"Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

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SNORT
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"Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Tue Feb 20, 2018 4:39 pm

So I found this article by Mike Scot written for the Alpine Journal in 1980.

http://www.climbing.co.za/wiki/File:Alp ... Africa.pdf

I love his quaint turn of phrase describing me as "exploratory rather than demonstrative". There are some interesting names included and some missing but he was a Capie.

What is the status quo now in South Africa?

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Tue Feb 20, 2018 5:30 pm

So here are some thoughts I put together. There must be quite a lot of names that I have left out which people can add in their replies...
Modern Hard Climbing in South Africa 2018.

About 12 years ago, after Tony Dick slipped in the shower somewhere in the Dolomites after quaffing a dram or three of Jack Daniels whiskey, we then drove to our next destination having a heated argument as to how South Africans compared to climbers elsewhere in the world. Tony does not argue really, rather he is dogmatic and he is usually, but not always, right. At this stage I did not know that debating anything with him was like farting against thunder, but he made the point that there are villages of climbers in Austria that climb harder than South Africans. So, in 2018, is this true?

In any case, climbing grades and difficulty has come along way in South Africa since Mike Scott wrote an article in the Alpine Journal in 1980 entitled “Modern hard climbing in South Africa.”

https://www.alpinejournal.org.uk/Conten ... Africa.pdf.

The golden era of trad climbing in South Africa only really started in 1980 and continued until the advent of sport climbing about a decade later. Blouberg saw many ground up first ascents of trad routes up to grade 27 (I3) by Kevin Smith, Dave Cheesemond, George Mallory, Stewart Middlemiss, Michael Cartwright, Clive Curzon, Charles Edelstein and even the wunder kind from the Cape, Andy De Klerk.

3 new routes were done in 1988 on Yellowwood amphitheatre, including the classic Armageddon Time 23 R and Blood is Sweeter than Honey 22R by Ross Suter, Jonathan Fischer and Jono Gordon and Paul Schlotfeld and Dave Shewell respectively. The Second Coming 22 was done by Tony Dick and David Davies.

Countless new routes were done in the Cederberg and some on Table Mountain. Ed February, Tini Versfeld and Adam Roff are to name a few of the climbers. We all know of the exploits of Andy De Klerk and especially his free ascent of Oceans of Fear a route that has thwarted at least once, none other than Leo Holding.

Meanwhile sport climbing more or less eclipsed trad climbing through the nineties but nevertheless the uber classic Australopithecus 23 was completed in 1993 by Ed February and Tini Versfeld. At Blouberg, Charles Edelstein, now more “demonstrative than just exploratory”, fashioned Dog Day in Heaven 25 and The Dream of White Dogs 26, and followed later with Dog of Thunder 29 (J2), probably the hardest multipitch trad route in South Africa and to date free climbed by only South African hard man Clinton Martinengo and, recently American Alex Honnold.

In 2002 the first BMC- MCSA trad exchange took place and this was followed by a flurry of new routing and upping of the trad ante. British legend Dave Birkett visited and still does so frequently and with Tini Versfeld and others has ticked off some of the hardest trad routes in South Africa. Recently, in 2018 with Tini Versfeld and Hilton Davies he climbed the first ascent of Roof Of Africa 28 leading both crux pitches on scary hard trad.
Prolific new routing took place over the next decade and included the first ascent of Prime Time 23 R at Yellowwood Amphitheatre by Leo Rust and Lloyd Turner.

Newborn 29, the brick hard sport climb at Yellowood was free climbed by Jeremy Samson and Jimbo Smith in 2009. As with Dog Of Thunder, it has never yet received an on-sight flash ascent despite being attempted by some really good climbers including Alex Honnold.

Over the last 10 years across the Vaal river, larger than life Hector Pringle and friends have done great work developing routes at Blouberg and Blyde even enticing Andrew Pedley to do some hard trad climbing.

In parallel to trad climbing a huge amount of sport climbing up to grade 35 has been developed primarily in Waterval Boven, Oudsthoorn lime stone, Natal, Milner amphitheatre and Montague. Names like Roger Natrass, Jason Temple-Forbes and Andrew Pedley come to mind and who can ignore Shaun Maasch.

Then there is the development of Rocklands which is a story on its own producing along the way some really strong boulderers like Arjan De Kock and before him Justin Hawkins.

Over the last few years Squeaks Halsey accompanied by various partners including Douw Steyn has systematically ticked off route after route in the Cederberg, Table Mountain and elsewhere and some are quite tricky.

Gosia Lapinska, our local belle of hard climbing, has also made a huge impression on the trad climbing scene ticking of some of the hardest routes in South Africa including Andy De Klerk’s test piece “Dream Street Rose” 29.

In 2009 Charles Edelstein did the first ascent of Prime Time Direct originally graded 24 but Madeleine Sorkin rated it 5,12b R which amounts to 26 R. Since 2014 ably assisted by Deon Van Zyl and Willem Le Roux and other NBF;s he has now done around 50 multipitch routes i.e. over 6000m of first ascents at Yellowwood up to grade 26. Hiltons Davies with various partners and Rob Zipplies with Johann Lanz have also contributed to routes on the main amphitheatre at grade 25.

Around 2009 European climbers came to South Africa and visited Yellowwood but could not resist placing unnecessary bolts on no less than 3 routes and some of these have been chopped.

In 2013 Jimbo Smith applied himself to the Jeopardy Wall on Table Mountain and completed a brace of new routes that included the Russian Roulette 31 R, The Last of the Mohawks 31/32 and Triple Jeopardy 31. These are all classic routes that undoubtedly test the best climbers in the world.
This expose cannot be complete without mentioning our very own world class solo climber Matt Bush who has done some of the hardest recorded solo climbs in the world and also did the un-repeated Dynamighty 29 on table Mountain.

Clinton Martinengo still sets new standards and his hard routes on Table Mountain and elsewhere are too many to list. He has climbed both of the sport hardest routes in South Africa, Streetfighter and Mazawatee.

In 2016 the second exchange took place with the Brits followed in 2017 with the Americans. Alex Honnold also did a tour in South Africa ticking off some of our harder routes. The return exchange is about to happen when a bunch of South Africans, at this stage probably about 16 or so will travel to the USA to hone our skills and escalate our psyche. For the first time, about the half the group will be under-thirties!

Although our community is small, on our turf, I think we hold our own against some of the better, if not the best, trad climbers from other countries. However, most of the celebrity climbers are professional or semi-professional climbers and relatively well funded which cannot be said for any South Africans.

One thing that sets South African trad climbing apart from climbing in the developed world is that it is mostly truly adventurous and often remote and very run-out. There are almost no fixed stances or fixed gear and all the “big multipitch routes” with grades harder than say 23 have run-out and scary pitches. Most of the big wall routes in the US that I have climbed have lots of fixed gear and stances and lower offs and many pitches are much easier to climb and to protect because of what amounts to chipped holds from peg placements. They also tend to be very crowded for this very reason. For example, routes like The Nose on El Capital and Zodiac would be impossible to free climb but for the pin scars resulting in gear and finger slots. Where there is no such scar one usually finds a bolt. If one watches a video of someone attempting the crux move into the changing corners pitch on The Nose it is evident that the hard move is protected by a bolt that is almost a top rope at that point.

So yes, I think South African climbing has come a long way and although we do not pretend to have the hardest climbers or climbs in the world, we are slowly but surely improving our standards while maintaining the adventurous nature of our routes. We are mostly eschewing fixed gear which really amounts to a combination of sport and trad climbing or, to coin a word “spradding”.

And quite frankly I would like to keep it that way.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by henkg » Wed Feb 21, 2018 4:52 pm

Hard climbing happens on boulders Snort.
You may still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not. Cat Stevens

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Forket » Thu Feb 22, 2018 9:51 am

A large part of why South African climbing doesn't tend to produce hard climbers, like some countries, is based on the rock type. Limestone/gneiss tends to give a lot more very sustained climbing where the majority of our climbing is broken up by ledges/jugs produced by fractures. A lot of our hard climbing, is based on decreasing hold sizes (very small sharp crimps/jugs) instead of big moves between big smooth holds that just go on forever. Massive caves/ overhangs also play a role. Being isolated to the southern tip of africa also plays a role. In time we will establish 9a and above lines, though these will be few and far between. The booming of our indoor/bouldering scene will decrease the gap, though strong climbers will be forced to travel the world to do grades that foreigners get to do in their backyard. With this said, limestone climbing can be more fun for beginners compared to our classic slab ledge style of climbing, this may lead to less people being interested in the sport/lifestyle up to the rise of the indoor era.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by mokganjetsi » Fri Feb 23, 2018 9:33 am

when you're not trolling you make a lot of sense Ebert! :thumright

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Fri Feb 23, 2018 10:32 am

Mmmmm my sense of Lime Stone Climbing is that compared to some South African sandstone climbing is that the grades are soft. If you wanna tick your first 30 then go to Oudtshoorn. Even I managed to flash a 24 there recently that felt like 22 and I have on-sighted a 26 there too. Not something I have done easily or often on Sandstone even though most of my climbing has been on Sandstone.

So I don't think that it is the nature of the rock here that is paramount. I reckon it is the fact that there is little if any support for potentially good climbers to reach their potential. It is only in the last 2 years that we have proper climbing gyms in SA and then only 2. The rest of our hard climbing is, as Ebert says, not in our back yard other than, maybe, for Mel and I think my point is also made when considering what young Mel has just done after all the fanfare of Megos's "Life in Orange".

Young Mel basically lives in what amounts to a climbing gym which happens to be outdoors and his parents are part and parcel of the "gym". This does and must support him to become a really good climber and I sincerely hope it does. Of course he must also want it which it seems he does. Go Mel! I anticipate a grade 36 soonish...

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Forket » Fri Feb 23, 2018 7:28 pm

Snort most sport/trad climbing in the western cape is soft, thats why people from the north go on holiday in the cape. To send hard lines for the first time.... Take this as an insult or however you want, but everyone up north knows it. People graded the limestone in oudtshoorn, not the rock. Oudtshoorn is soft, but it is also a lot more like gym power endurance climbing. I stand by my point about the rock.

Mokganjetsi, consider that I'm actually never trolling, I'm just wired differently and consider things as I see them.

Ebert

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Sat Feb 24, 2018 7:38 am

Ebert not sure what your point is other than to be obnoxious. What North do you mean. North of the Vaal river or north of the Sahara desert? Newborn and Oceans has never been on sighted even by some guys who have onsighted harder grades on paper. There are lots of routes in the Cape that have never been on sighted at a mere 29 and even 28 grade and not for lack of trying by some really good international climbers. It is not about the rock.

Quite frankly I go on holiday in the Cape for the simple reason that it has the best rock in the world. And it is limitless and in the most aesthetic places. Not for soft grades.

I can assure there are very few soft graded trad routes in the Cape. Over the last few years many routes from the eighties and nineteens have been upgraded. And by foreigners! Blouberg too.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by keith james » Sat Feb 24, 2018 10:01 am

Don't forget, Snort, that Mike Roberts opened some very hard trad routes at Monteseel in the late 70's, the hardest of which was "White Rider", 26, which went unrepeated for 10 years until ADK did it. Is it possible that it was the hardest trad route in the country at that time...?

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:22 am

Indeed, Mike does indeed need a mention of inclusion.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:27 am

I climbed it sometime in the eighties and took quite a few wingers off it at the overlap.

White Rider (26) * * * *

First ascent: Mike Roberts, 1981

Probably the first route of this grade in South Africa. Starts below a short face to the left of a section of crumbly rotten rock. Climb the short face up to the roof using a layaway. Move slightly right and pull desperately onto the wall above. Continue straight up the face and finish as for Noggon.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:28 am

Actually come to think of it probably later than than the eighties...

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Logic » Sun Feb 25, 2018 12:22 pm

I agree with Forkets' analysis regarding rock type (lack of limestone) and the isolation of our climbing community (amongst other things) as major impediments to establishing a higher level of (sport)climbing ability in South Africa.

Snort, you seem to be searching for recognition (in a longwinded and convoluted manner I might add), now exactly what you wish to be recognized for/as is unknown. Implicitly it appears as if you want to be known as someone whom was, and still is, a strong climber pushing hard grades (i.e. relevant), in this regard you and Forket have something fundamental in common.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Sun Feb 25, 2018 1:56 pm

Logic nice of you to point that out. But afraid to say that cranking out the odd 23 24 or even 26 is not exactly "hard" by even local standards. The legacy that I prefer to leave is one of quality adventurous trad routes that good mediocre climbers like myself can do and enjoy.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by mokganjetsi » Mon Feb 26, 2018 7:11 am

SNORT wrote:
Sat Feb 24, 2018 7:38 am
Quite frankly I go on holiday in the Cape for the simple reason that it has the best rock in the world.
i think south africa is super blessed with both quality rock and aesthetic (relatively untouched) landscapes. i meet many travelling climbers who plonk around in the mid-grades like i do, and without exception they will sing the hallelujahs of our rock and venues - including the ones up north (boven, magalies, blyde etc etc.) there is no north vs. south debate imho - just lots of good times to be had.

i do feel for the youngsters who are already running out of grades in SA, and hope lots of harder lines will be found.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Chris F » Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:27 pm

I think that the hard crags in SA that need to push the grade have yet to be found / developed / accessed in SA. Somewhere in a fold in the hills or the back country somewhere in the middle of nowhere there lies a hidden Flatanger Cave or a Taipan wall. Instead too many people plug for the easy options of Boven / Montagu / Oudtshoorn / CT Sport crags and then say there is nothing left for them to do.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by mokganjetsi » Mon Feb 26, 2018 5:28 pm

Chris F wrote:
Mon Feb 26, 2018 12:27 pm
I think that the hard crags in SA that need to push the grade have yet to be found / developed / accessed in SA
yup. i hear tell that the Outback (near Anysberg) may have some seriously hard routes (not been there myself though).

some established areas may also deliver some hard routes if looked at with new eyes. also heard some whispers of a 9a+/9b sport route in Rocklands being projected by one of the bouldering legends.....

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by SNORT » Mon Feb 26, 2018 7:08 pm

Ok well this is more sensible conversation. With some psyche there is always the possibility of routes being found, projected and then climbed. Just look at the history of Mazawatee....

And by the way a name that I omitted as pushing the grades at the time is Steve Bradshaw.....

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Supoed1 » Tue Apr 10, 2018 6:24 pm

you know, that's actually super interesting reading! thanks a lot for posting. if you have anything new please update, i would really appreciate this!

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Old Smelly » Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:31 am

I saw some really impressive possible crags near Pretoria but was told that they were "in the sun" - seems that top sport climbers are picky...

So I agree I think that there are plenty of options out there...and lazy hero sport climbers...
Really, its not that bad...I think it's my shoes...

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Garron » Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:54 am

I spend some time with some Basque climbers (Northern Spain). Their level of commitment was astounding. It was like having all the most motivated South African climbers living in a few towns, all going to the same climbing gym.
I think their attitude to the work/training life style played a large part to the talent of the climbers (pretty much when they were not working they were in the climbing gym). This small region has produced more 8b+ climbers than all of South Africa.

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Forket » Wed Apr 11, 2018 9:34 am

Garron wrote:
Wed Apr 11, 2018 8:54 am
I spend some time with some Basque climbers (Northern Spain). Their level of commitment was astounding. It was like having all the most motivated South African climbers living in a few towns, all going to the same climbing gym.
I think their attitude to the work/training life style played a large part to the talent of the climbers (pretty much when they were not working they were in the climbing gym). This small region has produced more 8b+ climbers than all of South Africa.
It's the rock

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Gustav » Wed Apr 11, 2018 10:57 pm

It's the rock
You imply that it is only the rock? At least it is not the weather....
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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Old Smelly » Thu Apr 12, 2018 1:44 pm

:thumright :jocolor:
Really, its not that bad...I think it's my shoes...

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Re: "Hard Climbing in South Africa 1980 vs 2018"

Post by Chris F » Tue Apr 17, 2018 12:42 pm

Gustav wrote:
Wed Apr 11, 2018 10:57 pm
It's the rock
You imply that it is only the rock? At least it is not the weather....
Basque region can get weeks of awful weather, so ying and yang thing.

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