Andrew Pedley on El Nino 30 Oudtshoorn

Andrew Pedley on El Nino 30 Oudtshoorn

World Class Sport Climbing 30 km north of Oudtshoorn (near the Cango Caves).  Oudsthoorn is famous for its ostriches and the Cango caves which are situated about 27km northward towards the Swartberg mountains.  The rock is limestone and the routes are mostly overhanging with awesome stalactites. There are +/-90 single pitch bolted routes, up to 35m long of excellent featured climbing on limestone formations.  Grades vary from 16 to 33 with some super classic lines including a few routes opened by Tommy Caldwell and Klem Loskott.  The climbing is located around the De Hoek Resort camp site which has good camping, safe and easy access to the crags.

Best Season

Oudtshoorn offers all year round climbing, but it can get very hot in summer with sparse rainfall.  Spring, autumn and winter are the best times to visit the area. The main crag gets shade by midday. Winter will be cold especially at night. In summer it will be hot. Short Circuit Sector gets shade early & Main Wall shade in the afternoon. Main Wall fairs well in poor weather & rain.


The crags are all on private land and the access to them is very sensitive.  One of the reasons for the access problems are the bushmen paintings found on the rock. Please do not smear on them with  your shoes or even touch them. Please try use the toilets at the campsite and not the bushes near the crags. To get to the crags you need to drive to Oudtshoorn and take the road to the Cango Caves, this is well marked and heads north through the town. After about 27km you will pass a farm-stall called “Wilgewandel” on your right, take the next left turn. This turnoff is labelled “Swartberg Pass”. Drive 5km and turn right to de Hoek, it is well signposted.


The resort of de Hoek is large and well kept. It is very beautiful at the base of the Swartberg mountains. Some weekends can attract big school groups, but not for climbing. Rates are about R35 per campsite of up to 4 people. Good ablution, braai and swimming facilities are provided as well as a small basic shop and pay-phone by the pool.


On your rest days you can visit the Cango Caves (7km away) which are well worth a visit. There is also a nice waterfall not too far back along the road you drive in on. In Oudtshoorn you can do some shopping, visit a few ostrich or crocodile farms or even go to the movies. A bit further afield you can drive to George and the coast over the beautiful Outeniqua pass and stop by one of the many fruit stalls in the area. This is where the hops for our local beer are grown.

Safety & Medical

The area is quite secure but please take the usual precautions. At present there is no stretcher or first aid dump in the area. Also note that there is bad cellphone reception at the campsite but there is a pay-phone at the shop. For serious accidents call the MCSA Rescue.

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Online Topos

Featured image Crag Name / Route Name Walk In
Routes / Pitches
Oudtshoorn Main Wall Topo Main Wall

Oudthsoorn Main Wall, a 30-40m high wall of steep and very featured limestone, has one of the best collections of climbs in SA. This impressive and steep wall can be seen on your left as you are driving towards the campsite. From late morning the Main wall goes into shade

GPS: -33.375328,22.175011
5 - 15 min.
Afternoon shade
Easiest: 22
Hardest: 34

Initiation Sector

This sector is located on the grey slab next to the path going to the main crag. The path to the main crag begins about 100m outside the entrance to De Hoek. There are routes from grade 16 to 22. As you are approaching the Main Wall you will pass a shorter grey wall with a few vertical routes, some are a little sharp.  Routes from LEFT to right.

1. Deja vu a la Buoux 22
2. Initiation 20
3. Pins and Needles 18
4. Southern Cross 16
5. Dr Stein 18
6. Ride the Sky 18
7. Victim of Fate 19

Curiosity Crag

Up and right from The Watch Tower, a large crag with a slabby base. Routes from LEFT to right.

1. Curiosity killed the cat 22 FA: Scott Noy 2006  (may need higher chains because of rope drag)

The Watch Tower

Left of the Main Crag, the small tower-like crag. Follow the path from the main crag up and across to access. From Left to Right:

1. All along the Watchtower 19 FA: Scott Noy (2006)
2. Dust till Dawn 21 FA: Scott Miller 2006
3. Supafly 21 FA: Scott Miller 2006

Skinny Legs wall

Follow the path on from the street fighter side of main crag, head down a bit, across a bit and up a bit to the Bushman’s cave (Cave entrance obscured by bushes), Scramble up to a blocky ledge left of the cave using the metal staples (Thanks to Douw Steyn). Routes from LEFT to right.

1. Closed project Sean Maarsch – follows break veering left
2. Skinny legs 27 FA: Jimbo Smith (2008) 30m – start on tufas, up yellow wall to top tufa system
3. Closed project Douw Steyn up slab onto overhanging face

The Incredibles wall

Follow the path on from the street fighter side of main crag, head down a bit, across a bit. Continue down the path where it branches up to skinny legs. Dodge some pot holes.  Routes from LEFT to right.

1. Mr Incredible 31/32 FA: Jason Temple Forbes  (very long line running up the entire left side of the overhang) – Check the knot in the end of your rope!
2. Elastigirl 25 FA: Beth Higgins  (step off viewing platform to finish at chains of Mr Incredible)
3. Dash 28 FA: Jason Temple-Forbes
4. Dash – extension Closed Project
5. Right Hand extension of Dash Closed Project
6. No Caped 28 FA: Jason Temple-Forbes

Short Circuit Sector

On the other side of the road from the Main Crag. As of Dec 2008 there are some new routes/projects not listed here.

1. Short Circuit 31 FA: Jeremy Colenso (1998)  A roof climb on the obvious looong roof.
2. Live Wire. 32 FA: Jamie Smith (2013)
3. Behr Hug 24 FA: Mike Behr (1997) A classic!
4. Chicks Dig It 18
5. Chicks Dig It Too 20
6. Gillette 20

Oudsthoorn Climbing History

Sean Maasch and Jono Fisher first went to Oudtshoorn around 1991. They came back with tales of drilling pockets, enlarging them by squirting acid from a metal syringe into the holes, to create these perfect lines linking blank sections between tufas. This became the route ”Seven”, inspired by the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman film… remember the seven – deadly – sins…this route has seven manufactured holds.

The drilling and chipping at Oudtshoorn has to be seen in the context of the early 90’s. Where chipping, drilling and gluing was all the rage in some countries in Europe, as climbers tried to create 8c routes that relied on endurance rather than getting the grade from a single hard move. This stands to reason if you consider that bouldering grades had only just touched the font 8a barrier with problems like Karma.
At the time the existence of a limestone crag in South Africa was a big wind up, but of course the only people who knew where it was were Sean and Jono, who were not letting anyone go there without them.

The whole crag then lay fallow for a few years, while Montagu was developed. Sean got married and had kids, Jono left the country to pursue his climbing/modeling career & Jeremy got involved in winning competitions to get sponsorship, and travelling to Europe and the US to climb.

In 1995 Jeremy Colenso ended up at Rhodes University on a Sports Scholarship. He & Shannon Law set out to explore the Eastern Cape sport climbing potential. In the same year (1995) during a varsity vacation, armed with the Rhodes University drill and bolts they went looking for limestone in the most obvious place to look for limestone, the Cango Caves. They came across the Main Wall at De Hoek, walked in, and saw the only line that had been bolted & because of the drilled pockets immediately recognized it as being the work of Sean and Jono. Their secret crag had been discovered. Jeremy & Shannon immediately set out to find out who the land belonged to and obtained permission to place bolts. Since the bolts were mostly sponsored by Rhodes University they had to strike a balance between easier routes and hard projects. In the interests of ‘eco tourism’ Oudtshoorn municipality was convinced to sponsor some of the bolts.

The king line, Short Circuit, was quickly sussed out. It got its name after a drilling incident: Guy Holwill had loaned Jeremy his cordless drill that had been set up to be powered by a motor bike battery which hung between the legs in a separate bag. Halfway up the route, drilling on lead of course, during a really long stretch to place the next bolt, Jeremy pull one of the wires loose from the battery, which then touched the wire attached to the other terminal. The short circuit immediately set on fire the bag holding the battery. Just as the flames started to melt his harness and rope, he managed to pull the wire free of the battery, unclip the bag and toss it away from Shannon, down the scree slope, suffering only minor burns to his hand in the process.

Other lines such as El Nino, Jonny Rotten, Sid Vicious etc were bolted and climbed around the same time and were training routes for Short Circuit which was climbed the following year, 1996, after a number of visits. Paul Schlotveldt, Gunther Migeotte, Arno Naude, Keith James and Mike Roberts were also active in developing Oudtshoorn around that time. Jeremy sent Short Circuit in 1996, Bitter Sweet on the Blue Wall was dispatched after a few tries in 1997. A month or two later he bolted and began working Streetfighter.  1998 saw Jeremy leaving for the on sighting potential of the bolted crags of France and Spain.

Between 1998 & 2000 there was a furore about the start of a route in the middle of the big cave going through a painting, had to chop and move the first bolt & the start was re directed. Strangely, this was a few years after the route was bolting. Ed February, then an archaeologist with the SA Museum in CT, intervened to save Oudtshoorn being closed down permanently. Further bolting was banned. At that stage there were 28 sport routes. The author negotiated the lifting of the bolt ban with Nature Conservation in December 2003.

Oudsthoorn Climbing Gallery

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