In 1977 the great climbers, my friends Dave Cheesmond and Tony Dick established the first route up Yellowwood Amphitheatre. This route, Time Warp, starts off way on the left of the amphitheatre then traverses right for three long pitches to regain the middle of the wall, and from there it goes straight up. The bottom section was not going to be climbed on 1977-gear, and also not ground up.
In the last three years I've made 20 trips to Yellowwood and in this time have had a good chance to work out free lines and good possibilities. (It's been a crazy investment for just eight or nine routes climbed!) And on many of these trips I've thought about a direct start for Time Warp.
Young Guy Paterson-Jones and I have made a few YW trips together recently. We've climbed Armageddon Times, done a first ascent of Judgment Day, and been rained off a couple of times. On one of these missions I put the Time Warp Direct idea to him. I also gave him an inkling of Dave and Tony's climbing history. And the bug bit.
Two weeks ago we climbed the first five pitches of Time Warp to get above the daunting bottom section. The outing was not without incident. While leading one of the traverses I hung on a block of shale that blew out and hit me in the right leg. I could hardly walk for a week after that, but we did get to abseil down the bottom section and Guy put in a lot of good top-rope time. We became very excited about the possibilities.
Yesterday we were back. We borrowed Snort's extra-long half ropes and soloed up Smalblaar Ridge. Along the walk-in on the Halfway Ledge we stopped so that Guy could lower me over the edge so that I could chop another Austrian stance. Then on Snort's cords we abbed Down Time to get onto our anchors. In the heat of the day we cowered in the shade of the Yellowwood trees directly below at the base of the wall. This happens to be directly into the campsite - a massive added attraction!
In the late afternoon we pulled our lines and set off for the opening ascent. Time would be tight. I took the first pitch as I had top roped it once. I hadn't worked the second pitch at all yet but I could see that it would be a big ask for me.
In the hot sun I headed up the slabby corner where the crack is a little wider than your fingernail. It is super-technical climbing using pushaways and single-thumb gastons. Doing my usual thing of going through the crux then reversing it, I ended up grabbing a piton. With that blown and my odds looking poor I lowered off and Guy roped-in. As he set off the slab went into shade. According to Guy his slabwork is his strength and his greatest love, and boy is he good at it. He styled through the ultra-thin stuff including having a micro pop out leaving him many metres above his gear on sustained grade 24 thin stuff. I followed the pitch in coolness without incident. My last thought before setting off was to take my headlamp.
The second pitch is the thing. The grey slabs are replaced by steep orange walls and roofs.
On his first move Guy was hanging out. He avoided the corner and used the overhanging arete to the right. Slowly and with care he moved up - not without quite a few 'watch me's'. the climbing is hard, airy and relentless.
After about 12 metres Guy got to the big eroded-shale rail. The one for which we had brought the #6 Camalot. It sorts out all the issues.
Guy pulled through the roof exactly as he had rehearsed it on top rope. He matched over the lip and went for the jam/pinch far out right. He did the powerful wide-armed pull through and got his right foot stabilised. His left foot came up and couldn't get established. He hung there eyeing the rail a metre up while his left foot scratched at the over-vertical wall. I braced for the long fall. He retreated the whole sequence to below the roof. With daylight coming to its end I thought we were done for. I provided all the reassurances and depressurizing comments I could muster. And encouragement.
After a period of re-composing the powerful youngster went for Round 2. There were four rounds all-told. I thought we were stuffed.
In gathering gloom Guy had one last, but diminished, shot left in him. How many times can a fellow climb and retreat hectically out-there grade 26 trad stuff? He got the left foot to stabilise and went for the rail. A 10 metre fall was cast in stone. I thought of Snort's ropes. Only it wasn't cast in stone. Guy stuck it! And I witnessed what must be one of the finest few minutes in climbing in SA! This was a young Andy de Klerk or Jeremy Samson-type piece of history. Guy screamed. I yelled. Yellowwood reverberated...
Down in the Du Toits Kloof Pass cars had their high beams on. I implored Guy to keep it together for the last 10 metres. He placed his last piece, a 000 c3 and worked up the last few metres to the stance. We, um, rejoiced...
While I disconnected the stance I happened to look up the moment the moon came over the top of the big, big wall. It was about half-full. With some trepidation I removed my helmet and put on my headlamp. Fifty-year old eyes are a bastard when it comes to night vision. After a few moves it was pitch-dark, except for my light. I made the very hard gaston to get into the corner then moved out onto the airy arete. I felt like I was climbing on the dark side of Pluto. I felt considerable unease.
With liberal use of French-free and rope I fought to get out of this situation as quickly as possible before ending on the rope out in space and without the route in the bag. Old-school mountaineering got me to the stance. A couple of quick words and pats and our shattered bodies and minds turned to the task of getting off.
Abseils, packing, heavy carrying, stumbling, getting to the road at midnight as a fire was about to engulf the car - these things happened. At the Engen One Stop I didn't buy Guy the coffee I promised. He bought me one.
Old friends from 1977 are good. New young friends are good. Climbing is good. Life is good...
And Time Warp Direct is stellar..!
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