Are you ready to climb?
This is exactly what I asked Xunshan as he arrived in Cape Town after almost a day of flying from San Francisco. This was his first visit to Africa and, in fact, his first international holiday. After our time together, climbing in Yosemite, we had remained in contact and since he had been so accommodating with me when I was there, it was time for me to repay the favour. He was so tired from the flight but he just resigned himself to the fact that this was going to be the kind of holiday that requires a holiday when it’s done. So with a slight smile he warily replied, “Sure”.
After a short stop at my house, to collect the climbing gear, we got onto the N2 highway and headed out to Montagu, the village of a thousand climbs. Xunshan had managed a few hours of sleep on the way so he was slightly refreshed as we parked the car at Legoland for a bit of a warm-up. This single pitch bolted crag is usually packed with climbers, but today we had it all to ourselves. We ticked off at least 6 routes between 5.9 and 5.11d before heading off to the Barrydale hotel for dinner. Just as we sat down the power in the entire town went out, “Welcome to Africa”. Being used to this, the staff lit candles and the chef gave us a rundown of what was available. The gas grill still worked so we had to make do with fillet steaks and char-grilled vegetables. We spent the night in a chalet at Warmwaterbeg Spa after soaking in its beautiful, stone lined, natural hot water pools.
The next morning at first light we were, once again, off to Montagu to climb my favourite route there. Another day in Paradise is a 7 pitch 5.11a up the side of Cogman’s buttress with spectacular views and perfectly bolted rock. The second pitch is the slightly overhanging crux, but the best pitch is the second to last which gives a wonderful sense of exposure. The route allows for an abseil straight back down to the start, so no need to climb with a backpack filled with your hiking gear. This is one of Stuart Brown’s best routes and a must do for any climbers visiting Montagu.
Four hours later we were back at my house, and watching the sunset next to the ocean we decided what climbs were an absolute ‘must do’ for Xunshan on his trip. First off, and a definite for any climber visiting Cape Town, we headed up Table Mountain. We hiked up the Venster path, in the very early morning, to a ledge directly below the upper cable station and headed up the incredible route Arrow Final. Although this is an easy 4 pitch climb, it is the only route on the mountain that provides a full panoramic view from Devil’s Peak all the way around Cape Town to the end of the 12 Apostles on the other side of Camps Bay. It also has the cable car passing so close to the rock that you can smile at the gasping faces of the tourists and see the terror in their eyes. Being the first trad climb I had ever done on this mountain, it seemed fitting to make it Xunshan’s as well. Once on top we headed to the commercial abseil lines, clipped on, and dropped down 100m to Fountain ledge.
This is a majestic crag with 1000m of exposure all the way down to Camps Bay beach if you look over your shoulder on any of the climbs. Although I recommend climbing Jacobs Ladder if you ever get here, I decided to rather take Xunshan up the similar but easier route called Staircase. This is a 3 pitch 5.7 with a wonderful traverse that really lets you feel the exposure afforded by this crag. We topped out, headed across the top of the mountain and then down the 800, or so, stairs of Platteklip gorge in the fading light back to the car.
The following day we were once again up early and on our way to climb some bolted multi-pitch routes on the granite domes of Paarl. Although nowhere near the size of the granite walls we climbed in Yosemite, this place is still special. First on the agenda was the classic 4 pitch 5.10a Sands of Time. This is probably the most frequently climbed route in Paarl and when you are on the 3rd pitch traverse, you will understand why. We topped out, abseiled straight down to the base, and after a short walk to the other side of the gully we were beneath Little Dutch Boy, a fabulous 3 pitch 5.10d. Even though I have climbed these routes more times than I can remember, they are always fun to do. For once we arrived back at the house at a reasonable hour and spent the time relaxing and regaining our strength for the next all day route, Slangolie.
Situated on the 12 Apostles, Slangolie is an 11 or 13 pitch 5.8 depending on how you climb it. It is an easily accessible country route right on the doorstep of Cape Town with majestic views of the mountains and an endless ocean on your back. It required another early start, so after parking in Camps Bay we headed up to the pipe track in the dark. After a gentle 2 hour hike we were at the base of the climb enjoying a hot cup of tea just as the sun was rising. As far as climbs go, this one is incredible. It has some nice long pitches of varying rock with good gear placements and sizable belay ledges along the way. The exposure gives it a feeling of being slightly more difficult than the grade suggests, but the climbing is actually quite easy. The crux pitch is near the top, and after a bit of a scramble you gain a summit that you will never forget. From here there are a few routes to choose from to descend back to the car, but one needs to choose wisely depending on how many hours of light you have left.
The following day we took a well deserved rest day. A gentle stroll around the village and across the beach, just soaking up the tranquillity, followed by a classic South African braai for dinner and a good nights sleep. To make it at least seem like a holiday, I then took Xunshan to the Fairy Glen private game reserve near Worcester just over an hour north of Cape Town and something he had to experience while in Africa. Apart from the Zebras and various antelope, this game reserve is home to the Big 5. He was taken on a private drive through the reserve where he had the opportunity to get up close to lions, giraffe and elephants with no fences between the animals and himself.
For his last days, and because he loves bouldering, he insisted we take a trip to the world famous boulder rich area of Rocklands situated approximately 3 hours north of Cape Town in the Cederberg mountains. We stayed at DePakhuys campsite which is within walking distance of over 300 boulder problems. During the winter this place is packed with climbers from Europe and the U.S, but we were there in summer so we had it all to ourselves. There are so many routes here you would have to stay for a year to even attempt to tick off just a fraction of them, but we would spend just 4 days trying to do as many as possible. It was seriously hot, but we found quite a few shaded routes and climbed and climbed till our fingers bled. I could try to list all the climbs we did, or attempted to do, but there were just too many. Apart from the campground boulders and the nearby Arch valley, and it’s neighbours, we did take a drive to the top of the pass to the Rocklands area and ticked off a few climbs there as well. Needless to say, we were well and truly shattered when we packed up camp for the final time and headed back to the city.
Two days later we were at the airport after a drive via Cape Point and the V&A waterfront, and looking completely drained, Xunshan then boarded his flight back to San Francisco and back to work. He thanked me for the fabulous adventure, although he was wishing he rather had more time for a relaxing holiday.