A Review by Hilton Davies
As an all round South African mountaineer Dave Cheesmond has probably only ever been surpassed by Andy de Klerk. In 1977 he produced his little stapled route book The Western Cape – Fifty Selected Routes.
In early 2019 I finally climbed my last of the Fifty. (Although it’s actually fifty-one.) Apparently I am the first to have climbed them all. You may be surprised to learn that Dave hadn’t climbed them all. He produced the book as a tick list to motivate local climbers. So maybe I owe it to my late-friend to review his book. And hopefully motivate local climbers with new (old) ideas.
The cheaply bound, photocopied book has a little bit of history about top climbers (George Londt, Bert and Frank Berrisford, Ken and Brian Cameron, Les Schaff, Keen, Mike Mamacos, Barry and Keith Fletcher, Paul White, Rick Williams, Rusty Baillie, Don Hartley, Hans Graafland, Henri Snijders, Brian Honey, Tony Chinery, Tony and Robin Barley, Mike Scott, Tony Dick and Roger Fuggle) and great historical routes.
It has a bit about access, a bit about grade comparisons, and it has some layout sketches about mountains and cliffs. Much of the information is scanty and just enough to get one into trouble. Dave’s diagrams and descriptions could land one on the wrong mountain entirely. His grades are very sandbaggy, no pitch lengths are given, and generally there are more pitches than Dave describes. I love that about this book. The adventure is real.
Sometimes completion of a ticklist is a really good goal and eminently valid. 100 Finest Routes by Gaston Rebuffat (1973) has an enormous following in the Alps and has had a number of completionists. Fifty Classic Climbs of North America by Roper and Steck (1979) has a huge following and is yet to see completion by anyone. Fifty Selected (1977) is really about the ticklist. It’s about getting out there, crushing and taking the routes to the bank.
The routes are sort of, kind of, ranked. In Dave’s words: “The routes are described in more or less increasing seriousness, although the relative seriousness of short hard routes such as Roulette, and longer, more remote and easier routes such as Lucifer, is always open to debate”. Of course equipment has changed enormously since 1977 and “seriousness” has changed. Having recently climbed Roulette without cams (with Tony Dick and Charles Edelstein in memory of Tony Barley), I can confidently say that Roulette with cams today is not the serious route it was pre-1982 sans cams.
So let’s review the routes:
Route no.1 Arrow Final – Africa Ledge – Table Mountain
This historic grade 11 route was opened solo in 1893 by T. Chignall. I think it is fantastic and a great beginners’ route, but only if the beginners have a good set of cams from the smallest to quite large. Otherwise it is dangerous for beginners.
Route no.2 Staircase – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
A great easy route (grade 13) opened by J. Darrol and V. Jachens in 1922. It offers excellent gear, fantastic rock, and an exciting traverse.
Route no.3 Barrier Frontal – Barrier Buttress- Table Mountain
This historic and excellent grade 14 route was opened by J. Fraser, F. Humphries and K. White in 1917. It is on excellent rock and has legendary sections with names including ‘the Soup Plate’, ‘the Donkey Ride’, and ‘the Shaly Crack’.
Route no.4 Africa Crag – Africa Ledge – Table Mountain
This route is full-value. It is not often that one can find a beautiful, clean grade 15 that takes one out into a very airy position, but this one does. Opened by the Camerons, Grendon, Sluman, Smith and Breda in 1936, Africa Crag is one of the most popular routes on Table Mountain, and justifiably so.
Route no.5 Tafelberg Frontal – Tafelberg – Cederberg
This route offers six excellent easy pitches at grades 11 to 13 up a truly great mountain that fills one with wonderment and awe. It is a brilliant bigger route for beginner climbers in a phenomenal situation. Keen, Russel and Wong did very well to open this route in 1947.
Route no.6 Motopsychosis – Tafelberg – Cederberg
Dave Cheesmond opened this route with Pete du Preez in 1973. It is on the back side of Tafelberg close to the Pillar Box and is worth doing on the same trip as route no.5. Over four pitches it does amazing jug-hauling at grades 12 to 16.
Route no.7 Valken Frontal – Valken Buttress – Table Mountain
The first pitch is a big step up from the previous routes and is committing for a 17. Les Schaff, Russel and Thompson did really well to open this route in 1949. It’s worth doing.
Route no.8 Jacob’s Ladder – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
What a great route! One of the best grade 16 routes that one can imagine. It is steep, offers a semi-hanging stance, and is on brilliant rock in a great situation. It is also probably the most popular route on Table Mountain. Mike Mamacos, Boot Butler, Davis, Henry and Rose did well to open this route in 1953.
Route no.9 Castle Premium – Castle Buttress – Table Mountain
A pleasant route on an unimpressive buttress on the Twelve Apostles. Opened by Baillie, Birch, Lloyd and Clark in 1959 at grade 17.
Route no.10 Valken Edge – Valken Buttress – Table Mountain
A reasonable route with five pitches of 16 and 17. Opened by Mamacos and Mitchell in 1949.
Route no.11 Nursery Gambols – Nursery Buttress – Table Mountain
An amazing route with a fantastic and very exposed top pitch! The setting in a beautiful gorge with Kirstenbosch far below is sensational. The five pitches go at 11 to 17. Henri Snijders and Marie Kotze did really well to open this route in 1967.
Route 12 Hangklip Frontal – Hangklip – Pringle Bay
This is a fun and different route in a nice seaside setting. Very much in the ‘frontal’ genre. Five pitches go at around 14 to 16. Shipley, Carloon and Lardner-Burke made the first ascent in 1943.
Route no.13 Maiden’s Prayer – Tafelberg – Cederberg
Huge jugs and good rock for three good pitches of 15 and 16 up the front of the magnificent Tafelberg. Opened by local Mike Mamacos and his Johannesburg friend Frank Villa in 1952.
Route no.14 Du Toits Peak Column – Agtertafelberg – Du Toits Kloof
This route presents a really fantastic adventure. It begins with a long hike up a remote valley, then an excellent little kloofing trip, followed by a huge and very steep scramble, to reach the base of the column that stands away from an imposing big rockface. The climb itself is pleasant with eight pitches up to about grade 16. It finishes high on a big mountain with a big descent ahead. A great mountaineering outing! Opened by Keith Fletcher and Binky Kohler in 1967.
Route no.15 Champs Elyssees – Postern Buttress – Table Mountain
Postern Buttress is really good and Champs Elyssees is the best moderate route on the buttress. The walk up Kasteelspoort is nice, the rock is good and the climbing is fun. This route of five pitches of grades 14 to 17 was opened by Andre Schoon, Rick Williams, Colin Inglis and McCrindle in 1960.
Route no.16 Klein Winterhoek Frontal – Winterhoek – Tulbagh
In the easy grades this is possibly the route of the Western Cape! The mountain environment is big, the route is long, and there is complexity to the hike and the climb. It is fantastic – particularly for people who will find the grade quite challenging. This brilliant and historical route was opened by George Londt, Frank Berrisford, Yates and Morton in 1921
Route no.17 Saucerer – Tafelberg – Cederberg
Close to Tafelberg Frontal, this six pitch route had one aid pitch at the time of it’s inclusion in Dave’s book. Today it is climbed at grade 19. The crux is fairly committing and run out. Opened by Mike Scott and Tim Hughes in 1971.
Route no.18 Atlantic Crag – Africa Ledge – Table Mountain
This is a mega classic! The route offers 6 excellent pitches of around 14 to 18, and finishes off with a dramatic undercut handswing that seems to punch above its grade some of the time. This brilliant route was fathered by David Bell with support from Andersen, Mamacos, and O’Neill and opened in 1951.
Route no. 19 Maltese Cross and Pillar Box – Cederberg
Fifty Selected Routes is actually a list of 51 routes. This no.19 consists of the standard route on the Maltese Cross on Sneeuberg, and the standard route on the Pillar Box across the valley on Tafelberg. They are both single-pitch grade 17 routes on iconic free-standing pillars in brilliant surroundings! Both are very worthwhile. Maltese was opened by Goodwin and Blacquire in 1949 and Pillar Box was opened by Rusty Baillie, Clark, Clark and Sinclair-Smith in 1960.
Route no.20 Elevator – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
This route has had few ascents. The meat of the route is the huge horizontal roof on Fountain Ledge. The climb is all about aiding the thin crack in the huge roof. It used to be climbed with pitons, but today is climbed ‘clean’ using cams and small wires. It is an excellent route for alround climbers. It is a terrible route for the rest. It goes at 16 A2. Opened by Don Hartley and Yates in 1968. First ‘clean’ (hammerless) ascent by Tristan Firman.
Route no.21 Postern Crest – Postern Buttress – Table Mountain
In 1957 this good route was one of the very hardest in the Cape. The pitches go at 16 to 19 but it seems tougher than that. Barry Fletcher, Charlie Hankey, Rick Williams, Hans Graafland and Thomas did very well.
Route no.22 Rooibosch – Tafelberg – Cederberg
This a a fantastic and quite technical grade 18 or 19 on the far left of the main face of Tafelberg. It is on brilliant, steep rock with interesting moves. It is highly recommended. It was opened by Mike Scott and Paul Fatti with some points of aid in 1973. The FFA was made by Dave and Gill Cheesmond in 1974.
Route no.23 – Fingertip Face – Barrier Buttress – Table Mountain
This five pitch route on the south side of Barrier is a good route with a good traverse. It goes at 19. Opened by Barry Fletcher, Rusty Baillie, Paul White, Bob Reinecke and Birch in 1960.
Route no.24 Last Tango – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
This excellent route is mostly known for it’s hard and committing first pitch off The Dream Ledge and it’s easy but wild second pitch. It was originally climbed with some aid but today is a free route at grade 20. Opened by Richard Smithers and Paul Anderson in 1973. FFA unknown.
Route no.25 Milner Frontal – Milner Peak – Hex River Range
As Dave says: “Grand old route in remote surroundings”. A true back-country, big mountain outing at a low grade. The frontal is beautiful but the route doesn’t take the beautiful (and harder) line. But this is easily remedied. This absolutely fantastic big outing has a low technical grade at about 16. The route was opened by Les Schaff, Jannie Graaff, Ship Shipley and Peggy O’Neill in 1946.
Route no.26 Touch and Go – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
One of my favourites! This magnificent historical route was the hardest thing around when Barry Fletcher, Rick Williams and Paul White opened it in 1961. It is on brilliant rock, takes natural lines, and has a bold crux pitch. Tops!
Route no.27 Pisa Wall – Witteberg – Du Toits Kloof
As Dave says: “Rather a tired old route”. Opened by Henri Snijders and Hans Graafland in 1960.
Route no. 28 Hallucination – Dragoon Buttress – Groot Drakenstein
This is a good grade 18 route of seven pitches up a big steep mountain on a fairly big steep face. The famous route Rust Never Sleeps is nearby. The Banhoek Valley below is beautiful. The route was opened by Henri Snijders and Hans Graafland in 1961.
Route no.29 Big Groove – Tafelberg – Cederberg
As Dave says: “One of the best routes on the Tafelberg and therefore also in the Cape”. And the Behne-Orton variation makes it even better. Absolutely 5 star. And it’s a short walk from the Spout Cave – one of the best camping spots anywhere. This grade 20 route was opened by Mike Scott and Paul Fatti in 1970 and had its FFA by Ed February and Dave Cheesmond in 1978.
Route no.30 Via Centrale – Castle Rocks – Mitchell’s Pass
A nice route with a little bit of aid up the magnificent Castle Rocks overlooking the Witels River. This is a good moderate 11-pitch country-route as a stepping stone to the bigger and harder ones. Opened at grade 17 A1 by Andre Schoon, Rick Williams, Paul White and Colin Inglis in 1961.
Route no.31 Millstone Wall – Molenaarsbeg – Du Toits Kloof
Across the valley from Yellowwood, this route has a poor hike-to-climb ratio. But the 10 pitches high up the steep Molenaarsberg are nice enough. The descent is fairly complex. This grade 17 or 18 was opened by Mike Scott, Hans Graafland and Gabriel Athiros in 1966.
Route no.32 Roulette – Fountain Ledge – Table Mountain
One of the best rock climbs in the world! Today with cams the route is unserious and pure fun – unlike in the old days when the big traverse was largely unprotected. This must-do grade 21 was opened by Robin Barley, Tony Barley, Mike Scott and Don Hartley in 1969 when it was the hardest route on Table Mountain.
Route no. 33 Africa Amphitheatre – Africa Face – Table Mountain
This excellent route is one of the biggest climbs on Table Mountain. It has 18 pitches up to grade 20. It was opened by Keith Fletcher, Don Hartley and Rick Williams in 1967. The FFA was by the Barley brothers and Don Hartley.
Route no.34 1964 Route – The Spout – Tafelberg – Cederberg
This route has a memorable start. It requires some commitment. Opened with some aid by Mike Mamacos and Rusty Baillie in 1964. FFA by Bosch and Nevin.
Route no.35 The Amphitheatre – Krakadouw – Cederberg
Dave says: “The first route on this small but complex face”. Most locals would not regard the main wall on Krakadouw as ‘small’, but to Dave it was. This is not one of the great routes of this great place, but it is the only easy route. First ascent by Keith Fletcher, Barry Fletcher, Rick Williams, Doug Berrisford and Kaimowitz in 1968.
Route no.36 Lucifer – Duiwelskloof – Groot Drakenstein
Duiwelskloof is one of the best and most spectacular mountain places in South Africa. The gorge is narrow and the walls are huge. And Lucifer is the easiest route up the main wall, although it’s much tougher than the easy grade of 17 would indicate. (And a lot tougher than no. 37. A leader must be solid at 19). As with most country routes the bottom half is a bit scruffy but the top half is good. This is a proud stepping stone up the gradient of big-wall climbing. Henri Snijders and Marie Kotze did extremely well to open this route in 1966,
Route no.37 Exposure in F Major – Witteberg – Du Toits Kloof
A great classic! This route is a superb package at a low grade. It has a big and complex hike-in, climbs a fairly big wall on a big and dramatic mountain, and has a big and complex descent. It is a brilliant package and is a good entry-level country route. This 12-pitch (Dave calls it 8-pitch) grade 17 route was opened by Keith Fletcher, Geoff Ward, Henri Snijders and Hans Graafland in 1963.
Route no.38 North West Frontal – Du Toits Peak – Du Toits Kloof
In Dave’s words: “Amazing for it’s time”. The official name for the route is North West Face but it has become universally known as North West Frontal. This route is massively historical. It was the biggest and toughest route in South Africa when it was opened and was high up there in the world. The route climbs a big wall via 16 pitches (Mamacos) or 11 pitches (Dave) and is a “leader’s route”, meaning that some of the leads are committing and placing gear is tough. This very good country route was opened by Mike Mamacos and Boot Butler in 1949.
Route no.39 Oscillation – Spout – Tafelberg – Cederberg
I love iconic features and this route has a huge white nose that can be seen from the main Cederberg dirt road many kilometres away. But this route has more. Much more. It is fabulous. And hard. And very, very committing (the last pitch!). The route originally had three aid pitches but today we climb them free. The route is also historic – on the first pitch it has the first “bolt” placed in the Cape. The entire route of seven pitches is sustained and on great rock. As Dave describes it: “Far out!”. One of the best routes around. A big step up from the previous routes. Opened by Keith Fletcher, Don Hartley, Mike Scott and Paul Fatti in 1970.
Route no.40 Orang-Outang – Krakadouw – Cederberg
A fairly good, hard route of 10 pitches at grade 21 originally opened with two aid pitches by Dave Cheesmond and Ed February. FFA by Dave Cheesmond, Brian Gross and Greg Lacey.
Route no. 41 Time Warp – Yellowwood – Du Toits Kloof
This is a hard and committing route (with a bit of danger) up Yellowwood Amphitheatre and it was the first. A notable feature is that pitches 3, 4 and 5 are a long, hard and scary traverse. Today there are much better (and less dangerous) routes there. Dave Cheesmond and Tony Dick did extremely well to open this grade 21 (with teeth) route in 1977 albeit with three aid pitches and at a lower free grade. FFA by Kevin Smith and Chris Lomax. [Time Warp Direct goes straight up to P6, opened by Guy Paterson-Jones and Hilton Davies at grade 26.]
Route no.42 Duiwel’s Direct – Duiwelskloof – Groot Drakenstein
As Dave says: “A grand country route up a big wall…in an impressive situation”. I love it. But it won’t appeal to those who are not dialled into the Cape Big Wall thing. Like Lucifer and North West Frontal, it’s low-ish technical grade (about 19 or 20) is bumped up by seriousness. This 16-pitch big wall route was opened by Tony Chinery, Brian Honey and Brian Watts in 1967. First recorded FFA by Dave Cheesmond, David Davies, Hilton Davies and Johnathan Gordon in 1981.
Route no.43 Central Diédre – Donkerkloof – Du Toits Kloof
Big, hard and scary! This route has two very challenging pitches that were originally aided. This is a route for honed climbers. The climb is not difficult to find but the descent can be very, very difficult if you are not really clued-up. Do not use Dave’s descent description (and do not use Tony Dick’s description in the MCSA journal). Use Mia’s Poort – which is also very complex if unknown. Tony Dick and Roger Fuggle did very well to open the route in 1969.
Route no.44 The Gorilla Grooves – Krakadouw – Cederberg
Dave’s words: “A totally anthropoid experience!!!” The route is fantastic! It goes up the middle of the main amphitheatre for 10 pitches with three hard pitches (one is the “Gorilla Groove”) and one amazing overhanging juggy face near the top (the “Gorilla Face”). The route was originally aided on three pitches at 22 A1 but this aid was soon eliminated to give a solid grade 22 clean, wonderful route. It was opened by Dave Cheesmond, Brian Gross and Greg Lacey in 1977.
Route no.45 Thunderbolt Direct – Witteberg – Du Toits Kloof
A fairly good route up the most prominent part of the impressive tower high up on Witteberg. The route was developed and improved over four ascents by various crews. The originators were Hans Graafland and Mike Scott in 1967. Then it was Tony Barley, Robin Barley and Don Hartley in 1969. Then Mike Scott, Don Hartley Jonathan Levy and Tim Hughes in 1970 and finally Tony Dick and Roger Fuggle made the Direct in 1970, but still with three aid pitches at around 19 A2. It is unclear who made the FFA at around 22 or 23.
Route no.46 North by North West – Du Toits Peak – Du Toits Kloof
What a great route! This route has 22 pitches of proper big, hard climbing. It demands a high level of competence for completion in a day. It’s impressive. First climbed by Mike Scott, Keith Fletcher, Henri Snijders and Jonathan Levy in 1971 with five aid pitches at 20 A2. It is unkown who made the FFA at around 22. [A totally free onsight ascent can be problemmatic due to moss and slime in the crux traverse of 3m]
Route no.47 Firecracker – Witteberg – Du Toits Kloof
Big, hard and scary! This fantastic route is for the connoirseur of tough love. It has excellent clean climbing, it has brutish ‘big hands’ crack climbing, unprotected over-vertical face climbing, and some poor rock and lichen thrown into the mix. It’s magnificent. And then its on a big and complex mountain. Hannes Boshoff and Phil Dawson did extremely well to open this route at 20 A2 in 1974. The FFA was made at grade 23 by Andy Court, Guy Paterson-Jones and Hilton Davies in 2019.
Route no.48 Apollo – Castle Rocks – Mitchell’s Pass
Dave: “A committing route on beautiful rock. Possibly this climb can be singled out as the most satisfying route in this book”. Apollo is magnificent! It offers 12 pitches of hard and steep climbing with scary traverses, thuggish roofs, sketchy faces – it’s a full package! The first ascent was made by Robin Barley, Tony Barley and Mike Scott in 1969. The FFA was made by David Davies in 1978.
Route no.49 Dinosaur Revival – Duiwelskloof – Groot Drakenstein
In Dave’s words: “Hard and serious”. This means properly big, hard and scary. If you manage the approach scramble 150m up the wall, you should be fine. The route has had very few ascents. For good reason. Best you have your act together for this one. I think it’s great. Once. This mighty 15 pitch route was opened with seven pitches of aid by Dave Cheesmond, Tony Dick, Butch de Bruin and Duncan McLachlan in 1977 at 21 A3. The FFA was done by Chris Lomax, Kevin Smith and Charles Edelstein in 1981.
Route no.50 Renaissance – Du Toits Peak – Du Toits Kloof
This is an excellent route. In Dave’s words: “A long hard route on one of the more sustained rock faces in Southern Africa. This is a serious route with the crux high up where retreat would be problemmatical”. But it is not particularly dangerous like some of the preceeding routes. I highly recommend it. The first ascent of this 17-pitch grade 20 A4 route was made by Dave Cheesmond and Tony Dick in 1977. The route was climbed free at 21 or 22 within a year. It is unknown who made the FFA.
Dave Cheesmond died on Canada’s Mount Logan with Catherine Freer in 1987. They were trying to make the second ascent of the Hummingbird Ridge, one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. The route has had many attempts by strong parties since it was opened in 1965. In 2019 it remains unrepeated.