I climbed this route along with the opening party; it was FANTASTIC! Haven't been climbing very much in the past couple of years (too much other fun being had!) but the route re-awakened the climbing bug.
I also helped put up the route, and now I am looking at some of these arguments, and trying to contain my emotional response. I can see why some people are upset, and why the authorities want to take exception to the apparent cavalier manner in which this route has been put up.
What has actually been done here is something visionary; something bold that took guts, vision, leadership and a considerable amount of effort. Alard inspired a whole bunch of people, through his drive, dedication and enthusiasm, into helping to put up a phenomenal first in Southern Africa that will be used by generations to come- and he did this for free.
What he has done ascribes to the highest ideals of the MCSA:
“The Club is a non profit organisation established for the sole object of promoting the interests of mountaineering, primarily in South Africa, as a recreational pastime and on a non-professional basis conducting all of its activities in a manner that is for the benefit of, and widely accessible to, the general public.” Taken from the MSCA Journal.
One day the whole story will come out about what actually went into putting this route up- there were some pretty unique and quite amazing things that all came together to make this happen; so much so that I, even having been part of it, can hardly believe that this route was put up in such a short time and with such minimal fuss (here I am talking about fuss around getting people to donate time, effort and materials, not this present fuss).
Here are some of the basic figures around that effort:
400m worth of steel cable, worth around R10,000.00; donated by two different parties
A whole lot of steel bar, crossby clamps, glue and other bits and pieces, worth around R12,000.00; some donated and R8,000.00 paid for by Alard.
Some 40 man days of hard labour, not your pick and axe type, but hard graft as well as work that requires rope access and other quite hard to come by skills. You can figure out what that would cost.
Around R7,000.00 was incurred in just direct costs for other vital activities; something that would probably have cost between R35,000 and R45,000 had it been charged professionally.
Now some talk about the permission thing. I have been involved in a couple of other activities that have some parallels. I am Chairman of the Dabulamanzi Canoe Polo Section in Johannesburg. Dabulamanzi is the biggest Canoe Club in the country and 1 year ago we put up a canoe polo ‘pitch’ made from a special floating dock/ jetty. We did this to promote and foster the sport of canoeing and kayaking, to create an arena in which anyone interested could come along and try it out- for free. The dock is worth around R40,000; the man hours that have gone into putting it up and getting it working around the same. When we put this in it created a similar furore, with local ratepayers shouting on about permission, interested and affected parties and so forth.
We apologised, took the dock off the water and stored it on the bank. It had been a damn fine looking thing on the water, adding a sense of place and order and it had attracted much interest in the sport. On the bank it was just an eyesore. A year later, after I don’t know how many emails, meetings, phone calls we still do not know how to get this “approved”. The “authorities” cannot, or more correctly, will not, or do not seem capable of, providing us with any sort of direction on how to get this approved. This after they told us that we needed to get it approved by them before we could continue. The only progress that has been made on the approval process has been through our drive to get answers- and even then, we still do not have even the basic framework of an approval process from these authorities.
After the initial outcry 99% of the ratepayers and interested and affected parties now have no objection to the jetty and many agree that it is actually quite an asset in the area (towards the end of 2011 we put it back up and started using it). It has boosted our sport tremendously and has introduced a whole lot of people to kayaking.
I have another example of something similar in which, had we waited for the “authorities” to make a decision, we would never even got off the ground in what we wanted to do; 5 years after the fact the authorities are still trying to figure out how to approach the issue. In the meantime we have gone and done it; but had we followed the ‘process’ …. well, you get the idea.
From both of these things has come something reasonably positive though (which I will explain in a moment), and I would appeal to the parks board and people who are opposed to the route, to step back a bit and take stock.
Let’s be pragmatic about this and take something forward from it. Aside from the permission thing, I think that 98% of people recognise that this route is something quite amazing; that it opens up all sorts of opportunities, both in terms of climbing and just simply exploring the ‘Berg- that most beautiful and wonderful place that we love and are proud of.
In the opening ascent two reasonably experienced German climbers joined us, completely by happenstance; their comment was that it was an excellent via ferrata; well placed and well protected.
The positive side of the two activities that I have referred to is that they have provided a vehicle through which we have been able to engage the authorities with; something that we could talk around and perhaps find a good future solution for similar activities in the future.
It would be fantastic if we could indeed have applied for permission; if the turn around time to grant/ deny/ discuss that permission matched the time that it took to put the route up, but lets not fool ourselves here- had permission been sought we would still be here 5 years from now arguing about the finer points of the font that would be used to draw up the application form.
There is certainly a demand for more such activities in the ‘Berg; the number of trails and hikes illustrates that. Let’s use this as a vehicle for figuring out how to approve future projects.
We have the amazing opportunity of having Southern Africa’s first via ferrata that has been put up for FREE, for all to use, just sitting waiting to be sanctioned and then enjoyed by all and sundry.
How about the authorities, with the encouragement of the MCSA, figure out how to make good use of an asset that has not cost the Parks Board or the tax payers a cent. How about they make use of it to introduce people to the wonders of the ‘Berg so that we get more people who want to conserve it. How about they generate some income to fix up the embarrassing eyesore that is Whitsieshoek car park; one of the most used entrances to this part of the ‘Berg. How about they stop looking a gift horse in the mouth and see how to turn it into the goose that lays the golden egg?
Alard is a friend of mine and I would be remiss not to mention that. He is also an enthusiastic visionary who has opened many routes in Waterval Boven and some in the Berg, and elsewhere. He is a tremendously well respected climber and well respected person amongst his friends, and others who know him. He ascribes to a high set of ethics and holds the beauty of the outdoors close to his heart. He is not an elitist and his drive and enthusiasm has opened the door and paved the way for many young, and old, aspiring climbers and outdoor enthusiasts.
This route is not an ill considered and irresponsible “stuff you I’ll do what I want” project. Alard knew that it would cause controversy; he hasn’t tried to evade responsibility for it and he put it up in a place that will allow access for thousands of tourists, not somewhere that only the elite can get to. He had the time, the drive and some spare cash. He researched what had been done elsewhere and made sure that the route was spectacular and that the protection was put up so that it measured up to the best practices. He did it knowing full well that it might cause him a lot of trouble and he did it for no gain to himself, other than the joy of sharing.
I admire him for that and I salute him.
Climbing has long been seen as an elitist sport and few understand the beauty that is the driver for many of us. Via ferrata routes are becoming more and more popular because they allow more people access to the beauty that inspires all of us; this in turn brings a whole bunch of people onto the side of conserving the mountains. So instead of just us climbers who are there trying to stem the tide, we’ll have all those people who get to climb that amazing route who will feel a bond to the mountains and who will lend their support to the conservation of them.
In Europe some via ferrata’s have been put up in a haphazard and uncontrolled fashion, without reference to any sort of standard. This one has been put up to the best practices for these routes and provides us with a great opportunity to set the future standard for such routes. Let’s use it for exactly that purpose.
Don’t kid yourself, there are going to be more of these; the pressure on the mountains is enormous and that is simply the way things are going to happen. Let’s grab the opportunity presented here and be proud of being part of a start of a good tradition of excellent South African via ferratas.