Sunday, 11 September 2016

South Africa Part 2 – Rocklands and Oudtshoorn

After the eventful start to our stay in Rocklands things quietened down a bit and we were able to start to get stuck back into climbing and enjoying the trip. The vibe there is nice and chilled, and with warmer and more stable weather than we’d left in Australia, as well the luxury of being based out of a cottage instead of a van, life felt very relaxed. Highlights for me from the rest of our stay included climbing the toe-hook extravaganza that is Mooiste Meisie (8B), checking out a variety of funky kneebar problems in preparation for our upcoming time in Rifle, ‘Fryday’ night fish barbeques and the delicious and cheap filet steak.


Ella warming up at the cottage
James on The Rhino

Oudtshoorn (‘Ostrich’ in Afrikaans), 5 or so hours drive East of Cape Town, hosts South Africa’s only limestone climbing, and was to be our ‘return to (your) routes’ boot camp to kick us into shape for America. It’s not an especially famous area and although I’m normally a total sheep, sometimes even I enjoy stepping off the well-worn track a little; plus the photos made it look great and it’s the kind of place where if we didn’t make time to visit now then we probably never would.

Situated around 30 minutes drive into the hills from the town of the same name, the sectors are scattered within walking distance of the De Hoek Campground which we made our base. Whilst the campsite (and the chalet we stayed in there) did the job, we made the mistake on the first few days of drinking the over chlorinated water and thus suffered from hideous stomach cramps for a while, potential visitors be warned! (From chatting to a Cape Town based German at the crag, it sounds like quite a few foreigners have this issue with the tap water all over South Africa, although Rocklands doesn’t seem to suffer from the same problem).

Arriving from the quite dusty area around Rocklands, the surrounding scenery reminded us strangely of Wales, an impression which was only reinforced by our first day being spent looking out of the window at the driving rain. The similarities to Wales continue when you arrive at the Main Wall, with small sections of rock which look and feel almost like slate… unlike Wales, however, the rest of the wall is filled with lovely tufas! One of the morning sectors even features a Rodellar style cave complete with stalactite blobs and sika edges.

Koalie thinks he's in Wales...
...until he sees the tufas!
Expecting to feel pretty unfit having been bouldering for the last few months I was pleasantly surprised to manage the ‘hardest’ route at the crag, Streetfighter (8c) on our second day of climbing. My ego suitably boosted, I broke the golden grade chasers rule of “if it’s not popular on then stay the hell away” and promptly had my ass handed to me by a couple of bouldery 8b+s. After that the weather went nuts, ramping up from 13 to 33°C in the space of a few days, and our climbing was a bit up and down. Before leaving I did, however, manage what I think might be the first ascent of a new link/extension – essentially adding a harder start to an existing 8a+ which takes in the most impressive part of the main wall. The link, which starts up Up For Grabs and finishes with the extension of Up Up and Away, is a great line with some awesome solid climbing in the first half and some chossy but impressive looking tufas and stalactites near the top. If it is indeed a first ascent I propose the name Smash and Grab, and thought it felt around the 8b mark.

Penguins at Boulders' Beach

Now we're in Rifle: projecting, sticking bits of rubber to our knees with gay abandon, getting pumped, realising we're rubbish at techy vert warm-ups and enjoying the chilled out camping scene here... Life is good!

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Rocklands Smash Fest

Having spent a long time in one area in Australia, I was pretty excited to be moving to a new spot, Rocklands, for a month long smash fest. And so far it’s been just that. After a 12 hour drive and two long flights we headed off through a country which felt quite different to the one we’d just left. Shanty towns on the outskirts of Cape Town provided an interesting change from hanging out at the local library in Horsham in the Gramps.  Arriving in Rocklands I found a picturesque area packed full of a bewildering array of boulders and small outcrops. The scenery is beautiful, the cottage we’re staying in with our friends James and Jo is basic but a nice upgrade from living in a small van with far too much gear to be convenient, and the rocks are freakin’ awesome. After a jet lagged struggle on day one and a bit of a mission to retrieve our delayed bags and pads from our airline we awoke to perfect conditions and headed up to the Roadcrew sector for a great day where we both began to feel like ourselves again – Ella quickly doing good links on Un Rime Stupide (7C+) and me doing that, Purple Nipple Clan (8A) and getting frustratingly close on Royksop (8A) at the end of the day before a weird popping in my hand told me it was time to stop and return another time (fortunately it seems like it was just one of those times where something moves over a bone or tendon or whatever rather than an injury).

The sun goes down in Rocklands

With a satisfying day at the boulders under our belts it was time to fill our bellies at the much anticipated fish barbecue which one of the local landowners puts on on Fridays. Drive up the road… Ella indicates and waits for oncoming traffic.. start to tur
Suddenly we’re spinning, my head going a million miles an hour.
What the fuck happened?
What the fuck is going to happen.
You’ve got to be kidding me, this can’t be happening.
Smoke everywhere, is the car on fire?
Get out of the car.
Get out of the car.  
Ella is in the drivers seat. Head down. Unconscious.
The door won’t open. Climb out the window.
Shouting. From me? From someone else?
My glasses have gone, I can’t see properly.
Run around to Ella’s side of the car.
The door won’t open. Fuck. Fuck.
Back to my side. Ella has come to, she’s already climbing out of my window after me.
You’ve got to be kidding.
Her memory is fucked. Can’t remember the crash. People have turned up. They’ve called the ambulance.
Ella goes around in circles like a goldfish whilst we wait for the paramedics “What happened? It wasn’t my fault was it? My head hurts, it’s bleeding. My neck’s starting to hurt. Don’t leave me. Don’t let me fall asleep. What happened…?”
Is that just shock? Is something wrong? Fuck. Fuck.

A 4x4/pickup-truck had ploughed into the back of us at god knows what speed as we started to turn. Fortunately the car wasn’t on fire, it was probably just the radiator of the other car which was smashed up pretty badly, as was ours with the rear of the car caved in. Whilst the accident was some hideous luck, the fact that we were both walking out of the hospital the next morning with only sore necks and stitches for a cut on Ella’s head seems really lucky given how messed up the car was, and thank God that only pads were in the back of our car rather than people.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us out, especially James Noble, Jo Allen, Dan Turner, Will Buck, Charite (the owner of Travellers’ Rest where we’re staying) and Duke and Holly from America.

A few days later and with normal service resumed I was chuffed to manage a 1 session ascent of Black Shadow, the classic 8A+ of the area. Now time to try some harder stuff…

Royksopp (8A), Rocklands

When We Were Kings (8A), Grampians

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Wheel Of Life

"Are you going to try The Wheel?"
"Na, it's probably too hard and I don't want to spend my whole trip projecting in a cave."

I had similar conversations to that with a number of people before coming to Australia. In many ways The Wheel Of Life was an obvious target, being both the world classic of its genre and one of Australia's hard 'must-dos' for any aspiring wannabe (the other obvious ones being Punks, Groove Train and Ammagamma). It's also about as 'me' as you can get - a long, endurance orientated boulder-route in a cave known to contain plenty of 3D trickery like kneebars and toe hooks. 

Working on The Wheel (Photo: Ella Russell)

Even a week ago I didn't plan on trying it, although the seed had no doubt been sown in the back of my mind by doing other linkups like Pretty Hate Machine. The Wheel links together 4 problems* to climb the entire length of Hollow Mountain Cave from the small window at its lowest point all the way out through around 70 moves on lovely sculpted rails and edges. Ella and I had already found ourselves spending quite a bit of time up there: partly because it's a good place in showery weather, which seems fairly common here; partly as I'd been keen on trying a few of the sections of The Wheel on their own, as well of some other problems in there; and partly because Ella picked up a pulley injury whilst climbing on Serpentine which meant that steep stuff was the order of the day. 

Working on The Wheel (Photo: Ella Russell)

Heading up to the cave earlier in the week I'd reached the point where I felt like I was getting done with the place and keen to head elsewhere more, but Ella was close to a problem she'd been trying there so I figured I'd play around on things or head along to another sector close by. Having spent half an hour scrambling around on sketchy rock pinnacles trying in vain to find Ground Control Caves, I returned to Hollow Mountain figuring I might as well try the earlier sections of The Wheel which I'd previously been less keen on. At least then I wouldn't fall off a cliff whilst scrambling around a ridge line with pads on (I realise that might have pleased some people, sorry about that).

Quickly enough I managed to find a way around a heel hook which had put me off initially as it felt tweaky for my leg, and by the end of the day I'd unexpectedly climbed from the end of the 7B+ up which The Wheel starts to falling off the final crux at the exit to the cave. From here it was on and now I certainly wasn't done with the place! Sections were dialled and rests were tweaked with some funky upside down kneebar plus toe hook combos together with an awesome rest just before the final crux where you shake out by using the sole of your foot as a hand hold whilst it's toe hooking.

Novelty resting (Photo: Damo Taylor)

Four days after not even really considering the problem, I found myself nervously pulling through the last few moves of the world famous Wheel of Life...

In some ways it was strangely anticlimactic. Not having been planning on trying it there was minimal build up and minimal mental stress; having done so many links on it already there was no last-move-itis or realising that my beta didn't work on redpoint; unlike on big projects from past years like Era Vella or Rollito Sharma Extension there was no dream-like surrealism in climbing through the last few easier moves having not fallen. Don't get me wrong though, I'm fucking psyched, and the deep down contentment of doing a problem which I'd heard of for a decade but never dreamed I could ever climb until the last few years, and never expected to climb until the last few days, seems likely to stay around a little while... at least until I find the next project anyway :)

Out of the darkness and into the light... Sending The Wheel. (Photo: Damo Taylor)
For now it's onto a rope and some more bouldery boulders...

*For anyone interested, The Wheel links Extreme Cool (7B+) into Sleepy Hollow (8A) into Cave Man (7C) into Dead Can't Dance (8A). I used beta for the last section similar to the vid of Ian Dory on The Wheel, which some purists won't like, and you're god damn right i gaffa taped knee pads on and rinsed the fuck out of all the rests I could find.

Riding the Giant Emu on the way to The Citadel

Golum gets prepared... (Photo: Ella Russell)

Real bouldering, American Dream (7B+) (Photo: Ella Russell)

Toe hooking out of the cave on Pretty Hate Machine (8B) (Photo: Ella Russell)

It's not my fault, the guidebook told me to use my knees... So You Think You Can Dance (8A) (Photo: Ella Russell)