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Celestial Journey, 36 years on!!

In September 1978 an 18 year old Dave Davies and a tough, somewhat older Yorkshireman, Robin Barley opened Celestial Journey (grade 22) at Wolfberg in the Cederberg Wilderness.
Robin Barely

In September 1978 an 18 year old Dave Davies and a tough, somewhat older Yorkshireman, Robin Barley opened Celestial Journey (grade 22) at Wolfberg in the Cederberg Wilderness.

This was a hard and committing lead, ground up and onsight.  Together they would repeat their route over the years, most recently on its 25th anniversary in 2003 prior to Davids passing in 2010.
Time takes its toll on all of us and Robin wanted a last burn on their old route before he would not be able to pull it off and so he contacted Dave’s brother Hilton and plans were made……

Robin Barley was born in 1945 at the end of World War II.  The son a Yorkshire rope maker he grew up in Harrowgate where he would spend his time scrambling on the Gritstone in the Dales, soloing up to grade 17 whereupon his father decided he needed a rope before he killed himself.  He was presented with his first Hawser laid hemp rope and at the age of 15 in 1960, starting a long career on the sharp end.

Robin completed his studies at Manchester University whereupon he would be let loose on various hospitals around the world as an anesthetist.
His first spell in South Africa would be together with his brother Tony in 1968 – 1969 where he worked at Baragwanath.

Together they would venture into the Magaliesberg , putting up:

  • Masterpieces are Suicide
  • Hourglass and the Moke
  • Red Column Face
  • Last Rites
Hawser laid climbing rope
A Hawser laid climbing rope.

Cederberg Kloof

  • Black Shadow (20) 1968
  • Heat Storm (20 with one point of aid) 1968
  • Suicide (now 24, originally with aid) 1968
  • Sidewalk (now 20, originally with aid) 1968

Kommando Nek

  • Kingdom Come (17) 1969

Eureka Dome

  • Side-winder (19) 1969
  • Aftermath (now 19, originally with aid) 1969
  • Birdbrain (19) 1969

Fern Kloof

  • High Noon (now 19, originally with aid) 1968

Lower Tonquani

  • Red Column Face (now 19, originally with aid) 1968
  • Short Circuit (16) 1968
  • Hourglass (17) 1969


  • Tomb Wall (18) 1968

Upper Tonquani

  • The Moke (17) 1969
  • Last Rites (19) 1969
  • Matinee (15A2) 1969
  • Acapulco (18) 1968

During their stay in the 60’s they would visit the Ledge on Table Mountain along with Don Hartley and Roulette was born (originally Russian Roulette). Robin would also open Oddshouters Outing, Apollo (on Castle Rock) and Tony together with Don would unlock Last Laugh.

The hills would enjoy a decade of respite before the return of the Barley brothers…

Robin Barely
Tea for codgerati – from left to right:  Hilton Davies, Karl Hayden & Robin Barley.


1978 Saw the return of Robin to do a tour at Red Cross Children’s and at Groote Schuur hospitals.  He would stay on until later in 1979 and during September 1978 he would team up with a very young and talented climber, Dave Davies.

Andre Schoon and Pete Du Preez had had Wolfberg to themselves for a while when Dave and Robin arrived, when they gave Day of the Jackals its name in response to the arrival of the new challengers.

And so the scramble to pick off the best lines began and Celestial Journey was born.
The route follows numerous difficult features, winding through blank grey faces.  A hard and committing lead and desperate for the gear of the time, it was done ground up and onsight!
Adjacent to Celestial Journey they would open Alone in Space and Robin would send Energy Crisis (aptly named for the petrol restrictions in force at the time) as well as Satisfaction Guaranteed, amongst numerous others.  All superb lines!

Robin Barely
Robin and Karl on ledge of Pitch 2, Celestial Journey.


Although he has summited Ama Dablam in the Himalaya, he is primarily a rock climber.  He has resided in Squamish, British Columbia for some years, where he built a house and lives with his wife Judy under the Squamish Chief, a 2000ft rock face where he has opened many routes.  He has also put up around 300 routes in the Skaha Valley in BC, many more in his native UK, as well as in Australia and SA.
A prolific traveller, he spends many months of the year between his home in Canada and climbing trips around the world or visiting his daughter in OZ.  He still has close contact with old friends here, amongst them Ron Duff, Mike Scott, Tony Dick, Chris Lomax, Paul Fatti and Hilton Davies.

On meeting Robin in the campsite for the first time I was greeted by a somewhat grumpy man in his rental Combi camper van, looking at all the people crowded into the space between the trees.  Before long he had unwound and was nursing a beer and chatting about old times and faces with Hilton and the plan to lay siege to the mountain.
Somewhat non conformist he did express his horror at the permit systems for climbing creeping into place in Wilderness areas like the Cederberg and was mortified to see the large numbers of people (relative to 20-30 years ago ) in the Sanddrif campsite on the weekend.

Sunday the 23rd of November dawned, a perfect cooler day for the Cederberg.  The game was on and we headed up the slope at 7 a.m. to beat the sun and wait out its transit behind the Wolfberg to allow us an opportunity to sneak up on the route.
Much tea was drunk and stories swopped and Robin launched himself at the first pitch with Hilton belaying from above the pea pod pitch on a comfortable ledge.

Suffice to say the Yorkshireman had some choice words for the pea pod, not all flattering.  I hoped that the mountain was not listening and would overlook these transgressors!
Whilst on the ledge above the pea pod a voice from below from a hiker asking us how we were enjoying the route.  Turns out its is Gosia Lipinska‘s father, Marek, himself a climber many years prior.
He would engage us later that evening in the campsite and in discussion reveal that Robin had climbed with some of his buddies in Poland!  Seems this guy has been around a bit ….

The rest of the day was spent waging battle with the line which was not expected to go easily, but is always much harder than one imagines.  Still not every day that one gets to climb with one of the original ascentionists and witness a man of his years do battle with a route that will spit off most hard young guns.

Robin Barely
Hilton on final pitch of Celestial Journey.


Hilton and I both agreed that neither of us will be up to something like this when we get to his age!
Topping out after the last sublime pitch at 6 that evening we took the long stroll back to camp and to crack a beer and shoot the breeze before Hilton and I had to say our goodbyes and head off for Hout Bay whilst Robin and Judy would remain in the Cederberg for another week or so before continuing their tour around the country.  Some climbing, some safari down to Addo and on to Mount Everest in the Free State and to hook up with old friends.

On a tight schedule, they are to return to Cape Town for one day in December prior to their return home.  Something was said about doing Roulette again….    😉  now just for Hilton to get a few of the original party together…

Related article:  My First Celestial Journey

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Justin Lawson
9 years ago

Awesome bit of history there – hope I’m still able to crank at that age 🙂
Thanks Karl

Yvonne Davies
Yvonne Davies
9 years ago

Lovely article Karl. So nice to read about Robin and my sons. Many happy memories, thank you. Yvonne Davies

Karl Hayden
Karl Hayden
9 years ago
Reply to  Yvonne Davies

Hello Yvonne, thank you for your kind words! Always been great to get out with both David and Hilton over the years..

Hartwig Herold
Hartwig Herold
9 years ago
Reply to  Karl Hayden

Hello Karl,
Are you by any chance Karl Hayden the diver, son of Dennis and Ingwalde Hayden of Bloemfontein?

Kindly let me know, important that I contact you if you are.

Best regards
Hartwig Herold

9 years ago

Inspirational stuff!
What was your combined age on the route?

Karl Hayden
Karl Hayden
9 years ago
Reply to  Hector

176 / 177 years Hector!

Hilton Davies
Hilton Davies
9 years ago

Very cool article Karl, about one amazing dude. Could you imagine doing Celestial at 70-ish? It’s possible that people half his age could find the pea pod or the grey face or the off-width to be quite tough.
(A heads-up to all the young people – beware, even when you’re in your fifties mothers still check up on you on the internet!!!)

9 years ago

I guess Robin hasn’t travelled with any slides covering his climbing career – I would pay to sit through a presentation if he came up to JHB. The routes listed in the article do not even begin to cover what Robin and his brother Tony climbed. When I go through the Magaliesberg RD’s, I’m amazed at what they got up to in the ’60’s and ’70’s, especially considering the primitive gear they had at their disposal. I understand that the Barley brothers not only revolutionised gritstone climbing in the UK, but upon arriving in Johannesburg, lifted the level of climbing here a couple of notches. They apparently also ruffled the feathers of a few Club members. For example, things were polite and one didn’t touch the route another member was working. One long standing member had apparently been working a particularly hard route for sometime and was getting close to completing it. Along come the Barley brothers and ‘sorted it out’ in no time. Much upheaval resulted. I would love to hear these, and other stories, verified in person.

Andy Davies
Andy Davies
9 years ago

Very inspiring to see the codgers cranking hard

Steve Bradshaw
Steve Bradshaw
9 years ago

Inspiring story. Climbing legends. Incredible route.

9 years ago

A great story

Russ Dodding
Russ Dodding
9 years ago

What a route and what a guy! Robin is simply legend and an inspiration to generations of climbers.

He was one of my heroes as a young climber back in our native Yorkshire. The Barleys’ routes always hard.

Robin hosted us in Vancouver en route to Lotus Flower Tower, and became a friend then.

Salute, Robin.

Mick Haffner
Mick Haffner
3 years ago

Only just seen this article. Photos bring back great memories of a great climb and great times with Robin and Richard Smithers, first ascenting there in the late 70’s

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x

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