Our group of young climbers arrived a couple of days before the event, to warm up, check out the crags and get familiar again with our favorite climbs. Having spent many weekends at Boven over the years and having noticed in the last while a distinct reduction in the number of climbers pitching at crags and camp site, it was a welcome surprise to have the old vibe back, loads of climbers from the experienced to the beginner.
The festival kicked off on the Friday evening. Already by the afternoon though people were pulling in from everywhere; Cape Town, Nelspruit, Pretoria, even Natal. Slack-lines were strung, hammocks stretched between trees and familiar faces reaffirmed the uniqueness and magic of climbing friendships.
Friday evening got going with a slide show on the remarkable rock art of the region presented by Conraad de Roser of Bongani Lodge on the border of Kruger National Park. This slide show reminded all present that rock climbers were not the first to visit some of these awesome crags, but that the bushmen were here long before us, their many rock paintings at the base of some of Boven's most famous climbs are testament to the spiritual potency of the place. For all we know some of their images on the rock may well be route descriptions we have overlooked: just imagine Eraserhead may have been climbed for the first time some 80 000 years ago and not in the closing decades of the 20th century. Conraad's presentation certainly put things into perspective and reminded us that some of the places we climb are sacred sites to ancient people and as such hold significant ritual history, just something to be aware of the next time we stand at the base of a climb and put our shoes on a slowly vanishing piece of our cultural heritage.
In good spirit the evening rounded off with a drumming circle around a mighty fire. Drumming out a rhythm on a Yembe is one way of getting a good flow of blood to the chalky digits; I have to attribute the quick healing of my raw fingertips to this primal form of communal expression. It was good fun.
Saturday morning was slow, climbers emerging from countless scattered tents and chalets, the smell of coffee drifting from one group to another. The rally was only scheduled to start at 11AM so all and sundry were taking it easy, devising our strategy and selecting the routes most likely to score the most points based on the handicap system chosen. This was calculated by adding the following: The total of best red point ever + best on-sight ever + best red point in last 6 months + best on-sight in last 6 months, divided by 4 to give an average grade. If you climbed this grade during the rally you scored 70 points, any routes climbed above or below your handicap grade subtract or add 10 points for each grade. Each route then had a number of bonus points allocated depending on the grade of the route and the travelling distance to reach it. Flashing the route scored an extra 10 bonus points.
By Midday the teams were off, groups of two's running in every direction. The climbing was unbelievable, thanks to the weather the Due to the scoring method the most effective way to really accumulate a good number of points was to climb as many easy routes as fast as possible at as many different crags as possible. No easy feat. The advantage for me, of course, was that I had the opportunity to get onto a vast amount of routes below grade 19 that I had simply never considered climbing before. And myself being a climber who prefers on-sighting to red-pointing, I found great satisfaction in this.
At each of the crags there was great competitive spirit and immense camaraderie. I can't remember the last time I climbed at The Coven where almost every climb had someone on it. Of course the area has experienced a certain amount crime in the past, but the tourism monitors (?) were out in force, keeping an eye out for any undesirable company, yet keeping a good distance from the climbing itself, allowing one to feel safe and yet not intruded upon. There is also certain satisfaction knowing that climbing through this programme is creating employment of some kind and that the more people from different communities who come together to realise the value of climbing as a sport, the better for all involved.
Although we thought we had a strategy that rocked, my partner and I, by the middle of the first day, realised we had way over-shot our ability to complete the number of routes chosen - you know you have been pushing yourself when you start falling off routes two grades below your handicap because your forearms are cramping. Oh the sorrow, when you know you are on a 19 climb yet it feels like a 25. Nothing compared though to the exhilaration of pushing through and reaching the top anchors. One more route in the bag - time to crash back across winding paths, up hill, down hill rushing to beat the cut-off time. (10 points were deducted for each minute you arrived late.)
Saturday night saw the festival really kick off: loads of braaing everywhere, another slide show, this time on climbing and then live music. Pity the main music event was scheduled for the Saturday evening; everyone was so trashed and needing to recover for the second half of the rally the following day, that any party was almost too much. But hey, all the hard-core guys managed to pack it in. After all, this entire event is about endurance.
Sunday saw an early start, by 7am we were hitting the crags again. The sun was already blazing, today we needed more water than chalk, more sun block than cranking power.
Hallucinogen crag was packed, whatever sequence of climbs we had planned was quickly tossed down into the valley; today we would simply have to climb whatever we could get onto and instead of waiting for a climb, simply run to the next closest available, even if it was a grade 14 - for which we still scored bonus points and on-sight points.
On returning to the finish by 1pm, there was not a single face amongst all the climbers that wasn't a mixtureof sweat, exhaustion and sheer happiness, the kind that comes after spending a good day pushing your body to its limits, scaling the most awesome rock in the country and being around good friends.
In my opinion this was a really successful rock rally and the prize giving said it all. Climbing gear manufacturers and retailers really came to the party; the sheer volume and quality of the prizes, I think, took everyone by surprise. Although the winners walked away with new ropes and harnesses and a basket of other goodies valued at a small fortune, it wasn't about what you could win, but that all present had won: a rally like this is about the spirit of climbing and what it means to just have a damn good time with a group of damn fine people.
Ed Feb, certainly the most indomitable personality on the SA climbing scene, walked away with the prize for the greatest winger and took it hands down. Good on you Ed - your presence adds humour and gets things moving. Clinton Martinengo walked off with best on-sights - two 26's and a 27. The highest number of points went to the local guys, the big wall endurance team of Mark Seuring and Alard Hufner, not only did they climb an impressive number of routes but also managed to visit over 9 different crags, no mean achievement that, let me tell you, all those long walk-ins to remote big walls certainly seemed to pay off for this team.
To me the overall winner was no team in particular. The real winner of this event was sport climbing in Boven. To the team that pulled it all together, thanks to you and all the climbers; there was not a single accident or mishap, the campsite wasn't trashed and there was no crime. Thanks for putting Boven on the map as a climbing festival destination and thanks for the most enjoyable weekend I have had in a long time.
To those that didn't make it, make it next time - because it is a rally like this that makes you feel proud of being a climber, it is a rally like this that helps grow the sport and foster new friendships, it is a rally like this that reminds you why you started sport climbing in the first place - to be with great friends, in an awesome location with some of the finest rock around - just a little reminder of how fortunate we are to live and climb in Africa
When Mike, Marianne and Dermot had left the Valley, I needed something to climb and so the idea to solo the Shield popped into my head. I had never soloed a big wall before and only practiced rope soloing on two other occasions.
When I was learning to rope solo, I had rope soloed the first ten pitches to Mammoth Ledges (same first ten pitches as Free Blast and Salethe), from where there are fixed lines all the way down to the ground. When I was ready for the route, I jugged up those lines with all my requirements for 5 days. I managed two pitches higher than the fixed ropes and as it was getting dark I set up the porta ledge and was comfy asleep, when it started raining. So in the dark and rain I had to re-setup the porta ledge with the fly, which was brand new and had not been seam sealed. It kept raining until about 8 in the morning. The wind was blowing the whole ledge around. I was not far from this little gully, which the rain turned into a river. This all made for an unpleasant adventure. Most of the things got fairly wet during the night and as I had lost my enthusiasm to continue, retreat was still possible as I was not to high, so I fixed some lines and abseiled all the way down to the ground, leaving the gear at my high point. Spent the weekend re-motivating in San Francisco and had loads of fun, as it was Halloween.
Monday, I jugged back up the lines, climbed some more pitches and set up the ledge below a big roof. There were three American climbers on a route called Albatross, which runs parallel to the Shield and only about thirty to forty meters to the left. Therefore I had some company as we shouted across to each other every now and then. In the morning I lead the roof pitch, which brought me straight onto the headwall. The exposure started to kick in……..in a big way. The Shield headwall starts about 500m up, is blank, slightly bulging, slightly overhanging and smooth except for a thin crack/seam running up it. In many places copper heads and rurps (baby pitons) are the only things that will fit. There were a lot of fixed copper heads so I did not have to place any (which was good because I only had two copperheads anyway). I did not clip the copperheads because in the event of a fall they would probably be ripped out, and I would be unable to put in more. This caused me to lead out several times. This was the case when I was nearing the bolts, but I could just not reach them. There was some sling tape around the bolt so I clipped my aiders into that and stood in them. I was about to clip into the bolt direct when I heard this frightening tear and the next sensation was falling through the air upside down. It was amazing how fast I thought about: the last placement I had clipped; if it would hold; how far was I going to fall. Thank goodness this old fixed aluminum piton held and I came to an upside down halt about eight meters lower than I was a few seconds earlier. Thank goodness this rope soloing technique works!!!!!!
I managed to get back up to the bolts making sure I clipped the bolts this time and then set up camp. To the left and right and up and down there was just blank rock with only this three or four millimeter wide crack/seam leading the way.
Three pitches a day is about the going rate for A3 or harder when soloing, and that’s what I was managing on the headwall.
Going to the toilet can be an interesting affair. The rules are, climbers must carry a porta potty. So, one has to do one’s business into a brown paper bag and then put this into the porta potty, which can be a bucket with a lid or a large PVC pipe with lids. Aiming into the paper bag is vital when on a porta ledge, as soiling the ledge would not be fun, as this is the kitchen, the bed and the bathroom.
I managed to take another two falls higher up on the head wall when gear popped. The one fall was about ten meters and as I was falling it was ripping out lots of the gear I had placed. When I finally came to a halt, all the popped gear slid down the rope towards me, in this instance about 6 pieces of gear. I then went back up, hammering in those pitons, which I had been slightly reluctant to do, as getting pitons out is more work.
Above the head wall, ledges start appearing which makes biving/sleeping much easier. The penultimate pitch is a big fun roof and the last pitch a chimney. The only problem I had was on the last haul when I was hauling the last two pitches in one. The fifi hook would not release from the bolt, so I had to abseil back down over the roof…. hanging in mid air a 1000m up, then pull myself back into the stance to release the bag and then jumar back up. A couple of meters of grade four scrambling and I was at the TOP!!!!….. time for a beer. Ahhhh after seven days climbing it felt great to be at the top!
The hike down was absolutely terrible having to carry all that equipment. The route was opened in 1972. The speed record for the Shield from bottom to top is an incredible ten hours fifty eight minutes.
Two days later I left the valley for the last time on this trip, as rain and the first snow fell.
Extreme Thanks go to Hans Florine, Abby Watkins, Dan Dunkal, Craig Calonica and Dan Mc Divett, who let me use and abuse their gear.
Every time I look up at El Cap in Yosemite Valley I think to myself; that is one huge piece of rock.
Marianne Pretorius and I climbed the Nose together in August. It took us four days. Mike Mason and Dermot Brogan started ahead of us and it took them 5 days. When one is on a big wall for four days one has to haul a lot of items up, water, food, sleeping bags etc. and thus the haul bag can weigh over 40 kg. This slows one's climbing down considerably because the haulbag needs to get pulled up at every stance.
When Hans said to me that he had a free day to go climbing, I hinted that I was keen to climb the Nose and thus we made plans to climb it in a day. As Hans had climbed the route 31 times before (he holds the record for most Nose ascents), he knew the exact rack of gear needed. The rack consisted of double caming devices from 00 to two inch and one each of three and four inch. A couple of quick draws and six nuts were taken, mainly micro nuts. One 60 m rope, two ascenders and some aiders. 4 liters of water, some Power bars and peanuts.
We awoke at 05h00am, had breakfast and set off. We started the climb at 06h50am. As I did not enjoy the first couple of pitches on my earlier ascent, Hans led to Sickle Ledge. I took the lead from there, and led up the Stovelegs (these pitches were named by Warren Harding who opened the route in 1958 when he used pitons made from the legs of an old stove as protection). Hans simul-climbed below me. We passed one party of two climbers who happily let us by. Hans lead the last pitch up to Dolt Tower with me jugging on the line he fixed. It is quicker if the leader gets to a stance, fixes the rope and the seconder juggs up and cleans the pitch. We reached Dolt Tower in just over two hours which, on the previous trip had taken us 2 days.
I led on towards El Cap Tower. As I had been up the Texas Flake and the Bootleg Flake with Marianne, we decided on doing the Jardine Traverse, a slight variation to the route. Three more pitches and we were at camp four, the half way mark on the route. We sat for a couple of minutes, ate some food, drank some water, and enjoyed the amazing view... it was so cool!
Hans led the pitch up to the Great Roof, then I led the Great Roof which took me 28 minutes to lead and 7 minutes for Hans to clean it, thus taking 35 min for that pitch. I was leading using Hans' super light aiders and whilst stepping up on a piece of gear, one of the straps on the aiders snapped, letting me drop about 20 cm before it caught me again, thus sending some adrenaline through my system. This pitch has only been free climbed by Lynn Hill and Scott Burke. IT LOOKS AMAZINGLY SUPER DIFFICULT!!!!!
I free climbed the next pitch
called the Pancake Flake which has its name due to it being a thin flake
that forms a super lay back. Free climbing this pitch at about grade 19/20
is super because one is about 500m up and there
is great exposure.
We alternated leads most of the way to the top, passing a team of four Italians on the second last / last pitch. We reached the top nine hours and twenty two minutes after we had started. Brilliant!!!! This was my third time up El Cap and Hans' sixty sixth time. The walk down took 1 hour and 10 minutes. It felt very good just to be able to sit in the car.
This is a super route, with excellent cracks in clean solid granite. Highly recommended!!! I was very fortunate to be able to climb this route with Hans Florine.