Judgment Day – A Gnarly New Route on the Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Five days earlier I had made a big decision.  One that had being weighing on my mind for a year.  My new young climbing buddy Guy Paterson-Jones and I had been climbing the superb Armageddon Time on Yellowwood Amphitheatre.

I was on a mission to fitten up so as to do a free rope-solo first ascent of a steep line that I had worked out on the intimidating right walls of Yellowwood. My decision had been to cave.  While climbing Armageddon earlier in the month I lost all hope of pulling off the much more gnarly new line that I had called Judgment Day.
I decided I would ask Guy to do it with me and I felt a huge relief.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Guy and Hilton at the car park at 0515.

I’m not as young as Guy.  He is 16 and I don’t bounce back as fast and at 3.30am still feeling the fatigue of Armageddon Time 5 days earlier.  For Armageddon I probably hadn’t recovered completely from climbing Fantastic Time at the same place with Snort and Tony the week before that.  But once we were going it was great.  We got up in quick time and by 8am Guy was casting off into the steep world between Armageddon and Smalblaar Ridge.

The first pitch was straightforward. The second pitch begins as a relatively easy traverse then becomes a long and funky traverse where the holds are in the roof above. Up on the belay ledge Guy remarked that he thought that must be a scary lead. It wasn’t scary for me after climbing it three times previously, including rope-soloing it in both directions, but I can see it could be first time round. I’d first climbed this stuff with Alan Ross in 2010.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Guy setting off on Pitch 1

While walking along the ledge to the right we made a brief stop so that with some vengeance I could chop a stance bolted by visiting Austrian climbers a year or two ago (Ed:  See Yellowwood Ethics).  I was aggravated at having to carry a hammer to right a wrong.

The fourth pitch is a real Yellowwood pitch.  Hard and scary with poor rock and few gear placements.  Guy came up commenting about this.  I told him that it gets much better above the next roof and that he will go into a good hand crack.  The passage of time had flattered my memory of it.  Guy complained profusely as he led up on poor, overhanging rock.  He had much more in store for him.  The pitch ends up a hard overhanging wall with committing climbing to get around the Great Roof.  Although we graded it just 22 it is one of those that requires a severity grade as well.  22 S2 indicates that the package deal feels more like a 24 onsight trad lead.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

The hard and nasty Seven Deadly Sins Pitch P5

A beautiful and easy sixth pitch provided some good head coolant to land us on the jumbo ledge.

There had also been a bit of diversionary bolt-chopping.

I’d previously climbed pitches 2 to 6 with Bruce Daniel. Bruce and I had climbed a lot together over a few years, but unbeknown to me at the time this was the start of a cooling-off period for him.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Alan Ross following the funky traverse of P2 in 2010

Following a good lunch break Guy tooled up for an onsight attempt of the crux seventh pitch.  I’d climbed this with Karl Hayden in March last year and had used quite a lot of aid.  My big solo attempt in May last year ended at this point after two days when a huge storm came in.  Text messages came in fast and furious telling me to get the hell out of there.  I’d high-tailed it off the wall in great disappointment, knowing that it was going to take a lot to get back to the head-space I was in.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Guy having a drink a the Jumbo Ledge

Guy set off with great composure and confidence that are way beyond his years.  He made excellent progress up the steeply overhanging orange wall until a crux sequence foiled him.  He plonked onto the rope. After many attempts and plonks he gave it a massive go and took a massive fall.  Meanwhile a vicious westerly wind began to brutalise us and add to the already scary atmosphere nearly 200m up this forbidding wall.  After a short rest and without skipping a beat he went for the huge move and stuck it!  There were more hard moves and more plonks but he made every move go free.  By the time he reached the little stance at the end of this very challenging 35 metre stretch he was a spent.  It remains to others to onsight this free.
Guy’s effort came in at around 24 A0 to 25 A1.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Guy on the very overhanging and very hard pitch P7

The next pitch was the one that had been worrying me most for my solo mission. Only grade 20 but as Ian Kotze  likes to say – “it has teeth!”.  Guy was very relieved that the old dog had this one.  Halfway up this big pitch you step left off a ledge over the void and take on an overhanging arête without gear to wobble up to a rail some distance above.  It’s good fearful Yellowwood stuff!  Trouble is I knew it would be immensely scary rope-soloing it free, and I knew that it would be very dangerous to fall here – both because there was the prospect of getting hurt and the prospect of not being able to fix the situation.

I hadn’t worried much about that pitch 8 when I led Karl up it last year but this time round I had to dig quite deep.

Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

A closer look at Guy on pitch 7 (see photo above)


Judgment Day Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Guy trying to keep warm from the cold Westerly wind

The next pitch was Guy’s reward for his crux pitch effort.  It has a nice ‘Harding Slot’ followed by excellent fingercrack climbing then a face traverse into an offwidth the size of your thigh.  It’s an absolute beauty.  By this time however, we were being savaged by the wind and it was getting desperately cold.  I charged up the delectable tenth pitch which we call the ‘Handlebars Pitch’ because of the interesting rock formations that look like vertical bicycle handle bars.
Top-out time was 7.30pm.

Being Yellowwood, it was still a way to go to get home…. but it was lekker!

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Judgment Day – Yellowwood Amphitheatre Route Description:

This route is on the right side of the amphitheatre, lying to the right of Armageddon Time and Second Coming (hence the apocalyptic name) on the steep walls close to the easy-angled Smalblaar Ridge. There are two key features. One pitch below the halfway ledge is an enormous roof, perhaps the biggest on the amphitheatre, which the route turns on the right. Above the halfway ledge lie three vertical fins. The route uses the left one.

Start:  At the clump of trees against the wall at the top right. Begin by scrambling up on the left over easy broken grey rock.

P1 35m 19:  Head up and right to an obvious vertical crack. Start up this crack then angle up leftwards to a whitish-yellow recess below a small roof. Get around the roof on the right then head straight up a crack to just a few metres below the big, long roof system. Stance on a small ledge a few metres off to the left.

P2 20m 20:  Move back to the crack system then traverse right on a steep orange wall that has an obvious big rail and pockets on the face. At 7m the rail turns round a corner and ends. Out of sight of the belayer keep traversing at the same level but now on dark rock under a roof for a further 5m. On an open face continue traversing right for another 6m until reaching a crack system leading up. Head up to the big ledge.

Walk along the ledge to the right. Pass the white sandy corner after 4 metres and continue another 4 metres to a break in the roof. Stance here.

P3 15m 19: Crank through the roof and head straight up the clean crack to reach a ledge.

P4 40m 22:  On the ledge move left for a couple of metres then step over the void. Climb up the sustained and unrelenting crack including overcoming a couple of small roofs. Do a long pitch to reach a small ledge on the left about six metres below the Great Roof.

P5 15m 22:  To the right is a steep and intimidating reddish face. Head up and right on this overhanging face to reach a big undercling flake (Very nice to have a Camalot no. 4 here!). Up this flake then the crack above it to reach the roof where it ends on the right. Turn the corner of the roof to get onto a small ledge.

P6 35m 19:  Straight up for a few metres then move out leftwards for a couple of metres to gain a little crack system that heads up the clean grey faces that are directly above the enormous roof. Beautiful face climbing takes you to the halfway ledge. From the ledge continue up a few metres to the left to get on top of the large platform to stance. (The Armageddon crux pitch is immediately left)

P7 30m 25, A1:  On the platform move up and across to the right. Directly above is a big crack system with a massive protruding flake. This is the Armageddon Wimp-Out pitch. Judgment Day takes the overhanging orange wall to the right. Head up the unrelenting overhanging wall using the parallel vertical cracks that lead to the grey arête on the right after about 25 metres. Stance around the arête to the right.

P8 45m 20:  Nice easy climbing leads directly up for 20 metres to a ledge. Then summon your courage and step off the ledge to the left over the void and delicately get up to a rail and gear a few metres higher. Rail 5m right then up cracks and a detached block . Stance a couple of metres above a big chockstone.

P9 30m 19:  Climb the bottomless chimney slot with the chockstone wedged in it at the top. Step left and head up the crack system until forced to move left using edges to get across into the offwidth that becomes a perfect finger crack. Head up to the overlap then move a few metres to a comfortable ledge on the left. The ‘Changing Cracks’ pitch.

P10 25m 16:  Climb up to a ledge and step right. Balance up the gearless face for a bit to get to a small horn. Up the magnificent ‘Handlebars’ Pitch to the summit!

First Ascent:  Hilton Davies and Guy Paterson-Jones, 12 January 2012.
Pitches 1-2 first climbed by Hilton and Alan Ross on 31 March 2010.
Pitches 3-6 first climbed by Hilton and Bruce Daniel on 8 April 2010.
Pitches 7-10 first climbed by Hilton and Karl Hayden on 16 March 2011.

Judgment Day, Yellowwood Amphitheatre Route Description

Judgment Day, Yellowwood Amphitheatre Route Description – Click to enlarge

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11 Responses to Judgment Day – A Gnarly New Route on the Yellowwood Amphitheatre

  1. Willem Boshoff Jan 19, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    well done gents! great to see a guy like Guy taking the baton from the hard men. long live adventure climbing! 😀

  2. Arno Jan 19, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Inspiring stuff!!

  3. Andy Davies Jan 19, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Well done okes! Brings back fond memories of Dave making me lead the sketchy pitches 🙂

  4. Andy Wood Jan 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Well done, lads. A sterling effort

  5. Mo Jan 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    A great achievement, and a great adventure. Well done, boys!

  6. Justin Jan 20, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Awesome! Well done guys!

  7. Hector Jan 20, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    Good work lads!

  8. evan Jan 20, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    amazing! such an inspiration to the younger generation. without a doubt south Africas strongest youth

  9. Hilton Davies Jan 20, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Thanks for the kind words buddies. I especially like Evan’s comment about me (those last 7 words!!)

  10. Roland Paterson-Jones Jan 23, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    Well done Hilton. Without a doubt, South Africa’s oldest youth.

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