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Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing

Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing

We left Cape Town on Saturday at lunch time heading for Klein Winterhoek to go and climb ‘The times they are a changing‘.  The route was opened by Dave Cheesmond, Chris Lomax and Greg Lacey in 1978.  They spent two days on the wall and used quite a bit of aid.

In ’83 Chris, Greg and Andy de Klerk freed the 12 pitches and graded it G2 – having climbed a few of Andy De Klerk’s easier graded pitches I’m still not sure what grade G2 actually is!
Ed’s note:  G2 is supposed to be +- grade 20 in today’s grading, however it always seems tougher – also ADK seemed to loose the ability to grade routes under 25.

Hilton suspected that I was quite jealous of his relationship with his new young climbing star (Guy Patterson Jones) so he had invited me along although I do wonder if it was just to help carry in his gear for his ‘Ocean of Fear‘ attempt a few weeks from now 🙂  Jan Theron met us on his farm, what a cool guy and a great thanks should go out to Adam Roff for all the good he has done there.  Jan told us all about how Adam and Franci had taken him up the frontal route and what a fantastic time he’d had.

Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing
The start of the hike

The walk up was a touch hard with a fair bit of bushwhacking and at times I must say I doubted if Hilton really did know where the path went.  We started up at about 2:30 pm and arrived in the upper camp at about 7 pm.  Hilton decided it would be a good time to give me a lesson in how to operate his ’19 footsak’ stove.  “Hmmm”, he said “it’s leaking a bit, but very slowly.  I think I’ll be able to make our tea.”
To which he lit the leaking stove, I mouthed a silent scream and dove for cover.  Hilton started dowsing the stove with the water I’d just spent ages collecting and in case you are wondering, no,  water can’t put out a gas fire.  It eventually burnt itself out, and instead of a lecture and tea, Hilton had blisters.

The RD is ‘brilliant‘ and ensures that the climb will be an adventure, ‘ Walk up to the middle of the amphitheatre and climb the obvious line to the top’ (just kidding it was a bit better than that) 🙂

We got horribly lost on the first pitch, so only began the actual first pitch 2 hours later than originally planned.  The sun was baking hot and after the second pitch, it was already 11am and we had ten more pitches to go.  I started planning the excuses in my head as to why we had to bail, but Hilton’s  ‘never say die, everything is just great‘ attitude made me feel lame.  So I kept quiet and started reassuring myself that it would be fine to climb the last few pitches in the dark.  I know I’m a bit of a wuss, but for me the climbing was really scary with some long run outs and bad rock.

As the sun bakes the amphitheatre the rock expands and loud cracks can be heard echoing down in the valley.  I remember standing in a fairly exposed position with my last bit of dubious pro several feet below me.  My hands were sweating and heart thumping in my chest, when the crack sounded oh so close that I almost panicked and jumped!!

Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing
Hilton climbing – the full traverse in view

For the guys who opened this route I have massive respect, gees they were hardcore!  For Chris, Greg and Andy, who first freed it with gear that isn’t like anything we have today, just amazing!  At one stage when I complained about being scared, Hilton let me know that Andy De Klerk had free soloed the route with a paraglider on his back!  For anyone who has been there, that is so out-there, it just boggles the mind.

In the end we lost our way a bit and gave up trying to fit everything to the RD.  I thought perhaps we could call our few different pitches ‘the time they are a changing, oh no we are lost‘.  I always find it intimidating when retreating would become very difficult or not an option at all.

Klein Winterhoek – The times they are a changing
Nearing the top with the hard pitches behind us and so happy to be alive.

Soon we had broken through the hard pitches and I realized we’d reach the top in the setting sun.  It was a brilliant, beautiful sunset with a good friend and my heart was just singing with joy – I was alive!  We made our way down the steep grassy descent gully by ‘ass dragging’,  I might have invented a new sport admittedly, I learnt it from a dog trying to rid itself of worms .

We arrived at the upper camp at 9pm and I was sure it would be a good idea to walk out early the next morning.  However, Hilton had work commitments so we pushed on.  God knows I love a good epic 🙂

Several hours later (2am) with plenty of bushwhacking and more than a few phone calls, asking ‘where are we‘?  and ‘how do we get down‘?  We decided to call it a day, and slept in a ditch.  The only small problem being that Hilton had left his sleeping bag at the upper camp for his ‘Oceans of fear‘ attempt and it was cold.  We spooned and I wished I could do more trips like this… but with a more curvy climbing partner (Hilton complained that my ‘elbow’ was poking him in the back).

Hilton looking scared? It was cold we had one sleeping bag :)
Hilton looking scared? It was cold we had one sleeping bag 🙂

Funny thing is we realized in the morning that we’d actually walked past Hilton’s bakkie the previous night by about a 100 meters or so.

All of you reading this (if you got this far) know how hard it is to explain to non-climbers: –  Exhausted, dirty and having been terrified most of the previous day I smiled on the drive home thinking that quite possibly I had had the best few days of my life…  Thanks Hilton for looking after me, what a fantastic couple of days.

Related article:  Art of Hearts

All photos by Neels Havenga


  1. cool story! well done guys!

  2. Thanks for a brilliant time Dark Horse! And I really think you did the most hectic lead! This climb had the three qualities required for a great outing – big, hard and scary. (After that epic descent I thought “never again”. I had it again yesterday with Guy. Got home at 5am this morning utterly poked). Looking forward to our next kak-off Dark!

  3. Cool story Neil 🙂 Well done guys!

  4. I had my first taste of the Winterhoek last week. It is a beautiful, scary and strangely tranquil place. You can feel the history up there – every route on the wall has an epic story behind the FA. And you can only marvel at anyone having the guts to head up into those unknown, loose roofs for the first time. Watching the setting sun from the summit of that peak is one of my all-time most memorable climbing monents. Dark Horse, Hilton, you guys are Adventure-Incorporated. Keep on rocking!

  5. Bit worried about the you lot, spooning, pics of pretty pink flowers and all!

    Nice article Darkhorse – I got sweaty palms oke!

  6. I rarely go more than 3m off the ground and prefer a pad to a rope, but this might make me reconsider. good job!

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