up the rocks above.  A long horizontal slip in the rock, similar to the one we had just negotiated, was our only hope.  Our situation was grand in the extreme.  All above us overhanging rock; on the opposite side the grim old Jubilee watercourse with the magnificent Buttress towering above it.  Sheer rock above and sheer rock below the narrow, stone-strewn, bushy ledge on which we stood, while ahead was a smooth precipice of rock with the clean-cut “fault” right across from side to side, through which we must make our way or beat a retreat.  A party of climbers were on the lower slopes watching our movements with evident interest.  Boothman climbed the small crack which led to a tiny platform.  He then traversed along the ledge for about six feet, then knelt down, crept into the crack and gradually wriggled his way to the other end.  Jackson came next and tried the holds cautiously.  He did not seem to like the start-off very well, the main reason for his objection being that one had to traverse along a very narrow ledge with very rotten handholds, the crack being too narrow to get into at the start.  However, he tied on the rope, and using extreme caution, made the traverse safely and disappeared into the crack.  I had been firmly anchored with the rope during Jackson’s manoevers (sic) and it was now his turn to hold me while I advanced.  The ledge was rather slippery, but good hold could be obtained by gripping the upper lip of the crack; and with the confidence inspired by the rope, the place lost half its terrors.  Being now fairly in the crack we had simply to crawl along to the other end.  It was very narrow, too much so to admit of a rucksack being carried on the back.  The drop from the edge of the crack was somewhat imposing, but we were absolutely safe even if our position was somewhat cramped.  On we went, crawling, wriggling and gasping with the severe exertion, dragging our rucksacks after us and taking care that the rope did not catch anywhere as we went along.  This traverse was quite eighty feet long, perhaps more, and is much finer and more difficult than the passage through the “Jaws” on Traverse Face.

At last we reached a place where we could step down o  to a lower ledge, and we were very glad of the opportunity of standing once more.  Next we had to step around a huge block that projected right across the ledge.  This was negotiated very gingerly, and then we climbed up over easy rock at a great pace. Stopped once more!  Again the cliff overhung above us and, though Boothman tried his best to get up at two different places, we had to traverse to the left again. At one point we passed between the cliff and a perfect little needle of rock which was quite loose, moving quite perceptibly as we squeezed through the gap.

We were now in the Jubilee Ravine, but struck straight up the rocks on the right, coming across one or two tricky little corners.  The sun was very hot, and our progress up the stony slope was slow and trying. At the foot of the last face we climbed easily up the few crags that remained, reaching the top of the mountain at 11 am.

Thus our route, though not quite satisfactory, is quite a new way up the Table, the 58th route up.  Although we did not know it at the time, Wright and party were also making a new ascent up the buttress on the right of Hiddingh’s Ravine on the suburban side of the mountain, the climb taking about seven hours.

That any purely human being will ever scale the top part of Barrier Buttress I do not believe, though our route will doubtless be improved upon in the course of time.  But our route is well worth trying if only for the sake of doing that unique stomach traverse.

The day was extremely hot, and we stayed at the Hut until about 5 pm.  Begg and Stewart joined us and together we wended our way down Valken Ravine to the Pipe Track and thence to our respective homes.

Here by contrast, is Jackson’s diary entry. Who, after having been in Norman’s literary company, will not regret that Jackson’s climbing brilliance was not coupled with Norman’s descriptive gifts!

(BOX : JACKSON)

Sunday Sept 29th (1907) Fine, windy.

Boothman, Norman & self left home at 6.30 am. We made along the Pipe track and up the Kasteels path as far as Barrier Ravine, we attempted the ascent of the Buttress between Barrier and Jubilee Ravines, we got up some distance but found that the middle part was overhanging, so we did a long stomach traverse to our left towards Jubilee, then up the crags and on to the edge of the Buttress again, then on to the top and down to the Hut, we soon had coffee made, after spending some time here we descended Valken Ravine with Begg and Stuart.

Such then was the first way forced up the formidable Barrier Buttress. As Norman put it, the outcome of their attempt was ”not quite satisfactory”, and seven years later, when the Club’s first draft route list appeared, there were doubts as to the route’s legitimacy. But at the later time there was still no other route up the buttress, even Cobern having failed in an attempt on what would later become the classic “Barrier Frontal”, and so Jackson’s route was allowed to stand. Seldom climbed today, Jackson’s (or should it be Boothman’s?) “Barrier Buttress, North Side”, which is graded “D+”, is one more historical curiosity in the annals of Table Mountain.

***

It was a happy time, those six months, taking Boothman over the familiar classic routes of Table Mountain. Week after week they were there: on Hiddingh-Wormhole, Centre Left Face, Slangolie Buttress, Silverstream Buttress, Traverse Buttress, Saddle Corner, Left Face, Platteklip Face, Fountain Buttress and Silverstream Face. They also climbed the then “official” Arrow Face route, but omitting the great final slab – no doubt because Dr Marloth was with them on this occasion.

Most of these climbs were done by the duo alone. One might have thought that some or other of Jackson’s old climbing companions would have joined them now and then, but, for whatever reason, this seldom happened. But for their attempt on Barrier Buttress, as we have seen, they roped in a third man.

Alfred William Norman, then 22 years old, had joined the Club only a few months before, but his climbing experience dated back a couple of years. He had several “first class” routes to his credit, as well as a number of country peaks. Although scarcely in the Jackson category as a cragsman, and much given (as indeed was usual at that time) to the use of “combined tactics” on stubborn rock, he had climbed such respected routes as Right Face and Arrow Face (excluding today’s crux sections). Stinkwater Needle, Hiddingh-Wormhole and Saddle (Searle’s) Corner. He had also, and unusually for those days, done the direct route “E” up Window Gorge, keeping to the waterfalls.

We have already had a sample of his descriptive powers, in his account of Barrier Buttress. His diary, which came into the Club’s possession in 1913 and now occupies an honoured place in the archives,

Reveals a soul pure in its love of mountains and mountaineering, and beautiful in its manner of expression. Few people … could claim more fully than he the understanding of the mystical inspiration of the mountains. To him … high places were homes of worship, and ascent a consecrated type of labour for an exceeding great reward.

 

Jackson’s invitation to join him and Boothman in their attempt on the still-unscaled Barrier Buttress must have come to Norman as a surprise (there is no record in either diary of their having climbed together before) but also as an exciting breakthrough for him.  To climb, and perhaps to achieve a great “first”, with the conquerors of the mighty Toverkop!

And a “first” it in fact turned out to be, albeit somewhat unsatisfactory from the perspective of “face” routes, as we have seen. And so began a three-man partnership. On 3 November they were on Fountain Buttress, making not only the second ascent of this long and difficult route but also its “first complete ascent”, as Jackson would put it: complete, that is, inasmuch as it included the Fountain Crack, and thus reached the western Table direct instead of simply finishing via the Fountain Ledge. Nowadays, Fountain Buttress – if it is ever climbed – finishes on the Ledge. It was only the second ascent of the formidable Crack, which had been attempted but which remained a “one-man climb” since Jackson’s pioneering ascent some years before. For Norman, a comparative newcomer to the more severe ”first class” routes, it must have been an exhilarating day.

Their third and last climb together was Stinkwater Needle. Except for Boothman, it was old ground: Norman had done it at least twice, and Jackson several times. It will be useful to quote from Norman’s account of his first ascent earlier that year, as giving his impression of the top part of the Needle and of the mountain world that encircles it:

… we went over the huge stones and grassy slope until the top of the Needle came in sight. This is a tremendous square-cut block, absolutely inaccessible facing the line of ascent. We went round to the other side, and a steep little crack landed us on the topmost pinnacle of Stinkwater Needle.

The Needle stands out isolated like a tower, encircled by immense cliffs. On our left was the whole wall of the Mountain, scarred and weather-beaten – here overhanging, there traversed by a ledge or split by a bushy crack, the ledges leading round into the Fountain Valley seeming a fearful height up, and the huge cliff directly below them being seen to better advantage perhaps from here than from any other point. Behind us, set in a frame of rugged cliffs, lay Camps Bay. Straight ahead rose Stinkwater Ravine, over the head of which poured a vast volume of dense white mist. Its advance down the Gorge was most impressive, and when on occasion the mist blew the cloud curtain aside, we could see a party of climbers, including some ladies, slowly descending the Gorge. Shrill “coo-eys” and yells echoed and re-echoed through the Ravine as we sighted each other. But the object which attracted most of our attention was on the right, where the 150 foot chimney, the only vulnerable point in a tremendous palisade of cliff, still separated us from the summit plateau.

 

Now, on this perfect day in November, the whole party was in fine trim, and they sportingly stuck to the crest of the ridge throughout, including the traverse of the Indian Gates – a piece often omitted by, in those days, less confident climbers. They were soon standing below the great block that caps the climb. About 35 feet high, it has a recessed corner up which runs a narrow crack. This pitch is graded “E“, but even today is not regarded as being an integral part of the Blinkwater Needle route.

Jackson, as we have said, had done this bit before, and his two companions were keen to do it now. So Boothman led, up it apparently unroped, and Jackson followed. Norman, also climbing unroped, came last, close behind. On reaching the crux section, however, he felt himself in danger, and shouted for the rope. This was at once thrown to him, and he grasped it with both hands, but the exertions of the pitch, combined with those on the morning’s climb, were too much for him: cramp seized his hands, and they opened. His horror-struck partners saw him plunge backwards, to strike the edge of a large boulder standing on the take-off ledge a few minutes before.[v] Time suddenly seemed to stand still, then they were frantically scrambling down to him. He was alive, but in a terrible condition, his skull fractured in four places and both arms broken. They did what they could, then Jackson took off at top speed for the hut. A rescue party set out from there at once with the Club stretcher, Norman’s wounds were bandaged, and the party took him down the open ravine to the south of the Needle, later to be known as Blind Gully. Then along the Pipe Track to Kloof Nek, and by horse ambulance to the Somerset Hospital.

That fateful boulder! Norman had fallen only some sixteen feet, and Jackson would always believe that, had that particular rock not been there, he would have got off with no more than “a bad shaking”. One of the rescue party, indeed, could hardly credit that so short a fall could wreak such damage. The rock was later removed.

 

There was one more sad incident before the traumatic day eventually ended. Norman had lodgings in town, while his widowed mother lived at Observatory. Jackson and Boothman went to the address they had, but could find no trace of her, so that the first she knew of the accident was via the report in the Cape Times on Monday morning. He was her only child, and her sole means of support.

He lingered for some days, and seemed to rally once, but died on the Thursday. The next Sunday, as a mark of respect, Jackson and many others stayed home, but Johan Hofner went up to the fateful spot and chiselled out an impression of the Club badge with an inscription. The following Sunday Jackson and a small party went back, took some photographs, and “made a small garden plot, in which we intend planting ivy”.

 

It was the first fatal accident in the sixteen years of the Club’s existence, and, ironically, it took place not only in the party of the country’s leading cragsman and moreover the Club’s chief official, but also on a minor piece of rock that could be, and usually was, walked around – in modern parlance, an optional extra.

No word of reproach – other, one imagines, than self-reproach – was levelled at the leader.  Norman had been offered the rope, but had scorned it. Even the later version of the incident – where Norman is thrown the rope, grabs it and starts to pull himself up – doesn’t seem to have caused any criticism.  Thus Jurgens, who by 1939 had “had” the Club and perhaps Jackson in particular, was satisfied that the rope, although not in use, “was in readiness immediately on the first cry of distress”: a practice that evidently had his full approval.

But there were doubtless those, and Jackson among them, who would henceforth read with new eyes the haunting passage with which Edward Whymper ends his great “Scrambles among the Alps”:

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end.


[i] The next two ascents were by Jurgens and party (1914) and Fraser and party (1918).

[ii] The route list gives it an “E”, but this is not justified.

[iii] It defeated Cobern in 1913 (Cape Times, 8.11.1913), and was first climbed in 1920, by Londt’s party.

[iv] The route has a curious official history. Jackson himself never wrote it up, which suggests that he didn’t regard it as a new route. The published reference to it is in the old Record Book: it covers an ascent by W C West in 1914, who outflanked the lower waterfall to its left. That same year Ken Cameron suggested it as a variation (“Gully Route”) of Porcupine Buttress, with a “C” grade. In 1922 he raised it to a full route, as ”there is no necessity to encroach on any other route”, again, grade “C”. In 1926 he credited it to Jackson and West jointly, with the date 1913, and this received the Club’s imprimatur in its 1931 Route list, where it is graded “E”.

[v] This seems the best reconstruction possible on the basis of the extant accounts.

AFTER NORMAN

The three years following Norman’s death were comparatively quiet ones for Jackson. In 1908, for the first time since 1895, he added no route to the Table Mountain list; but, for the first time in several years, he opened a route on Devil’s Peak. The first high-grade rock climb on that mountain. This was on the fairly prominent buttress to the left of the Woodstock Cave, which he named The King’s Buttress (with F C Barwick, 23.8.1908). The name presumably (and confusingly) stems from the King’s blockhoouse, but in fact the buttress lies much nearer to the Queen’s blockhouse. It is a short but pleasant climb of “D” standard, but the rock is not of the best.

Two routes on Table Mountain were opened in 1909. The Hiddingh’s Buttress Angle Piece (with E B de Beer and J C W Moore, 12.9.1909) is now listed as a sub-route “E” but is virtually never climbed today. Sandy and bushy, it scarcely warrants even sub-route status but is best regarded as a straight variation of the Buttress route. Given Jackson’s firm views on the criteria for “route” status, it comes as something of a surprise that he wrote it up in what for him was an exceedingly long description in the Annual. One is touched, though, by his concluding paragraph:

“It is not likely that the Angle-Piece will become a usual week-end route, owing to the scanty supply of holds; yet it is the haunt of many Nerinas, for their bulbs need little space to foster their beautiful blooms.”

 

His other route was what the route list calls “Porcupine Anvil”, but which is better described by the 1929 list’s Porcupine Buttress: Right Frontal or “Anvil” Route (with K Cameron and M Webb, 26.9.1909). Porcupine Buttress suffers from having no clear-cut west front. Its long and nondescript north face curves to the south west until it reaches a point on the buttress’s south, and only then does it veer sharply back to the east. Perhaps for this reason Jackson seems to have been satisfied, on his pioneer ascent in 1907, with an easy route up the north face, with minor rockwork only. But the front part of the buttress, with all its lack of a distinct west front, has an impressive portion overlooking Porcupine Ravine, and it was here that the new route was evolved.

Three different ways may be distinguished here:

  1. Jackson’s route Data on this is sparse. According to Cameron’s description in the 1912 Annual, it would seem to follow the same line as in (2) below; but Jurgens states that Jackson outflanked the waterfall at the bottom of Porcupine Ravine on its right and then followed a long chimney on the southern side of Porcupine Buttress, just to the right of the south-west corner. In conformity with the concept of a “route” as then held, this would clearly not qualify as a separate line of ascent, since of necessity it crossed the ravine path.
  2. Jurgens’s route A few weeks after Jackson’s ascent, Jurgens (with Markham and West) made what he called “the first direct ascent” of the Buttress. They stuck manfully to an attractive lower section below the Diagonal path, climbed to beneath the massive overhang that dominates the upper part of the climb, traversed to the right, rounded the corner and so joined up with Jackson’s route.
  3. The popular route of today This avoids the forbidding lower section altogether. It starts near the Porcupine Cave, and then sweeps up and across the section above the Diagonal path, joining Jurgens’s route below the overhang. It is, therefore, a composite route of sorts, not a route in its own right. Whatever its precise categorisation, however, it is probably the most popular route of its class (“C”) on the mountain.

 

If Jurgens’s reference to Jackson’s route is correct (and presumably he had the details from someone in the party), the Anvil route proper should be credited to the Jurgens party, inasmuch as they climbed the difficult and unattractive lower part of the buttress. But the matter is one of academic interest only, and, in any case, only a pedant would seek to include that appalling section today.

And finally, in these years, there was Window Buttress (with Ken Cameron, 14.8.1910). This is the rambling buttress to the south of Window Gorge, leading eventually to Skeleton. Long open slopes for the most part, and ferociously bush-covered, it becomes more pronounced on the side overlooking Window Gorge, with some impressive drops. But the route is difficult of access, while the rock on the one or two krantzes that have to be climbed is poor. Overall, a climb with little appeal, although it does include an interesting gendarme. The grade is “D”. It is hard to believe that Jackson felt any impelling desire to climb it, rather, the route has all the marks of Cameron’s indefatigable “filling-in” of blanks on the Table Mountain map. Although there is no hard data on the subject, one may safely assert that years, if not decades, pass today without an ascent.

-O-

So the weekends and the years went by. Nothing of great note, as we have seen, was done on Table Mountain, and in the Boland Jackson made only one new ascent, Banhoek Peak. It seems, from the fragmentary material at our disposal, that something of the zest and thrill of earlier days had left him.

It would be idle, now, to seek specific causes. Perhaps it was the shock of Norman’s death, and the natural but nagging thought that it could have been avoided. Perhaps it was the increasing demands of a growing family, to be met with not over-abundant means.  But, whatever the reason for this slowdown in his pioneering activity, there is a twinge of sadness when we see him doing the same old routes week in and week out, while his climbing compatriots are opening up whole new tracts of the mountain and adding to the list such attractive if minor routes as Bosch Kloof Needle, Victoria Buttress and Llandudno Corner. Jackson was no route-collector. The major physical features of the mountain had all been climbed, or at any rate attempted. Table Mountain, in his scheme of things, was “finished”- why bother with the small fry way down south?

Yet it is sad to contemplate the missed opportunities. Opportunities for pioneering, certainly, but also for experiencing the sheer enjoyment of something new. It was part of his mountaineering credo “to tread where none had set foot, to peer into the unknown”, yet a large part of his  mountain – virtually everything south of Grootkop – would remain to him terra incognita.

Now and then the old enthusiasm and energy for something different flared up again. There was the King’s Buttress on Devil’s Peak; and, of much greater importance, the Klein Winterhoek at Tulbagh. This wonderful frontal climb had once been in Jackson’s eye, but the attempt he made at Easter 1910, with West and Calitz, was frustrated by continuing bad weather. They reached the base of the rock and worked a way up, but “found it overhanging”, and accordingly made for the forbidding gully to the left. They managed to get a good way up, but were then baulked by the last few feet of a 60 foot waterfall.

-O-

The boy of 13 who had climbed “the left face” of Table Mountain alone, a week after Searle’s epoch-marking climb, had come a long way by 1910. Behind him now was a string of brilliant mountaineering exploits: the memorable, classic routes on Table Mountain, the exploration of the country peaks and kloofs, the triumph of Toverkop, the proud letters “A.C.” after his name. He was, unquestionably, South Africa’s foremost and best-known mountaineer.

And not merely technically. Only the fundi’s might be able to assess at true value his mountaineering achievements, but he was well-known to a wider public by virtue of his long term of office as secretary of the prestigious Mountain Club, and above all as the untiring searcher after lost souls on Table Mountain. In Cape Town at any rate he had become an institution, and a household name.

But it was at this juncture that he threw all these things over and took himself off to the wilds of North West Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) abutting the Belgian Congo.

We should naturally like to know what it was that prompted this surprising move. It could hardly have been made lightly. Jackson, apart altogether from any considerations of his status in the community, had four small children, the eldest not yet seven, whose care would fall squarely on his wife while he was away – which, in the event, was for two years. His working life up to this time had been far from stable, with one post following another, but in any event had been straightforwardly clerical in character. Yet he was now going into a largely undeveloped country to do – what? To build a “native store” and act as a trader there.

RHODESIA

What qualifications he possessed for either building or trading are not known to us. Given his rootedness in Cape Town (Ladismith, for Toverkop, was the furthest afield he had ever been), and his white-collar background, the change certainly seems a curious one. At this time he was in the employ of Lieberman and Buirski, a Cape Town firm of “Produce and general import merchants (and) exporters of grain, wool, skins, feathers, etc” – in other words, a substantial merchant house, experience in which would hardly seem to be a particular asset in running a ”native trading store” of that era.

In the absence of hard data it would be idle to speculate. What we can say, however, is that he was not, like an earlier generation, seeking diamonds or gold or other treasure in the mysterious North, but simply taking up what must surely have been a humdrum job of shopkeeping. Using Occam’s Razor, we may suggest that he was leaving family and mountain so as to benefit himself financially. If not exactly to seek his fortune in the African wilds, then at any rate to build up a tidy nest-egg from what ex hypothesi was well-paid employment.

One small clue seems to support this reasoning. On the flyleaf of his diary for the period in question there is the inscription, in Alice Travers-Jackson’s handwriting, of his name followed by “c/o R Duthie/Kansanshi Mine/ N W Rhodesia”. And R A Duthie, known to the family as Bert, was Jackson’s brother-in-law. He too hailed from Cape Town (his name appears in the old visitors’ book in 1894), but had moved to Rhodesia and remained there for the rest of his life. Perhaps, as a person of some importance in the (copper) mine at Kansanshi, he pulled some strings for his wife’s brother.

RUECKSACK

While Jackson was away in Rhodesia a minor storm had arisen back in Cape Town concerning his past and his character. It will be necessary to examine this unedifying incident in some detail.

On 18 May 1912 a weekly column under the rubric “Mountain Notes” made its appearance in the South African News, the political rival (broad South Africanism) of the Cape Times (Jingoism). It was contributed under the pseudonym “Ruecksack”, and would continue for several months.

This was a useful innovation for the climbing community at the Club. Until now, there had been the occasional coverage of the Club’s outings, annual dinner, meetings and other activities, but there had been no regular press feature on mountaineering as such. So the opportunities the new service provided filled a longstanding gap. It did more, it prompted a kindred column in the Cape Times by W C West, the Club’s secretary. This latter column, although in the nature of things a personal rather than an official contribution, would obviously carry an imprimatur not attaching to Ruecksack.[i] Or, to put in another way, West was part of the establishment, while Ruecksack was the outsider looking in.

Ruecksack laboured under a grievance. A newcomer to Cape Town, he had wanted to climb the mountain, and had been directed by the Publicity Association to the Mountain Club. He was not an aspirant rock-climber, but was merely seeking someone, so he averred, who would take him up some of the less obvious routes. It was suggested he join the Club. He eventually did so, with West and Amphlett as his sponsors. He was taken on a few climbs, but at the end of it all he had failed to get the thing he was after: guidance for “beginners like myself, who, if left to their own resources, are likely to have accidents”. That was the gravamen of his charge, but, more generally, he denounced the lack of esprit de corps in the ranks of the Club.

No doubt there was some truth behind his indictment. Many candidates for membership of clubs and kindred bodies must experience a similar sense of not being welcomed with open arms. And public criticism of this sort can have a salutary effect, one may hope, on too-complacent officials. But where Ruecksack went overboard was in suggesting that the lack of enthusiastic response that, he contended, he had experienced at the Club’s hands might have its origin not in mere indolence or bureaucratic footdragging but in one particular individual. It will be best, now, to quote his actual words:

I do not know to what the drawbacks I have mentioned are due. Maybe, the habits of a late official of the Club are largely responsible for them. He was a first-rate climber (no names, no pack-drill), and often did hair-raising things alone. Generally, however, he managed to let other people know about them, but when asked to act as a guide in the difficult spots in question, as often as not refused. He liked to keep certain climbs a close preserve. The younger climbers, who sat round his feet, admired and envied him. When he disappeared from the scene they organised themselves and found they could do what he did. With his accomplishments, a good deal of his nature seems to have come down to them, and other influences have not always been able to counteract that. Lately at all events the Club was becoming a bit exclusive, to say the least of it, and unless one was a tip-topper one was looked down upon.

 

Why this attack on Jackson – who, incidentally, was not then in Cape Town and able to defend himself? By his own chronology Ruecksack could either not have met him at all or had only the most fleeting contact with him. West, for his part, felt that the two had never met.[ii] In any event, a passing acquaintance with Jackson could scarcely have formed the basis for the charge now levelled against him, involving alleged actions from his long climbing career. So the inference must be that Ruecksack had been listening to Club tittle-tattle, and malicious at that. There is compelling circumstantial evidence on this score, pointing in a certain direction, but no useful purpose would be served by now exhuming these matters.

But Ruecksack’s gossip is revealing as conveying a perception of Jackson evidently then held in a certain quarter of the climbing fraternity, and we must therefore enquire into the alleged “crime”.

The essence of the charge is that Jackson deliberately dissuaded others from tackling some of the climbs he had done, by exaggerated accounts of their difficulties. No particular climb is mentioned, but we may assume that the finger points perhaps at Fountain Crack, but certainly at Arrow Face.

————————————————————————————————–

i  West’s column is of great importance in our mountaineering literature, as it provides the first detailed descriptions of the classic climbs on Table Mountain, complete with photographs indicating the route by dotted lines.  The column is a mine of information on early mountaineering and Club activities.

ii Reucksack was the parliamentary reporter for a Pretoria newspaper. This would ordinarily have brought him to Cape Town for the months January to July.  In 1910, however, the (first) Union Parliament assembled only in September.  It is just possible that he met Jackson, as the Club’s secretary, in the short period before the latter’s departure in late October for Rhodesia.


[i] West’s column is of great importance in our mountaineering literature, as it provides the first detailed descriptions of the classic climbs on Table Mountain, complete with photographs indicating the route by dotted lines. The column is a mine of information on early mountaineering and Club activities.

[ii] Ruecksack was the parliamentary reporter for a Pretoria newspaper. This would ordinarily have brought him to Cape Town for the months January to July. In 1910, however, the (first) Union Parliament assembled only in September. It is just possible that he met Jackson, as the Club’s secretary, in the short period before the latter’s departure in late October for Rhodesia.

COBERN

The salvo from Ruecksack on the “one-man climbs” marked the start of a time of troubles for Jackson.

He returned from Rhodesia in September 1912, and was soon back on the mountain and with old friends on the Annual Excursion the next month. He even made a new attempt on an old adversary, the later “Erica Buttress”, but was again unsuccessful. One “first”, however, fails to be recorded from this time – the Buttress leading to the Saddle Ridge (today’s Knife Edge). He wanted to call it the “Ridge Buttress”, but in fact he never reported the climb, and when the buttress was eventually listed by the Club it was as Els Buttress (with Mr and Mrs A R Stark, 7.9.1913). This has always been graded “D”, but if the two steep wings of the lower buttress are avoided by using the dividing gully the standard can be kept to “B” (or, if the upper ridge is conscientiously followed, easy “C”). The lower rock is bad in places, but the upper sections are worth doing, with spectacular views to both north and south. Today it is completely neglected.[i]

But things had changed. It must have been slightly awkward to be back in the Club but without an official position, after having served a then record term as secretary, but, that apart, in his absence a completely new group of daring cragsmen had emerged. In 1911 the two best known of the “proprietary” climbs had been done by them, with the fact being proudly recorded in the Hut register. But these, after all, were routes of long standing, which moreover had already been repeated by the Jurgens party. But 1912 was to provide something more spectacular in the annals of Table Mountain, success where Jackson had failed. The atmosphere of the time is best recaptured in an arch reference to the new state of affairs by Ruecksack:

Be it remembered that once upon a time there was a waterfall in Hiddingh’s Ravine on Table Mountain called the unclimbable one. This was after dozens of experts had looked at it for years. Then, suddenly, a youngster of whom practically no one had ever heard came and climbed it, accompanied by one as bold as he. The deed was set out with unbecoming modesty and briefness in the Mountain Club Annual, where I read of it. The next time I was in the neighbourhood my eye rested on the waterfall in question. I marvelled, but did not doubt.

W T Cobern, whose name was seldom heard on the Mountain three years ago [Ruecksack is writing in March 1914] … has bagged a very respectable number of new routes (all first-class, of course), and is in the very front rank of climbers on Table Mountain. He has not turned his attention seriously to the country as yet, but when that time comes, let inland peaks beware!

 

Well, Johnson had his Boswell, Jackson his Ford, and now Cobern his Ruecksack. But behind the breezy style was the fact of a new school of rock-climbing at the Cape, whose achievements would quickly surpass anything from the Jackson era. As an historian of Cape climbing would later put it, “the climbs they achieved were a lot more difficult, and the obstacles they overcame more formidable”.[ii]

Their string of spectacular “firsts” began with Hiddingh’s Ravine, at a time when Jackson was still away from Cape Town. But in 1913 and 1914 one breathtaking route after another was to be opened: Protea Buttress, Wormhole Buttress, Corridor Buttress, Fountain Peak Buttress, Cairn Buttress, Erica Buttress, Fountain Ravine Complete and – towering above them all – Africa Face. Two of these are known to have defeated Jackson – Corridor Buttress and Erica Buttress, and we may reasonably assume that he had tried the waterfalls in Hiddingh’s Ravine and Fountain Ravine.

One generation passes, another arrives. But it can be painful for those caught up in the transition, who see a devaluation of the achievements of their day. Jackson would have been less than human not to be somewhat put out by the fact that others had succeeded where he had failed, but there is no trace in his diary, other than his fixation on nailed boots, to suggest that he disparaged the new climbers or their new climbs. In later years, certainly, he would bestow on them the accolade “brilliant”. So we may assume that he accepted the passing of the old and the coming of the new philosophically. Unfortunately, though, these developments in climbing per se were paralleled by less admirable ones in the sphere of personal relationships.

It began with an unhappy contretemps involving Centre Left Face. “Boy” Jurgens, who was coming into prominence as a cragsman just prior to the advent of the Cobern party (we have met him on several routes), had injured his arm in a shooting accident in June 1911. He thought it spelled the end of his climbing career, but the arm healed well, and six months later he was on Saddle Face, albeit needing the rope as a handhold. Progress was maintained, and early in 1913 he planned to join Cobern in climbing Centre Left Face. Word of this got to the Club’s committee, and the latter sought to talk Jurgens out of it, on account of his injured arm. But, after “arguments and several unpleasant discussions”, the party – Cobern, Stanford and Jurgens – went ahead with the climb. Whereupon the committee, invoking clause 2 (b) of the Objects of the Club (“Providing for the safety of climbers”), passed an unanimous motion that the three members concerned be “severely censured” for their irresponsibility.

As may be imagined, this censure caused a certain souring of relations, and Jurgens, at any rate, focussed his anger on “one of the most prominent members of the Club”. A name is not mentioned, but by a process of elimination it is a fair inference that Jackson was his target. Again, Jurgens “treated the Club with contempt”, and by the end of the year seems to have severed his connection with it, at any rate de facto. But it is probably not without significance that at the next annual general meeting, in January 1914, Cobern ran for election to the committee. He got in, albeit near the bottom of the poll. For whatever reason, Jackson, who had been on the committee in 1913, did not again stand.

At the new committee’s second meeting for 1914 Cobern, after due notice of motion, moved for a “reclassification of (Table Mountain) routes”. There was, at that time, nothing that could be designated an “official” Mountain Club route list, although Jackson’s “Fifty ways …” in the 1904/5 Annual, and the subsequent notes in the issues for 1907, 1909/10 and 1912 went a long way to make up for this lack. So there was something to be said, no doubt, for an up-to-date list, with the climbs properly graded. But for a rank newcomer to the Club’s controlling body to start off with a demand for reclassification of the existing routes was bound to raise eyebrows, and perhaps hackles too. To be fair to Cobern, his motion may have been innocent enough: not to downgrade the earlier routes, but merely to enhance his own – and quite rightly, since at that time the top category (“First Class”) covered such disparate climbs in point of difficulty as (say) Platteklip Buttress and Centre Left Face, to say nothing of Cobern’s spectaculars such as Corridor Buttress. There clearly was room for a new classification that would separate the sheep from the goats.  But, who knows, perhaps Cobern’s manner of speaking, as much as the word “reclassification”, with its possible suggestion that the old guard had got it all wrong, prompted an amendment that a special sub-committee be appointed to consider the “classification “of routes, for report back to the general committee. The amendment was carried, and the sub-committee promptly appointed: (convenor), Cameron, Cobern, Travers-Jackson, West and Wright. Cobern moved for the inclusion of his climbing partner Stanford, but this was not carried. (Stanford, it will be remembered, had been involved in the Centre Left Face affair.)

Cobern’s offensive was not yet over, in what seems an uncalled for and abrasive proposal, he moved that

no official recognition be accorded to claimed ascents which have not been officially recorded or in some way satisfactorily authenticated at or about the time of their accomplishment, or subsequently proved to the satisfaction of the committee to have been made.

Just what lay behind this is not now known, but we may easily imagine the stony visages of the Club elders as they listened to the brash newcomer. The proposal itself quickly fell away as it did not find even a seconder, but the stand-off obviously would do nothing to promote inter-generational harmony in the Club’s ranks.

The routes sub-committee was commendably prompt in its work and on 30 March it approved a draft list of routes drawn up by the ever-energetic Cameron. We need not examine it in detail. What is of importance here is that the old threefold classification (First, Second and Third Class) made way for a five-category alphabetical grading. Of most weight, the old “First Class” catchall was replaced by two grades, “D” and “E”, thus differentiating between climbs that had hitherto been ranked the same but were far apart in technical difficulty. It was progress, but it did not go far enough. At this very time Cobern was opening routes that would come to be spoken of as “Super E” or shown as “E*” (E star) and eventually ranked as “F”, but, for now, it made the much-needed distinction between “D” and “E”.

We may hope that this new classification drew the teeth of Cobern’s objections to the old order of things, since the “Exceptionally Difficult” climbs were now firmly distinguished from the merely “difficult”. But there remained his cryptic reference to the need for climbs to receive official recognition, and at the very meeting where the new route list was approved for submission to the general committee, something happened that threw oil on the flames.

At the meeting, when the list was being discussed, Jackson reported having opened a climb

Between the Silver Stream Ravine and the Centre Left Face, which route has still to be determined in detail and named.

 

A note to this effect was added to the draft route list.

The exact wording should be carefully noted, since the dispute over this route was to be an unhappy incident in the Club’s history, and no doubt in Jackson’s life.

Jackson had reported an ascent between Silverstream Ravine and Centre Left Face. Yet a bare two months later this vague description had been pinned down and inflated to what was described as follows:

Unnamed Route (E) A short distance to the right of the upper portion of Silverstream Ravine is a small but conspicuously projecting buttress that has successfully resisted many attempts to climb it. Several expert cragsmen tried, but gave it up as being quite impossible; consequently, when another climber came along and claimed to have made the ascent, there were some who were inclined to doubt his veracity. It is a most regrettable state of affairs and contrary to all the high ideals of mountaineering that one climber should doubt another’s word, but it would be infinitely worse if a statement of this kind were proved to be inaccurate.

 

The climb is of course what would later be named Silverstream Corner.

Arising out of this controversy Cobern’s party, which had been defeated there in August 1912, made a second attempt on this small but formidable buttress in July 1914. But, “although every known device was resorted to, even throwing the rope up in the hope that it might catch on some knob”, they were again balked. Not until 1920 would it be climbed, by George Londt, and in the process acquire a reputation for ultra-difficult climbing.

The failure of the Cobern party, if it did nothing else, obviously made Jackson’s alleged claim to have climbed the Corner even more contentious. But it was surely unfair, if not something more, to impugn his veracity on the basis of a claim that he is not recorded as having ever made. His statement to the sub-committee, as quoted above, says nothing of what after all is a prominent and pronounced buttress, but merely refers to an ascent somewhere in an extensive tract of mountain. Confirmation of his “non-claim” regarding Silverstream Corner will be found in the relevant description in the sub-committee’s route list: echoing Jackson’s statement. It locates his route between Silverstream Ravine and Centre Left Face, and adds that the route is “not yet exactly determined and not yet named”. But had the sub-committee had Silverstream Corner in its mind it would have been the obvious course to describe the route as ”the prominent buttress to the right of Silverstream Ravine”, or words to that effect. And Silverstream Corner scarcely needs to be ”exactly determined” as a route! A red herring, at best through carelessness and at worst of set purpose, had been trailed – with a consequential slur on Jackson’s integrity.

Where then was Jackson’s route up this forbidding stretch of the north front of the mountain? We have no sure means of knowing, since there is no other documentation bearing on the question. All we can say, in the absence of any reference in his extant diaries, is that it must have been climbed before 1899. We know that in the period 1895 to 1898 he produced a crop of new routes, including such classics as Right Face and Arrow Face, so it hardly strains our credulity to hear that there were others, which for some reason he did not see fit to record at the time. Given his views on what constituted a “route” he may well have regarded the climb in question as a mere variation and thus omitted it from his 1905 list, where he says that to nearly all the routes shown “there are variations which I do not count as separate routes”.

So which climb can we reasonably assume to be the one he mentioned to the sub-committee in 1914? Easy! – today’s Pillar Face. It lies within the defined area, it constitutes the only route in that area that would have been within the powers of the Jackson school (“D+”), and it starts so high up as to be regarded then as no route at all. Indeed, Pillar Face treated broadly as a line of ascent in that area was in all probability the climb tried by Searle’s party in 1894, on their pioneer ascent of “the Left Face”.

It may be retorted that all this is pure speculation. Perhaps, but there is one further piece of evidence, and of a kind that would have delighted Sherlock Holmes. Cobern’s party, which in all likelihood included J W Fraser, was defeated on Silverstream Corner in July 1914. A few weeks later Fraser went to look at that portion of the mountain Jackson had mentioned – between Silverstream Ravine and Centre Left Face – and pioneered Pillar Face alone. While the two things may be quite unconnected, it seems significant that Fraser, who would naturally have been familiar with the controversy, went off exploring in that precise area. Assuming that Jackson’s route was in substance Pillar Face, what more characteristic of him than to shrug it off as a variation of “the Left Face”? As late as 1929 he treated Rainbow Crag, no less, in just such a way. Other examples of his indifference to the recording of “variations” are Chockstone Gully, Springs, Platteklip Waterfall, India Face, Kloof Corner Pinnacle, Porcupine Gully, and Kasteels Buttress (South-west Ridge).  With regard to Platteklip Waterfall, which he climbed with Boothman in 1907, he explicitly labels their route as “merely a variation (of Platteklip Face), of which there are many on all the climbs”.

It would have been pleasant to have avoided having to deal with this controversy, but the task is necessary if we are seeking a balanced view of Jackson at this stage of his career. His integrity had been questioned by Ruecksack, and now his very veracity. We owe it to him to evaluate these charges. It may be hoped that we have refuted them.

To round off the picture we may mention that there were other ways in which the new school must have made themselves obnoxious to the old. Pinpricks perhaps, but all adding to what may have been an irritation. They took to entering in the hut register, but not on the day of the climb itself, the classic routes they were repeating – which prompted a Club circular deprecating the practice and asking that it be discontinued. But to make provision for these eager claimants an official record book was instituted, in which they might record their achievements.

Something of more immediate moment to Jackson himself was Cobern’s “straightening-out” of the lower section of Arrow Face. Cobern’s new line kept close to the centre of the buttress, thus eliminating the long traverse from left to right that up to this time had been a marked feature of the route. As we have seen this more direct line may well date from Jackson’s first ascent, but the long traverse had become established, and it must have been annoying for him now to read in the mountaineering column of the Cape Times that the new way

should take precedence over the old one … for, more than the old way, it fulfils the essentials in what is supposed to go to make an “official” route.

We may be permitted a piece of imaginative reconstruction here. Arrow Face, as we have seen, was par excellence the climb associated with Jackson’s name. The top portion, untouched for so many years because of its aura of risk, had become the playground of the new school, and now the lower section too must forthwith be “straightened out”. His achievements were fast being whittled away.

We may, perhaps, gather something of his state of mind at this time by his testy reaction to a paragraph that appeared in the Cape Times mountaineering column at the time of West’s departure for Kilimanjaro in May 1914. In an article on his career in the Mountain Club, they saw fit to say that in the four years West had occupied the office of secretary he

has done more for the Club than probably any one else during its 23 years of existence … He started his duties when interest and mountaineering matters were on the down grade and at a very low ebb, but his advent was the turning point, and Club affairs have been improving ever since.

This was, perhaps, merely the usual hyperbole to be expected in a valedictory address. But Jackson took umbrage at it and lodged a complaint with the committee. And, indeed, an implied criticism of his stewardship could be read into the passage. The embarrassed committee could only answer that it was not responsible for the article, although one of its members was in fact the “special correspondent”, and the matter was dropped. Whether Jackson expected a retraction or something in that line is not known, but the committee’s tepid response to what he obviously felt as a slight would surely have rankled with him. The fact that he made the complaint at all may point to an unduly sensitive nature – but, and more likely in view of the other matters we have raised, also to a growing disenchantment with the mountaineering establishment.

There is no word in his diary of these alarums. He was not one for emotional outbursts, nor was he given to navel-gazing. But his actions may be an indicator of his inner feelings.

He returned as we have seen, to Cape Town in late 1912, and he was soon as active as of old in Mountain Club affairs. He was on the Annual Excursion in October, and the next month he led a party up Saddle Corner on one of the recently-instituted “meets”. He could, of course, not take up the post of secretary again, as this was being ably handled by West, but at the annual general meeting in January 1913 he was elected to the committee, topping the poll. In February, it may be remembered, there came the Centre Left Face contretemps. Without any hoc ergo propter hoc claim, we may now turn to his record as a committee member. The Club in those days published a tally of the committee members’ attendance at the various Club meetings, and the one for Jackson’s year of office makes interesting reading:

(BOX : COMMITTEE MEETINGS)

We may discount the “non-committee” meetings, which after all were not obligatory, so, concentrating on the meetings of the committee itself, we see that Jackson’s attendance, although not the worst of the bunch, was hardly outstanding – perhaps not even “satisfactory”. It may mean nothing at all. There are, after all, perfectly valid reasons for skipping the odd meeting, but, equally, it may point to a growing withdrawal on his part, especially when his regular attendance and enthusiastic performance in earlier days is borne in mind.

In the nature of things we can’t speak with any direct evidence on the point. But there is, one could argue, a telling piece of circumstantial evidence pointing in the same direction: his visits to the Hut. In 1909, the last full year before he left for Rhodesia, he was there 26 times; for the ten months of 1910, 21 times; for 1913 (the first full year after his return) 5 times; in 1914, twice; and in 1915 not at all. This precipitous drop was surely not without reason, given his fondness for the hut and his own close connection with its origin, acquisition and rehabilitation.

We can even pinpoint when it was that his visits to the hut ceased altogether, not to be resumed for several years: the meeting of the routes sub-committee in March 1914, which sparked the “Silverstream Corner” affair. He was at the hut on 29 March. That meeting was the next day, and thereafter the hut disappears completely from his tramps on Table Mountain. Not even in 1920, when he and other Club members escorted the president of the Dutch Alpine Club up the mountain via Kloof Corner, did he take this distinguished guest down to the hut, although the others went there, but instead went with him down Saddle Face. There were also occasions, including times when he slept out in the near vicinity of the hut, when he failed to call there, although passing close by. It is surely straining credulity to suggest that his continuing avoidance of the hut and the disputes in which he had become involved were not unrelated.

The diary shows what appears to be a half-hearted attempt by Jackson to repeat Cobern’s climbs. On 15 March 1914 there is reference to an ascent of Wormhole Buttress, with Wright and Stark: “the whole of the lower portion”, he wrote, “I had done before”. And on 3 May, with the same party, he tackled Protea Buttress, but rain frustrated them, and they moved off to the Saddle area – where they opened Dark Gully, an uninviting and wet route of “C” grade. On 21 June he went with Stark to try Erica Buttress, where he had twice been defeated in years gone by but where Cobern had opened a difficult route just the week before. They failed, but Jackson drew comfort from the fact that Cobern’s party of four “had used each others’ shoulders, and had on sand shoes”. After this there is no indication of his ever having tried to follow Cobern. In part this may have stemmed from Jackson’s views on “routes”. The new “Cairn Buttress”, for example, could be regarded simply as a wing of Fountain Buttress, and “Fountain Peak Buttress” could perhaps be said to have been climbed long ago, via the old Fountain Ravine route. However, given his post-Cobern failure on Erica Buttress and his defeats on Corridor Buttress, it seems more likely that he was resigning himself to the new order of things.

And this is a good point at which to raise an issue that at first glance may seem frivolous but which in fact has a large bearing on Jackson’s failure to repeat Cobern’s routes. This was his fanatical aversion to any footwear other than nailed boots.

Many years later W C West, in an affectionate tribute to his old friend, had this to say:

George has always sustained a stubborn, though I fear unsuccessful, fight on behalf of climbers and hobnails against those base intruders rubber, chrome and crepe.

This rigid attitude of his is borne out not only by personal recollection[iii] but also, and more importantly, by some scraps of documentation.

In his photograph album he made up a montage on Toverkop. There is a picture of the mountain, and portraits of the three people who had climbed it up to that time, and he has added under Nefdt’s and Boothman’s portraits the remark that they had climbed barefoot, while under his own is the remark that he had climbed in boots. And in 1921 there were two disparate sightings that awoke his contempt for the soft-shoe brigade: George Londt’s party on Ascension Buttress Direct, “all wearing Muizenberg sand shoes”, and his own party on the Cedarberg Tafelberg, where some of his companions “discarded their boots, much to my disgust”.

A quaint footnote, this, to the history of rock-climbing at the Cape. That Jackson accomplished his classic routes in clinkered boots is cause for wonder and admiration, but there arises the melancholy thought that his inflexible attachment to those selfsame boots in all probability denied him several other climbs of note. We all have our foibles.

Notes:


[i] This route has a strange bibliographical history. Its first appearance in print was in the Cape Times mountaineering column on 2.9.1922, but, when the first attempt was made (ibid, 13.11.1926) to establish the opening dates and parties of Table Mountain climbs, there was no record for it. Els Ravine, however, was there stated to have been opened in 1897, by Jackson and Hoal. But when the Club’s official route list finally appeared, in the 1931 Annual, the ravine’s provenance was given and “Unknown”, while that of the buttress showed Jackson and Hoal as the pioneers. This error was perpetuated in the 1952 route list.

[ii] The new school also struck a new note with regard to prompt publication of their exploits: Hiddingh’s Ravine Complete was climbed on 21 January 1912, and the account appeared in the 1912 Annual – which was published that February. This rush into print, so unlike the leisurely pace of previous times, was to be a feature of the early days of Cobern’s party: they had the ear of the Cape Times mountaineering correspondent, and accounts of the new routes were soon appearing there with clockwork regularity, within a few days of their accomplishment. (In fairness to Cobern, however, it must be remembered that no such forum had been available to the earlier school of cragsmen.)

[iii] A callow youth, I asked him whether there was any truth in the suggestion I had heard that he had removed his boots for Arrow Face Final. “It’s a damned lie!” was his retort. – VS

ARROW FACE

Arrow Face! In the post-war period the name “Africa Face”  would become familiar even to the non-climbers as the spectacular and fearsome rockwork, but to those of Jackson’s generation it was Arrow Face, especially its great final slab, that stood out as the ne plus ultra of the routes on Table Mountain. There were indeed other climbs, of greater technical difficulty and even greater exposure, but it was Arrow Face that had gripped and held the climber’s admiration and respect.

We must try to erase from our memory the mountaineering history of the past century, with its outstanding rock-climbing achievements and its increasingly sophisticated equipment, and seek to put ourselves in the position of the climbers of the Edwardian period. We must also mentally block out the cableway structure that forever destroyed the classic skyline of the mountain, and recreate the scene that faced our climbers then. Even the stoutest hearted of the small band of cragsmen who had done most or all of the range of routes then existing would have been given pause by this lonely slab of near-vertical rock. His practised eye would notice that the upper reaches were fairly broken up, and that even the smoother and sheerer lower section showed some small ledges and a few reassuring “climbers’ friend” bushes. But the actual bottom was slightly undercut, and he would have to traverse in from a platform on the right, which would mean that his very first climbing move on the slab would take place over a drop of some feet.

And once launched on the slab there could be no escape. On all the routes so far opened there was either some possibility of escape or a reasonable means of retreat. The route might lie within the sheltering walls of a gully, or over uneven or broken-up rock faces. But not here. On the left of the slab lay even more long formidable cliffs, vertical and undercut, while on the right the whole, long front of Table Mountain came to an abrupt end, with only thin air beyond. If the holds ran out …!

In fact, however, this final buttress of Arrow Face is by no means a technically-difficult climb. What the Edwardians would have called “a cool head and a firm grip” will suffice to get even a moderately-skillful climber  up it. It was certainly not beyond Jackson’s contemporaries such as Wright, de Beer, Cooke or Moore. Yet for some thirteen years after Jackson’s ascent it remained untouched by others, and it is significant that when Jurgens, Cameron and Forbes made the first ascent subsequent to his, in 1910, they had to fall back on “combined tactics”, and had no hesitation in describing the climb as the biggest thing they had ever done.

Whatever the reason, the final section of Arrow Face was “deliberately left alone” for many years. It acquired the reputation of being a “one-man climb”, in the sense that it was accepted as being beyond ordinary mortals, who must rest content with admiration from afar. And, the “one man” being George Travers-Jackson, Arrow Face became inextricably interwoven with his name.

To suggest, then, that the route’s difficulties had been overrated, or – still worse – that they had been cunningly exaggerated, was to throw mud at his reputation. From what we know of him we may readily acquit him of any petty jealousies regarding the climbing abilities of others, but the insinuation that he had deliberately inflated the standard of the climb, so as to preserve its glory for himself, would be hard for any man to swallow who valued his honour – a more vital matter.

Let us turn to the written record.

The first fact that emerges is that Jackson was backward in coming forward with the two climbs under one eyeglass. We must remember again that there was no official Club list of routes until 1914 at the earliest. Up to that time the only written record of new routes would be the climbers’ contributions to the Annual, or perhaps the odd newspaper article on mountaineering activity, in which a fleeting reference to a particular climb might appear.

To start with, there is an article in The New Era magazine for 21 September 1904. Entitled “Mountaineering in Cape Colony”, it was written by Sydney Yorke Ford, a prominent Club member of the time. In the part dealing with Table Mountain it states that there were then three “one-man climbs”: Platteklip Buttress, Platteklip Face and Traverse (Valken) Buttress. It will be noted that there is no reference to those (later) rocks of offence, Arrow Final and Fountain Crack. The journalist’s admiration for that “one man” is, however, apparent.

Next, the Mountain Club’s Annual for 1904/5, published early in 1905. This contained Jackson’s “Fifty ways up Table Mountain”, a comprehensive list of the known routes, and it caused something of a sensation with its appearance – good heavens, no less than fifty routes up the mountain! The list lets both Arrow Face and Fountain Buttress finish via a stroll along Fountain Ledge. True, there is a footnote that tells us that both Arrow Final and Fountain Crack have been climbed by one man only, but this has all the marks of an editorial addition rather than part of the contributed article. And who was the editor of the Annual then? – why, none other than Sydney Yorke Ford. So the publication of these two “triumphs” came, not from Jackson himself, but from his fervent admirer.

And finally, an interview with Jackson on Table Mountain accidents, in the Cape Times of 17 and 18 February 1905. There is no indication of the author, but given the paucity of writers on mountaineering at that time it could well have been Ford, although the style is not noticeably his. There is a passing reference to three routes “that he has the distinction of having been the only one to manage”: this time, Platteklip Buttress, Platteklip Face and “Apostle”(Spring) Buttress. (Traverse Buttress had been climbed by Jackson and Cooke in January.) Once more, no Arrow Final or Fountain Crack.

So, in print at any rate, Jackson was silent on the greatest of the one-man climbs. Whether he was voluble on them in conversation or yarn-swapping we have no means of knowing, but on the face of things it would seem strange to brag about them in climbing circles while being so coy about them in the public record. In this regard we may quote the impressions of the writer of the Cape Times articles:

It may be stated here that Mr Travers-Jackson is of the most modest of mortals, and that any information as to the part he has played in this connection (accidents) was dragged out of him with  … greatest difficulty. His request that his name be, if possible, not brought in at all, partook almost of the ludicrous, seeing that in the public mind, search expeditions on the mountain for missing climbers … are intimately connected with the name of Travers-Jackson … His modesty is of the kind common with men with records to be proud of.

 

Whence then the vainglory imputed to him by Ruecksack – or, more likely, Ruecksack’s informant?

If it existed, it evidently did not deter people from becoming his admirers and friends. Ruecksack has to admit that there were younger climbers who “sat round his feet, admired and envied him”, and this was echoed many years later by W C West, who put it even more forcefully: all potential cragsmen of that time, he recalled, “worshipped at his (hobnailed) feet”. Worship? Too strong a word? Apparently not, for a prominent Club member, and one not known for an excessive endowment of sensitivity or tact, set it down that his respect for Jackson “amounted to veneration”.

And in the front rank of these admirers was Sydney Yorke Ford. Not himself a cragsman, he had been taken up a few climbs by Jackson (including the redoubtable north-east chimney on Lion’s Head) and had developed a warm regard for him, which found its way into his literary efforts. We have seen something of these already, but one or two others may be mentioned. His article on India Waterfall in the 1907 Annual, in which the “one man” theme again emerges, and his eulogistic valedictory article in the Cape Times of 25 October 1910, on Jackson’s departure for Rhodesia, where the theme appears for the last time:

Of [Jackson’s] local exploits the two greatest were undoubtedly his conquest of the final sheer wall of the Kloof Corner, and that of the big crack or “chimney” on the Camp’s Bay side of the same forbidding mass, neither of which has been accomplished by any other climber whatever. The former of these tit-bits forms a completion of the “Arrow Face” route – which is usually finished by means of the easy ledges running round to the top of Fountain Ravine – and Jackson, who painted the arrows below, took his paint pot with him to the summit, at some point manipulating the brush with his teeth, because unable to spare a hand!

Given the fact that Ford was a journalist, it is not surprising to see his regard for his friend surfacing in the strangest places. He used an article on life assurance, no less, to sing his praises, and one suspects his hand behind a short notice in the prestigious London periodical South Africa, where occasion is taken to inform its polished readership that one George Travers-Jackson is the secretary of the Mountain Club in Cape Town. Nor did he confine his promotional efforts to the printed media. After Toverkop, when the Club awarded Jackson its Gold Badge in recognition of his services as Hon Secretary, Ford (who was then on the committee) successfully moved

that the Gold Badge …be reserved strictly for presentation as a mark of honour among the members, … and that a vote of congratulation be given to the Hon Secretary on his conquest of Toverkop in the Zwartberg.

Save us from our friends! Our conclusion must be, in the light of the material we have, that the image of Jackson as a mountaineering miser firmly clutching the supposed glory of the one-man climbs and fearfully looking around arose, if not out of malice, then from the over-enthusiastic efforts of this fidus Achates.

***

We do not know whether Jackson, then in far-off North West Rhodesia, was aware of Ruecksack’s attack. But it is gratifying to record that W C West at once stepped into the breach on his behalf. Through the medium of his recently begun column in the Cape Times he called upon the friends of “the climber undoubtedly referred to” to insist that Ruecksack’s innuendos were “ungenerous and unmerited”. Ruecksack did not pursue the matter.

Still, one is bound to ask why it was that the climb was left alone for so long. After all, Jackson held no proprietary rights to any part of the mountain, and his fellow-cragsmen were perfectly free to have a go at it themselves – as some of them eventually did, although not, it must be admitted, those from his old climbing circle.

The true explanation for this long neglect may hinge on the climbing technique of the time and the concepts of rock-climbing then current. A leading mountaineering manual of the period has this to say on the use of the rope:

Now the sole object, the sole justification of the use of the rope is the mutual security of the party. When the nature of the climb is such that the rope fails to afford that security, that climb is unjustifiable.

“Unjustifiable”: a term that is no longer found in the mountaineer’s lexicon, but one very present to the minds of our Edwardians. An elusive concept, perhaps, but certainly, in the light of the doctrine just quoted, embracing the idea of the absence of security in the event of a slip.

With our own long experience and our state-of-the-art means of protection, we can afford to smile at such simple notions. But by the same token we are in no position to lecture those climbers of a century ago who were unhappy with long run-outs and steadily increasing exposure. Rather, let us listen to their views and try to put ourselves in their place. Here is W C West, one of the leading figures in the Club for well over a generation:

Some local mountaineers who are usually credited with something of a mature knowledge of climbing principles declare that the top portion of Arrow Face and other somewhat similar places are unjustifiable to all except a few (climbers) possessing conspicuous individual ability.

There we have it. In the circumstances of the time, Arrow Final posed dangers that could not be justified. The record of West’s own ascent in 1910 is enough to give today’s climber palpitations – vide MCSA Annual, 1911. The risks were simply too great. An exposed slab beginning over an appreciable drop, a run-out far longer than was then usual on Table Mountain, the absence of comfortable stances, and the scarcity of substantial anchors, all militated against this final buttress as an acceptable route.

Of course, one man’s – and one generation’s – “unjustifiable” is another’s “bold lead”:

Every club, however adventurous its founders, passes through periods of middle age, from which it has to be rescued by successive palace revolutions. Every active young (climber) feels that his club is dominated by men who have long since ceased to climb, in his sense of the term

There is some fugitive evidence that this was precisely the position in the Mountain Club soon after Jackson’s departure for Rhodesia. A new school of climbers was beginning to emerge, that would become increasingly impatient of the old guard. To quote West again – who, as secretary, would surely have been aware of what was happening in mountaineering circles – there were now those

who romp up these places (Arrow Final et al) and declare there is nothing in them to justify the warnings uttered.

To the climbers of this new school, who would go on open routes of hitherto-unimagined severity, old Arrow Face was no doubt a “romp”- they would soon be descending it with gay abandon, and even climbing it by moonlight. So presume that “Ruecksack’s” ugly imputation of vainglory on Jackson’s part had an innocent if tactless and insensitive remark as its origin. The leader of the new school was on good terms with the pseudonymous journalist, what more natural than words to the effect that “Arrow Face is child’s play! Nothing to it! Jackson and all his nonsense!”.

Let it rest now. But whatever its complexities, the story of Arrow Face is part of the romance of Table Mountain. To the would-be cragsman of Jackson’s day, and a fortiori the mere “pedestrian” passing beneath it, there must have been a frisson of awe as they gazed up at the sheer wall towering above them, and a deep admiration for the man who had conquered it alone. We all need our myths.

The supreme irony, however, is that Arrow Final never was the “one-man climb” of Sydney Yorke Ford’s imagination. Many years later T W Chignell, who, it will be remembered, had on occasion climbed with Searle, told W C West that he had climbed this section – alone! – in about the mid-1890s, while A S Rogers watched him at it. We know that Rogers left for Rhodesia in 1896. This and other internal evidence thus point to Chignell’s climb being before Jackson’s 1897 ascent.

Nor is that all. In about 1945 a book of reminiscences appeared, by one Frank Guthrie – who, it will once again be remembered, had been one of the two pioneers on French Hoek Peak in 1900. From internal evidence the incident described by him may be assigned to the mid-1890s:

I was once with an old friend of mine named Alfred Bolus when he performed what I consider an extraordinarily plucky act. We were climbing up the sky-line of Table Mountain from Kloof Nek, and anyone who knows the mountain will remember that, when looking at it from Cape Town, the outline near the top – where the cable station now stands – is very precipitous. We had got as far as this spot and, with our boots slung round our necks, were slowly climbing towards the top of the krantz, hanging on with our toes and fingers.

As often happens, the going got worse the nearer we came to the top, and when we reached the last little bit we found that we could get no further………

Bolus was leading and I was just below him, guiding his feet on to little projections and into little crevices, but no more projections or crevices could I find. It was impossible for us to go back, as we were like flies on a wall and could look down between our legs for well over two hundred feet of clear, straight drop. Bolus could reach to within five or six inches of the edge of the ledge for which we were making, but no matter how he tried he was unable to stretch himself as to negotiate that very necessary half foot.

We both knew that we were in a particularly tight corner, and then we noticed that there was a short stout shrub growing right over the edge of the krantz, just above our heads. I told Bolus I was going to put my fist on the little projection upon which one of his feet was resting, and if he stood on it, he might be able to get to the edge of the ledge or the bush. Slowly and carefully he moved his foot, I placed my closed fist on the projection, and Bolus carefully replaced his foot. He found that he was about three inches nearer the edge, but it was another three inches out of his reach.

There we stayed for about half a minute, with my friend seeming to grow heavier and heavier.

Suddenly Bolus sprang upwards off my fist and grabbed the stem of the bush with one hand and the edge of the ledge with the other. His jump nearly sent me flying, but I had a good grip with my other hand, and my relief was great when I saw Bolus slowly draw himself up until he was lying over the ledge on his stomach, with his legs still hanging over the precipice. He called down to ask if I was all right, and I shouted back to him to stay where he was and get a good handhold, so that I could climb up his legs. This was safely accomplished after I had nearly pulled his trousers off. We both sat down on that ledge, feeling perhaps a bit shaken at our near escape, but with that delightful feeling known to all climbers who have safely negotiated a difficult bit.

I have always considered that the jump Bolus gave was one of the pluckiest climbing acts I have seen. He knew full well that if he failed in clutching and holding the bush and ledge, or if the bush gave way, nothing could have saved him from being dashed to pieces far below.

A final word. A few years ago the Cape Town section of the Mountain Club arranged a meet – just the ordinary monthly meet – that would take in Venster Buttress (a “C” route) and the final portion of Arrow Face. The circular advertising the meet made it clear that all and sundry were welcome, but it added that “some prior knowledge of rock-climbing would be a recommendation”.

FINIS

Something happened, it is clear, to Jackson in 1914. Whatever it was — and we have tried, on the basis of what in the nature of things is inadequate evidence, to suggest an explanation — it left him in a markedly changed position vis-à-vis the Mountain Club and his interest in rock-climbing on Table Mountain.

We have already seen his falling-away with regard to Club activities and visits to the Hut. We also seldom find him climbing with his old friends of the pre-1910 era, although some of these, like Hal Wright, were admittedly away on war service. Most marked of all, however, is his gradual withdrawal from all further pioneering on Table Mountain.

If 1914 was a turning-point of some kind in Jackson’s mountaineering career, it was also the end of the long Edwardian era. The war that broke out in August marked the end, as Eric Walker so trenchantly put it, of “the old familiar things”. Mountaineering was not exempt. Some of the Club’s most promising members went off to overseas battlefields and did not come back: Boothman (killed in the battle of Arras), Stamford (killed in the battle of the Somme) and Matthew Webb, to name just three. The ranks of great figures of the 1890s too were thinning out, and Amphlett’s untimely death in Rhodesia, it is probably not incorrect to suggest, went far to change the overall “tone” of the Club. Even the Annual was affected by the War, the immediate post 1915 issues seem, to a modern eye, to be only pale reflections of their last few forerunners.

Jackson, the towering figure of the Edwardian period, was going into eclipse. This stemmed not only from the much higher degree of technical difficulty of the climbs opened by the Coburn school, but also from their far superior manner of presentation. To read the accounts in the Annual of the new classics such as Wormhole Buttress, Corridor Buttress, Fountain Ravine Direct, and Africa Face is to enter a climbing world far removed from Jackson’s, in both the nature of the climbing involved and its written expression. Between Jackson’s Right Face, say, and its new neighbour Coburn’s Africa Face, there yawned not only a vast ampitheatre but also a great mental gulf.

The Edwardian era, strictly speaking, ended with the death of Edward VII in 1910, but it is usually extended to 1914, when the First World War erupted. The years 1910 to 1914 thus have sometimes been labelled “the Edwardian afterglow”.

The same could be applied to the climbing career of George Travers-Jackson. Earlier Mountain Club historians have seen “the Jackson era” as finishing in 1907, but they have given no explanation for this cut-off date and, while it is true that they did nothing of special note in the following three years, by the same token there were no climbers who in that period overshadowed him. Indeed, even those who then began to repeat his climbs had to resort to combined tactics to overcome the difficulties he had tackled single-handed. So we may allow him to parallel the historical periodisation. His era, like that of his monarch, ended in 1910, but there was a brief interregnum, lasting until 1914, before his sun at last began to set.

1914 – twenty years. Much had happened in those twenty years since he had joined the new Mountain Club in Cape Town.

EXCURSUS

GRADINGS

Any discussion of rock climbs will necessarily involve questions of grading, or ranking.

In the nature of things mountain routes differ in their degree of difficulty, and some system had to be devised to deal with this. But it was slow to develop in South Africa.

The first route list to be published appeared in the Mountain Club’s Annual for 1896. It was compiled by one of the leading climbers of the day, Alfred Bolus, and covered twenty routes. They were divided into three groups according to their difficulty, but were graded in purely general terms: Easy of Ascent, More Difficult, and Not to be attempted by any one unless an experienced mountaineer. In the latter category were Hiddingh-Wormhole, Fir Tree Ravine, Searle’s Corner, The Right Face and Fountain Ravine. The only surprise of this original route list, seen from the perspective of today, is the inclusion of The Left Face in the second category.

In 1897 Owen Glynne Jones, then in the forefront of rock-climbing in Britain, proposed a fourfold classification for rock routes: Easy, Moderate, Difficult, and Exceptionally Severe. For some unaccountable reason, however, this scheme was not adopted in South Africa until 1914. In the interim, G F Travers-Jackson published his “Fifty Ways up Table Mountain” in the Annual for 1904/5, and here he too plumped for a fourfold grouping, but dividing the rock routes into three groups: in descending order: First, Second, and Third Class .(The fourth group was simple paths.) The rock routes were distributed as follows:

Class I                                     Class II                                   Class III

Window Gorge                       Finsteraar Crack                  Vaalkat Ravine

Fernwood Gully                     Wormhole Ravine                Ascension Ravine

Grassy Ravine                       Hiddingh-Wormhole            Saddle Face

Fir Tree Ravine                      Venster Buttress                  Silverstream Ravine

Saddle Corner                       Cairn Face                            Kloof Corner

Silverstream Face                 Traverse Buttress                 Grotto Ravine

Silverstream Buttress            Valken Ravine                     Barrier Ravine

Centre Left Face                    Spring Buttress                    Hout Bay Corner

Left Face                                                                                 Orange Kloof

Platteklip Buttress

Platteklip Face

Right Face

Arrow Face

Kloof Buttress

Fountain Buttress

Fountain Ravine

Stinkwater Needle

Jubilee Ravine

Slangolie Buttress

There are certainly some surprises here. To put Silverstream Buttress in the same category as Centre Left Face and Fountain Buttress, or Left Face in that of Fernwood Gully, would be manifestly absurd today, but this treatment at once shows up the inadequacy of Jackson’s division, from a modern standpoint at any rate. It was open-ended, and so anything more difficult than Class II simply found itself in Class III, no matter how “easy” it might be relative to others that were grouped there. We have to do with a design fault here. But of more interest are the apparent anomalies in the lower grades: to group, thus, Traverse Buttress (today’s Valken Buttress) with routes such as Valken Ravine or Cairn Face seems midsummer madness! Choicest of all is Barrier Ravine, a short but technically difficult piece of rockwork, which finds itself alongside such beginners’ scrambles as Grotto Ravine, Vaalkat Ravine and – save the mark! – Orange Kloof.

However, we must judge these things not by the exact standards of today but in the light of the Edwardian climbers’ halting approach to the grading of rock climbs. Today, technical difficulty is the sole criterion. Then, other aspects of the route were evidently taken into account: the extent of rock to be climbed, and the overall nature of the route. When this is borne in mind, the apparent anomalies are easier to grasp: Barrier Ravine is in the third class because it consists almost entirely of open slope, while Finsteraar Crack although technically easy, ranks above it on account of the objective dangers of sand, debris and rotten rock.

Did Jackson take counsel of his fellow-cragsmen when grading these routes, or did the rankings reflect only his own perceptions? We do not know, but may hope he did. A certain measure of subjectivity is bound to creep into an individual’s evaluation of a specific route, and such consultation may serve to correct this. As some means of “control” of Jackson’s “findings” we may look at the list, drawn up purely for his own use, by a contemporary cragsman: A A (Boy) Jurgens, who from about 1909 onwards was to repeat many of Jackson’s climbs. Regrettably the list omits the entire eastern side of the mountain, but such as it is it has the interest of providing a second opinion.

Class1                                     Class II                                   Class III

Saddle Corner A                    Traverse Face                       Saddle Face

Saddle Corner proper           Silverstream Buttress          Silverstream Ravine

Silverstream Face                 Arrow Face                            India Waterfall

Centre Left Face*                  Fountain Ravine                  Venster Buttress

Left Face                                 Barrier Ravine                      Kloof Corner

Platteklip Buttress                 Valken Ravine                     Cairn Face

Platteklip Face*                      Hout Bay Corner                  Porcupine Ravine

Right Face                                                                              Kasteels Buttress

Arrow Face (top)*                                                                   Wood Buttress

Kloof Buttress*                                                                       Spring Buttress

Fountain Buttress*

Fountain Crack*

Stinkwater Needle

Jubilee Buttress*

Jubilee Ravine

Traverse Buttress*

Slangolie Buttress*

* “Only ascended on one or two occasions”

There are a number of marked differences between the two lists’ gradings, which readers may pursue for themselves. An explanation for some of them may lie in differing conceptions of what is to be regarded as “the” route up a distinct physical feature of the mountain. Is it legitimate to walk around the more serious pitches? – who or what determines the precise line that must be followed if an ascent is to be claimed?

There are, of course, routes where no easy deviation is possible. One thinks, for example, of Barrier Ravine or Centre Left Face. But what of Blinkwater Needle, where the crux pitches – the Indian Gates and the final recessed corner – can easily be outflanked without diverging from the essential line of the route? Porcupine Arete is another apt example. Who speaks authoritatively on such questions? – a Jurgens, happily strolling up the easier sections of Venster Buttress, and certainly omitting the steep face above the window, regards it as nothing more than Class III. A Jackson, sticking conscientiously to the crest of the buttress, promotes it to Class II.

All of which simply points to the need for a mountaineering court of appeal in the matter of gradings. We shall return to this question in a moment, but before leaving the Jurgens list we should note that he had hit upon the flaw in the existing grading system: the open-ended nature of the top category, in which the more difficult routes were lumped together regardless of the fact that some were much more difficult than others. His identification of routes “only ascended on one or two occasions” was the first attempt of which we are aware to overcome this defect.

A “route” defined

 

In 1914 the mountain Club appointed a special committee to enquire into the classification of the routes on Table Mountain. This obviously called for some kind of definition of “route” and the committee’s attempt to grasp this nettle produced the following:

“A line of ascent to the top of the mountain which, until the actual climbing is finished or the plateaux reached, does not fringe (sic) upon any other line of ascent”.

 

One existing climb was allowed as an exception to this: the “Hiddingh’s Ravine climb”. Although both Wormhole Ravine and Hiddingh’s Ravine were recognised as routes themselves, the popularity of the composite route (Hiddingh-Wormhole) was regarded as offsetting any objection that it did not meet the definition.

It is easy, now, to say that this pioneering definition was inadequate. It would, for example, allow of several parallel lines of ascent up broad stretches of slope, or, for that matter, of rock. There might eventually be several “Platteklip Gorge” routes, or – as was indeed to happen – a bewildering variety of “Africa” climbs. And where must a route begin – must the Saddle routes, say, include Newlands Ravine? And still more perplexing, where was “the top”?  Blinkwater Needle was a well-defined ridge that ended in a prominent pinnacle surrounded by space, but if it were to qualify as a route it must somehow contrive to reach the “top”. The “220 foot Crack” was the answer – a mountain feature that has no connection whatever with the Needle climb! There are many other anomalies springing from this definition, but readers may play the game themselves.[i]

Strange as it may appear to the modern climber, this “separate line of ascent” doctrine became something of an obsession with the Mountain Club, and was carried at times to the point of being downright silly. The locus classicus here is Valken Face.

 

In 1917 two Club members climbed the imposing white cliff to the left of the final ridge of the Valken Buttress route, thereby opening what would soon develop into one of the most popular “E” routes on that side of the mountain, and famous for its “bulging traverse”. A great climb – but, alas, not a “route”, since it began with (and thus infringed on) another route: Barrier Ravine. So, at best, the new climb, attractive though it was could be regarded only as a variation of Valken Buttress. So what? our modern climber will be sure to say, but things were different then. So deep-rooted was this view of “routes” that, much later, the same two climbers returned to the scene and spent the best part of a day in finding an alternative to the first pitch of Barrier Ravine, to the left of the original pitch and much more difficult. They then married their new pitch to the second and final pitch of Barrier Ravine, and annexed the original first pitch of the latter as the start of the lower section of their Valken Face. In the process, Barrier Ravine was raised a grade. More to the point, an artificial new route replaced the perfectly “obvious” original route. All this so as to compress their route within the parameters of the definition – although, even then, the two routes were only a few feet apart at the start! Sad to say, the Mountain Club went along with this solemn nonsense, and even today Barrier Ravine includes the contrived first pitch, while the original route – and the natural way through the “barrier” – is relegated to the status of a sub-route.[ii]

A new system of grading

The 1914 committee also considered the question of gradings. The old (Jackson’s) division into three classes was felt to be no longer adequate to the situation on Table Mountain, and Owen Glynne Jones’s fourfold classification was adopted: Easy, Moderate, Difficult, and Exceptionally Severe. These were designated by letters: in the same order, B, C, D and E. Non-rock routes were “A”.

Here was progress: the old catchall “First Class” now gave way to two divisions, separating the “difficult” from the “exceptionally difficult”. But it was already being overtaken by events on the mountain itself, where a new school of cragsmen was opening routes that demanded still another higher category. This would come a generation later. In the meantime, the ultimate climbs would be spoken of as “Super E”, or marked with an asterisk: “E*, pronounced “E-star”.

What is to be understood by these gradings? The answer is best given by the Club’s amplification:

B – Easy rock courses to a large extent explains itself, though it must not be inferred that because the rocks are “easy” anyone may go up them with impunity. The pitches, however, are comparatively short, not exceeding perhaps 15 to 20 feet, and well endowed with knobs.

 

C – Moderately difficult courses are more serious, and contain climbing that should not be attempted by inexperienced persons except under competent guidance.

 

D – Difficult courses should be attempted by experts or under expert leadership. The question may be asked: what constitutes an expert climber? It is not an easy matter to define one. He should certainly be able to lead up any “B” or “C” route without the slightest hesitation, and he could hardly be called expert unless the “D” routes are within his powers, but mere rock gymnast ability is not the only qualification necessary. There is required what is called the “mountain instinct” – the instinct which guides him in strange places, and which enables him to pick out unknown routes, the instinct which is acquired only after a long apprenticeship served on all sorts of climbs and under all conditions. Above all, the expert realises the limit of not only his own capabilities but also of those who accompany him and for whose safety he is responsible.

 

E – Exceptionally severe courses describe themselves. Only thoroughly competent and experienced climbers should attempt them. Some of the routes in this class approach the limit of what it is humanly possible to ascend, and it has even been said that more than one entails risks that are in no way justifiable.

 

This then was the position in 1914. Much later, routes of “E” and above would be ranked on a scale of 1 to 3 – E1, E2, E3 – and later still a numerical rating system (beginning at 9 for E1 and reaching to 36) would add greater refinement.

For the purposes of the present study, we shall, however, rest content with the unadorned A to E rankings.

***

This study focuses on the period to 1914 and we are therefore not greatly concerned with later developments. But as the reader may be interested in the question of route definition, it may be useful to pursue the subject to its conclusion.

The labours of the special route classifications committee were brought to a sudden end by the outbreak of war in 1914. When the subject came up again, in 1922, there was dissatisfaction with the original definition, which was now regarded as “insufficient and vague”. A new approach was mooted, and the cardinal point was made that a route must follow a distinct physical feature of the mountain. This rested on a dictum of the distinguished Alpine climber and sometime president of the Alpine Club, Sir Martin Conway, that

there can seldom be more different routes to the top of a mountain than the total number of main ridges and faces that the mountain possesses. A face that can be climbed at all can generally be climbed by many different lines of ascent. These are not different routes, but mere varieties of a single route.

This physical feature principle, after allowing for ravines in addition to Conway’s ridges and faces, would henceforth loom large in local thinking on the subject. The Club recognised, to be sure, that the special configuration of Table Mountain called for some latitude with regard to sub-division of the “main ridges and faces” of the definition, but nonetheless a route must follow some physical feature that marked off one part of the mountain from others.

This was an advance – although, as we shall see, it created problems of its own. There still lurked, however, the bogey of “infringement”: routes must not cross, or even touch upon, each other. We have already seen the sad apotheosis of this view, in the case of Valken Face, but there is another apposite example: that of India Face. The face at the head of India Ravine was climbed by Fraser, (Ken) Cameron and others in 1917 (it had already been climbed, 20 years before, by Jackson and Austin, but left unrecorded), but inasmuch as it began with the waterfall pitch of India Waterfall, it was regarded as only a sub-route. Eighteen months later, however, another was taken through the waterfall section, on the western side, and the climb was immediately promoted to full route status as a result.

Given the requirement that a pukka route must adhere to some physical feature, how was one to define the “official” route vis-à-vis the cluster of “variations” that sooner or later would be bound to appear? Should there in fact be such a thing as an official route – why should the climber not wander at will up a given physical feature?

A few examples will be instructive, but readers may pursue the ramifications for themselves. What should the following routes be graded?

Ascension Buttress: D or F?

Platteklip Buttress: D or E?

Right Face: D or E?

Venster Buttress: C or D?

Blinkwater Needle: D or E?

Postern Ravine: A or E?

Hout Bay Corner: C or D+?

It is good to record that these vexing conceptual problems were laid to rest by the publication of the new route list in 1952. A route is now defined as “a climb … which is complete in itself, in so far as … it uses no part of any other climb. It need not begin at the foot of the mountain nor need it finish at the top …”. As to what determines the “official” route, that status

has usually been awarded to the climb having chronological precedence, though the older climb often by-passes a difficult section and is thus not as direct or complete as the later climb which includes that section.

THE NORMAN ACCIDENT

As the accident involving Alfred Norman on Blinkwater Needle in 1907 was the first in the Club’s history to end fatally, it is necessary to reconstruct, so far as this can now be done, exactly what happened, not least so as to gain some idea of the climbing methods of the time. The fragmentary evidence therefore warrants examination in some detail.

According to Jackson’s account in the 1908 Annual, once he and Boothman were at the top of the pitch

“the Alpine rope was then payed (sic) out, and poor Norman asked to make it fast around his waist. This he remarked was unnecessary, as he was quite safe, and would coil the rope round his arm later. When the more dangerous part of the crack was reached he did so – as the hand and foot holds up to that point are fairly good. He had only a few feet more to climb when, without the slightest warning, both his hands opened and releasing the rope, he fell a distance of 22 feet to the ledge below.”

 

The impression that emerges from this is that Boothman and Jackson climb the crack, while Norman waits below. The rope is then lowered to him, but he shrugs it off, saying that he will coil it around his arm later – presumably when the crux of the pitch is reached.

It must be said that this account – possibly because of its characteristically terseness – lacks plausibility. Norman was, for his day, an experienced rock climber, and he must have been fully aware that the pitch facing him was no walkover. The mere fact, moreover, that Jackson lowers the rope and asks him to tie on must have been reason enough to treat the pitch seriously. And why the strange remark about coiling it around his arm (whatever this was meant to purport) later – when he would be grappling with the real difficulties of the pitch? If, as the account seems to imply, Norman stood below until Boothman and Jackson were up, then the most natural thing in the world would have been for him to tie on when the rope was thrown to him.

So much for the published account. Jackson’s diary, however, paints a somewhat different picture:

“Boothman led, and when he had got up I followed, then Norman came. I threw the rope over and asked if he would put it round him, but he said “No, old man, I’m alright”. He took the rope in the right hand, coiled it round his arm, and then came on. He had not gone a foot upwards when suddenly without any warning his hands flung open and let go the rope, falling down some 21 feet to the ledge below.”

In this version, Norman doesn’t wait at the bottom and refuse the rope eventually lowered to him, but is already some way up when the rope is lowered. He is evidently well up at the crux when her releases the rope – the coils quickly unravel, and he falls.

Many years later, Jackson in his reminiscences of rescue work on Table Mountain gave a third version of the event. This time, he has just reached the top of the pitch, behind Boothman, and

“turned to throw the rope down to Norman, but to our surprise he was almost up and then to our horror and in an instant his hands flung open, he released his grip and fell …”

Here the picture is that of the whole party climbing together, all of them unroped – something, it may be added, by no means uncommon on Table Mountain then. The rope, obviously, is not even being trailed, but is being carried, presumably by Jackson. Norman is barely seen by the other two before he releases his grip (of what? one hand on the rope and one on the rock, two hands on the rope?) and falls.

“Boy” Jurgens, who was involved in the rescue and so was in a good position to have had a first-hand account from Jackson and perhaps Boothman too, seems to bear out Jackson’s later version, albeit with a dramatic addition:

“A cry from Norman (the first reference to any such thing) resulted in Jackson immediately lowering the rope for his assistance. … Norman seized the rope and was in the act of pulling himself up when cramp must have seized him in both hands, because he released his hold on the rope and fell backwards …”

Jurgens was writing some 32 years later, and in any case was obviously not an eye-witness, and his account can thus not be given the same status as those by Jackson, yet it seems to agree pretty closely with Jackson’s later version. There is no leisurely offer of the rope to a Norman waiting patiently below, but a frantic throw to him when he is in danger. He grabs it, but his hands and arms are tired from the morning’s climbing and from his tussle with the crux of this final pitch, and he lets go …

THE ‘PUBLIC SHELTERS’

The two major streams that drain the upper reaches of Table Mountain unite below Waaikoppie in Echo Valley. One drains the area above Blinkwater Nek, the other flows from the region of Maclear’s Beacon and Fernwood Peak. They merge in an amphitheatre overlooked by St Michael’s Peak and Junction Peak, and then plunge southwards through a wild gorge to the Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir. This was once known as the Backwater Stream. At the turn of the century it formed the main route from the Lower Plateau to the summit and also provided a large number of favourite camping places.

With the completion of Cape Town’s great water supply scheme in 1904, drastic change threatened the old order of things on the mountain top. Fearing pollution of the water now flowing to the city via the Woodhead Tunnel, the Town Council sought to proclaim a Catchment Area and to keep people out of it. The area involved (see map) covered the major part of the mountain, and the public was now faced with the loss of what had long been its playground. Forceful public protests culminated in a deputation to the Mayor. The outcome was a compromise: the public would retain its traditional rights in the greater part of the Catchment Area, but one section of the Area would be sealed off by a fence, and no access whatever would be permitted. This relatively small portion of the mountain would however include the Backwater Stream and its major tributaries. The Mountain Club reluctantly agreed to the sacrifice of the ancient highway through the Backwater Gorge, as something necessary to ward off even greater depredations.

The fence was duly erected in 1905, creating what was called the “Restricted Area”, which would long be a feature of the Back Table. Generations of mountaineers came and went, and to them the area protected by the fence was a lost world and a land of mystery – a mystery that deepened over time with the pine plantations that gradually covered the area and shut out any view of what lay beneath. Paths and camps that had once echoed to the laughter and Cooee’s of Edwardian ramblers fell silent, the very names of once-familiar mountain features such as Orion’s Cave died out. New highways from south to north were provided by the Council. One ran parallel with the fence itself, and the other through Isolation Valley. The Backwater Stream faded from memory.

***

As partial compensation for the loss of camping and picnic sites in consequence of the Restricted Area, but also as a means of preventing pollution of the streams still outside it, the Town Council agreed to provide “kitchens” and “public shelters”. The “kitchens” came to nothing, but two “public shelters” saw the light of day, strategically sited where their chance of causing the dreaded pollution was minimal – at the top of Kasteelspoort, and in the peaceful valley above Window Gorge.

The one at Kasteelspoort was in fact ready to hand in the shape of a hut forming part of the village that had grown up on the Lower Plateau during the construction of the reservoirs. The photograph shows it to have been a solid stone structure of fair proportions, with what looks like a kitchen at one end. It stood next to the railway track running from Postern Buttress to the construction site. The other shelter was built next to the stream flowing into Window Gorge, a little upstream from the present-day Smuts Track. It was a crude affair of dry-stone walls and tin roof, but it served a useful purpose for non-Mountain Club members, and even Club members were not above using it or its twin in time of need. (Photo)

The shelters were to have a life that, if not perhaps nasty and brutish, was certainly short. After a mere five years they needed extensive repairs – duly carried out by the Town Council at the Club’s prompting. A reading of the scant records available, however, creates an impression that the authorities looked on them with a jaundiced eye and would have been happy to see an end to the costs involved. By 1916 an irate regular user would complain in the press that the roof of the Kasteelspoort shelter, blown off in a storm, had simply been left lying where it was – and, worse still, that the tap had been disconnected, involving the fetching of water from the stream. If this was what was happening to the solid structure at Kasteelspoort, not much imagination is required to picture what was taking place at downmarket Window Gorge.

Matters came to a head in the early 1920s. Far from rehabilitating the Kasteelspoort shelter, the Council put it out of its misery by demolishing it completely, claiming that little use was made of it. The Mountain Club vigorously rebutted this claim, and, having found an enthusiastic ally in the local Publicity Association, pressed the Council to build a new shelter. The Club argued that this would help to “advertise Cape Town” to the growing tourist trade. Perhaps the magic word “tourist” did the trick, for the Council agreed to provide 500 pounds for this purpose – no mean sum in those days.

But – a very big ‘but’! – the new shelter would not arise on the site of the old. The Council’s officials, so the Club was informed, had conducted an inspection in loco and found a much better site for the purpose. Oh, said the Club innocently, and where is this better site? Why, nowhere other than abutting the main ramblers highway leading from the top of Kasteelspoort to the Woodhead Reservoir – and, to be precise, somewhere between the (present-day) Scout Hut and … er, the Mountain Club Hut …

Whether there was anything of Machiavelli in this must remain an open question. We must record facts only, and state that the final outcome was a decision by the Council to have done with public shelters once and for all. The Kasteelspoort one was gone, and the one at Window Gorge was left to succumb to the elements – and, no doubt, to the depredations of the vandals who are always with us. Henceforth the non-Mountain Club rambler would have to take his chance in the open: sleeping out under the stars on a fine night, perhaps, or maybe crouching miserably under a dripping overhang while trying desperately to get a fire going with sodden wood. The days of council-provided shelter were over.

What kind of clientele did the shelters have? In the nature of things they left virtually no written record, nor, for better or worse, were there notebook-carrying sociologists roaming the mountain in those days. For an answer we are thrown back on a few scraps of evidence and on our imagination.

Were there the regulars? – those who arrived there faithfully as the sun went down, lit their fire, enjoyed their evening meal and a pipe, swopped yarns with old friends, maybe watched the fairyland of lights at Camps Bay below or the flickering candlelight from the Mountain Club hut across the valley, bedded down under the stars, or lay huddled together inside while the rain beat down around? Or, at Window Gorge, drank in the peace of the lonely valley, and were lulled to sleep by the music of the stream just below them on its way to Kirstenbosch?

There would also have been the occasional last-gaspers: inexperienced ramblers, hopelessly underestimating the time and the terrain of their great day on Table Mountain, on the point of being benighted but then sobbing with relief as a building loomed up out of the mist or was sighted just in time. Bless the Town Council!

Did the shelters ring with laughter and rough good fellowship – or with obscenities and curses? Did they look happily on cultured conversation – or shamefacedly on drunken brawls? Was ‘public shelter’ a synonym for ‘public nuisance’?

Perhaps all these scenarios can be accommodated. But, sad to tell, the available evidence seems to point to the existence of anti-social elements, for when the reconstruction of Kasteelspoort shelter was mooted in 1921, it was suggested that it be so built that “flower pickers and other vandals” would be unable to damage it. When, a year later, a new site was proposed (see above), the Town Council was told that those likely to use the new shelter were

“of the most undesirable type, [who] would tear up the fences and trees around the (Mountain) Club House for firewood, and make the night hideous and rest impossible by the noise and drinking … no decent people would use the shelter, [but] would prefer to sleep in caves”.

 

So much then for the case for the prosecution. If there was one for the defence, it never reached the stage of print.

***

What remains of this early example of public infrastructure on Table Mountain? At Window Gorge, some low walls on the south bank of the stream, alongside the old path to the Aqueduct, and at Kasteelspoort a prominent ‘dance floor’ abutting the railway track to Postern Buttress, just before the turnoff to the southern Apostles.

Pause, when your rambles again take you to these spots, and contemplate the things that have been.

Sources

Cape Archives Depot: 3/CT 1/4/4/4/1/8 pp 143-4, and 1/4/4/4/1/10 pp 3-4

Archive of the Cape Town Section: Diaries of AA Jurgens and GF Travers-Jackson; photograph album of K Cameron; minute books, 1920-1922

MCSA map of Table Mountain, 1908

Annual/Journal of the MCSA: 1904/5, 1911

Cape Times: 8 December 1891 and 8 November1915

FIR TREE RAVINE

This is a route that perplexes the historian of Table Mountain climbs. It is now graded “F”, and has thereby lured a well-known mountaineering writer into asserting that the standard of rock-climbing rose meteorically in Searle’s short period: from “C” to “F”, no less, in a mere year. But, whatever the grading awarded to the route as understood today, there can be little doubt that the “Fir Tree Ravine” of those early days was something very different – and much easier.

  1. The earliest written reference to the route is in Alfred Bolus’s list in the 1896 MCSA Annual. Here the candid admission is made that the route is “very difficult” to describe on paper: which must mean that the ravine itself (a narrow but perfectly distinct indentation in the mountainside) is not an integral – if indeed any – part of the climb. In fact, the description speaks of going “up the Krantzes”, and keeping to one side or other of the stream.
  2. Today’s route is not attractive as a climbing proposition (cf. Londt’s account in 6 below, and 1952 MCSA route list), yet Gother Mann’s diary for 1895 and 1896 speaks of his doing “Fir Tree” several times, including one descent.
  3. G T Amphlett’s article, “From Table Mountain to the Alps”, in the Cape Illustrated Magazine for October 1898, ticks off some Table Mountain routes that are a suitable curriculum for an aspirant Alpine climber: they are Fir Tree Ravine, Hiddingh-Wormhole, Fountain Ravine and Kloof Corner. From which it may be gathered, surely, that the Fir Tree Ravine of those days was no exceptionally difficult route. In any event it is absurd to imagine that Amphlett was advocating “F” climbing, and unroped at that, as a requirement for the Alpine routes likely to be attempted by a Cape Colonist of his day.
  4. The MCSA Annual for 1899 mentions a lady visitor to Cape Town who had descended Saddle Face and who, had she stayed longer, “would with little doubt have done even Hiddingh’s and the Fir Tree Ravines”. Again, a linking of the Bolus route with a “D” route.
  5. From early in the twentieth century, at least, there was a composite route on the upper reaches of Grassy and Fir Tree ravines. This was reached by easy contouring on the level of the Saddle knife edge, or from the broad terrace along which the Ledges route runs. This route, rated about “C” (Cape Times mountaineering column, 19.8.1922), was “often done” (Jackson’s route list in MCSA Annual for 1904/5 p.33; Cape Times mountaineering column, 13.6.1914). It is described in the 1950 MCSA Journal, p.18. On the other hand, “very few climbers have done the lower portion” (Jackson, op.cit.)
  6. George Londt has left the only published description of the Fir Tree Ravine of today (Cape Times mountaineering column, 10.6.1922). And a grim account it is: they found it “both long and exceedingly difficult”, and some of the waterfalls were unclimbable. It was probably this ascent that led to the “F” grading, but 1922 was a long way from 1895, and Londt as a climber was a long way from Jim Searle.

From all this it seems reasonable to conclude that Bolus’s Fir Tree Ravine was not the route of today, but probably a rather featureless climb that zig-zagged across the lower sections of the watercourse and finished by what became the popular “C” route from the Saddle. The route as a whole may well have been in the top rank of the climbs of its day, and Bolus grouped it so, but what were its peers? Bolus lists Hiddingh-Wormhole, Searle’s Corner, Left Face and Fountain Ravine – which are all straightforward “D” routes. At that time there were no recorded “E” routes on the mountain, let alone “F”. Had the 1890s route been the formidable thing the latter grading implies, Bolus would surely have highlighted this fact. But he was silent.

NAME PIRACY ON TABLE MOUNTAIN

I – Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine and Long Kloof

One day in the 1930s William Henry Crump (a leading figure in the Cape Section of the Mountain Club) and two companions stood in Orange Kloof, debating whether the ravine they had descended was Long Kloof or Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine. Although they were all long-experienced climbers, opinion was divided, Orange Kloof was then still largely terra incognito. Reflecting on this, Crump decided that some fieldwork was called for in order to make the area better known. The results of his labours appeared in an informative and evocative article in the 1935 Journal.[iii]

The article added greatly to the then state of knowledge, and Club members had good reason to be indebted to Crump and his parties for their work in opening up routes in a part of the mountain difficult of access. There was then no forestry jeep track for the approach. But the divided opinion was unfortunately to bedevil to this day the proper identification of the two ravines involved.

Although most of the obvious routes up Table Mountain were well known to ramblers even before the formation of the Mountain Club in 1891, there existed no large-scale map identifying and naming them. The construction of the Pipe Track in the closing 1880s[iv] opened up a vast new tract of mountain, with ravines and buttresses galore waiting to be climbed. This, coupled with the surge in mountaineering activity in the wake of the Club’s founding, created a demand for a suitable map, not only for this newly accessible area, but also for the mountain as a whole.

The matter was raised at one of the Club’s first meetings, in January 1892, and Leo Marquard, Surveyor-General of the Cape Colony and of the Club’s three Vice-Presidents, was deputed to look into “a topographical survey of Table Mountain”. Nothing seems to have come of this, or perhaps the anticipated costs were too high, and in 1901 the Club set about the work itself. It took a long time, and the map appeared only in 1908 – but it was a distinct step forward. It was handy in size, printed on linen-backed paper and in rudimentary colour. As a map, however, it was not completely reliable, and it would later be savaged by a pseudonymous but perceptive mountaineer who would round off his critique with the derisive remark that, “the poor old map does teach a novice that when he wants to get to Maclear’s Beacon he will not be wise if he looks for it at Hout Bay. Likewise it distinguishes clearly between Platteklip and Skeleton. Therefore, it has its uses.”[v]

But with all its faults the map does label the largest east facing ravine in Orange Kloof “Long Kloof”- the only ravine there, in fact, to which it gives a name at all.

The name itself suggests which ravine it is. If one stands at Constantia Nek and looks down Orange Kloof, there is clearly one ravine which is longer than the others – deep, well wooded and bounded on its south side by a sharp-crested buttress. Yet Crump designated it “Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine”, and transferred the old name “Long Kloof” to the insignificant ravine to the immediate north. This confusion is still with us, as evidenced by the 1993 map produced by an array of prestigious bodies including the Mountain Club.[vi]

Why did Crump plump for “Myburgh’s”? He was a devoted student of Table Mountain history, whose articles over many years in the Club Journal are a mine of information on the subject. Some delving into the Club’s archives, with which he was well acquainted, would readily have convinced him that the ravine concerned was Long Kloof. Twenty years before Ken Cameron had dealt with the routes in this area, and even published the sketch here reproduced[vii] to indicate their positions – from which the position of Long Kloof is perfectly clear. And in 1931 the Mountain Club had published its first official route list for Table Mountain, in which that part of Orange Kloof is dealt with as follows, moving north from Hout Bay Nek:[viii]

Route 214 Geel Klip Buttress

215 Hout Bay Face

216 Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine “The first big opening east of Hout Bay Nek.”

217 Myburgh’s Buttress

218 Long Kloof “Another beautiful kloof containing two waterfalls, the upper one only of which is usually ascended.”

219 unnamed buttress

220 unnamed buttress

This tabulation of the routes, it will be observed, tallies with Ken Cameron’s 1914 sketch.

That, then, was the position in 1931. Facing us as we look down Orange Kloof is the Long Kloof, with (today’s) Myburgh’s Corner to its left. Around that corner, and invisible to us, is Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine. But this would soon change.

In 1932 the Trigonometrical Survey Office turned its attentions to a large-scale map of the Peninsula. The Mountain Club provided assistance. When the map appeared, in 1933, the name “Long Kloof” had been transferred to the minor ravine to the immediate north (i.e. between routes 219 and 220 above). The original Long Kloof (218) had become “Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine”, and the original Myburgh’s, around the corner, was left unnamed (216).[ix]

Crump may well have been following this official line when he wrote his 1935 article. But it set an authoritative seal on error. The more comprehensive route list published by the Club in 1952[x] continued the error but added to the confusion by allocating a name to Trigonometrical Survey’s unnamed ravine to the south. The Club labelled it “Myburgh’s Kloof”, an act of partial restitution for Myburgh, but doing nothing for the wronged Long. And, as we have seen, the 1993 map of “Approved Paths on Table Mountain” perpetuates the errors, and indeed adds a soupcon of its own by referring to “Langkloof”.

All of which is very sad. Not only has an apposite and ancient name, “Long Kloof”, been unceremoniously pushed aside in favour of an altogether unsuitable candidate, but it has also been replaced by a much expanded one: “Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine”. Why should the climber have to waste his breath when speaking of this gem among Table Mountain kloofs?

II – Rooikat and Cecelia

Our climbing forbears seem to have had problems with the naming of the southern ravines on our mountain. Let us move to the other leg of the Table Mountain horseshoe, the eastern flank, and in particular the sprawling section south of Nursery Ravine.

The Club’s 1908 map shows just one ravine between Vaalkat (which, incidentally, it grossly mislocates in relation to Nursery) and Constantia Nek. This ravine is given the name “Rooi Kat” [sic], and its position is confirmed in other documentation of the time – Travers-Jackson’s route list in the 1904/5 Annual,[xi] Ken Cameron’s 1914 proposed route list in the Cape Times[xii] and G T Amphlett’s long chapter in the Cape Town official handbook for 1911. From all of this it is apparent that this ravine is what is now known as Cecelia Gorge. How did this transmogrification come about?

In 1914, for the first time, a list of Table Mountain routes was compiled by a special Club committee under the guiding hand of Ken Cameron.[xiii] This list showed Rooikat Ravine in its correct sequence. The draft list was published in a local newspaper and comments invited from the public.[xiv] One of the few who responded was “N.L.”- Nathan Levi, a Dutch journalist on the staff of the Pretoria newspaper, fellow climber with General Smuts, and the latter’s first biographer.[xv] He drew attention to the fact that the draft list omitted “the little (unnamed) ravine between Rooikat and the Trolley Path”.[xvi] Cameron accepted that this ravine had been overlooked, but pointed out that there were several other ravines and buttresses in the area that had a similar claim to recognition. So he proposed the following sequence:[xvii]

Constantia Corner

Ridge on south of Rooikat Ravine (Rooikat Buttress)

Rooikat Ravine

Ridge on north of Rooikat Ravine (Cecelia Buttress)

N.L.’s Gully

Diamond Spring Path

The First World War broke out soon afterwards, and minor matters such as route lists went into abeyance. But Cameron returned to the question in the early 1920s, and now the sequence is differently named.[xviii] It is best to quote him in full:

Cecelia Ridge Formally it would have been possible to make a direct ascent of this ridge, which is situated on the south side of Rooi Kat Ravine, but the plantations that now exist there practically preclude climbing. Forest Department paths, however, follow the crest of the ridge fairly closely. A direct ascent would entail minor rockwork of about “B” difficulty.

 

Root Kat Ravine If the large waterfall is avoided, as is advisable, there are no real climbing difficulties, but the undergrowth in places is almost impenetrable.

Rooi Kat Ridge Another suggested addition to the original ‘official’ list, warranted by its prominence as a physical feature. As a route it has not many attractions, dense bush covering almost the entire ridge. Several pitches of rock that are encountered necessitate its classification as “B”.

 

Cecelia Gully This is the fairly deep indentation in the mountainside between Rooi Kat and Vaal Kat Ravines. Minor outcrops of rock may be encountered but are easily avoidable. As with the previous routes, bush and unattractiveness are the principal features.

 

The compilers of the 1931 route list, however, did not see fit to follow Cameron’s suggestions. Their sequence was simply Cecelia Gorge (or Gully) (=Rooikat Ravine), Cecelia Ridge, Rooikat Ravine. In other words, the old Rooikat Ravine – which the new list itself described as the “largest and most thickly wooded ravine south of Kirstenbosch”- was stripped of its old name and rechristened “Cecelia”, while the time-honoured name was without more ado transferred to the minor ravine further north and first identified by Nathan Levi.

The Trigonometrical Survey map already mentioned would have none of all this: Rooikat Ravine remains Rooikat Ravine. The minor ravine some way to its south (not today’s Spilhaus Ravine) becomes “Cecelia Ravine”, and the Club’s “Rooikat Ravine”(or Nathan Levi’s Gully) becomes “Spilhaus Ravine”! And this map, it must be remembered, was produced with the Club’s assistance.

And that is not the end of the matter. Along with the names of the ravines, the names of their pioneers were transposed. Thus G F Travers-Jackson and H Payne, the pioneers of Rooikat Ravine in the 1890s, are shown in the 1931 list as having been on the “new” Rooikat (Levi’s Gully), while (the true) Rooikat, now flaunting the name Cecelia, is credited to N Levi himself, and with the date 1912! These glaring errors were perpetuated in the 1952 list.

The latest state of play? The sequence given by the 1993 Map of Approved Paths is Spilhaus Ravine (the southern tributary of the old Rooikat), Cecelia Ravine, (the old Rooikat), Cecelia Ridge, and Rooikat Ravine (Levi’s Gully). And, for good measure, a new route is added: Spilhaus Ridge between Spilhaus Ravine and Cecelia Ravine.

You pays your money … But how come the Spilhaus? It has been the custom on Table Mountain to avoid personal names for mountain features, although there are one or two exceptions. What was the claim of Spilhaus (presumably Arnold Wilhelm Spilhaus, an original member of the Club who lived at Hohenhort) to such recognition? The records are silent.

III

And finally a quick switch to the Camps Bay side of the mountain. From time immemorial there has been a topographical feature there with the name “Kasteelberg”. On its left is a wide gap in the so-called twelve Apostles – the Kasteelspoort, after Platteklip Gorge the most frequented route in earlier days, and perhaps even now. Its name obviously derives from the imposing “castle” towering above it. On the castle’s right is a long narrow ravine that at some time or other acquired the name “Postern”.

It all adds up to an aesthetically satisfying whole: the massive castle with its grand entrance gate to the north and a back door to the south (Postern: 1. A back door; 2. A door or gate distinct from the main entrance. Oxford English Dictionary). A neat piece of symbolism.

Or so it was in times past. Today, Ichabod – the glory has departed. The castle has lost its name and, in a queer inversion of language has become the back door: Postern Buttress.

This annoying change must be laid at the door of rank carelessness, or at any rate a sad lack of insight into matters artistic and linguistic on the part of an earlier generation, and in particular of George Travers-Jackson, pioneer of many of our classic rock routes. It was he who on 17 March 1901 or 10 June 1906 (his diary gives both dates) made the first ascent of the insignificant buttress to the north of Kasteelspoort, which he promptly names – you guessed it – “Kasteel’s Buttress”, although he would also use the term “Kasteel’s Poort Buttress”. The name was evidently approved by the Club (who one may well ask, has the final say in these matters?), as a consequence of which this insignificant buttress became the castle, and the mighty Kasteelberg the postern. In this off-hand way a potent piece of mountain symbolism was effaced.

Such cultural philistinism would not, one hopes, be perpetrated or tolerated today. And so it is good to see that our Map of Approved Paths on Table Mountain goes a little way towards correcting this historical error – by naming the top portion of the Postern Buttress the Kasteelberg.


[i] One example will suffice to indicate the trap the route-definers had made for themselves. Kloof Corner, and for that matter Kloof Buttress and Venster Buttress, if they were to qualify as routes, must reach the “top”; and this they did, via the Fountain Ledge. But in that case, given the “no infringement” rule, what was to be done with Cairn Face, Cairn Buttress and Fountain Buttress? These climbs were thus left to end on Fountain Ledge; with “the actual climbing” then being finished, the definition was met. This expedient helps explain why “lower sections” were never added to climbs such as Cobblestone Face, Fountain Crack, and Staircase.

[ii] The pocket route list issued by the Club in 1978 describes the “new” Barrier Ravine as “Seldom climbed – understandably so”. Jackson’s original route, a tricky but pleasant piece of rockwork, doesn’t rate a mention.

[iii] Crump W.H. (1935) The Orange Kloof Area. A Lesser-Known Portion of Table Mountain. J. MCSA. (38), 95-100

[iv] Crump W.H. (1957) The Building of the Pipe Tract and the Tunnel J. MCSA (60) 15-18

[v] South African News 01 August 1912

[vi] Approved Paths on Table Mountain 1:12500 map pub. 1993 by the Mountain Club of S.A. (Cape Town Section).

[vii] Cape Times 18 July 1914 pp 10 & 11

[viii] Berrisford A.B. (1931) The Climbs on Table Mountain J. MCSA (34) 94 – 119

[ix]

[x]

[xi] Travers-Jackson G.F. (1905) Fifty ways up Table Mountain J. MCSA. (9) 31-37

[xii] Cape Times 25 April 1914 p.14

[xiii]

[xiv]

[xv] Levi N. (1917) Jan Smuts (London: Longmans, Green & Co.)

[xvi]

[xvii] Cape Times 06 June 1914 p.10

[xviii] Cape Times 29 July 1922 p.16

SOME MOUNTAIN TRAGEDIES – Compiled by Mr G F Travers-Jackson

 

1884                                Bower, College Boy, Blinkwater Waterfall. Body found some two weeks later.

 

1887 Barnett Clarke and party caught in mist on the Table.

 

1892 On Saturday 22 February two young men left home and attempted

the ascent of the gorge now known as Window, they had a rough passage, and as nothing had been heard of them up to noon on the Sunday, Maynard Nash, Secty of the Club, was approached, and by 3pm more than a dozen Members met at Bishopscourt to prepare for the search, when they learnt they had just got down, having had to spend Saturday night on a small ledge.

 

20/11/92          A party made the ascent of Slangolie and then descended Orange Kloof, near the intake one of them climbed up the Disa drip close by, and fell some distance, but fortunately into a pool of water; apart from his left arm being badly cut he was non the worse and they continued their journey down the Kloof.

 

Sept. 1893       A man named Francis employed by the Forest Dept while ascending Kasteels Poort fell from the path over the side, a distance of some 30ft and was killed; both legs and his skull were broken.

 

Feby 11 1895  Miss Nicolay, while descending Disa Gorge, fell from the path near the camping spot known as the Kitchen (now in the enclosed area) a distance of 27ft, her skirt caught in a tree which broke her fall, her hip was badly hurt.  The Ranger and several Club members who were at the original Ranger’s Cottage and (sic) were soon on the scene of the disaster, she was carried by stretcher to the Cottage and made comfortable, and then carried down Kasteels Poort to her home in Church Street.

 

26/12/96          Two brothers named Doble reached the top via KP.  They tried to find Platteklip Gorge, but they appear to have tried to get down somewhere near where the Left Face and Centre Left Face routes reach the summit.  They got down some distance, getting into various difficulties until they reached a sheer face which in (sic) they pronounced impossible, so climbed back to the top, and proceeding further along reached Platteklip at 6.30pm and wearily got back to town at 9pm.

 

26/12/97          C S Bates left his hotel and told the proprietor he was going for a walk up the mountain.  As he did not return the Club was approached, and several parties searched for several days without success; in fact the search was kept up for weeks.  However, it was not until May 1st 1900 that H Stevens and G Oettle, while making the descent of Kloof Corner, found his remains at the end of the ledge running from Fountain; they reported the matter to me, and Austin, Wright and I brought down the remains in a sack.  We found in the clothes

4-3-4 in cash and  25 in notes (illegible) (I managed to get two changed by the Bank) and his watch, which started to go.  The skull was missing, and on searching the ledge just below we found same.

 

10/11/99          W Barrett, with a friend named Roos, made the ascent via Kasteels Poort.  Near the plantation they lost each other; Roos returned to town, but Barrett apparently roamed about the mountain in a thick mist. At night he rushed through the Grotto Cave, to the surprise of a party who were camped there; they tried to calm him down, but he was in a very excited state and had an open knife in his hand; off he cleared, and they lost the direction he had taken, so they thought he had made his way to Blinkwater.  But he had gone to the top and had tried to get down Fountain (Ravine), and 8 ½ months later his body, very much smashed, was found at the base of the big waterfall at the top of Fountain.

 

Feby 2 1902    Serg Cleland, Corporals Leslie and Stait left the Castle to climb the mountain, but left no trace of which route they intended taking. As they did not return by night, great anxiety was felt by their companions at the Castle, so search parties were sent out on the Monday in various directions in the day and night time. It was not until tuesday the 5th at 3.30 that a party of Club members located them high up in Second Waterfall Ravine, on the narrow ledge near the top of the fall.  One was a short distance below with his leg over a branch of a tree which is growing out of the side of the wall.  Having been located, they were each rescued in turn from above, and taken down to Rondebosch to the residence of the late G T Amphlett, where the inner man was well provided for.

 

I may mention that in their desperation they had made a rope by cutting up portions of their garments and their Army puttees.

 

The Club was specially thanked by the Colonel and officers at the Castle for their efforts.

 

Oct 29 1902    J Barrett left his home in Riebeeck Square, and left a note to his room companion reading

 

Dear Dave, I am just going to have another visit to

the mountain where we were both together, before

I go up country, because as you know we have no such

scenery on the Rand.                        Yours, Chips.

 

A thorough search was made by Members, but it was not until Nov 16th that three strangers attempting to get up the Table between Right Face and Platteklip Buttress came across the mangled remains of a body which was later identified as that of Barrett.

 

Dec 7 1902      W H Lawson attempted to get down Kloof Corner, but darkness overtook him, so he spend the night where he was, and next day went up to the top again and went down an easier route, and got back to town just in time to save the search party going out.

 

Nov 27 1904   G T Legg and a friend left Rondebosch for Devil’s Peak, and attempted the ascent of 2nd Waterfall. Some distance up the fall he noticed a thin piece of rope hanging down, and unfortunately attempted to ascent further with the assistance of this rope, which broke; he fell a distance of 90ft. When his companion reached him after great difficulty it was apparent that death had been instantaneous. He got down to the suburbs and reported it to the police, and the next day the Club and police removed same.

 

Feb 11 1905    To illustrate how easy it is for a mishap to take place, W J Steele from Observatory took a walk up towards the Blockhouse in the afternoon, then followed the path to the First Waterfall Ravine and so on towards the Second. On the way he stumbled and fell down the slope on his left, and his head came in contact with some rocks or tree.  There he lay semi-conscious until the 15th, when he was discovered by the search party in a terrible condition.  He was carried down to a hut in Groot Schuur Estate, attended to by Dr Guillemand, and then to the Rondebosch Hospital; and thanks to his splendid constitution he completely recovered.

 

Dec 26 1906    Benjamin Manning of Mowbray, while trying to ascent  the Peak via Second Waterfall Ravine, stepped upon a large boulder which gave way; he fell some distance and sustained concussion of the brain.  He was brought down to his home, and after medical attention he was about again in two weeks.

 

Jan 22 1907    Messrs Frank, Miller and Taylor left Observatory with the intention of ascending Second Waterfall Ravine; all went well until the fall was reached, this they climbed and got stuck at the same spot as the men from the Castle in 1902. Their cries were fortunately heard and by 12pm three Club members started out; at the base of the fall they halted, it being too dark to do anything; however, the trio above were now in a happier mood, daylight soon appeared, and at 5am the ascent was made, and by 6.30 all three had been rescued, we had taken up brandy and food and this was greatly appreciated by the men.  Descending the wooded slopes, the Ravine was entered again lower down, and the path leading to the Blockhouse regained.  The trio then bade adieu and made their way back to Observatory.

 

April 11 1907    Edward Arthur Goodspeed left his home at Observatory with the idea (as his parents thought) of ascending the Mountain.  As he never returned, the Club was approached, and numerous parties went on the search for some days.  Then the boy’s father got a cable from London, he had run away from home (and) joined the Rippingham Grange as assistant carpenter.

This is but one of the many occasions the Club have turned (out) without stint and on an infecundus errand.

 

24th Nov 1907    Alfred William Norman, Arnold Boothman and myself were making the complete ascent of Blinkwater Needle. We were all in good fettle, and Norman was climbing in splendid style.  All went well until we reached the last straight face, about 25ft in height, situated just below the actual top pinnacle; as both Norman and Boothman had not done this awkward bit, they naturally wanted to do same. Boothman went up first, I followed and was soon on the ledge above, an turned to throw the rope down to Norman, but to our surprise he was almost up, and then to our great horror and in an instant his hands flung open, he released his grip and fell a distance of 16ft to the ledge below. As fate would have it, on this particular ledge was a large boulder, and on the edge of this his skull and arm were badly fractured.  We were soon down alongside of poor Norman and put him in as comfortable a position as possible, while one made all haste to the Hut for help and summoned other climbers en route of the mishap.  To the great credit of Club members and their friends we soon had a willing band of some 27 helpers, and with great caution he was carried down Blind Gully to the Pipe Track.  But alas though everything possible  was done for him at Somerset Hospital he passed away on Dec 5th 1907.

I am quite convinced that if the boulder referred to had not been on that ledge that Norman, one of the best and so young, would have escaped with perhaps a bad shaking, and would be still with us today.  The rock at a later stage was removed, and his old friend Johan Hofner inscribed on the face of rock his name, date of fall and the Club Badge – the symbol of service.

 

Dec 13 1908      Margetson and Sumner left town with the intention of ascending Devil’s Peak via Second Waterfall Ravine. Neither had done any mountaineering before, much less serious cragwork. In addition to the party was a favourite collie dog of Margetson’s.    They reached the base of the fall and began the climb, helping the dog up when needed; when some 110ft up Margetson slipt and fell a distance of some 90ft and was killed outright.  The next day his body was removed, and the collie dog – which was crouched on a narrow ledge – was rescued.

 

1909 Norman Bowley of Observatory and a friend ascended Slangolie

and then down to the Tunnel entrance; they were in search of Disas, and saw some on the drips to the right and at the head of Orange Kloof.  Bowley tried to get one, but slipped and fell a distance of 60ft. His fall was broken by some trees, and apart from a bad gash on the forehead and leg he was lucky to escape.  He was carried to the Club Hut by Members, and from there to town and back to his home.

 

Jan 15 1913      Father Cerruti and Brother Vincent left the Salesian Institute, and after making their way to Kloof Nek went up towards Kloof Corner.  It being a very hot day they worked around towards Cairn Face; this they ascended until they reached the crags just below the ledge which is usually followed on the Kloof Corner route and leads to the Fountain.  As night approached, and as they had lost their bearings, they decided to spend the night where they were, in the hope that next day (Wednesday) they would be able to find their way down; but they failed to do so, and had to spend a second night out.  The next day Father Cerruti managed to find his way down in search of helps, and was found at the base of Blinkwater in a very bad way.  Brother Vincent was located at the base of the Fall in Fountain Ravine in a worse condition, and it was with great difficulty that he was removed down the lower falls in his greatly worn-out state.  The blister bush (Bubon Galbanum) had left its make very forcibly on his hands and face.

 

Apri1 1913     James van der Spuy, a 14 year old school boy, had been missing from his home for a week, and was thought to have gone up Lion’s Head. Search parties were soon at work, and from 6- to 7 hundred turned out at various times to continue the search. His body was eventually found on the ledge and midway between the difficult and less difficult cracks facing the Signal Station.

 

Aug11 1918       W Campbell, while descending Kloof Corner, fell at the chimney and sustained severe injuries.  He was not able to be moved until next day, and in the meantime the weather turned out to be very stormy, but everything was done as far as possible for his comfort under the trying conditions.

 

(Deals with other incidents up to early 1929)

 

On all these tragic occasions the Club, true to its traditions, has rendered yeoman service, in a quiet, modest and practical way, justifying its existence more and more as the years roll by.

 

G F Travers-Jackson

May 9th 1929

DETAILS OF VIVIAN SOLOMON 17/1/1929 – 22/2/1999

Vivian joined the Mountain club in 1949 and received his 50 year membership certificate shortly before his death in 1999.

He started climbing whilst in his teens and he and Ox Roberts climbed together frequently during that time.  Vivian died of a massive heart attack whilst leading a Mountain Club party of newly applied members on a Saturday morning, climbing

Vlakkenberg – as he would have wished to depart this life, a beautiful February morning, climbing the berg and surrounded by like minded people.

He had always, from the time that I met him, had a passion for the English language, and all things South African – its history, flora, trees, art, buildings – (everything except the animals) and particularly Table Mountain and the climbing history of George Travers Jackson.  Vivian loved the easier rock routes some of which had been pioneered by GTJ, the  C, D and some E’s routes and we climbed these together with his Beales Alpine rope for many years, with a variety of friends.

In 1969 we moved to Johannesburg, where Viv took up a position as lecturer at Wits in the Economic History Department. During his time at Wits he wrote his doctoral thesis which was published, as well as other articles and various contributions to journals other published books.  His period of expertise as a professional historian was South African History from the 1880’s to the start of the First World War. He had two books published –

The SA  Shipping Question – 1886 – 1914 published by the Historical Publications Society 1982 – this was his doctoral thesis

Van Riebeeck Society Volume 1981 – Selections from the Correspondence of Percy Alport Molteno 1892 – 1914

When he realized that the students were remaining the same age whilst he was growing older, he moved to the Department of Finance where he was a Chief Director and his witty, elegant speeches were the delight of various Ministers of Finance.  He retired from the Department in 1994.

He then started the book on FTJ during his retirement and did intensive research into various publications as well as meeting with current members of the Travers-Jackson family and had all but completed this at the time of his death.  The book has since been professionally edited by my good friend Maureen Brady (ex JCCI) Viv also had a passion for the semi-colon, some which we eliminated in the interests of an easier read.

Vivian was a cool weather climber and preferred the mists and clouds and even the rain and sleet on Table Mountain for a days climbing.  I am sure that he is smiling and lifting his mug of coffee from atop a rocky koppie at the thought that his book will finally be published.

BA  Unisa

BA Hon Unisa History

BA Hon RAU (UJ) Economics

Phd Economic History – Rhodes

Jean Solomon – 11 May 2009

<jeanemck@jcci.co.za>