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!