CityROCK under lockdown

CityROCK is now open to members and restricted day pass customers under level 2 lockdown regulations. We look forward to welcoming you back to CityROCK! Please visit our Covid-19 protocol page to see our access regulations and policies.


Author – Claire Keeton, Adventure travel journalist and CityROCK Cape Town member





When the wind blows your rope sideways and hair into your eyes, coronavirus is unlikely to get a grip on you. The setting for this safe ascent: CityROCK in Cape Town, under lockdown level 3.

Climbing here has mirrored the breezy conditions of being outdoors better than any local or overseas gyms I’ve visited since it opened its doors, and garage-size windows, in Paarden Island in 2018.



Under the Covid-19 pandemic, the fresh and moving air in this giant space takes on new significance. A breeze or moving air disperses virus particles, reducing the risk of infection, says Wits infectious diseases expert, and CityROCK regular Professor Francois Venter.

The ventilation is equally effective at CityROCK in Johannesburg, mimicking wintry weather outside.

“The windows are wide open and fans going so it is freezing but hey, we can climb!” says physician Dr June Fabian, who is elated that CityROCK has opened up again – in a responsible manner.

This month CityROCK started to admit paid-up members, after implementing a strict set of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The director of research at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, Dr Fabian notes: “They restrict numbers with an online booking system. They also measure your temperature as you arrive, cross check your name for the booking and there are hand sanitisers everywhere.

“They even changed the taps in the bathroom so that they don’t have handles. They have also added a cover to the autobelay handle so that it can be sanitised. Lockers are sanitised after you take your stuff out and there is half an hour between sessions to clean up. It is pretty impressive.

“There is probably more risk of being infected in a supermarket!”

Climbers are required to use liquid chalk with sanitising alcohol between routes, besides the usual sanitising on entry and exit.

The use of chalk “reduces the amount of model coronavirus on a plastic surface by 99%”, suggests preliminary research by doctors at De Montfort University in the UK. These promising results are yet to be peer reviewed and published.

Venter offered advice to CityROCK on infection prevention and control before they let climbers back onto their routes. The fitness areas and yoga studios are still off limits, though the shop is open.

“The gym has made it as safe as can be,” he says. “Wearing a mask is a pain, but I can live with it.”


Batman and Catwoman may belong in masks but for most of us, even superhero climbers, masks feel like a hassle until you adapt to breathing in them. But masking in public is critical – and the law – to slow down Covid-19 infections.

“Climbing with a mask is a bit of a pain but, if you use a thinner one for actual climbing, it’s not too bad,” says top trad climber Douw Steyn.

Steyn, who has led 31 on trad and with Gosia Lipinska opened Incy Wincy Spider (29) on Table Mountain, is glad to get back into training at CityROCK.

Given the wet winter this year, marked by waterfalls all over Table Mountain, outdoor climbing is often impossible.

The dams are at 77.8%-6% fuller than this time last year while many Cape Town climbers are who-knows-what percent weaker (except for maestros like Tinie Versveld). But the re-opened CityROCK can fix that.

Power up

“In some respects, CityROCK is better than normal since it’s so uncrowded. One has to have more of a quick power session than usual because of the short time slots,” says Steyn, who feels completely safe there.

Another hardcore climber, Jason Tan from Joburg who climbs up to 30, has been impatient to get back to training.

“The months of lockdown had me itching to get back on plastic. With infection rates rising however, it has become an ethical decision whether to regularly gather indoors with a group of heavily breathing friends and strangers.

“Since reopening, CityROCK has implemented their COVID19 protocols with the same intensity that ensures that lead tags are displayed, figure 8 knots tied, and belays safe. It is evident that sanitising and social distancing procedures are taken as seriously as climbing safety,” says Tan.

“Booking a time slot with a partner, waiting for liquid chalk to dry before each route, and changing clipping habits because you can’t bite your rope are a few minor inconveniences of level 3 gym climbing.


The new “normal”

“While these conditions are far from normal, being back at CityROCK (if only for 2 hours at a time) has restored a sense of normality that we are all desperate to return to.”

Tan is among many returning members who revel in the feeling of getting to climb and regain some sense of normal, whatever that means under lockdown and curfews.

Coffee is off limits under the current set up, so get your hit before you come climbing, and remember to book.

Marlu da Conceição, who is not a fan of the booking system, says: “It is worth it for the opportunity to be training again. The safety measures also strike that perfect balance of the ‘new norm’ and sanity.”

In our element

Members of Joburg’s INSIDEedge sport climbing club, who train at CityROCK, are also thrilled to be back on bright plastic.

Head coach for the club, Devin Sender, says: “The re-opening of CityROCK has been a long-awaited joy to our club members.

“Our coaching programme was adjusted to cater to private one-on-one or two-on-one training sessions in order to adhere to the maximum group numbers in the gym. We had 17 club members return to coaching in July, a mix of adults and children.

“They have all relayed that they could not be happier to be climbing again with the new protocols at CityROCK.”

Young gun Tegwen Oates, who could onsight 24 and 6C boulder problems before lockdown, is excited to be training again too.

“In my time training at the gym everyone has been extremely respectful to keep their distance even when I’m jumping quickly from climb to climb to keep the pump in my arms.

“At first when I started climbing again wearing a mask felt like altitude training, but it was very easy to adapt to. I feel like it has now helped me concentrate on breathing through my nose, something I would often forget to do.”



Keeping us climbing

Capetonian Kate Larmuth, a medical biochemist with clinical experience in cardiovascular disease, supports the safety protocols despite a personal antipathy to masks.

“Climbing in a mask is kak,” she sums up, but nevertheless she’s coming in.

“The first session back, the fingers complained from being cold- from both the evaporating liquid chalk and the gym air.

“But we seem to get more routes packed into the session because there’s definitely less socialising and more climbing happening,” says Larmuth, a popular climber in Cape Town.

Everyone I interviewed for CityROCK was happy they were open. Everyone felt safe, including me.

As Larmuth says: “I think the system they have set up is very responsible and gives us confidence in the gym that they are doing everything they can to keep us climbing and Covid free!”.

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22 Responses to CityROCK under lockdown

  1. Jenny Aug 19, 2020 at 2:15 pm #

    I was jumping for joy when city rock reopened – I was so over climbing outdoors. So happy to be back to the real thing.

  2. Patrick Aug 24, 2020 at 7:30 pm #

    So I waited five days for someone to reply to your post, hoping for a deeper insight. Every day I logged on, and each day I saw “1 comment’ and each day my disappointment grew. Today I could take no more. I cracked. I need to know and i.need to know now. Are you for real?

  3. Jenny Aug 25, 2020 at 8:46 pm #

    What does are you for real mean?! Is that supposed to be some kind of insult Patrick?

  4. Patrick Aug 25, 2020 at 9:53 pm #

    Woah there! Much too sensitive Jenny. Let’s not lose our sense of humour here. No insult intended. I much prefer outdoor climbing so I find it strange if someone refers to the gym as the “real thing”. So I thought let’s find out if you really do prefer the gym or whether you’re pulling a leg or two. I would imagine that the majority prefer to be outdoors, but I’ve been wrong before. Clearly you prefer the gym which is cool so all good. At least I know now and I will be able to sleep tonight.

    • R Aug 27, 2020 at 11:28 am #

      I’m not convinced…

      • Patrick Aug 27, 2020 at 1:32 pm #

        Ok “R”. It’s pretty devastating to know that I failed to convince you. It’s an interesting topic though. What do you prefer? Rock and fresh air, or plastic, aircon and cappuccino?

  5. illona Aug 27, 2020 at 6:00 pm #

    This comment thread is amazing. Jenny, don’t take offence. Patrick just voiced what many of us were thinking.

  6. Bernie Theron Aug 27, 2020 at 7:11 pm #

    Jenny, you could probably get a sponsorship from city rock for that reaction! (just add some hashtags)

  7. Jenny Aug 28, 2020 at 8:50 pm #

    Who doesn’t prefer Aircon and cappuccino. Anyway the Olympics are held in a climbing gym – there’s nothing more real than that. Patrick your condescending tone is so typical of most of the male climbing community

    • illona Aug 29, 2020 at 4:23 pm #

      A part of me just died.
      Jenny, while the gym is a great place, the fact that someone prefers it and thinks it is the “real thing” compared to the great outdoors is incredibly disheartening.
      I don’t find Patrick’s tone condescending. (and I’m not male so you can’t pin that line on me). I think we’re all just a little bit confused by your sentiments. It’s a different age entirely. Not so long ago there weren’t any gyms and the outdoors is where rock climbing took place.

    • Brad Aug 30, 2020 at 2:46 pm #

      I gotta agree with Jenny and don’t really understand the hate. Besides the aircon and cappuccino (which is a big plus for me) at gyms the routes are regularly changed so its always different. You cant get that outside.

      • Patrick Aug 30, 2020 at 3:12 pm #

        There’s no hate anywhere here Brad. It’s a debate. Aircon and cappuccino are clearly a big logistical challenge in the outdoors so no argument there. As for variety, for me there is no contest. I don’t know how many routes there are in Boven alone but it must number well over a thousand. ( I stand to be corrected). The Crag lists 9723 routes throughout the country. Every conceivable variety of rock formation is out there. Every rock situation is unique. Different hand and foot holds. Smooth rock, abrasive rock, chimney climbing, slab climbing, on balance, overhanging, and it’s up to each individual climber to decide on the method or technique that suits his or her style, strength and physical attributes. It forces you to think and work out your ascent rather than following a colour-coded line.
        Rock offers vastly more variety than the gym. And I’m not knocking anybody or knocking gym climbing. I enjoy all types of climbing, including gym climbing. The gym is a great place to build technique and strength and to understand the challenge presented by the route setter, but for me, the outdoors offers way more in almost every respect.

        • Brad Aug 31, 2020 at 1:47 pm #

          Hi Dave,

          Admittedly I dont have that much experience outdoors and have not climbed at Waterfall Boven but when I have been outside its left a lot to be desired. Not all the routes are top rope friendly and I dont like having to figure out where I’m going. I’m there to climb and dont want to be spending time looking for my next grip. I totally get that everyones preferences are different and at the end of the day its all just climbing.

          Have you heard of the Excalibur wall in the Netherlands? Have a look if you have not.

  8. Patrick Aug 29, 2020 at 12:18 am #

    You really are spoiling for an argument aren’t you? I prefer the feel of.rock as well as the fact that routes aren’t clearly laid out. You have to figure out.foot and handholds yourself. I also like being out in nature, the walk in and out, enjoying the sunshine and enjoying the view from the top. Multi-pitch routes are really exciting and then of course there’s trad where you have to figure out the route and place and clean your gear which never fails to scare me. Even the humblest trad outings have a way of turning into unforgettable epics. Of course I enjoy the gym too. I enjoy climbing. But I prefer outdoors. I didn’t make much progress until I started climbing with a much more experienced female climbing partner who showed me how to use as little energy as possible when climbing and taught me to.climb in good style instead of trying to power my way through everything. In my view, women are generally, and on average, better climbers than most men in terms of both technique and style. Personally I have nothing against any form of climbing or group of climbers, be they men, women, trad climbers, free soloists, better than me, worse than me, stuck up, chilled out, pot smoking, man-bun adorned, nerdy, Rambo-esque, hardcore, beginner or just plain average like me. I’ve been climbing for twenty years on and off, and I still find a 22 or a 23 a bit of an ask even on a good day. But that doesn’t matter. I just love climbing and sharing that passion with other climbers. As for me being condescending, well it’s a pity you take it that way and you really should try not to upset yourself too much. There are also plenty of male climbers out there who are absolute gentlemen (most climbers are very cool people) so don’t feel like you are forced into generalising just because you had the misfortune to run into a bad apple like me 😉

  9. Wesley Aug 30, 2020 at 12:05 am #

    Don’t mean to pile on. But Cape Town is one of the few cities in the world where you can climb in an amazing setting outdoors then have a cappuccino after climbing. Gym climbing will never be the real thing for those who rock climb often. No gym can come close to Suirana in Spain or Red River Gorge in Kentucky.

  10. Old Kev Gumby Aug 31, 2020 at 8:58 am #

    Why on earth would you want to put your hands on dusty, nasty, slimy. polished rock when you can grab a bunch of lekker plastic holds in a 100% artificial setting?? You cant get rained out of a gym can you? You rock lovers are just jealous of the fact that gym climbing has taken over and you have spent your life savings on nuts and in turn feel obligated to spend more money on fuel to get to the trad venues where you hike for hours and then climb a 12. Everyone knows gym climbing is where its at, its harder, its scarier, its more intense! Everyone knows that outdoor climbers are soft! Plastic is king

  11. Mike Aug 31, 2020 at 9:17 am #

    Jenny must surely be trolling? Maybe Jenny can point out where Patrick’s “condescending tone is so typical of most of the male climbing community” is?
    Unfortunately Jenny, even the name ‘rock climbing’ implies the practice of climbing on rocks. While gym climbing is indeed fun (and of course you’re allowed to love and enjoy whatever you want to), climbing on rock is where the actual sport of climbing happens. It’s where everything that is good about climbing is to be found. I’m thrilled though that for YOU, climbing is the best in the gym. Great. My day is made.

  12. Troll Identifier Aug 31, 2020 at 9:41 am #

    You are guys are getting trolled 😉

    Brad, Jenny, R & Old Kev Gumby are probably the same person.

  13. Traddie Tradster Aug 31, 2020 at 10:14 am #

    Nothing beats the feeling of pushing through a thorny bush in the middle of the crux of an obscure 14 somewhere on the backside of Table Mountain while getting beta sprayed through two-way radio by your partner who hasn’t been on the pitch, but read about it in a 1973 MCSA-journal he bought from the estate of a recently deceased ballie, who was known for his sweet hip-belays and homemade stove leg pitons. Now that’s what I call climbing!

    @Gumby Kev: I sold my car to get my hands on a sweet selection of brass nuts. Totally worth it!

    • Patrick Aug 31, 2020 at 5:34 pm #

      Yep. Pretty much spot on. I’m not really a traddie. I’ve tried it quite a few times and whilst the overall experience beats other forms that I’ve tried hands-down, quite frankly I shit myself every time. Nothing more gut-scrambling than following a leader with thirty years experience as he hum’s and ha’s about how he can’t remember if it’s left or right, over or around, and sadly bemoans the fact that he doesn’t have the right size micro-nut for the only crack in sight as you dangle 200 metres off the deck wondering what the hell you were thinking when you agreed to this ridiculous idea. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

  14. Trevor? Aug 31, 2020 at 3:11 pm #

    The quaint and eccentric pursuit of outdoor rock climbing will be added to the annals of history along with chariot racing, jousting and cabbage tossing.

    • Jousty Jouster Aug 31, 2020 at 3:29 pm #

      Hey, us in the jousting community still considers ourselves the only pure martial artists. Nothing beats the feeling of cold sweat forming inside a suit of armor!

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